ICOM Costume Collections Annual Meeting 2018

Conference Paper

Posted on Tue, April 5th, 2022

Abstract: Unlikely bedfellows: the inventions of nineteenth century silver manufacturer Elkington & Co. and their influence on fashion and textiles
This paper presents a unique opportunity to examine the role the inventions and patents of Birmingham based silver manufacturer Elkington & Co. have played in the development of fashion and textiles. I will examine the progressive force that was Elkington & Co., a business borne of the Industrial Revolution, and the phenomenal work of the chemists and inventors employed by the company, in particular the unexpected
work carried out in dye technology, waterproofing and metallisation of fabric.
In this paper the influence of the technology innovations made in terms of electrochemistry, coatings, decoration and fashion detailing will be explored. Traced back to the work of electro-metallurgist James Napier and the numerous patents taken out by Head of Elkington’s casting department Alexander Parkes from the 1840s onwards, the impact of their pioneering work in the surface treatment of fabric in the 20th Century will be discussed.
As a manufacturer known for their development of the revolutionary Victorian technology, electro-metallurgy Elkington & Co. have received considerable recognition particularly in terms of their historical significance in the production of metal electrotypes for the South Kensington Museum (now known as the V&A Museum). The company being pivotal in the copying programme of national treasures spearheaded by Prince Albert. However, their chemists and inventors also experimented in the production of a more diverse range of materials than metal, within what is now known as the field of material science. By building on examination of the scientific work and entrepreneurship in art, craft and manufacture of Elkington & Co. and other companies operating in nineteenth century Birmingham and the Black Country I will reveal their relationship with inventors that became significant figures in fashion such as Charles Macintosh. Finally, the considerable impact of electro-metallurgy on the manufacture of metallic coatings, thread, yarn and haberdashery will be discussed.