Collections of the Textile Manufactures of India, 1866

Page with textile sample from the Collections of the Textile Manufactures of India, by Sir John Watson Forbes. Page with textile sample from the Collections of the Textile Manufactures of India, by Sir John Watson Forbes.

The Collections of the Textile Manufactures of India is a series of books on the textiles and textile production in India from the second half of the nineteenth century. The books are particularly noteworthy because they contain c. 700 samples of actual textiles and a description of each piece. The volumes were printed for the India Office under the editorship of Sir John Forbes Watson.

The first edition came out in 1866 in the form of eighteen volumes, while the second (revised) edition was presented between 1872-1877. The first edition includes about 700 mounted and classified samples of Indian textiles, including embroidered, printed as well as woven forms. Most of the embroidery examples come from western and central India. The sample sizes in the first edition are usually about 34 x 19 cm and in the second 19 x 19 cm. All eighteen volumes of the first edition have been made digitally available at

Many of the samples were taken from Indian textiles shown at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris, but some of the pieces come from the 1851Great Exhibition of London, which had been acquired, after the Exhibition, by the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), and were afterwards used by Watson. Remnants of these textiles are still in the V&A’s Asian textile collection. The Secretary of State for India distributed thirteen sets of the first edition among institutions in Britain (mostly to textile manufacturing districts), while seven went to India.

The various volumes were intended to inspire textile students and manufacturers in Britain, as well as to indicate the opportunities of the vast Indian market. As such the samples gave the manufacturers actual examples of the textiles that could be copied and exported to India, while making use of cheaper mass-production technology that was available in Britain. One result of these books was that the British manufacturers flooded the Indian markets with cheap imitations, which had, not surprisingly, a detrimental effect on the Indian textile industry.

The second effect is arguably incidental, but these volumes created a wealth of information about Indian textiles of the period, which was and is of great value to contemporary and modern historians. Forbes also produced a companion volume, The Textile Manufactures and the Costumes of the People of India (1866; London), which contains explanatory texts and illustrations about how the textiles were used for clothing in India.


Digital source of illustration (retrieved 8th July 2016).


Last modified on Saturday, 09 September 2017 16:48