In v2.7 I, as complete newbie, I first attempted to use the materials menu (without reading a tutorial) and was offered, to my pleasurable surprise, a window with an array of selectable shiny materials, perfect for my model. These were applied in solid view-port shading for both edit and object modes, replacing the gray default material. I disabled this material becuse its brightness was occasionally obscuring the meshes during editing, and presumably having not saved this, it has been lost. I have been unable to repeat my actions despite having loaded all .blend files on my system to retry and having done endless web searches for information. I would dearly like this option back, can anyone help please?
I think you are talking about the Matcap option for solid view mode :
In 3D view, hit N key to display the properties toolbar, then thick the Matcap option and choose a material.
Note that it only affects the 3D view in "solid view" mode, and won't be used for rendering.