The Betty Smithers Design Collection

Betty Smithers Design Collection

The Betty Smithers Design Collection (BSDC) is a teaching and research collection of mainly 20th-century objects housed in the Department of Creative Industries 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 staff and students are given an induction and handling guidelines before being allowed to access the collection. 

We are also interested to hear from scholars both in and outside the university interested in exploring the research potential of the Betty Smithers Design Collection.  

The BSDC online catalogue is available to browse online.

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. 

There is plenty 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!

Now housed in the Cadman Building, it supports courses across the university. It contains five main collections:

Costume, fashion 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.



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.

in the UK for Quality Education

Sustainable Development Goal 4, Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2023

for Career Prospects

Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023

for Facilities

Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023

for Social Inclusion

The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023

of Research Impact is ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Very Considerable’

Research Excellence Framework 2021

of Research is “Internationally Excellent” or “World Leading”

Research Excellence Framework 2021

Four Star Rating

QS Star Ratings 2021