Henry Cole was a significant force in 19th-century British design education, emphasising its importance to industry. He was also instrumental in the organisation of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the founding of the Journal of Design.
He started working with public records at the age of 15, eventually rising to Assistant Keeper’s rank at the Public Record Office in 1838. He became interested in various design-related ventures under the pseudonym Felix Summerly, including the release of illustrated children’s books and the first Christmas card, designed by J. C. Horsley. The Royal Society of Arts awarded Cole a Silver Medal in 1846 for his design of a tea service, which Minton later produced.
In 1847, he established Felix Summerly’s Art Manufactures, commissioning various artists to create a series of designs in multiple media. His interest in art manufactures led to a series of annual exhibitions through the Society of Arts from 1847 to 1849, which he had joined in 1846.
Cole was also active in the London International Exhibition of 1862 and the Paris International Exhibitions of 1855 and 1867, having worked closely with Prince Albert and other Royal Commission members for the Great Exhibition.
Achievements in Design
He also published the Journal of Design and Manufactures (1849–52), a significant campaigning voice for British design education changes, with the artist Richard Redgrave as its editor. Cole was appointed joint secretary of the Department of Practical Art with Lyon Playfair in 1852, the same year the Board of Trade formed it to oversee the Government Schools of Design. In 1858, he became his secretary, a position he held until 1873. He was also in charge of assembling a design archive that would later serve as the foundation for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collections. In 1875, he was knighted.
Woodham, J. M. (2006). A dictionary of modern design. Oxford University Press.
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