Two technologies: the Baird Televisor and Photomechanical printing in monochrome — by Daniel Haynes

Photographic methods began to influence commercial printing in the closing decades of the 19th century. They depended on two developments. One (affecting relief printing only) was controlling the etching of the metal when lowering the unwanted parts. The other was the manufacture of crossed-line screens that could break down the continuous tones of an image into binary dots of various sizes, small ones in light areas, larger ones in dark areas. The main limitation of photomechanical printing in relief was that the resolution of the grid of dots limited the kind of paper used, the commercial norm being 133 dots to the inch (52.36 dots to the cm). From A Brief Guide to Printing Processes in the Exhibition.

The Baird Televisor, leaflet c. 1933
The Baird Televisor, leaflet, c. 1933. JJColl: Television 1. Relief printed halftone block, printed in blue.

Baird Televisor detail
Baird Televisor detail showing binary dots

From cars and aeroplanes to telephones and domestic gas stoves, The Art of Advertising  showcases many great inventions of the early 20th century. The Baird Televisor was the first commercial television, manufactured by Plessor (now BAE Systems), and marketed as ‘the very latest marvel . . . Not a photograph, nor yet a shadowgraph, but an actual moving image’. Its inventor, the Scottish engineer John Logie Baird (1888-1946), was a pioneer of early television who had demonstrated the first live television broadcast in 1926, the first cross-country broadcast in 1927, and the first transatlantic television signal in 1928. The Baird Televisor, sold to the public from 1929, brought ‘the very latest marvel’ into the home for the first time.

The Televisor was a mechanical television — the precursor to analogue. Its black-and-white ‘moving image’ was the result of decades of experimentation and invention, adapting the image-scanning ‘Nipkow disk’ patented by the German inventor Paul Gottleib Nipkow in 1885. As the diagram below demonstrates, a bright light was projected onto the subject through a Nipkow disk. The reflected light was then captured by photo-sensitive selenium cells and converted into an electric signal, which was displayed on the home receiver kit via its own Nipkow disk (the upright drum on the model shown above). This YouTube video from Technology Connections provides an excellent breakdown of the complicated science behind mechanical televisions — though Baird’s 1923 prototype ran on just a few bike lights, old cardboard, and glue — but if you want to skip the science, just know that the earliest screens produced an image not much wider than an inch and a half.

Diagram showing the transmission of sound and image for early televisions (Public domain: Wikimedia Commons). An adapted ‘Nipkow Disk’ is seen attached to the ‘Driving motor’, top-left.
Baird Televisor screen, showing the 30-line image (courtesy of the Early Television Museum).

The Baird Televisor had a resolution of 30 lines, corresponding to the 30 holes in its Nipkow Disk. The higher the resolution, the bigger the Nipkow disk needed to be, and this was impractical (and incredibly noisy) for home systems. Although the Televisor is certainly bulky by modern standards, it is important to counter our sensibility for thinner, sleeker appliances by drawing attention to the Televisor’s biggest rival: the cinema, which predated television by over a decade. As Donald F. McLean writes in his re-examination of early television, Restoring Baird’s Image: ‘it is hard for us to appreciate how significant a hold cinema had when television first started.’ That Baird managed not only to capture moving images without conventional film and transmit them over great distances but achieved this in a device no bigger than a moderately-sized CRT is a marvel in its own right, remembering that cinema was not required to transmit beyond the walls of the movie theatre — and it didn’t project ‘live’.

Understood in this context, the ‘DAILY BROADCAST’ detailed bottom-right in our advertisement for the Televisor takes on critical importance as a persuasive device. To justify its high cost and position itself as a valid competitor to the cinema, the Televisor had to give people a reason to stay indoors. Enter the British Broadcasting Corporation, and its first foray into television. On the face of it, the Televisor schedule is conspicuously limited to a half-hour slot on weekday mornings. In fact, the first BBC broadcasts in 1929 didn’t include sound — but a complete broadcasting schedule from 1930 digitised by the Early Television Museum reveals that an additional evening transmission was broadcast from midnight to 12.30am on Tuesdays and Fridays. The schedule is viewable here (content warning: one programme contains the use of a racial slur). These early programmes have more in common with theatre than cinema, with vocal or instrumental recitals and solo comedic entertainers dominating the line-up. While it’s true that ensembles such as ballet troupes occasionally feature, early television favoured the lone performer.

Look back at the advertisement and notice the shape of the screen. Unlike modern televisions, it is portrait-oriented: allegedly, John Logie Baird initially conceived of his invention as a real-time communication device, much like the modern video call, and devised screen-space optimised to the dimensions of the single caller. And, like video calls, it’s more difficult to fit a crowd into a portrait rather than a landscape screen. Whatever the reason, Televisors, and all subsequent models including the 1933-4 Mirror Drum, retained this odd orientation.

So what was early television actually like for contemporary audiences? As this 1928 review of a Televisor demonstration suggests, the answer is perhaps ‘not great’:

1928 review of the Televisor’s image quality (courtesy of the Early Television Museum).
John Logie Baird in his laboratory with ‘Stooky Bill’ (Public domain: Wikimedia Commons).

For however groundbreaking it was, mechanical television could not match the high definition and manoeuvrability of the film camera, and a clear display could be difficult to achieve. The Baird receptor could not move (i.e. it could not pan), regular synchronisation was required, and its reliance on bright artificial light confined it to dim indoor studios; as such, a static actor or performer aided by high-contrast makeup and lighting produced the most reliably watchable content, especially on early Baird models. In fact, the first television image, transmitted in 1925 from John Logie Baird’s laboratory, was a heavily made-up ventriloquist’s dummy called ‘Stooky Bill’.

The first British radio play, Luigi Pirandello’s The Man with a Flower in His Mouth, was staged in July 1930 on a Baird Televisor. This incredible 1963 recreation by the original producer using a refitted Televisor demonstrates the slow, characterful acting demanded of 30-line resolution:

By 1930, higher-definition electronic analogue televisions were in commercial production, and Baird himself demonstrated 120-line projection television in colour at the Dominion Theatre in 1938. By the 1940s, electronic analogue television had completely replaced the inferior mechanical systems (the BBC switched to electronic Marconi-EMI systems in 1935).

Despite its short lifespan, the original Baird Televisor achieved something extraordinary. It introduced televisions and broadcasting to the public, and paved the way for greater invention and competition. The Televisor promised technology ‘only dreamed of by writers of fiction’: live, moving pictures, transmitted near-immediately across land and sea. Its futuristic claims were supported in its advertising material by the use of photomechanical printing which, just like its product, brought a true-to-life image before the viewer’s eyes.

In an age where even 24-hour cable seems antiquated, and media is increasingly mediated by our own schedules, it’s mindblowing to consider the technological effort that went into making audiovisual entertainment possible. Next time you’re bored of Netflix, remember poor John Logie Baird working overtime just to make a blurry face flicker on a monochrome screen…

 


Further reading and resources:

  • Donald F. McLean, Restoring Baird’s Image (a selection is available here via Google Books).
  • The Early Television Museum – resource for all mechanical, pre- and post-war televisions and broadcasting.
  • Baird Television – website dedicated to John Logie Baird’s career and inventions.
  • Bonhams – Televisor sold for £21,000 at auction in 2017.
  • Wikipedia entry for ‘Stooky Bill‘.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here Come the Home Children. Guest post by John G. Sayers

We are grateful to John Sayers for another post in his series on ocean liner ephemera.

Allan Line promotional flyer, 1890s
Allan Line promotional flyer, 1890s

The Allan Line ephemera in The Sayers Collection brings to mind the significant role that the Line played in shipping migrants to Canada. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the Canadian Government worked hard to encourage immigration of all types from the British Isles and the 1890 promotional flyer illustrated was a fascinating part of that effort. A specific example was the Home Children, orphaned and abandoned and then taken in by the Barnardo Homes among others.

A local building in our own home town in Canada housed Home Children a hundred years ago and they reportedly all came on Allan Line ships. One of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum’s prized artifacts is a child’s simply-constructed wooden box addressed as being sent via Allan Line’s RMS Corsican.

Coincidentally, the immigration promotion activity produced good business for the Allan Line. This flyer was found with an Allan Line Passenger List and hinted at the impetus for that traveller’s voyage. But if they were immigrating, he or she wasn’t your regular Steerage passenger, because Steerage Class received little documentation. Only a non-steerage passenger would receive a Passenger List or a Menu with a choice of meal offerings. The Home Children being sent to Canada would have had to accept whatever food was plopped onto their plates.

Allan Line immigration inspection card, 23 March 1911
Allan Line immigration inspection card, 23 March 1911

Other Allan Line ephemera in the extensive Sayers Collection includes a Landing Pass from a Corsican passenger, a Mr. William Harrison, showing that he had passed the Medical and Civil Examination criteria. And on the back were instructions in all of the major European languages, confirming that some passengers did not originate in the British Isles. Nationals of other countries were also looking for a new life in the New World.

This archive and a vast trove of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. Additional gems from The Sayers Collection continue to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.

jasayers@saybuck.com

 

Dashers and dandies: elegance or vanity. Victorian valentines and the the artifice of dress

John Johnson Collection: Valentines 7 (16)
John Johnson Collection: Valentines 7 (16)

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.

John Johnson Collection: Valentines 7 (17)

 

John Johnson Collection: Valentines 7 (19)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Dressing for the ball. Satirical print: John Johnson Collection: Valentines 7 (19)
John Johnson Collection: Fashion 19 (24)
John Johnson Collection: Valentines 3 (86)
John Johnson Collection: Valentines 3 (86)
John Johnson Collection: Valentines 1 (71)
John Johnson Collection: Valentines 1 (71) The ‘pork pie hat’ becomes you well / For seldom now we see a belle / Of such extensive girth, / You may account yourself a prize. / For all must class you from your size / With fat things of the earth.

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.

John Johnson Collection: Valentines 3 (70)
John Johnson Collection: Valentines 3 (70) To balls and parties thus you go / With crinoline to catch a beau, / I’m not caught in such a trap / Not wishing to become a flat

 

 

John Johnson Collection: Valentines 2 (6)
John Johnson Collection: Valentines 2 (6) So absurdly do you dress, / No words can my disgust express, / As wife I would never call mine / A thing made up of Crinoline, / With hoops & pads why you appear / Six times the size you really are,/ Were your crinoline transparent / Then the deceit would be apparent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.’

 

John Johnson Collection: Valentines 5 (11b)
John Johnson Collection: Valentines 5 (11b)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But men did not escape. The most obvious targets were dandies, fops and swells, or lady-killers!

 

John Johnson Collection: Valentines 2 (27)
John Johnson Collection: Valentines 2 (27)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Johnson Collection: Valentines 1 (60a)
John Johnson Collection: Valentines 1 (60a)

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.

 

Second World War R.M.S. Queen Mary Mirror. Guest post by John G. Sayers

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.

 

The surprising story of the Christmas card

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.

Two visiting-card style Christmas cards of the 1860s
Two visiting-card style Christmas cards of the 1860s. JJColl Christmas Cards 1

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.’

Rimmel advertisement from theatre programme, 26 November 1877
Rimmel advertisement from theatre programme, 26 November 1877. JJColl London Playbills Covent Garden box 3 (30)

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.

Christmas card with pop-up and opening doors.
Christmas card with pop-up and opening doors. JJColl Christmas Cards 6

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.

Pantomime card with elaborate springs revealing a stage with a pantomime in progress.
Pantomime card with elaborate springs revealing a stage with a pantomime in progress. JJColl Christmas Cards 6

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Kate Greenaway card for Marcus Ward.
Kate Greenaway card for Marcus Ward. JJColl. Christmas Cards 12
Walter Crane card for Marcus Ward.
Walter Crane card for Marcus Ward. JJColl Christmas Cards 12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Competition page. For their Exhibition of Christmas card designs of 1881-1882, Hildesheimer & Faulkner invited various amateurs to arrange these cards as they sought fit and add their own decoration. A number of prizes were awarded for the best designs.
Competition page. For their Exhibition of Christmas card designs of 1881-1882, Hildesheimer & Faulkner invited various amateurs to arrange these cards as they sought fit and add their own decoration. A number of prizes were awarded for the best designs. JJColl Albums 11

It is surprising that, in such a pious age, the imagery of most Christmas cards was not religious (although the accompanying verses sometimes were).

Religious Christmas card
Religious Christmas card. JJColl. Christmas Cards 10

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.

Cover of The Studio extra Christmas Number 1894
Cover of The Studio extra Christmas Number 1894. JJColl Christmas Cards 4

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!

Julie Anne Lambert

 

 

 

 

Ephemeral Reading: Christmas and Summer Annuals in the John Johnson Collection. Guest post by Terry Hale, University of Hull

We are very privileged to have a guest post by Dr Terry Hale from the University of Hull. An expert on annuals, this festive post explores a little-known corner of the John Johnson Collection.

Cover of Ally Sloper's Summer Number, 1883
Ally Sloper’s Summer Number, 1883. JJColl: Annuals 1

Despite the considerable level of academic interest in Victorian literary culture, much of it in recent years focusing on sensation fiction, the more ephemeral publications of the era – notably, Christmas Annuals, the closely-related Summer Numbers/Annuals, and even, starting in the early 1880s, the Shilling Shocker – have fared much less well. This is all the more surprising given that such ephemeral productions, though looking back to such relatively well-documented forms as the literary annuals, gift books, and keepsakes of the 1820s and 30s, were largely a product of the same forces that gave rise to Victorian sensationalism or, in the case of those productions aimed at juvenile readers, an attempt to mitigate and channel those forces in more wholesome directions.

A large part of the problem is, of course, that such ephemeral productions have simply not survived. By and large, readers discarded such material almost as quickly as they acquired it, probably at the same time they took down their decorations in the case of Christmas Annuals or while packing their trunks before returning home from their holidays in the case of Summer Numbers, while collectors, bibliophiles and librarians have tended to view such material as unworthy of their attention. Even Shilling Shockers, with their fragile paper wrappers and far from sturdy paper spines, were hardly designed to survive more than a single railway journey.

The net result of this is that anyone seeking to research the history of such marginal publications is going to struggle to access material. Indeed, finding a substantial run – never mind a complete run from its inception in 1860 through to its demise in 1898 – of the legendary Beeton’s Christmas Annual, in which Sherlock Holmes first made his appearance in 1887, would tax the combined strength of the entire British library system. The National Library of Scotland has a number of issues, for example, as does the British Library. But between them, nothing like a complete run – and very little from the publication’s final decade despite the promise of their catalogues. In fact, this is a problem with most Christmas Annuals. Very few such publications were under the same ownership from start to finish, and it is quite clear that a change of proprietor rarely, if ever, improved distribution, especially when such changes occurred in the latter stages of a particular title’s life cycle – and this directly impacts on conservation

But if accessing Beeton’s Annual poses considerable problems for researchers, there are a great number of lesser annuals – including those attached to such standard Victorian monthly periodicals as Belgravia, London Society, or Tinsley’s Magazine – that pose no less insurmountable obstacles.

It is for this reason that the John Johnson Collection, accessible through the Bodleian’s Weston Library, is such a useful resource. For although the Collection is, like those made by other collectors, a serendipitous enterprise, it contains not only a great deal of material not available elsewhere, some of which allows us to patch the gaps in other collections, but that material comes complete with the fragile paper wrappers in which such items were originally issued. This business of wrappers is more important than one might imagine since the covers often contain information about price, publisher, year of publication, and even the name of the editor which is not repeated elsewhere. The vast majority of annuals that have survived have been bound together higgledy-piggledy without wrappers which makes even the question of assigning a date to them something of a laborious process.

More significantly, however, the John Johnson Collection has particular strengths of its own: firstly, in the field of annuals aimed at children; secondly, in the not unrelated area of annuals produced by evangelical groups; and, thirdly, with regard to the emergent sensation novel.

Cover of The Quiver Annual, 1880
The Quiver annual, 1880. JJColl: Annuals 11

Thus, Annuals Box 10 (of the thirteen box-files in which the annuals are stored) contains a useful set of the lavish Christmas Numbers (1869, 1870. 1879 to 1886) offered by The Quiver, a periodical perhaps attempting to soften its strongly evangelical stance following the death of its proprietor, John Cassell, in 1865. One of the high points of examining this set of material was the discovery of a little known story by the writer Bernard Heldman dealing with fraud (‘To Be Left Till Called For’, The Golden Mark, Christmas Number of The Quiver, 1880). Since Heldman himself was later convicted of fraud and subsequently changed his name to Richard Marsh when he started writing sensation fiction, this item is something of a curiosity.

Cover of Good Cheer, the Christmas annual of Good Words, 1877
Good cheer, the Christmas annual of Good Words. JJColl: Annuals 5

Elsewhere we find the 1877 Christmas Number of Good Words with contributions from Anthony Trollope and Margaret Oliphant (Box 5); the The Fireside Christmas Number for 1895 (again Box 5); and Paths of Peace, 1897, the Christmas Number of the Sunday Magazine (Box 11).

Another interesting body of material aimed at the children’s market, though this time of an entirely secular nature, is to be found in Box 1, which contains four Summer Numbers of Ally Sloper’s Annual (1881-1884), together with a twelve-year run of Ally Sloper’s Comic Kalendar (1876-1887). The hand behind all this material is Charles Henry Ross (1835-1923). In August, 1867 Ross published a full-page picture strip in the humorous magazine Judy, of which he was then editor. This picture strip, entitled ‘Some of the Mysteries of Loan and Discount’, introduced the character Ally Sloper – thereby creating what is now generally considered the first British comic strip. Judy was taken over by the artist Gilbert Dalziel in 1872, though Ross’s wife, Marie Duval, who had stronger graphic skills than her husband, continued to draw the Ally Sloper strips until 1879. Finally, in 1883, Ross sold his rights in Ally Sloper to Dalziel. The material gathered in the John Johnson Collection, therefore, casts considerable light on this early transitional phase in the development of the comic strip.

Cover of the first issue of Ally Sloper's Comic Kalendar, 1876.
First issue of Ally Sloper’s Comic Kalendar, 1876. JJColl: Annuals 1

 

Double spread from Ally Sloper's Comic Kalendar, 1876
Double spread from Ally Sloper’s Comic Kalendar, 1876. JJColl: Annuals 1

Ross’s work both as a writer and as a graphic artist extended far beyond Judy. During the same period, he was also supplying both Beeton’s Christmas Annual and Routledge’s Christmas Annual with comic strips as well as various skits and stories. Ross is also a significant, though largely overlooked, figure in the development of sensation fiction. It now seems likely, for example, that he was the principal author of the pseudonymous Penny Dreadful Ruth the Betrayer; or, the Female Spy (1862-63), a work which is now considered to have been the first to introduce the figure of the female detective to popular literature.

Cover of the Round Table Annual, 1890
Round Table Annual, 1890. JJColl: Annuals 11

Ross was not above mocking the conventions of sensation fiction, however, and in 1872 he published a sophisticated parody of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Braddon entitled Hot and Cold; A Life and Death Search which constituted the entirety of Routledge’s Christmas Annual for that year. The John Johnson Collection does not include a copy of Hot and Cold, but it does contain two issues of a Christmas Annual entitled The Round Table (numbers for 1880 and 1890; Box 11), both containing criminous matter, of which Ross was editor. This criminous theme is picked up in other annuals, such as John Camden Hotten’s The Piccadilly Annual (1871), a work largely dedicated to Hunted Down and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Box 9); The Englishman’s Christmas Annual (1877), a bizarre publication created by Dr Edward Kenealy, the barrister who had defended the notorious Tichborne Claimant and who was still trying to drum up public support for his client more than two years after he had been sentenced to fourteen years’ imprisonment for perjury (Box 4); and an extremely scarce copy of Remington’s Annual for Christmas 1889 (Box 10). (Remington & Co. was one of the more elusive publishers who clustered around Henrietta Street in the 1880s.)

Paradoxically, though shilling monthlies such as Belgravia and London Society were at the forefront of publishing sensation fiction in instalments, their various Christmas and Summer Annuals, though by no means devoid of interest, are relatively tame affairs.

London Society was launched by the publisher James Hogg in 1862. From the outset, it published a Christmas Annual and, starting around 1868, a Summer Number as well. However, while tracking the evolution of the Christmas Annual has been made slightly easier by the fact that, at least as far as the early years are concerned, copies are occasionally to be found in bound collections of the periodical itself, this is not the case with regard to the Summer Numbers which are very scarce.

Cover of London Society Holiday Number 1868.
London Society Holiday Number 1868. JJColl: Annuals 7

On this basis, the five copies of the London Society Summer Numbers (for  1868, 1869, 1871, 1875, and 1886) in the John Johnson Collection (Box 7) are of particular interest, not least since they all retain their bright paper wrappers. Indeed, while  the noted bibliographers Sadleir and Wolff both list their holdings of the Summer Numbers, the earliest issues they record are for 1872 (Sadleir) and 1874 (Wolff) – the John Johnson Collection, therefore, indicates a slightly earlier launch date and raises the possibility of an even earlier one.

Summer Tourist, 1871
Cover of Summer Tourist, 1871. JJColl: Annuals 11

Interestingly enough, the contents of these early Summer Numbers themselves – and we can include here Mary Braddon’s The Summer Tourist of 1871 (Box 11) – provide a fascinating glimpse of how the Victorian Miss came to terms with the new phenomenon of the middle-class family holiday. Thus, the various articles, stories, and poems, not to mention illustrations, deal with such issues as the merits of one destination over another, both at home and abroad, how to select a hotel, the advantages and disadvantages of travelling companions, picnicking, and even the etiquette and management of seaside romances.

Needless to say, other researchers will undoubtedly find other pathways through the John Johnson Collection and other points of interest along the way. There can be no doubt, however, that the Collection itself comprises a major repository of such material, a repository, moreover, that has not only been professionally catalogued but is easily accessible thanks to the helpful ministrations of the library staff though for those unfamiliar with the Bodleian it is certainly worth sending an email a few days in advance of a personal visit.

An index to the Annuals is online via the John Johnson Collection website

Admissions procedures are at:  http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/johnson/visit/researching-in-person and http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/using/getting-a-readers-card