We are grateful to John for another post about one of the treasures of his collection
Captain Koenig and the Crew of the Deutschland. Interesting. This Real Photo postcard dating from 1916 appeared – at first glance – to be the Captain and senior officers of a German ocean liner, interned by the Americans on the outbreak of the First War. When I saw it, I assumed that it would fill a useful slot in The Sayers Collection. There are other cards of this genre, and the year 1916 would be logical for this assumption.
No such luck. A check on returning home from the event where I purchased this card showed that the liner Deutschland had been renamed in 1910 after 10 years of Transatlantic service, so was not operating under that name after 1910. And it wasn’t the battleship Deutschland, which had gone into service in 1903.
So who are these men? What were they doing in 1916? And why the varied range of attire, some of it casual except for their hats? Surprise! They are the crew of a significant German submarine, which went into service in 1916 as a cargo vessel for the North German Lloyd line, christened as the Deutschland. She and a sister submarine were unarmed non-naval vessels designed to evade the British warships blockading Germany. With a capacity of 700 tons, they were designed to carry strategic materials from America and deliver high-end German products like aniline dyes to the U.S. It appears that they were the first-ever purpose-built cargo-carrying submarines.
There was considerable controversy because the British blockade of Germany could not stop these undersea ships from carrying strategic cargo. Britain claimed that by not interning this boat the Americans were favouring Germany. America was neutral at this stage of the war and concluded that it could not discriminate in regard to what was essentially a cargo ship. If it had been armed and a ship of the German navy, the position would have been different.
Deutschland made only two trips – one to New York and a second one which involved Baltimore. There are images online from the second voyage, but none of this first voyage! Photographer and publisher is G.L. Thompson, New York.
In 1917 Deutschland was taken over from the North German Lloyd shipping line by the German navy, armed for war service, and renamed U-155. Her cargo-carrying ability was inadequate and the need for more attack submarines transcended her value as a cargo carrier. Even though her design was not that of a conventional submarine, serving until the end of the War she reportedly sank over 20,000 tons of Allied shipping.
This postcard, and thousands of other pieces of ephemera, is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. A vast quantity of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.
We are grateful to John Sayers for continuing to commentate his fascinating donation of Ocean Liner ephemera in this series of blog posts.
The SS Olympic, sister ship to Titanic, was launched and entered service prior to the Titanic. They were so similar that interior pictures of the Olympic could also pass for images of the Titanic.
Titanic didn’t survive her first voyage, but Olympic sailed on for over 20 more years. Part of those years were during wartime and a recent postcard find reminds us of that service. Adding to the Stevengraphs in the Sayers Collection at the John Johnson Collection is a charming postcard captioned as the ‘H.M.S. Olympic’. This card is not to be confused with the other example of the same ship that is in the Collection. It’s from the period when she was serving as a White Star Line passenger liner and Royal Mail Ship (hence ‘R.M.S.’). This iteration is different.
Why ‘HMS’, which would denote a naval ship? Other references to her war service show her as HMT – His Majesty’s Transport. Specifically, a ‘Grand Concert’ Program of November 4, 1916 shows her as H.M.T. 2810 (left). One can only assume that the publisher of the card wasn’t familiar with naval designations. Regardless of the inaccuracy, it’s a beautiful card.
This postcard, and a significant amount of other White Star Line and wartime ephemera is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. A vast quantity of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.
Elegant women in elegant gowns, their images set off by delicate lace paper by Mansell or Dobbs: typical valentine cards – or were they? After looking at thousands of British valentines in the John Johnson Collection and the online collections of the Museum of London, it would seem that the answer is ‘not really.’ Certainly there are some, but there are far more examples of flowers and birds, cupids and temples than realistic damsels. Perhaps purchasers fought shy of representing their loved one with a woman with different colour eyes or hair, or surpassing her in beauty. Perhaps the Victorians preferred the symbolism of flowers or the intricate concoctions of lacy elaborate valentines.
The heyday of the Victorian valentine in the 1850s and 1860s coincided with the emergence of the crinoline. Even with ladies of high class, the hooped petticoats were frequently the butt of humour.
Somewhat surprisingly, crinolines were worn by all strata of society – an irresistible temptation to the publishers of ‘comic’ or ‘vinegar valentines. By far the greater number of ‘fashion’ related valentines in the John Johnson Collection are of this type.
Hats and bonnets, parasols, breeches, & rouge all were fair game for the engravers and versifiers of these cruel valentines. Aimed at the lower classes, men reproached women for trying to appear too fine, for falsifying their appearance. The ‘dasher’ of the title is portrayed below, with the lines I’d sooner drown and end my life / Than have a dasher for a wife.’
But men did not escape. The most obvious targets were dandies, fops and swells, or lady-killers!
However caricaturised, however cruel, these vinegar valentines give us as much (or more) insight into the fashion (and language) of the time than the beautiful idealised and idolised elegant maidens of high society.
Both form the subject of our new Pinterest page, in association with the National Valentine Collectors Association (USA) and their wonderful and indefatigable President, Nancy Rosin.
Among the last batch of John Sayers’ wonderful donation of ocean liner ephemera is an intriguing file of Pinbacks and Mirrors. Here John contextualises one of the mirrors.
This image is a relatively common Second War postcard view of the RMS Queen Mary, the famous passenger ship known as the ‘Grey Ghost’ for her speed and elusiveness while trooping. But this image is the front side of a purse mirror. Why is it on a purse mirror?
At the end of the Second War, the Queen Mary and her Cunard running mates, Queen Elizabeth and Aquitania, began to unwind the wartime carrying process by bringing troops back from Europe to America and Canada. After the First War, one of the popular gifts for soldiers to bring home to a loved one was a handkerchief printed with the caption “The Ship That Brought Me Home” and an illustration of the liner on which they travelled. Several examples are included in the Sayers Collection.
For the Second War, it appears that a favourite gift may have been a mirror with an image of the ship which carried the soldier home. But there was also another possible element in this postwar story – War Brides. In the immediate post-Second War period, all three of these ships brought women who had married American and Canadian soldiers while they were stationed in Europe.
There were thousands of War Brides, and all the menus saved by a War Bride on July 4, 1946 on board the Queen Mary are elsewhere in the Sayers Collection. The highlight which ties that day together is a printed message from the captain welcoming the passengers to “…the country of your adoption”.
So, it may also be that these mirrors were purchased from the respective onboard Gift Shops on the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and Aquitania by some of the War Brides. It would be a logical purchase – feminine, useful, easy to pack or put in a purse, and relatively inexpensive for limited budgets. And it would capture for their memory the image of the ship on which they travelled, still in its wartime livery before being restored to the normal Cunard colours for regular passenger service.
Ephemera can kindle not only our own memories, but also an insight to the lives of others.
This material, and a vast quantity of other ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library.
There are 27 boxes of Christmas cards in the John Johnson Collection and a further 7 of Christmas cards: trade. Christmas cards are also represented in our Albums, notably in a Jonathan King stock book, a S. Hildersheimer & Co. sample album (1880-81), and in a beautiful Hildesheimer & Faulkner competition album (1881-1882). This post aims to contextualise some of these cards.
The Victorians are often credited with (or blamed for) inventing the modern Christmas. Before the Victorian era there was no continuing tradition of celebrating Christmas. In the church calendar Easter was the more important festival. However, as most Christmas celebrations have their roots in traditional, even ancient, British and European customs, the Victorian Christmas was in reality an amalgam of novelty and nostalgia.
The Christmas card, however, was a true Victorian invention. The commercial Christmas card can be dated precisely to 1843, to a commission by Henry Cole (1808–1882, later knighted). Cole had worked with Rowland Hill on the Penny Post (1840) and was later famed for his contributions to the Great Exhibition and to the founding of the South Kensington Museum (subsequently the V&A) of which he was the first Director. The card was designed by John Callcott Horsley (1817–1903) and departs from the intricate lace paper and elaborate composition of the contemporary and well-established valentine. The hand-coloured design encapsulates the central elements of the Victorian Christmas in a pseudo-triptych. It shows a wealthy family toasting the viewer, flanked by two scenes of charitable giving to the poor. It is notably secular. Sadly, we do not have an example in the John Johnson Collection, so I refer you to the V&A’s excellent online article about the card.
Despite good sales of the Cole–Horsley card (1,000 copies were lithographed and hand-coloured and those surplus to Cole’s personal needs were sold at his own shop, Felix Summerly’s Home Office, for the princely sum of a shilling each), the next commercial British Christmas card was not produced until 1848. In the 1860s, Christmas cards were typically similar to visiting cards, with scalloped edges and small embossed images of robins, holly or flowers. Note headings with similar designs embossed at the top were also popular at this time with matching scalloped envelopes.
It was not until the 1870s that the tradition of sending cards was finally established, coinciding with the flowering of colour printing (in the form of chromolithography). The halfpenny postage for unsealed correspondence boosted sales of Christmas cards and marked the birth of the postcard in Britain. The Post Office first asked the public to ‘Post early for Christmas’ in 1881, and in 1882 The London Reader still referred to Christmas cards as the ‘latest development … of late years.’
The newest cards from publishers such as Marcus Ward, Hildesheimer and Faulkner (both famed for their superior artwork), Sulman, and Rimmel (whose offerings were often scented sachets) were eagerly awaited and discussed in the press. Cards were usually single rather than folded sheets with printed verses and space for handwritten messages on the back.
In the 1870s to 1880s, they became more complex, sometimes incorporating lace paper, decorative scraps, mechanical devices (cards with paper ‘springs’ to create a three-dimensional effect, or with strings to activate moveable parts or pop-ups), and gold and silver printing. They were the province of the wealthy, but were less expensive than valentines.
Marcus Ward’s artists included Walter Crane (brother of its artistic director) and Kate Greenaway. Several publishers ran competitions for card design or artistic arrangement of cards in the albums that were so popular among women.
It is surprising that, in such a pious age, the imagery of most Christmas cards was not religious (although the accompanying verses sometimes were).
Certainly there were some nativity scenes, angels, crosses with flowers or religious sentiments, but these were well outnumbered by images of children, Father Christmases, wintry scenes, flowers (often looking forward to spring rather than winter), robins, food and anthropomorphic animals and birds.
Humorous cards were also common. Did the Victorians find the secular nature of most of their Christmas cards odd? There is little evidence that they did. ‘The diffusion among one’s friends and relatives of things so well adapted to cultivate taste is a real Christmas Charity’ wrote Thomas Hood about Marcus Ward’s latest cards in the journal Fun. Church attendance (and charitable giving) would have been taken for granted, and the secular and the sacred seem to have co-existed comfortably.
An invaluable contemporary account of Christmas cards is this extra number of The Studio, 1894.
The Christmas card has continued in popularity, although the flights and fancies of Victorian invention and paper engineering have given way to much simpler, folded cards. A few years ago it was almost unthinkable that the Christmas card might disappear, despite the secularisation of greetings as well as images on some cards in order to avoid causing offence. However, environmental concerns and the viable alternative of the e-Card may result in its decline. As Librarian of the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera (in the Bodleian Library), I find a gentle irony in the gradual substitution of the ephemeral by the e-phemeral!
We are grateful to Jill Shefrin for contributing this guest post and to Audrey T. Carpenter for donating the Vinicombe school pieces which Jill discusses. Jill is compiling a complete catalogue of all known school pieces in English. If you know of any, please email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In his memoirs, the grammarian Lindley Murray (1745-1826) recalled an incident in his childhood during which:
“a very happy impression was made on my mind, by a piece which was given me to write, and in the performance of which I had to exhibit a specimen of my best handwriting. The sheet was decorated round its edges with a number of pleasing figures, displayed with taste and simplicity. In the centre my performance was to be contained. This was a transcript of the visit and salutation of the angels to the shepherds… who were tending their flocks by night. The beauty of the sheet; the property I was to have in it; and the distinction which I expected from performing the work in a handsome manner; prepared my mind for relishing the solemn narrative… I was highly pleased with the whole.” (quoted in Charles Monaghan, The Murrays of Murray Hill. Urban History Press, 1998, pp. 9-10).
In 1799, a ten-year-old boy called Henry Vinicombe completed a “specimen of” his “best handwriting.” He would probably have called the printed sheet a “school piece”. It and another, filled in by Henry in 1800, have recently been donated to the John Johnson Collection by Audrey T. Carpenter
An earlier piece by Henry, displaying his text surrounded by engravings of Admiral Nelson’s glorious victory over the French fleet off the mouth of the Nile (Laurie & Whittle, 1798), is in the collections of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich: http://bit.ly/2AbbV8u
The function of a school piece was the same as that of a sampler, except that it was handwriting rather than stitchery that was on show. The child, in this case Henry Vinicombe, wrote in the blank centre of the sheet
Sometimes a place for their signature—and perhaps the date of completion or the name of their school—was incorporated into the pictorial border.
In format, school pieces recall prints on which a border design encloses letterpress type.
School piece borders were often narrative, their content diverse. Some illustrated bible stories, others popular works of literature or history or even theatre productions.
Others taught lessons in geography, writing or more intangible subjects like politeness, industriousness or the virtues of commerce. Yet others portrayed the news of the day, from military and naval victories through notorious crimes and cataclysmic events.
Curators and antiquarian booksellers call these sheets “writing blanks” or “writing sheets”. In the long eighteenth century they had many names, of which “school piece” was the most common. Printed from copperplates, they were published between about 1660 and 1860. As with other kinds of relatively cheap prints, the survival rate for school pieces is very low; the Bodleian is fortunate to hold well over 100 examples.
Rare as these sheets are, and difficult as it is to trace the history of their publication, contemporary descriptions of their use are rarer still. Murray helps us to understand children’s response to their school pieces. Henry’s school pieces are special because, thanks to his descendent, who donated his pieces to the library, we know something about his life. All too often, it is impossible to establish anything at all about the lives of the children whose possessions survive in museums and rare book and ephemera collections.
I’ve been piecing together the history of English school pieces for several years. They were sold in some other European countries, but only some, There’s a very useful book by Leontine Buijnsters-Smets on Dutch school pieces: Decoratieve prenten met geschreven wensen, 1670-1870. Nijmegen : Vantilt, 2007
Published to coincide with the end of a school term, with new titles appearing regularly, in England they were sold wholesale to schoolmasters, who then sold them on to their pupils.
Some children purchased them directly, either in shops, or if the evidence of a set of alphabet cards of London Cries published by William and Thomas Darton can be trusted, from street criers.
At least by the nineteenth century—when they were known as “Christmas pieces”—even children in workhouses might receive prizes for them. According to the Morning Chronicle (23 December 1840), on:
“Christmas-day in the Workhouses …in Clerkenwell, … Mr. Whitelock, one of the overseers, has generally supplied the children with Christmas pieces to write for prizes.”
I’ve said we are fortunate to know Henry’s history. His father, William Vinicombe was an Excise Officer. The family lived in Marylebone, in London, where they leased a house and took in lodgers and Henry and his sisters went to school. He started working at thirteen. We don’t know his initial occupation but, like his father, it was probably something clerical, and in 1818 he followed his father into the Excise Service, and had achieved a relatively senior position before he was fired in 1843, having been found in “a State of Intoxication from excessive drinking”. As a young man he was a bit of a dandy, spending beyond his means on fashionable clothing—but also on books. He married in 1832 and had eight children. I’ve traced a few other young people whose school pieces have survived from the long eighteenth century. They were sons and daughters of tradesmen, merchants, clergymen, tenant farmers, and gentlemen.
Had Henry been a girl it would be even more exciting to know his history. Only about a fifth of the filled-in school pieces I’ve seen were done by girls—including one by Henry’s sister, Frances Vinicombe— and contemporary advertisements often refer to them as “for school-boys to write in” (H. Overton, 1758).
One of Henry’s school pieces celebrates Education, with emblematic illustrations representing a gentlemanly curriculum: War, Mesuration, Geography, Mathematics, History, Music, Astronomy, Fortification, Painting, Agriculture and Commerce. Like arithmetic, writing was a very important skill in the long eighteenth century for young men seeking employment. Writing masters like Joseph Champion and Philip Pickering advertised that they could “speedily” fit youths “for Trades” (Country Journal or The Craftsman, 9 January 1731) or “any of the Publick Offices” (Daily Journal, 14 June 1728). A boy who could both write well and keep accounts was almost certain to find employment.
Benjamin Franklin, whose life story was told on another school piece in the collection, was a sterling example of the rewards of such industriousness.
Henry’s chosen text for 1800 celebrates the value of a good education. [image] It was excerpted from the moral to the fable of “The Bull and the Dog” in William Markham’s Introduction to Spelling and Reading English. First published in 1738, Markham’s spelling book was among the most popular of the century. Henry probably read one of the editions illustrated by Thomas Bewick. The passage nicely summarizes the value of education for a young man at the close of the eighteenth century: “Nothing has a more direct Tendency to promote the Honour of a Nation, or the Good of Society, than the Initiation of Youth, in Virtue and Knowledge.”