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How were the books put together?

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Forbes Watson did not travel to India to collect textiles. Instead he and a team of assistants cut up fabrics from the India Museum’s stores in London to create 20 sets of 18 volume sample books. Some fabrics in the India Museum’s collection had been acquired through trade, but many had come to the museum in 1855 after being shown at the Paris International Exhibition.

Forbes Watson was not a textile expert. Most of the information about each textile was copied from labels already attached to the fabrics. The selection included in The Textile Manufactures of India was also not representative of all the fabrics made in South Asia, but rather those Forbes Watson felt suitable for British manufacturers to copy.

By today’s standards chopping up 700 fabrics in a museum collection is considered an act of vandalism, but Forbes Watson passionately believed the India Museum’s collection could be useful to British industry. He considered The Textile Manufactures of India as ‘portable trade museums’, as he wrote in his companion to the collection:

‘The 700 specimens … show what the people of India affect and deem suitable in the way of textile fabrics, and if the supply of these is to come from Britain, they must be imitated there. What is wanted, and what it is to be copied to meet that want, is thus accessible for study in these Museums’.

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