In 1764, British Customs confiscated a book containing hundreds of silk samples of different qualities from French agents who were attempting to sell them illegally in London. The merchant's sample book acquired in 1972 by the V&A may be this very book, a fascinating record of the eighteenth-century French and English silk industries and their commercial practices. Alongside a full and faithful reproduction of the whole album, Lesley Miller sets in context the role of the book as a marketing tool from the premier European silk-weaving centre of Lyon and as a model for Spitalfields manufacturers. This publication makes accessible the contents of an extremely rare and fragile object. Translations of French inscriptions, identification of how samples have migrated from one page to another, and technical analysis of some of the silks, as well as a glossary and biographical data on the Lyonnais suppliers make this an invaluable resource for historians, collectors and designers.
Lesley Ellis Miller is Senior Curator of Textiles and Fashion at the V&A. She is a specialist in the silk industry of eighteenth-century Lyon. She is author of a monograph on the fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga (V&A 2007) and is currently working on the refurbishment of the V&A's galleries of European seventeenth- and eighteenth-century decorative arts.