Through John Sayers, we have just received a donation of a ledger containing a wealth of advertising material for Mantle’s Flour – a rare survival. John has kindly sent us this post contextualising the volume.
An archive of Ashby-de-la-Zouch material brought back to England from Canada is one of the most recent additions to the Johnson Collection. A thick ledger, with Mantle’s Flour ephemera tucked and in some cases pasted into it, is a slice of a late Victorian business, with two photographs and numerous business documents and advertisements.
The archive was donated by a Canadian who acquired it in Canada.
Reportedly, it was brought to Canada about 1900 by the son of the owner of the British business, who emigrated to London, Ontario and set up a business there. A single artifact in the collection is from that Ontario business, and suggests that its products included flour, but went beyond it. We have no information as to what became of the Canadian business.
Apparently, the British company, Mantle’s Flours, advertised extensively, and striking posters attest to this. An 1897 16-page program for a Fête carries a profile of many of the businesses in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in the form of advertisements. Size of the advertisements varied considerably by business, and the largest advertisement of all – a full page – was by Mantle’s Flour.
Late Victorian design styles and techniques are illustrated throughout the material. Not only typography but also colour played a significant part in making some of the material very eye-catching. The illustration, a poster with one corner tipped in to the ledger page, provides a fine example of the impact of graphics and colour.
For the student of business in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, or for that matter Victorian local businesses generally, the advertisements cover much of the spectrum of late Victorian product and retail enterprise. The Program for the Fête also describes late Victorian entertainments that were provided to attendees throughout the day of the Fête. By today’s standards some of them were ‘politically incorrect’.
There are no accounting records or financial statements in the archive. What we see is essentially what the public saw. From this writer’s experience, this is relatively unusual. Financial records lend themselves to being saved because they are already in chronological order. The Mantle’s Flour records are not in any specific order and can be dated only as far as to the decade.
However, they are focused in one ledger and are in fine condition. What a wonderful business and social ‘find’!
Valentine cards of the nineteenth century very often incorporated flowers, either as the main image, decoration or both. The choice of flower was by no means accidental: each bloom had a meaning, understood (but how well?) by both sender and recipient. Although red roses are the universal symbol of love even now, pansies are still associated with thoughts and lilies with purity, the meaning associated with most other flowers has been lost over time.
Decoding the language of flowers is not easy. Apart from inevitable variants according to the sources used, a fairly thorough botanical knowledge is called for. Kate Greenaway (in 1884) has 33 entries for rose, all with different meanings: The language of flowers, 
A yellow tulip signified hopeless love or cheerful thoughts, but a red one a declaration of love, while variegated tulips conveyed beautiful eyes.
Then, there are the mixed bouquets! Combinations of flowers pose particular problems to the 21st century viewer.
Since most valentines were composed of different elements, the intention could be clarified by the scrap bearing the text, itself sometimes incorporating a flower.
This year’s joint project with the National Valentine Association (USA) has led us to digitise scores of valentines from the John Johnson Collection, which can be seen online for the first time and to share via Pinterest images from other collections, institutional and private, British and American: https://uk.pinterest.com/johnjohnsoncoll/
We have also included Mullord Bros’ card game: The language of flowers, which gives a guide to flowers’ meanings in the late 19th century, taken from ‘the best authorities’.
If you can add to our knowledge of the power of the flower to impart meaning, or if you would like to share valentines from your own collection with us on our Pinterest site, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Like to know more?
Hundreds of dictionaries of ‘floriography’ were published in Victorian Britain. Some 19th century British and American sources easily consulted online include:
Ship matchbooks go back to an era when most people were smokers. Providing books of matches – or small boxes of matches – was looked upon as a necessity rather than as a luxury.
Matchbooks are a commodity that had a short life – when the matches were used up, the empty book was discarded. Many of those used on the ship ended up in the ship’s garbage. A few came ashore, either because there were a few matches remaining in the book, or because they were being kept as a souvenir.
Matchbooks belong in a defined time period. With the advent of smoking bans, there are no more matchbooks being produced for dissemination aboard ships, or for most other venues. What is ‘out there’ is the quantum of what there is or ever will be. At this stage, there is a stigma about smoking, and that stigma reflects upon the collection of smoking artifacts, including matchbooks. And the legion of matchbook collectors has further withered in the reality of no new collectibles.
When the subject of smoking moves from the despised to the purely historical, these prime examples of ‘ephemera’ should move into the realm of research and ‘respectability’. Their significance – beyond that of a social ‘grace’ – is relevant to design, advertising, and promotion. The French Line examples are a fine example of product advertising, with each ship in the fleet as a ‘product’ and marketed separately. In the 1930s, the Normandie was their high-end product, and was marketed on its own stature and perceived elegance. However, inside the cover, other ships of the fleet are also mentioned, and the examples in the Collection show how the loss of one of the ships in the fleet (the Lafayette) in 1938 led to its deletion from the fleet list.
The only other line that appears to have actively focused on each ship as a product was the Norwegian America Line, where the various ‘fjord’ vessels had their own matchbooks. At Cunard, apparently the only vessel to have had its own distinctive matchbooks was the Queen Mary. An example is elsewhere in the Collection.
So for the French Line the premise appears to be that the Line was defined by its ships. For the other lines, the assumption was that the ships were defined by the line itself. As ‘Superliners’ the Normandie and the Queen Mary had their own distinct mantles which may explain Cunard’s efforts to define the Queen Mary’s individuality as it faced its primary competitor, the Normandie, for the most elegant and prestigious travel across the North Atlantic in the fiercely competitive 1930s.
Note that the collector should remove the matches, because of the risk of them being a fire hazard, although I understand that some matchbook collector purists prefer to have the matches intact. This Cunard example shows why!
Where the matchbooks define the line’s own broader self-image, I leave it to future students of graphics and design to use them to interpret those images!
The Sayers Collection at the Johnson Collection, Bodleian Library, includes these matchbook examples, as part of a group of some 50 Ocean Liner matchbooks. The match tips have been removed!
A fascinating piece of ephemera in The Sayers Collection is a Passenger List titled A Souvenir List of Members who participated in a 1908 Cruise to The Mediterranean and the Orient on the SS Arabic of the White Star Line.
Passenger Lists such as this one provide a valuable insight into social history as well as passenger ship history – and represent a glimpse of a genealogist’s version of heaven. The White Star Line’s relatively new SS Arabic left New York on February 6, 1908. Passenger traffic on the North Atlantic route would have been at its low point of the year, since no one with any travel options wanted to face the storm-tossed Atlantic in winter.
Rather than empty cabins and heavily discounted fares for the few brave souls who dared to travel the Atlantic in winter, why not use the ship to take affluent passengers on a cruise to warmer climates? It was a question asked by the major shipping companies, and this type of Tour was an answer. For 70 days, participants enjoyed shipboard comforts while ranging across the Mediterranean as far as Syria and Constantinople, with visits to Spain and then the U.K. on the return as Spring unfolded there. Then – home to America.
Side trips, at additional cost, were available just as they still are on cruises today. One of the featured aspects of the cruise was “…spending 19 days in Palestine and Egypt”. For the many people in the church-based society of the era, a visit to The Holy Land would have been a highlight of the experience. A close examination of this Passenger List shows that the Cruise to the Holy Land also attracted a lot of the Clergy. To the casual reader this may be understandable, but many were not well paid, and would have difficulty affording this trip. There was a solution.
As with today’s tours, if one recruits enough paying passengers, one receives a complimentary trip. In 1908, it was no different. So it is possible, for example, that Rev. Howard Duffield of New York had recruited enough members of his congregation and their relatives and friends to receive free passage. The Passenger List contains the names of 31 Reverends. The number of clerical collars must have been a significant deterrent to inappropriate behaviour on board, and almost a guarantee that ‘the power of prayer’ could keep the entire ship’s company safe from all harm throughout the cruise.
Not all 31 ‘men of the cloth’ would have been group organizers. One would likely have been given free passage by the shipping line to minister to the spiritual needs of passengers on board, since there was no certainty on cruises that there would be nearly so many Reverends available in time of need. In some cases, appreciative congregations may have given a trip to their minister, particularly on his prospective retirement.
This Passenger List also shows the home towns of the passengers. Yes, several were from New York and places in New England. However, the Midwest, including Chicago was well represented, and some participants journeyed from places such as Tower City, North Dakota; Anaconda, Montana; San Francisco; and New Orleans.
The majority of passengers were women, with mother/daughter pairs in some cases. In an era where women could not find other than menial work, those who did not have to do so had the time available to go on educational and informative cruises while the men in their lives pursued business activities. In contrast to many other Passenger Lists of the era, there was no record of maids or valets. Either they were deemed unimportant and were not recognized in the Passenger List, or the participants who had servants did not bring their maids and valets along. I believe that the former situation is much more likely.
So this tiny booklet has many facets. It is a potential treasure trove for genealogists (including names of ship’s officers, and representatives of the Clark tour company), students of social history, and those who want to try to correlate America’s geographic affluence with the places of origin of those who can afford to make this trip. For the genealogist, it can represent an insight to the life of ancestors, such as Mr. & Mrs. W. H. Murch.
I delved into my White Star Line postcard archive. There were several postcards picturing the SS Arabic during the various stages of her career, and produced by a variety of publishers. One of them was like winning a PowerBall lottery draw (well, almost as good!). There was a postcard picturing ‘RMS’ Arabic at Constantinople, dated February 29, 1908 with the following message:
This is an excellent picture of our ship. We have 650 passengers on board, 350 in the crew. It is like a small town sailing the Blue Mediterranean. We are both making fine sailors and enjoying every minute of the journey. I cannot settle down to write letters. I am just sending cards. Hope you are all as well as we are. W.H. & Auntie Murch.
The Murches are shown as being from St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada – one of the few non-Americans on the ship. Another passenger name intrigued me – Hannah Tunis Munnikhuysen. Her home was shown as Bel Air, Maryland. Surely her name would pop up on a Google search. It did. There were several hits. I didn’t learn much about her except that she was born in 1881 and died in 1981, and she was married to Thomas Roy Brookes. But do any of those people who are interested in the Munnikhuysen family genealogy know that she took a pricey 70-day cruise on a White Star Line ship in 1908? Who accompanied her? According to the Passenger List it wasn’t Thomas Roy Brookes.
I hope that this and the many other Passenger Lists from many passenger liners of worldwide shipping companies in my collection can be digitized. That would make them more conveniently searchable for genealogists who want to learn more about the travel and vacation habits of their ancestors rom The Sayers Collection. As collectors and enthusiasts of antiques and ephemera we cherish the past. Isn’t it wonderful when we can learn more about the intimate details of that past!
In July 2016, we announced the (gradual) acquisition of John Sayers’ extensive and international collection of Ocean Liner ephemera and posted an interview with the donor. This update gives information about the ephemera received to January 2017.
Encompassing postcards, advertisements, brochures, menus, deck plans, baggage labels, regulations, newspapers printed on board ship, and more substantial publications, the Sayers Collection charts the history of a wide variety of ocean liners, both in peace time and during both world wars.
John has an unerring eye for the interesting detail, and we are publishing on this blog numerous posts and articles he has written about the diverse information contained in this fascinating collection.
The collection is meticulously organised and presented. In due course parts of it will be catalogued at an item level, thanks to the generosity of John and Judith Sayers. Meanwhile, we are posting on the John Johnson Collection website indexes of the binders so far received. The following is a list of the categories we currently hold, with links to any related blog posts.
Late 18th and early 19th century trade cards give us fascinating insights into undertaking. While there were dedicated undertakers, a startling number of tradesman undertook this role as a sideline to their main trades. Often these had an obvious relation to one of the multiple tasks of preparing a body for the grave (trunk makers, carpenters, drapers), administrating the wordly goods of the deceased (house appraisers, auctioneers), or equipping the mourners (drapers, hatters).
There are some curious juxtapositions, however: Venetian blind makers, for example and brush manufacturers.
More than one tradesman omits to mention undertaker on his trade card and adds it by hand.
Trade cards reveal much about funeral practices in the 18th and 19th century, not least through their imagery. Depictions of funeral processions, hearses, the apparel of horses and carriages, mutes, and coffins differ from other sources in that they do not record an actual event but rather encapsulate in the restrained medium of a small-format engraving the correct appartenances of a funeral.
Funerals, even of the less afluent, were elaborate in 18th and 19th century England and codes of mourning dress and etiquette were to be strictly observed. Charles Dickens notably decried the pomp and circumstance (and attendant expense) of even humble funerals and the employment of paid mourners, notably in the form of ‘mutes’, who kept vigil outside the house of the deceased and then accompanied the coffin. Oliver Twist is perhaps literature’s best-known mutes, during his apprenticeship to Mr Sowerberry.
Their dress was distinctive: dark clothes with a sash, top hat and a stave swathed in black crape, although white was used for the funeral of an infant.
Trade cards and bill headings which give prices for undertaking services are also invaluable to social historians. The example below gives extensive detail of the components of each of nine classes of funeral for adults and four for children (but alas is not dated).
Trade cards (but not bill headings) in the John Johnson Collection are catalogued and digitised and can be accessed through our online catalogue. Undertakers as a primary trade are at shelfmark Trade Cards 28, but in order to find the multiplicity of cards which include undertaking, set the scrollbar to Subjects, Trades and Products in browse.