Thomas Stevens (weaver)

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Thomas Stevens
Thomas Stevens HAGAM.tif
Thomas Stevens in 1888
Foleshill, England
Died24 October 1888(1888-10-24) (aged 59–60)
London, England
Cause of deathComplications following a throat operation
Resting placeCoventry cemetery
Known forInventing the Stevengraph

Thomas Stevens (1828–1888) was a 19th-century weaver from Coventry, famous for his invention of the stevengraph, a woven silk picture.


Stevengraph showing the London and York Royal Mail Coach, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.

In the 19th century the town of Coventry, England, was the centre of a ribbon weaving industry. Thomas Stevens was born in Foleshill, just to the north of Coventry, in 1828 to a relatively poor family.[1] Stevens worked for Pears and Franklin, a local ribbon weavers in Coventry, and by 1854 had created his own ribbon firm.[1] In 1860, however, the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty was signed; this free trade treaty introduced new competition into the industry, leading to a collapse in the local ribbon economy and a huge loss of employment in Coventry.[2]

Stevens had considerable experience of experimenting with the Jacquard loom and responded to the local recession by trying to develop new products. He had invented a way of using the programmable loom to weave colourful pictures from silk.[1] By 1862, Stevens could produce four different designs; he attempted to appeal to the mass market, selling his products between six pence and fifteen shillings each.[3] Some of these pictures were used for bookmarks, greetings cards and specialised products for the Admiralty.[1]

Business boomed and Stevens acquired two larger factories in turn; by 1875 he was calling his product the "Stevengraph", named after himself.[1] He exhibited internationally in America, France and Holland, winning some 30 medals and diplomas.[1] In 1878 Stevens moved to London and began to mount his Stevengraphs as framed pictures - by the late 1880s Stevens had over 900 different designs.[3] In 1888 Stevens died following a throat operation and was buried in Coventry.[1]


By the 1930s, Stevengraphs were considered collectable items, but the hobby was considered eccentric and mainly confined to female collectors. During the Second World War Coventry was attacked by German bombers; on 14 November 1940 the Coventry Blitz occurred, apparently destroying the Stevens factory and the records of the Stevengraphs. In the late 1950s it emerged that Henry Stephens, a descendent of Thomas, had saved one of the pattern books the night before the attack and kept it in safe storage; Henry donated it to the Coventry City Council, who in turn entrusted it with the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. Stevengraphs became valuable, with more male collectors entering the hobby.[4] Prices rose, particularly for unusual or rarer images less popular during the Victorian period.[2] A large collection of Stevens' work from his pattern book is still held at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Lynes, (n.d.).
  2. ^ a b Stevengraphs - What are they?, Stevengraph Collectors Association, accessed 4 October 2011.
  3. ^ a b Stevengraphs - What are they?, Stevengraph Collectors Association, accessed 4 October 2011; Lynes, (n.d.).
  4. ^ Wollen, pp.68-69.


  • Lynes, Alice. (n.d.) Thomas Stevens And His Silk Ribbon Pictures. Local History Pamphlet No.2. Coventry: Coventry City Libraries.
  • Wollen, Peter. (2004) Paris/Manhattan: Writings on Art. London: Verso. ISBN 978-1-85984-580-6.