I was over at Identical Eye, seeing what Karen and Sara are up to, when I noticed the great links to Le Divan Fumoir Bohemian (an amazing site if you've never visited) which then led me to the Cooper Hewitt's past exhibition, Multiple Choice: From Sample to Product.
Although the physical exhibition closed in September 2008, the related website and blog are still up, so we can all enjoy virtual glimpses of it.
The show examines portable samples used though the centuries by merchants and designers involved in all facets of decorative arts, from ceramics to textiles to wallpaper. Whether it was a bound book of swatches or a ceramic plate used by a traveling salesman, these product samples were essential marketing tools. According to the museum, the first sample books were inspired by medieval artists' model books. Since the design industry is in the midst of going digital, curators felt that a look back at tangible sample books would be timely.
Shown at top is a sample plate made for Stellings Porcelænsfarver (Stellings Porcelain Colors, a Copenhagen-based paint and glaze manufacturer). The company used a blank plate made by Royal Copenhagen to promote its own products. (Denmark, ca. 1930s, via Cooper Hewitt.)
Also shown is another sample plate decorated by Joseph P. Emery Ltd. (England, 1899). Emery produced colors for china, earthenware and glass in the second half of the 19th century, and this example shows off colors in solid blocks and transfer-printed patterns. (Image and facts via Cooper Hewitt.) The remaining images show antique textile salesmen's sample books. Don't miss the show's blog and the glossary.