Silver Studio

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Cushion cover panel, 1904, Silver Studio V&A Museum no. CIRC.675-1966

Silver Studio was one of the most influential textile design studios in the UK from its formation in 1880 until the middle of the twentieth century.

The studio, founded by Arthur Silver, designed some of the most famous fabric, wallpaper, carpet and metalwork designs for companies such as Liberty's, Turnbull and Stockdale, Sanderson and Warner and Sons Ltd, all of which used the Silver Studio's designs for their own ranges of wallpapers and textile.

At its most productive, the studio created more than 800 designs per year. The studio was renowned for its distinctive Art Nouveau style, although over the years they produced a wide variety of different designs and styles, including many of the famous "Liberty"-styles. During the Second World War, the Studio undertook many designs for U.S. clients as a useful way to gain foreign exchange.


The Silver Studio was founded by Arthur Silver in 1880. It became one of the most influential textile and wallpaper design studios in the UK between 1880 and the middle of the twentieth century. In 1901 Silver's son Reginald (Rex) Silver took over the studio and ran it until 1962. For its final year of operation, 1963, Rex's studio was run by Frank Price, a designer of importance. He had worked twice at Silver Studios, firstly, for a period before the Second World War 1922 to 1935, leaving to a partnership with G.R. Kingbourne. Later he became chief designer at Sandersons. This job ended during the War, when Sandersons were bombed out in 1940 at which point he rejoined Silver Studios, 1941. From 1953 to 1963, Frank Price was the only working designer. Rex continued to manage the business. In 1961-2, Rex offered the studio to Frank Price, who was also in his late seventies with deteriorating health. Price completed some projects and finally locked the door. Subsequently, Mary Peerless (Rex Silver's step-daughter) took back the studio, under the terms of the agreement between Silver and Price, and gifted the contents.


The Silver Studio sold designs for fabrics and wallpapers to a number of manufacturers. Its customers were retailers and manufacturers of wallpapers and textiles at all levels of the market, both in Britain and abroad. Designs for wallpapers were sold both to manufacturers producing cheap papers for the mass market such as Lightbown Aspinall and Potters of Darwen, as well as those selling high quality products for the top end of the market such as Essex & Co, John Line and Sandersons. Leading British textile manufacturers included Stead McAlpin, Alexander Morton and AH Lee, Turnbull & Stockdale and Liberty, to name just a few.

1890s – Art Nouveau[edit]

The Silver Studio is widely recognised as having played an important part in the development of British Art Nouveau. John Illingworth Kay and Harry Napper, two of its better-known designers, executed many of its most successful Art Nouveau designs. The Studio produced several thousand designs for wallpapers, textiles and metalwork in the Art Nouveau style between around 1895 and the early 1900s.

The Silver Studio's international influence[edit]

The importance of the Silver Studio’s influence internationally is indicated by the fact that in the early 1900s, around two thirds of the Studio’s designs were sold to French and Belgian textile manufacturers, including Bergert Dupont et Cie, Dumas, Florquin, Gros Roman, Zuber Cie, Vanoutryve, Parison and Leborgne. Continental manufacturers were thus able to gain immediate access to the popular “Style Anglais” by purchasing Silver Studio designs, and the work of the Silver Studio undoubtedly helped to enhance the reputation of British designers abroad. During the 1890s, Arthur Silver was also heavily interested in and influenced by the art of Japan. He worked closely with Alexander Rottman who imported many different varieties of paper from Japan. With Rottman, the Silver Studio developed a pioneering technique of stencil decoration, influenced by Japanese stencils, which in turn came to influence the Studio’s own Art Nouveau designs. Anglo-Japanese collaboration of this kind in the 1890s meant that Japanese influences were absorbed into British design and decoration, and equally that British tastes influenced the products of Japan itself.

The 1930s[edit]

In the 1930s, the customers who bought the most designs were the big textile printers with mills in the Manchester region. For example, John Hawkins and Sons Ltd sold high quality cotton goods at low price by mail order. During this period the Silver Studio produced many designs for printed dress fabrics (for clients such as Liberty) as well as for furnishing fabrics. Interestingly, the early 1930s, a time of national economic difficulty and crisis in the textile industry, were a very fertile period for the Studio, with over 800 designs going into production annually.

Influence on British Homes[edit]

Because the majority of the Silver Studio’s clients were mass producers, Silver Studio designs would have found their way into many British homes. The Studio’s influence on British interiors can be seen in the huge number of their designs that went into production. The Studio’s most productive periods were 1891-96 and 1924-38. In those years, the minimum number of Silver Studio designs for wallpapers and textiles that were actually manufactured each year was approximately 400.

Silver Studio, Brook Green[edit]

Blue plaque, 84 Brook Green

The significance of the Silver Studio as a design practice was acknowledged in 1981 with the awarding of an English Heritage blue plaque to 84 Brook Green, Hammersmith, the building that was both the Studio and the Silver family home.

The Silver Studio Collection[edit]

Background to the collection[edit]

After the Silver Studio closed in the early 1960s the contents were given to the Hornsey College of Art by Mary Peerless, step daughter of Rex Silver the head of the Silver Studio. Hornsey became part of what is now Middlesex University. From this point, the contents of the Studio became a ‘Collection’, and it now forms the core of the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (MoDA), Middlesex University

Contents of the collection[edit]

The collection today comprises over 40,000 designs on paper - mostly for textiles and wallpapers. There are approximately 5,000 wallpaper samples, 23 wallpaper pattern books and 5,000 textile samples. The collection also includes an archive of the Studio's daybooks, letters, diaries, visual reference material, trade cards and other printed ephemera.

Significance of the collection[edit]

The significance of the collection lies both in its completeness and coherence as a whole and in the importance and uniqueness of its component parts. It spans the period 1880-1960, an important period in the development of mass market furnishings and one less well represented in other collections. Where other similar material does survive it is invariably less broad in scope (either in time span, or because the work of one designer or manufacturer only); less rich in supporting material (because daybooks and other evidence does not survive); and less accessible to researchers and members of the public.


The designs are original works on paper by Silver Studio designers, in a variety of media including pencil, ink, charcoal, pastels and gouaches. It is one of the largest collections of original designs anywhere in the country, representing a significant period of time and a wide range of customers.

Wallpapers and textiles[edit]

The wallpapers and textiles in the collection consist of both the Silver Studio’s own work (i.e. the finished product, often sent from the manufacturers), and examples of wallpapers and textiles designed by others, which were collected for reference. This collection includes examples of wallpapers and textiles by all of the “big name” designers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including William Morris, CFA Voysey, Harry Napper, Archibald Knox, Frank Price and John Illingworth Kay. It is generally considered that during the life of Silver Studios its two most outstanding designers were Archibald Knox and Frank Price. Some of these are designers who worked for the Silver Studio, others are examples which the Studio employees collected as reference material. Twentieth century examples include work by John Aldridge, Edward Bawden, Enid Marx, Raoul Dufy, Lucienne Day, Jacqueline Groag and Henry Moore, amongst others.


The archive material consists of business records, wage books, photograph albums, correspondence, letters, diaries, visual reference material, trade cards, and other printed ephemera. The Silver Studio was pioneering in that it employed the services of a photographer to record every design. Designs were numbered and cross referenced to photograph albums and day books, the majority of which survive. It is therefore possible to trace the details of the designer of a given design (by which is meant both original designs in the collections, and actual examples of wallpapers or textiles existing in the wider world) and to establish to which manufacturer it was sold, when and for how much. The completeness and coherence of this archive material existing alongside the designs, wallpapers and textiles themselves, makes the Silver Studio collection entirely unique. Rarely do other collections document the whole process of creating and selling a design, as is possible here.

Visual reference[edit]

That designers employed by the Silver Studio were able to satisfy the requirements of their clients, the manufacturers, was due in part to the fact that they amassed large amounts of material as visual reference. As well as examples of wallpapers and textiles by other designers, this material includes press cuttings, reference books and other printed ephemera. It also includes material such as Japanese stencils and Continental design resources collected from a variety of sources. The Silver Studio designers used this to enable them to produce designs which gestured towards key trends while retaining mass market appeal. This material greatly enriches the collection both because it is interesting in its own right and for what it tells us about the Studio’s design process and sources of inspiration.

History of the Silver Studio collection[edit]

The Silver Studio Collection has belonged to Middlesex University (previously Hornsey College of Art) since the late 1960s. In the 1990s the Silver Studio Collection was recognised as being of “outstanding national importance” by the Department of National Heritage.

The Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MoDA), which includes the Silver Studio Collection, opened in 2000, at Middlesex University’s Cat Hill campus. The Silver Studio Collection was awarded Designated status in 2008, in recognition of its national and international quality and significance. In 2011 the Museum moved to a new location in Beaufort Park, Colindale, close to Middlesex University's Hendon campus.


Hendon, Zoe & Hoskins, Lesley (2008), The Silver Studio Designated Collection, Middlesex University eprints

Hendon, Zoe, (2012), The Silvern series: photographs from the collections of the South Kensington Museum. V&A Online Journal (4),

Hendon, Zoe (2012), The Silver Studio Art Reference Collection, Decorative Arts Society Journal, 36, pp65-81

Jackson, Lesley (2002), 20th Century Pattern Design: Textile & Wallpaper Pioneers, Mitchell Beazley, London

Parry, Linda (1988), Textiles of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Thames & Hudson, London

Protheroe, Keren (2011), Petal power : floral fashion and women designers at the Silver Studio 1910-1940, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, London

Protheroe, Keren (2012), Bloom and Blotch: The Floral Print and Modernity in the Textile Designs of Winifred Mold and Minnie McLeish 1910-1930 (unpublished PhD thesis, Kingston University, London)

Sato, Tomoko & Watanabe, Toshio (1991), Japan and Britain: An Aesthetic Dialogue 1850-1930 (exhibition catalogue), Lund Humpries, London (in association with Barbican Art Gallery, London and the Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo)

Saunders, Gill (2002), Wallpaper in Interior Decoration, V&A Publications, London

Schoeser, Mary & Rufey, Celia (1989), English and American Textiles from 1790 to the Present, Thames & Hudson, London

Various "The Silver Studio Collection", published Lund Humphries Ltd 1980

External links[edit]