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Walter Crane Archive

Date range: 1853–1993 (bulk 1860s–1915).

Walter Crane (1845–1915), like his friend William Morris, combined a strong social conscience with a design genius that catered to the taste of the Victorian middle classes.

He trained as a wood-engraver and became a freelance illustrator in the 1860s, while also exhibiting at the Royal Academy. During the 1860s and ’70s Crane’s artistic output was prodigious. He produced hundreds of illustrations and cover designs for Edmund Evans’s cheap yellow-backs, and he designed the immensely popular children’s Toy Books for Evans and for George Routledge. He also designed ceramics, nursery tiles and wallpaper.

Inspired by William Morris, Crane took up the socialist cause in the 1880s, first joining the Social Democratic Federation, then following Morris into the Socialist League. He was a founding member and president of both the Art Workers Guild and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. He also had a profound influence on the teaching of art, as director of design at Manchester School of Art and then principal of the Royal College of Art.

The archive, comprising over four thousand items from Crane’s studio, was purchased jointly by the JRUL and the Whitworth Art Gallery from Crane’s grandson in 2002, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and others.

The archive is divided into two subfonds: WCA/1, Artistic Production, comprises visual material and is held at the Whitworth Art Gallery; WCA/2, Personal Papers, largely consists of textual material and is housed at the Library.

The collection covers all aspects of Crane’s art and design work, both commercial and private and includes his book illustration, decorative design, sketches and paintings.

His personal papers span the whole period of his working life, and include personal and professional correspondence, journals, commonplace books, holograph manuscripts, newspaper cuttings, and printed books.

There are also family photographs, photographs of his works, printing blocks and several medals which were awarded to Crane as an international exhibitor and for his services to the arts.

As well as being of interest to those researching the life and work of Walter Crane, the archive has significant research potential in the areas of political graphics, art and socialism, the nineteenth-century book trade, art education, interior design, children’s books, fashion and costume design, and the Arts & Crafts Movement. 

Significant individuals represented in the archive include: John Lane, Edmund Evans, Mary Seton Watts, Georgiana Burne-Jones, William Morris and his daughter May, Metford Warner, Edward Gordon Craig and Edmund Gosse.

Finding aids

Catalogue available online via ELGAR.


The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library