Betty Smithers Design Collection

Browse the collection

Browse the Betty Smithers Design Collection


About the collection

The Betty Smithers Design Collection (BSDC) is a teaching collection of mainly 20th-century objects housed in the School of Creative Arts and Engerneering at Staffordshire University.

It exists as a learning resource and therefore all the objects (with a few restrictions) are available to borrow and handle by staff, students and the wider educational community – in fact, handling of the objects is actively encouraged.

We monitor the use of all the objects and students are given an induction and handling guidelines before being allowed to access the collection.

The accessibility of the collection recently enabled a visually-impaired placement student to complete a project on the changing attitudes towards clothing, examining the "make do and mend" era to modern, “throw away” fashion. 

The student spent £50 in Primark and then compared her purchases to the utility garments in the collection. Because of the BSDC approach to handling objects, she was able to understand how they compared to modern, more disposable fashion. 

By being able to feel the different fabrics used and the different methods of construction (hand versus machine-stitched seams, seam allowances, quality of fabric etc), she was able to gain an understanding of the differences in the making processes used then and now. 

And, in contrast to the idea of “throw away” fashion, the items bought from Primark for the research were accessioned and added to the collection.

Source: Museum Practice

Video: Animation Fundamentals Main Project by Cat Hayes 

Collection contents

The collection was established in the early 1980s to complement the teaching of what was then the History of Art and Design Department of the North Staffordshire Polytechnic. Now housed in the Cadman Building, it supports courses across the university. It contains five main collections:


This collection includes catalogues and literature put out by firms as diverse as Asda, Dulux and Harrods, as well as examples of packaging and customised carrier bags for Woolworths, Mary Quant and Camel cigarettes amongst others


These are small scale examples of industrial design, usually for domestic or office use. There are radios, vacuum cleaners, razors, cameras, hairdriers, a device for heating rollers for the 1930s "Marcelle wave" type of perm, typewriters and adding machines, bakelite electrical fittings, a gas iron (pictured) and a Pel Chair with tubular steel frame dating from the 1940s.


This is a small but interesting collection of objects made from all sorts of different plastics, from a casein photograph frame to a British Rail coffee cup.


This collection specialises in "down market" women's and teenage magazines like Woman's Own, Family Circle, Jackie, Blue Jeans and 19 which are not found in most library collections. The collection of fashion magazines is of particular interest, and includes items from the late 19th century to the present day, with the period of 1910 - 1920 being especially well covered.

There are many other periodicals too, like a group of 1940s copies of Wireless World, Picture Post, 1950s and 1960s motor magazines, 60s and 70s underground magazines such as Oz and feminist magazine, Spare Rib and near complete runs of Sunday Times, Observer and Independent colour supplements.

Costume and Textiles

The emphasis here is on the 20th century, on garments made from synthetic fabrics and on teenage fashion. There is, for example, a skirt from one of Marks and Spencer's first ranges of pleated terylene, a "wet look" bikini, a group of Utility garments and bed-linen, and outfits by Biba and Mary Quant.

There is plenty more to see including Britain's oldest washing machine, dresses from the 1920s and a handbag constructed with a secret compartment to take a gas mask!

Video: Liz Allen at the 'Out of the Wardrobe' Exhibition 

Opening Times

Tuesday: 1.30pm - 4.30pm
Friday: 9.30pm - 12.30pm

(Please ring ahead to make an appointment)


Caroline Hunter
Cadman Building
College Road
Stoke on Trent

t: 01782 294411