Baker, Malcolm and Richardson, Brenda, eds. A Grand Design : The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V&A Publications, 1997. 431 p., ill. ISBN 1851773088.
Raw materials in profuse variety were displayed at the South Kensington Museum in 1857 alongside items made from those materials, ranging from the commonplace to the curious. Among the many textiles was a "pair of cuffs handspun and knitted from the hair of French poodle dogs." This encyclopedic cabinet of curiosities formed a didactic display of "animal products" to "instruct and inform the visitor," leading viewers from the animal, bird, fish, or insect through all processes of manufacture (illustrated by samples at various stages with lithographs, drawings and models), and finally to examples of the finished product.
Originally the commissioners for the 1851 Exhibition intended "to form a museum...to remain as a national record of the exhibition," but by 1857 they wished it to be a "growing Collection." After the presentation of this collection to the government in 1859, new acquisitions continued to be made and were recorded in the Animal Products Register with year of entry incorporated in their numbers. The collection, first at South Kensington, then Bethnal Green, remained distinct until 1917, when the last entries were made of Animal Products.
From the start, the collection of Animal Products, designated by 1860 to the Science Division, was regarded as separate from the Art Division collections. With the renaming of the Museum in 1899 as the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the establishment of the Science Museum as a separate institution, educational displays such as Animal Products were dispersed- orangutan, crocodile, ermine, and vampire bat soon to be moved to the Natural History Museum. Many moth-eaten, faded, or disintegrating items disfigured by long display- particularly the raw materials- were discarded. However four rare samples of a special wool developed in France to rival cashmere were fortuitously preserved in a gift from Queen Victoria. Some eight hundred Animal Products survive, mainly textiles woven in silk and wool. Most of these are of historical importance because they were shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and their manufacturers can be identified. A few are known products of the Schools of Design, making it possible to compare them with textiles acquired from the international exhibitions as examples of "ornamental art."
Lit. Simmonds, 1857; South Kensington Museum, 1857a; South Kensington Museum, Animal Products Registers, 1860s-70s; Simmonds, 1880