Designers, makers, and patrons

A mysterious album of tile designs, inscribed on the cover ‘G. Edmund Street, Esq., R.A.’ and dated 1881

Some years ago, we acquired from the auctioneer Dominic Winter, but without additional provenance, a leather bound album of watercolour designs for tiles.  The album, which measures 34.2 x 34.5 cm, is inscribed on the cover ‘Patterns of / Minton, Hollins, & Co.’s / Encaustic Tiles. / G. Edmund Street, Esq., R.A. / 1881’.  The Whatman paper is watermarked for 1880, the year before Street’s death.  Between the marbled boards and end papers, there are fifty-four sheets (one hundred and eight pages), of which fifty-nine pages are blank, and four, the first four, simply lined.

Of the designs, which are in the main full size images for 11 x 11 cm tiles, four are in colour (see above), while the remainder are in pen and grey wash.  Each design is numbered, but randomly, from 1 to 2802; the numbering is neither complete nor sequential.

The final six images show four tiles together, forming part of a pattern.  Tiles following some of the patterns were certainly made; indeed one corresponding with pattern 30 (above) sits on my desk as a mat for my less than remarkable coffee mug; the tile was formerly in the well-known Beulah tile collection.

Minton, Hollins & Co. was created as part of Herbert Minton’s empire during the 1840s specifically for the production of tiles.  The best known designer of encaustic tiles for Minton is A.W.N. Pugin (1812-52), but a logical explanation for the inscription on the cover of our album suggests that Street (1824-81) also supplied designs to Minton.  Another suggestion is that Street simply had this album of designs to show potential clients for his architectural work, showing his own designs and those of others.  Mario Baeck (email 21 October 2022) draws attention to Street’s tile designs for Maw & Co.  How and why this album was put together during the last year of Street’s life is a topic for further investigation.

In total, there are 162 individual designs for Gothic tiles, a few of which are 13 x 13 cm in size.