This post was originally published on July 26, 2018.
Stevengraphs are small woven pictures that depict famous buildings, historical events, iconic scenes, and prominent public figures such as members of royal families, politicians and athletes. They were produced by Thomas Stevens (English, 1828–1888), a Coventry weaver who customized the jacquard loom to produce small detailed pictures in bright colors. Stevens was compelled to make these innovations after an 1860 trade treaty removed the high tariffs placed on imported ribbons. Foreign products flooded the English market and Coventry’s ribbon industry all but collapsed. Stevens was able to create a successful business producing small woven pictures, bookmarks and badges that were a novelty at the time. The more affordable version of the stevengraph was a woven bookmark that had its bottom edge folded into a V-shape and was finished with a silk tassel. By 1862, Stevens had nine different bookmarks in production. He later created a portable version of his jacquard loom that could be set up at local fairs. For the York Exhibition of 1879, Stevens produced several popular woven pictures before an audience of fair attendees; one called the “London & York” Royal Mail Coach shows a laden stagecoach drawn by four horses.
The bookmark of The Late Lamented President Lincoln was produced by Stevens around 1865; it is missing its tassel. Stevens had produced a slightly different bookmark for Lincoln’s second inauguration of 1865. A retail list from 1869-70 shows that this bookmark retailed for one shilling. By using agents in the United States, Stevens was able to maintain high demand for his woven novelties, which now included bookmarks of American political figures. In the collection at the National Museum of American History is a crazy-patch parlor throw (acc. no. 274324) with same Lincoln stevengraph placed amongst the other woven textile pieces.
Kimberly Randall is the Collections Manager for the Textile Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.