Express & Star

Unique collection of vintage corsets to go on sale in Lichfield

The pivotal role played by a manufacturer in the development of corsetry is explored in a unique archive coming up for auction in Lichfield.

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Dating back to the 19th Century, the collection covers 150 years of ladies’ foundation wear from Victorian times to 21st Century boudoir lingerie.

An important record of changing fashions, body shapes and the evolution of foundation wear, the archive is also a celebration of Richard Cooper & Co of Ashbourne and Uttoxeter, founded in 1855, and Chil-Tex Ltd.

Jim and Sue French

Founded in Ashbourne in 1971 by former Coopers executive Jim French, Chil-Tex grew to eventually incorporate Coopers, the company which drew the late Mr French from London to the region in the first place.

The collection – believed to be the only one of its kind in the country – goes under the hammer at The Lichfield Auction Centre, Wood End Lane, Fradley Park, as Lot 578 on day one of Richard Winterton Auctioneers’ Antiques & Home Sale on Monday, June 26, starting 9.30am.

There are more than a dozen boxes of garments ranging from utilitarian corsets in khaki and grey dating back to 1855 through softening styles and fashion trends to modern bridal wear, including pieces for Chil-Tex brand Court Royal.

There are also rare examples of military underwear made for the Auxiliary Territorial Service in the Second World War bearing the broad arrow mark plus civilian underwear with the WW2 utility label and a 1942 revised price list for utility corsetry.

The corset collection

In addition, there are corsets for children plus a rare 1950s shop counter display sculpture advertising Excelsior, historical documents, early 20th Century advertisements, half-tone sketches, vintage catalogues and other ephemera.

Catalogued as a single lot, the archive is estimated to fetch £400 to £600.

Much of it was rescued from an uncertain fate by Jim French when the company closed in 2004 and was held in storage for 18 years.

Mr French died in December 2020, 10 days shy of his 83rd birthday.

Now Jim’s wife Sue has decided it is time to pass on the collection to the next custodian.

“Jim’s wisdom saved the Cooper collection from being destroyed,” said Sue. “It is a remarkable archive which really demonstrates the evolution of foundation wear."

Court Royal bridal corset by Chil-Tex

“Back in Victorian times, if a woman didn’t wear a corset she was considered a loose woman. People also believed that corsets protected them from chest infections and pneumonia. Designs changed hugely over the decades, with products evolving into stunning outerwear or seductive underwear – and yet at the same time, we were still making some of the same corsets in 2004 as were designed in the 1960s.”

The catalogue for the June 26 auction is online now via and viewing in person takes place on Friday, June 23, from 10am-4pm.