Communication with sample books

21 September, 2018

A sample with a number is often the only information you’ll find in a sample book. The Textielmuseum’s library houses meters of sample books from Tilburg woollen mills with only samples and numbers. What’s the meaning of these books? How were they used in the factory?

This is part three in the series on sample books, based on the conference A Universe of Patterns: Pattern Books in the Industrial Context of the 19th and 20th Century in St. Gallen on March 9 and 10, 2018.

Denise Ruisinger, PhD student Technikgeschichte in Zürich, is studying the Swiss silk industry. At the end of the 19th century, Switzerland produced products such as silk ribbons and silk umbrellas for department stores around the world. Ruisinger examines the sample books of Swiss companies in connection with the archives of those companies.

She discovered that the introduction of the steam engine in 1870 changed the way companies operated. By introducing mechanical weaving, more management was needed at the factory. Production, the number of customers and the diversity of patterns woven, increased. As a result, business administration became more important. Sample books played a major role in the administrative processes and the constant exchange of information within the factory and in the information exchange with the customer.

The layout of the factory also changed with the arrival of the steam engine. The building became divided into spaces with different functions. This division of functions is visible in the Mommers factory, where the TextielMuseum is located. The spinning machines were in the highest building; in the shed (under the saw-tooth roof) were the heavy weaving machines and the villa on our terrain was the office and used for packing and sending the textiles.

The different departments had their own kind of sample books. Sample books with the patterns that were woven were close to the weaving machines and the designer of the textiles. The order books were in the office villa close to a salesman. Unfortunately, we have no investigation of the situation here, but probably the situation in many European factories was very similar to the situation described by Ruisinger.

Ruisinger describes a constant exchange of information between the departments, on the patterns, the quality and the amount of textile to be woven. The designs used were modular. The pattern in a sample book was a starting point but was often adapted to the wishes of the customer.

In the museum library’s collection, we have many sample books that clearly illustrate their use in different departments and for different purposes in the factory. Depending on the purpose, sample books have a different look. The sample numbers in different books for the different departments within a company correspond. In this way, the sales department can inform the designer which design needs to be adjusted for a customer. Also, sales can tell production how much must be woven of a certain type of fabric.

Below you can see several sample books from Janssens de Horion and van Janssens van Buren. They show the communication in the factory and with customers. Janssens de Horion made high-quality worsted fabrics for men’s clothing from 1868 in the Koestraat in Tilburg. Wollenstoffenfabriek Janssens van Buren was founded in 1846 by Laurens Janssens. Just like Janssens de Horion, this manufacturer added the name of his wife to the factory name, to distinguish himself from other Tilburg textile manufacturers with the name Janssen(s).

Design department
Binding drawings. The red, black and white blocks represent the pattern of the fabric to be woven.










Stalenboek Gebr. Janssens van Buren. Tilburg : Janssens van Buren, 1934

Sales department 1
List of textiles which can be ordered by customers









[stalenboek] kamgaren / Janssens de Horion. – Tilburg : Janssens de Horion’s Wollenstoffenfabrieken, [s.a.].

Weaving department

Order book: information on customers and the textile to be woven with the desired length of the fabric. The sample card contains information on the required warp beam for the fabric, the colour of the weft and other technical data. These sample cards were probably used in the weaving department. The attached sample made a quality check of the woven fabric possible.








Stalenboek 1935-1936 : broeken 10226-10740 / Janssens van Buren, Gebr. (Tilburg). – Tilburg : Janssens van Buren, 1935.

Sales department 2
Customer book. It’s organized by alphabet and lists for each customer the textiles produced for that customer. If a customer wants to order a specific textile again, the sales department can check what has ever been made for that customer. The customers of Janssens de Horion included Peek and Cloppenburg in Rotterdam, many tailors / clothing workshops in the Netherlands, but also some international customers in Sweden, Norway (Trondheim) and Berlin!


























Stalenboek Janssens de Horion’s Wollenstoffenfabrieken : herencollectie 1938-1939, L t/m Z / Janssens de Horion’s Wollenstoffenfabrieken. – Tilburg : Janssens de Horion’s Wollenstoffenfabrieken, 1938.

Jantiene van Elk

Sample books are available for research in the library during opening hours (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 10:00 – 17:00 an on Friday by appointment).