Morris Exhibit At The Foreign Fair
Boston, 1883-84

by George Wardle

Editor's Note To The World Wide Web Edition.

During the winter of 1883 to 1884 an international trade fair was held at Mechanics Hall in Boston, where Morris & Company took six adjoining booths for an impressive exhibition of their products. Morris & Company had already been marketing wallpaper and other products in Boston for a decade at this time. These products were well received, and were championed by prominent architects such as Henry Hobson Richardson. Morris products were used extensively in Shingle Style houses, and in the newly popular "Old Colony Style" interiors - forerunner to the Colonial Revival. This pamphlet was published originally as a tour guide to the Morris products on exhibit, and it is transcribed from an original copy at the Boston Athenaeum. The original had no illustrations; this web edition is ornamented with Morris carpet designs offered for sale by Burrows & Co., a Boston area merchant; all are designs that would have been part of the Morris exhibit at the Foreign Fair.

Illustration: Tulip & Lily Wilton carpet runner, designed by William Morris, c. 1875, from the William Morris Carpet Collection of J.R. Burrows & Co.

Illustrations of many of the textiles mentioned may be found in William Morris Textiles, by Linda Parry, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983.

Tulip and Lily carpet

The Morris exhibit is in the Franklin Hall, near the principal entrance. It covers a space forty-five feet by thirty feet, which is divided into six compartments, or rooms. This division is for convenience of exhibiting the various kinds of goods in groups; the rooms must not therefore be taken to represent the rooms of a dwelling, nor is the ordinary decoration of a house attempted. Morris and Company are exhibiting here as manufacturers only, and the arrangement of the goods is that which seemed best for showing them in the ways most accordant to their actual use. This is not, however, strictly the case with all. It was impossible to show the carpets, for instance, in the limits of the large space allotted to us, except by hanging them on the walls. As far as possible, however, the goods are shown as they would appear in one or other of their proper uses.



sometimes called Tapestries, though that is a misuse of the word, are hung on the outside of the booth, where the full effect of their folds and patterns can be fairly judged. These cloths are made of various kinds of wool, - some fine, and closely woven, others rough and open in texture, to suit all the purposes for which heavy or heavyish curtains are required. The material in every cases is pure wool, prepared in various ways, to give the variety of effect which is observable. The dyeing is all done by ancient or well-tried processes, and no expense has been spared to get from the East the dye-stuffs most suitable for each color. Some of the bold designs of these hangings are not strangers in America, - the Peacock, more especially, having already won for itself a place; but others, like the Violet and Columbine, are quite new, and have not been shown anywhere before the opening of this exhibition. One use of these heavy cloths in England, is the hanging of the walls of churches or large halls. The Peacock and the Bird pattern are very good for this use. Mr. Morris's own room is hung with the Bird pattern, from the skirting to within two feet of the ceiling. The cloth is hooked up to the top rail, and is but slightly plaited, - only enough here and there. The beautiful effect of a long wall hung in this way is quite inconceivable, and we much regret we have not space for showing this use of the material. When so used these goods might more truly be called Tapestries than in their ordinary service as curtains and portieres.

The first room we will enter is that marked


in the plan. It contains samples of real Axminster, Wilton, or Velvet-pile, Patent Axminster, and Kidderminster carpets. These are shown by large-sized squares on the floor, and three complete carpets are also shown on the walls. The carpet to the left as you enter is a real Axminster, so called to distinguish the make from various kinds of patent goods which have been invented since the method introduced from the East was first practiced at Axminster in Devonshire. Some Patent Axminsters are very good for the price, but they differ essentially from the original fabric, and the palm still remains to it for durability and beauty of material, irrespective of pattern; though if pattern be also considered, the greater freedom of working gives the hand-made carpet an advantage quite beyond competition. The hand-made Axminster exhibited is a soft, close pile, made in one piece. It is inferior to the Hammersmiths in weight, and variety of pattern and color; but it is as much superior to Wiltons and Patent Axminsters in all the qualities desirable in a carpet. The size is sixteen feet by twelve feet. Wilton carpets must be classed as the best kind of machine-woven carpets. The patterns they bear are somewhat controlled as to size and color by the capability of the machine; and they are necessarily made in strips, not more than twenty-seven inches wide, as a rule. A Wilton carpet is therefore sewn together, and the border is also sewn on. If well made the material is very durable, and by skillful treatment in the designing, the restrictions as to color are not noticeable. In consequence of these restrictions a Wilton carpet is more embarrassing to a designer than are the happier products of the hand-loom; and good designs - that is, designs having form and character proper to the material, and good and beautiful in themselves - are more rare in this cloth and to Brussels than in hand-woven fabrics. When Mr. Morris began to design for Wilton carpeting he aimed to produce pure and shapely forms with simple coloring, doing the best he could with the material, without straining its capacity for decoration. The large carpet facing the entrance to this room is a Wilton, - the size, fifteen feet by twelve feet. This one to the right is also a Wilton, its size twelve feet by nine feet.

Among the patterns on the floor are three colorings of a bold design adapted to one of the best makes of Patent Axminster. This cloth may be easily distinguished from real Axminster by the uninitiated, if the backs of the two be compared. The Patent Axminster has a foundation of hemp; the real Axminster is all wool. As the Patent Axminster is also a coarser fabric, the designs for it are necessarily much bolder than for Wiltons and real Axminster. When a large pattern is wanted, therefore, and a Hammersmith carpet cannot be had, this patent cloth should be chosen.

The remaining carpets exhibited in the first room are varieties of Kidderminster. The heavier sorts are three-plies, - the lighter two-plies. These carpets are very solid, well-woven goods, and of great durability if properly laid. The colors are dyed in the same way as for the most expensive rugs, and the patterns are carefully adapted to the material. The samples shown are made up as rugs. They thus show the fringes with which we always border them in England. One of the best ways of using these carpets is to cover the floor entirely with China matting, and to lay the Kidderminster loose upon this. The China matting ought to be carefully made up, so as to cover the floor smoothly; and, to keep it in good condition, a pail of water should be used every week for cleaning it. By doing that, the rush of which the matting is made does not get too dry and brittle. The same matting may be used as a substratum for the better class of carpets, Wiltons and Axminsters, or it may be used for fitting the margin of floor around these carpets instead of parquet; but it is very much better, where the whole floor is not covered with parquet, to cover it wholly with China matting. The life of any carpet is much prolonged by having this kindly protection between it and the planking, and the decorative value of the matting is also an important item. Of course, if a parquet floor can be had, that is the best. It is unimportant whether the parquet be one inch thick or a quarter of an inch. The quarter-inch parquet, glued carefully on the existing floor-boards, is quite sufficient for all purposes, and can be easily applied to any floor. It may be suggested that only the simplest patterns should be chosen, and in timber of one kind. Oak is the best. Oak, however, when polished or oiled, has a very unpleasant yellow color, quite unfit for combination with colors that are usually considered beautiful. To correct that yellowness, a little Prussian blue should be dissolved in the polish used for finishing. As much blue as will give a greenish tone to the polish in the bottle is sufficient.

It will be noticed that all the patterns of carpet exhibited have their appropriate borders.

Morris & Company also make one pattern in Brussels cloth. This is not shown in the Fair, but it may be seen in Messrs. Goldthwait's store, 169 Washington Street, Boston, or at our agents, in New York.

In going from this room to the next, two curtains will be noticed. The material is a fine wool, called challis; the patterns are printed. Though hung here they are not offered as suitable material for portieres; they would be properly used for bed or window curtains. The material wears well, and may be repeatedly cleaned without serious loss of color. Turning to the left you pass, between two heavier curtains of thick cotton-damask, into the room where the Hammersmith carpets are displayed. You will perhaps be more disposed to examine these curtains as you return, but we may at once note the weight and style, which are unusual qualities in this material. The cloth is reversible, the pattern showing equally, though with different effects, on each face. Curtains made of this cloth, which is really double, do not need lining. It may be used for portieres in summer cottages, or for window-curtains.


are named for the place where Mr. Morris first began the manufacture. They are now made at Merton Abbey in Surrey, where we have recently established our factory. The carpeting, dyeing, weaving, printing, glass-painting, and other arts, being now collected there in work-rooms more convenient for our increasing operations. On some of the smaller rugs will be seen the Hammer and M., significant of the earlier place of manufacture. The later carpets have no trade-mark. The quality and style of carpet we have called Hammersmith is a specialty of Morris and Company. There are no such carpets made elsewhere, not even in the East, though the best India carpets may be compared with them in weight. In all other respects they have no rivals, except the few ancient carpets which may occasionally be found in the stores. This is what Mr. Morris said about them in the circular announcing the beginning of this new manufacture in England: -

"We beg to call your attention to the beginning of an attempt, which we have set on foot, to make England independent of the East, for the supply of hand-made carpets which may claim to be considered works of art.

"We believe that the time has come for some one or other to make that attempt, unless the civilized world is prepared to do without the art of carpet-making at its best; for it is a lamentable fact that, just when we of the West are beginning to understand and admire the art of the East, that art is fading away; nor in any branch has the deterioration been more marked than in carpet-making.

"All beauty of color has now (and for long) disappeared from the manufactures of the Levant - the once harmonious and lovely Turkey carpets. The traditions of excellence of the Indian carpets are only kept up by a few tasteful and energetic providers in England, with infinite trouble and at a great expense; while the mass of the goods are already inferior in many respects to what can be turned out mechanically from the looms of a Glasgow or Kidderminster.

"As for Persia, the mother of this beautiful art, nothing could make the contrast between the past and the present clearer than the carpets, doubtless picked for excellence of manufacture, given to the South Kensington Museum by His Majesty the Schah, compared with the rough work of the tribes done within the last hundred years, which the directors of the Museum have judiciously hung near them.

"In short, the art of carpet-making, in common with the other special arts of the East, is either dead or dying fast; and it is clear to every one that, whatever future is in store for those countries where it once flourished, they will, in time to come, receive all influence from, rather than give any to, the West.

"It seems to us, therefore, that, for the future, we people of the West must make our own hand-made carpets, if we are to have any worth the labor and money such things cost; and that these, while they should equal the Eastern ones as nearly as may be in materials and durability, should by no means imitate them in design, but show themselves obviously to be the outcome of modern and Western ideas, guided by those principles that underlie all architectural art in common.

"Such a manufacture we have (in default of other people) attempted to set on foot, and we hope, for the above-stated reasons, that you will think our attempt worthy of your support.

"We should mention that we are prepared to give estimates and execute carpets of any reasonable size, in design, coloring, and quality similar to the goods exhibited."

Continue on with Morris Exhibit At The Foreign Fair

Sconehenge Bed and Breakfast near Boston, decorated with designs of William Morris and C.F. A. Voysey

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