New exhibition: ‘Hi-tiddley-hi-ti’ : echoes of the Victorian music hall

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

The Spellman Collection of Victorian music covers is one of my favourite collections, and looking through the many boxes of covers never fails to fascinate. The cover designs can be beautiful, imaginative, funny, the height of Victorian kitsch and sometimes just very strange, so it was a difficult, but enjoyable, task to choose 26 covers from a collection of around 2,500 to include in our new exhibition.

‘There’s more to follow : the great topical song’ SPELLMAN COLLECTION – 10057 – one of the many highlights of the Spellman Collection

One of the greatest strengths of the collection is its range and variety which make it a very rich source of images covering a wide range of subjects. Around 800 of the 2,500 or so covers have been digitised, and are available to view online via the Visual Arts Data Service (VADS) website. The extensive use of keywords in the cataloguing of the VADS images make it easy to search for images of specific subjects.

Victorian sheet music covers offer a colourful and fascinating insight into the popular songs and performers of the day, and also into the art and printing, politics and social history of the Victorian era. Pictorial sheet music covers first appeared in the early 1800s, and reached the height of their popularity in the second half of the nineteenth century. One of the most important developments in the history of sheet music covers was the introduction of lithographic printing in England in about 1800. This invention made the mass production of coloured illustrations far cheaper than ever before.

The exhibition on display in the Special Collections staircase hall

The reasons for the great demand for sheet music include the introduction of the upright piano, which became popular in middle class homes from the early nineteenth century, and the popularity of the music halls and their performers from the 1850s onwards. The covers feature illustrations of virtually every aspect of Victorian life, including historical events, royalty, eccentric society ‘types’, and love and marriage.

Some of the most memorable covers feature the vivacious and eccentric stars of the music halls, from the risque Marie Lloyd to the extraordinary performer James Henry Stead, who could leap up and down with both feet at once over 400 times in succession!

 

The exhibition will be on display in the staircase hall outside the Special Collections Service reading room until 31 October 2018, and is open Monday – Friday 9am to 5pm, Last Thursday of the month – 9am to 9pm and Saturday & Sunday – 10am to 5pm. Please ask a member of the MERL reception team for directions.

Celebrating 50 Years of Bringing Children and Books Together

The Federation of Children’s Book Groups is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Founded in 1968 by parent, teacher and television producer Anne Wood CBE, the organisation is passionate about bringing children and books together, working at both national and local levels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This exhibition traces the history of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups including the Children’s Book Award, which is the only national book award voted for entirely by children. It has been co-curated by the University of Reading Special Collections and Getting Reading Reading, which is one of the Federation’s local children’s book groups. They are one of the twelve Testing Groups for the award.

The exhibition features some of the past winners of the award displayed alongside books and objects from The Museum of English Rural Life and the University of Reading’s Special Collections. There is a particular focus on the theme of animals in children’s literature. The associated trail will lead you around the exhibition and beyond into The MERL, where you will also find the Ladybird Gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find out more about the work of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups by clicking here. The FCBG have also posted a blog about the exhibition on their own website.

The exhibition will be on display at the Special Collections Service until Tuesday 31 July 2018.

Return of the Red Rose

A collection of ephemera related to the Gild of the Red Rose.

A selection of brochures and ephemera from the University History Collection.

 

The Gild of the Red Rose was a literature and theatre society founded in 1897, by W.M. Childs. The group was open to staff and students, hosting dramatic performances and readings for many years. The group was not disbanded until the late 1980’s.  

The Gild was built on customs, titles and phrases that may be unfamiliar today. The committee was called the ‘Curia’ and the functions included Gemots, Morrowspeches and Jantacula. Mr Childs was inspired by the sixteenth century Gild Merchant of Reading when he founded this society.

The University History Collection holds brochures, photographs and other ephemera relating to the Gild. These archives can be accessed by visiting the Reading Room at the University of Reading Special Collections in the Museum of English Rural Life.

Programmes and photographs from this society will be displayed at the end of February. The archives form part of a third year BA Museum Studies project, where myself and fellow students have chosen to exhibit the theme of ‘Belonging’. Choosing a theme and title for the exhibition was not an easy decision, but eventually we agreed upon five sub-themes: Belonging to Conflict, Belonging to Culture, Belonging to Community, Belonging to Countryside and Belonging to Clubs. We chose these sub-themes because they each had a strong link to the vast university collections.  

Throughout this project, I focused mainly on the ‘Belonging to Clubs’ case, and quickly established a link between the archives and this sub-theme. Clubs like the Gild of the Red Rose created a sense of belonging by helping students to find like-minded communities. The Gild archives are fairly extensive and span decades of the university’s history, and the array of colourful programmes and photographs became an obvious choice for this case.

Working with the archives was an amazing opportunity, and researching objects such as scrapbooks and theatre song sheets often felt like opening the door on the university’s past. I was so impressed by the variety of archives that the University Special Collections hold, and much of my inspiration for the exhibition developed from visiting. I’m delighted that I have been able to view a snapshot of the life of former students, and hope that the ‘Belonging to Clubs’ case accurately represents the views of those who were a part of this fascinating society.

The Gild of the Red Rose material will be located in a case outside the Ure Museum on Whiteknights campus, while other sections of the ‘Belonging’ exhibition can be found at the Museum of English Rural Life, the Archaeology building on Whiteknights campus, and Reading Central Library. The exhibition closes on 13th April.  

Did you belong to the Gild of the Red Rose?

We’d love to hear your memories.

 

Lucy Wilkes, Final Year Museum and Classical Studies Student

New Exhibition: The John and Griselda Lewis Printing Collection

The John and Griselda Lewis Printing Collection consists of over 20,000 examples of printed documents covering several centuries and a wide variety of research subjects –from Fifteenth Century religious texts, Nineteenth Century love tokens to Twentieth Century book design. It complements other important printing and publishing collections held at the University’s Special Collections Service and the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication. A selection of favourite items from the collection is currently on display here at the Museum of English Rural Life.

A page from a journal article, decorated with red flowers.

An Illustration from Le Journal de la Decoration c.1906 (JGL 23 23)

John Lewis and His Chance Find

John Lewis spent many years as a lecturer in graphic design at the Royal College of Art, and wrote several publications on printing and book design. His 1962 publication Printed Ephemera: The Changing Uses of Type and Letterforms in English and American Printing is considered pivotal in giving credence to the notion of paper ephemera as a subject for academic study.

His interest in ephemera began as a young man. Lewis started his career as a printer for the firm of Cowells in Ipswich. While working here in the mid-1950s Lewis found a large scrapbook in a secondhand bookshop. The book contained an assortment of printed matter including printer’s marks, specimens of typefaces, tradesman’s bills and public notices. The scrapbook had been compiled in the 1820s by a Dr Lodge, at one time the librarian of the University of Cambridge. The exact purpose of the scrapbook remains a mystery, but John Lewis was compelled to purchase the book and study its contents. This original volume, which he later dissembled, formed the starting point of Lewis’s fascination with paper ephemera. In his collecting he was joined by his wife, the noted ceramicist Griselda Lewis. They believed that such temporary documents contain a wealth of evidence of everyday life in the past, as well as charting the development of printing techniques in the UK.

Wolpe and Weinreb

In addition to John and Griselda’s original collection, a proportion of the archive was originally collected by the typographer and illustrator Berthold Wolpe, a fellow lecturer at the Royal College of Art. The collection was further added to by Ben Weinreb, a London-based dealer in rare books who purchased the collection sometime around 1990. What survives today is an amalgamation of the collecting interests of these various parties. The result is a rare and diverse collection of printed ephemera incorporating early printing specimens, newspaper advertisements, street literature, book covers and trade cards, plus specimens of calligraphy, lithography and fine art printing. As such, material in this collection can support the research of many aspects of social history, as well as students of graphic design and the visual arts.

A black and white magazine cover of a woman, with the words Wendingen on the cover.

Cover from a 1924 edition of Wendingen magazine of art and architecture (JGL 29-4 -15)

During his ownership of the collection, Weinreb arranged the documents into various categories. Roughly the first half of the collection is organised by document type. These include Early Manuscripts and Printed Books, Prospectuses, and Trade Cards, Letterheads and Catalogues. Much of the latter half is arranged by themes, such as Religion, Maritime, Agriculture, and so on, each of which contain a broad mixture of documents. The majority of documents were glued and mounted onto around 1,900 light cardboard sheets, presumably as an aid to displaying and discussing the collection.

 

 Our Project

The collection is now fully catalogued, and is to be made available via our online catalogue. Each cardboard sheet has been digitally photographed. In addition, we are mid-way through a programme of conservation, as the glues used to mount the documents are harmful to their long term preservation. Documents are being carefully removed from their mounts and placed in archive-quality folders. This not only creates a better preservation environment, but also makes them easier for visitors to access in our reading room. In the short term parts of the collection are unavailable to researchers, but archive staff can advise enquirers as to specifics of availability.

The John and Griselda Lewis Printing Collection is being celebrated with an exhibition here at our Special Collections Service, housed at the Museum of English Rural Life. This exhibition showcases a range of attractive and unusual documents from the collection, and runs until Sunday 11th February.

Image of the Exhibition space.

A snapshot of our John and Griselda Lewis Exhibition.

New exhibition: From Italy to Britain: Winckelmann and the spread of neoclassical taste

Illustration of a Herculanean dancer. From: Ottavio Baiardi. The antiquities of Herculaneum. London: S. Leacroft, 1773.

Although Johann Joachim Winckelmann may not be a household name today, his influence on British art, design, and architecture was profound. Our new exhibition, ‘From Italy to Britain: Winckelmann and the spread of neoclassical taste’, tells the story of his contribution to the revival of classical arts and culture in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. In this post, Professor Amy Smith, one of the exhibition curators, explains how Winckelmann’s discoveries in Italy influenced and inspired generations of British artists, craftsmen and architects.

Like many antiquarians of his day, Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768) first learned about the Classics through immersion in literature. As a teacher then librarian in his native Germany, Winckelmann encountered the ancient world primarily through literary texts, as well as the souvenirs—coins, gems and figurines—Grand Tourists and other travellers had brought north from their visits to Italy. Once he arrived in Rome, where he rose to prominence at Prefect of Antiquities in the Vatican, Winckelmann studied the remains of Greek, Graeco-Roman and Roman art on a larger scale. Through personal contacts, letters and other writings, Winckelmann influenced his and subsequent generations of scholars, aesthetes, collectors, craftsmen and artists both within and beyond Italy.

The judgment of Paris. From: John Flaxman. The Iliad of Homer. London: Longman, 1805.

Winckelmann’s influence came to Britain through decorative designs in country houses that copied the style of wall paintings found in the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, on which he had reported. His influence is also visible in John Flaxman’s adaptations of classical and neoclassical images in drawings that illustrated the works of Homer and reliefs that decorate Josiah Wedgwood’s jasperware.

Winckelmann’s writings also encouraged an interest in Greek architecture and architectural sculpture, which was copied and adapted, for example, in Oxford’s Radcliffe Observatory. The upper story of this remarkable building, designed by Henry Keene in 1772 and completed by James Wyatt in 1794, copies Athens’ octagonal Tower of the Winds, with reliefs that emulate Wedgwood’s jasperware friezes.

The Tower of the Winds. From: James Stuart and Nicholas Revett. The antiquities of Athens. London: Haberkorn, 1762-94.

In the next generation architects continued to incorporate Hellenising elements into monuments such as Reading’s Simeon Monument (designed by Sir John Soane in 1804) and Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum (designed by Charles Robert Cockerell in 1845). The latter incorporates casts of the original friezes for the Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae, the originals of which were found by Cockerell and acquired by the British Museum. Knowledge of Greek architectural reliefs in the British Museum was disseminated on a smaller scale through engravings and miniature casts designed, manufactured and sold by John Henning (1771–1851).

The exhibition at Special Collections, From Italy to Britain: Winckelmann and the spread of neoclassical taste, displays some of Winckelmann’s letters, 18th–19th century printed volumes and drawings and relevant artefacts, ancient and modern, that illustrate Winckelmann’s broad influence. The exhibition, a collaboration of University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology (www.reading.ac.uk/ure) with Special Collections, runs from 15 September through 15 December 2017.

For information on opening hours and how to find us, please see our website.

All images © University of Reading Special Collections