African art and design is currently attracting a lot of interest, with exhibitions at the British Library and the William Morris SocietyÂ to name but two. Perhaps surprisingly for an archive of government documents, The National Archives holds a large number of textile designs intended for export to West Africa. Strikingly fresh and vibrant, they form an unexpected contrast with the Victorian and Edwardian patterns around them.
We hold these textiles because they were registered for copyright under a series of Acts of Parliament from 1839 onwards. The textile samples, pasted into huge leather-bound volumes, and later stored away in archival boxes, were submitted as part of the copyright application process. Our online guide on registered designs has more information.
These samplesÂ are an invaluable resource for researchers, with potential to add to our understanding of the textile trade with West Africa. We can see which designs were being exported, and the registersÂ that correspond with the samples tell usÂ which companiesÂ were involved. Continue reading »