Tag Archives: photographs

New catalogue: the postcard collection of the artist Tom Phillips, part 2

by Bethany Goodman

NOTE: This post discusses themes of death and racism.


The artist Tom Phillips (1937-2022) pursued numerous interests throughout his lifetime, one of which was his extensive collection of photographic postcards. The Bodleian has acquired this collection, which ranges from the late 1890s into the 1960s, and it is now catalogued and available to readers at the Weston Library. Further background to this collection was covered in a previous post [part 1], which also highlighted the postcards’ often humorous nature.

However, the collection is intended to present a holistic view of our collective human nature, and human nature isn’t always so light-hearted. The postcards are as broad in scope as they are in number, encapsulating the events and trends of the wider world in which their subjects lived. This postcard, for example, seems innocuous enough until you turn it around and read the message, and the scene is retrospectively contextualised in a darker light.

Figure 1 MS. 19966/88












War is a pervasive theme within the collection, with numerous boxes dedicated to depictions of the service of both men and women. Its impact is also clearly seen, both through the box labelled ‘War Wounded’ and the individual stories which some postcards tell.

This postcard depicts Harold, and his wife Allie, shortly before the outbreak of World War I. Turning the card over, a bleak picture of the impact of war is immediately visible, as we learn of Harold’s death. The author dates this tragedy to 1914. However, it is likely that Harold Oxford actually died on the 10th August 1915, as the Dardanelles Campaign did not begin until February 1915. This image was likely originally taken for cheerful posterity, but, over the course of a few years, the impact of world events turned the postcard into a memorial instead.

Figure 2 MS. 19966/11

This postcard depicts a different Harold, serving as a leading aircraftsman in the RAF during World War II. Unfortunately, his postcard represents the majority within this collection, with little or no further information available to link the subjects to their personal stories. In the case of this Harold, we have little insight as to who he was, where he served, or if he survived the war.

Around 28 million military personnel died in World War I and World War II. Several hundred service men and women are depicted within this collection, therefore it is likely that many of them were killed during the same conflicts which their postcards were intended to commemorate.

Figure 3 MS. 19966/16












Even without the presence of corresponding messages, the images of the postcards themselves often convey a damning reality, as is the case for the numerous examples of racism and othering portrayed within this collection.

Just over 15% of the boxes contain at least one instance of racist imagery. In most cases this is in the form of blackface. In one box, a racial slur is used, followed by postcards which depict people ‘dressed up’ as both a Ku Klux Klan member and Hitler. Amongst the images of new puppies, manicured gardens and proud shopkeepers, a parallel side of society emerges.

The starkness with which these attitudes and portrayals are represented is confronting.

Tom Phillips perhaps aimed to acknowledge this, as he compiled a collection which showcases the multi-faceted nature of the world we live in – both the good and the bad.

New catalogue: the postcard collection of the artist Tom Phillips, part 1

by Bethany Goodman

A collection of photographic postcards, supplemental to Tom Phillips’ primary archive, is now catalogued and available to readers at the Weston Library.

Tom Phillips (1937-2022) studied at St. Catherine’s College before undertaking a varied career, teaching art, including a stint as the Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University; creating art, including portraits, tapestries, sculptures and art books; writing operas, such as Irma (1970); and serving on several committees for cultural bodies, including the British Museum.

Another personal passion, however, was his collection of photographic postcards. Phillips collected around 50,000 of them throughout a lifetime of scouring flea markets and collectors’ fairs, which the Bodleian has now acquired.

Tom Phillips authored a book on the subject, The Postcard Century (2000), and curated a National Portrait Gallery exhibition, We are the People (2004), but perhaps his view on the legacy of the format is best seen through the postcards themselves.

The collection has been maintained in the original order and categories which Tom Phillips himself arranged them in. The scope of content ranges across the whole spectrum of human life, from ‘Babies’ to ‘Workers’ to ‘Weddings’ to ‘Family Groups’ to ‘Funeral’. It stops off at expected places in-between, such as ‘Sport’, ‘Gardens’, ‘Toys’ and ‘Animals’, as well as the unexpected, with ‘Fantasy transport’ perhaps a highlight on that front.

Ranging from the late 1890s into the 1960s, the collection presents a rich visual resource for historians and researchers, while also showcasing one of our most ubiquitous human characteristics: a desire to be remembered.

What follows are a selection of some of the department’s favourite postcards, to offer an idea of the breadth (and humour) of the collection.

Figure 1 (Toys, MS. 19966/41)


Abigail Spokes –

‘When she’s out of oat milk’










Figure 2 (Knitting, MS. 19966/88)


Amanda Sykes –

‘Waiting for someone to say “I like your outfit” so you can say “thanks I made it myself!”’

Figure 3 (Cats, Birds, Pets etc., MS. 19966/68)










Bethany Goodman –

‘Typical weekend plans’




Figure 4 (Readers & Writers, MS. 19966/18)



Charlotte McKillop-Mash –

‘Oscar Wilde cosplay?’









Figure 5 (Rural / Agriculture, MS. 19966/28)

Evie Morris – ‘Growing up, we didn’t have a farm but my dad wished we did and kept loads of crazy animals. I desperately wanted geese and one year we tried to hatch a dozen, and got one. I named her Sandy and loved her dearly until my parents gave her away. The look in this lady’s eye says she is suspicious that her fowl might also be taken away. She looks wise to the game, and mischievous’

Figure 6 (Cats, Birds, Pets etc., MS. 19966/68)


Francesca Miller –

‘The life of a cat owner – once again forced to stand because your cat has stolen your chair!’









Figure 7 (Horse & Donkey, MS. 19966/14)



Hannah Jordan –

‘She is too small for that horse’




Figure 8 (Figures in a landscape, MS. 19966/46)



Marion Lowman –

‘Best foot forward’




Figure 9 (Dogs, MS. 19966/42)



Miranda Scarlata –

‘Nobody sent me the memo that we were wearing monochrome today! – said from the perspective of the dog’

The happiest day of your life (#ArchivesAreYou)

A bride in wedding dress and veil posing for the camera holding a corgi dog, c. 1960s

Bride + corgi, c. 1960s, ©Bodleian Libraries

Helen Muspratt (1907-2001) was a skilled experimental and documentary photographer of the 1930s who produced haunting photographs of pre-war Russia and Ukraine as well as the Welsh valleys in the depths of the Great Depression. For most of her life, however, she was a hardworking studio photographer. From her studio on Cornmarket Street in Oxford she staged lively portraits of everyone who crossed the threshold, from playful toddlers to students celebrating degree days. And she was also a skilled wedding photographer, a job which consumed many Saturdays. Our collection of her wedding photographs spans the 1940s to the 1970s and showcases ordinary people, usually unnamed, in a beautiful array of wedding fashions.


New catalogue: Archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen family

The archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen family has now been fully catalogued and made available to readers. The catalogue is available to view online via Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts.

The collection contains a wide range of correspondence, including letters sent between John Hungerford Pollen and John Henry Newman. While most of these letters relate to the creation of Newman’s University Church in Dublin, they also bear testament to a lifelong friendship. Other notable correspondents in the collection include Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Evelyn Waugh, and the poet and artist David Jones.

The archive also contains many visual pieces such as numerous sketchbooks belonging to John Hungerford Pollen and various photographs, including a portrait of John Hungerford Pollen by the renowned early photographer Julia Margaret Cameron as well as family photographs of home life at Newbuildings.

Photograph of the Pollen Family (John and Maria Hungerford Pollen with their ten children)Photograph of the family of John Hungerford Pollen (with beard, standing centre), unknown photographer, Archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen Family, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17906 Photogr. 3.

Personal records in the collection include: an account by John Hungerford Pollen’s wife Maria of the aid she and her daughter Margaret gave to Italian police to recover some stolen Burano lace; a transcript of the diary of Anne Pollen between 1870 and 1881 detailing her life prior to becoming a nun at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton; and the wartime diaries kept by her sister Margaret between 1914 and 1919.

More information on the collection and Pollen family can be found in a series of blogposts posted in November 2020 to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen’s birth.

-Rachael Marsay

Photographic material in the Zoology Archive: H.N. Moseley, the Challenger Expedition and early panoramas, 1872-1876

The Zoology Archive is a collection of research, lecture and laboratory notes, illustrations and papers from Oxford Zoologists and the Department of Zoology, dating from the late 19th century to the 1990s. One of the eminent Oxford Zoologists whose papers are included in the archive is the naturalist Henry Nottidge Moseley (1844-1891). Moseley, with much experience in research and laboratory work abroad, had in 1871 accompanied the English Government Eclipse Expedition to undertake observation of the total eclipse from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India on 12 December 1871. Although Moseley’s papers contain some photographs of this journey, including the equipment and expedition staff in-situ at the observation station in Baikur, India [1], it is the collected photographs of the four year Challenger Expedition voyage which predominate in his photographic albums.

H.M.S Challenger embarked December 1872 to conduct global oceanic research; the expedition  is seen as the foundation of modern oceanography. Five years after returning to England’s shores in May 1876, Moseley would succeed George Rolleston as the Linacre Professor of the Department of Human and Comparative Anatomy (now, Zoology). These photographic albums comprise copies from the glass plates selected for Moseley’s collections and feature Moseley’s contemporary captions alongside the photographs. An entire list of photographs and holding collection information for Challenger Expedition photographs can be found in Brunton, E.V.  (1994) ‘The Challenger Expedition, 1872-1876: A Visual Index.’ The Natural History Museum, London. [2]

[3] ZOO MA 200 (Challenger 2) Panorama of Kyoto, Japan. [1872-1876].

[4] ZOO MA 207 (Challenger 10) pp.12-13. Two panoramas of the harbour in Bahia, Brazil, c.1873.

The first panoramic camera was not invented until 1898, so for those interested in capturing overviews of an entire landscape, like Moseley, it was a case of manually arranging photographic plates of two landscapes together to create the perspective of a panorama. The content of the photographs collected by Moseley also shed light on how the natural history of his environment piqued his interests. Moseley, appointed expedition botanist, was said to always be the last one to return from shore to ship, such was his zeal for the natural history and landscapes in their location [5].

[6] ZOO MA 204 (Challenger 8) Panorama of Levuka, Ovalau Island, former capital of Fiji until 1877. There is a tangible line where the plates (and then, prints) have been joined together to create an unbroken panoramic effect. [1872-1876]

As well as early photography, modern photographs relating to Oxford and Zoology in the archive include Zoology department photographs, 1960s, and photographs of the opening of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund [ICRF] Laboratory, 1987.

Retro-conversion work is currently being undertaken on the Zoology Archive, including enhancement of file and collection level cataloguing descriptions, re-housing and a publication of a new online catalogue to be made available in the coming months of 2022.

  1. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO MA 199 (Challenger 3)
  2. Department of Zoology archive copy available at ZOO MA 198b
  3. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO 200 (Challenger 2)
  4. Bodleian Libraries ZOO MA 207 (Challenger 10) pp. 12-13
  5. Moseley, H.N. entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19389
  6. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO MA 204 (Challenger 8)

Independence Day: Anglo-American Relations

In honour of the 4th of July (the States’ Independence Day), we decided simply to pull out a few photographs from the Archive showing US Presidents and British Prime Ministers over the years. From Churchill to Carter, Eisenhower to Eden, the close US/UK relationship has fostered quite a few friendships and a plethora of state meetings…

Churchill and Harry Truman confer over a cigar on board the USS Williamsburg, 1952 [CPA Photos].
US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Churchill, Eisenhower, and Anthony Eden enjoy a bit of sun of the White House lawn, 1954. Churchill was in Washington to confer with Eisenhower over issues of peace and security [CPA Photos].
Then Vice-President Richard Nixon greets Churchill as he arrives in the US on his 1954 visit. Nixon became President in 1969 [CPA Photos].
President John F Kennedy takes a walk with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan outside the Government House in Hamilton, Bermuda, December 1961. The pair met in Bermuda to discuss, among other things, nuclear defence. Bermuda was a popular meeting place, as it allowed the convenience of a ‘state visit’ on UK territory without the long trip to Europe [CPA Photos].
When Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited the US and President Carter in 1977, her team of staff prepared brief after brief on everything from US energy policy to Carter’s governing style. These preliminary notes explore Carter’s team and the way they operated [CRD 274].
Thatcher enjoyed a close working relationship with Reagan; the pair shared a similar outlook on economics and Soviet relations. Reagan and Thatcher’s relationship is more fully detailed on the Thatcher Foundation website [CPA Photos].
Images may not be used without permission of the Conservative Party Archive Trust.