Photographer Robin Dale: Middlesbrough Then, and Now

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Image numbers (left to right): 10985769, 10985738 & 10985705

As a native of Middlesbrough, or ‘smoggie’, I am particularly interested in the work of photographer Robin Dale, who Mary Evans Picture Library represents.  Dale documented Middlesbrough and the greater Teesside area during the 1970s in spectacular colour photography.  During this decade, the region suffered enormously from severe industrial decline and Dale’s photographs form a brutally honest record of this period, giving a profound social context to daily life and the highs and lows for those living in Teesside during this era.  The closure of Redcar’s Tata steel works only last year, in what was the final door closing on Teesside’s heavy industry has, once again, brought a new wave of uncertainty to the future of the area.

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Image numbers (left to right): 10985702, 10985737 & 10985704

I went back to Middlesbrough in February this year to try and recreate some of Robin Dale’s photographs and was struck by just how difficult it was to find the specific locations where Dale made his work.  Many streets in Middlesbrough have since been torn down and entire communities displaced due to extensive regeneration of the town centre and inner suburbs.  I did, however, manage to recreate to a certain extent the two images below: one of the Sinbad Tattoo Parlour and the other of the Transporter Bridge.  To the best of my knowledge, this is the same building and I find it extraordinary that the premises still operates as a Tattoo parlour, whereas the street is almost unrecognisable.

Tattoo Parlour – Harlington Street, Middlesbrough

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Transporter Bridge

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Whilst I couldn’t find many more exact locations in Dale’s photographs, I think the buildings in my photographs below are certainly reminiscent of the streets, pubs, buildings and places that Dale frequented during the 1970s, and a poignant reminder of the continued struggles of this once thriving industrial area of Northern England.


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Image numbers (left to right): 10985770, 10985711 & 10985779
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Image numbers (left to right): 10985698, 10985736 & 10985701

Click here to see more of Robin Dale’s work.

From corsets to culottes – A brief history of tennis fashion

For many, it’s been a tough week to be British, but with the arrival of Wimbledon fortnight, some semblance of peace and order can be found in the tennis enclave of SW19 with its carefully manicured grass courts, tinkle of ice in Pimm’s and, of course, the pristine white attire the All England club still insists is worn by all players. The rule, which upholds Wimbledon’s strong sense of tradition and is one of the things to set it apart from the other grand slam competitions, had its origins in the early days of the game in the nineteenth century when the visibility of sweat, especially on women players, was considered unseemly. White not only disguised this, but gave the impression of freshness, and a century and a half on, the unshakeable rule remains.

Other than the stipulation of white, tennis clothing today combines style with high performance, ensuring complete freedom of movement with breathable, ‘sweat-wicking’ fabrics. It is a world away from the late 19th and early 20th century when lawn tennis gained many converts even though Victorian women would dress in a costume more suited to a garden party underneath which corsets continued to mould the female figure into the desired fashionable shape. A picture we hold of Charlotte “Lottie” Dod, (top left), five times Wimbledon champion from 1893 shows her looking for all the world as if she is about to sit under a parasol to take afternoon tea; her tennis racquet the only indication that she was the period’s leading sportswoman. Any type of exertion and energetic movement in a corset regularly caused the bone and steel to dig into players and draw blood. Nevertheless, many doctors believed the corset was advantageous during sport to ensure all internal organs were kept in place and the support warded against back pain and other such ills. Dorothea Lambert Chambers (above, second from right), seven-time singles champion at Wimbledon in the decade leading up the First World War won her matches wearing a business-like but nevertheless constricting combination of white blouse with tie and shin-length skirt. In 1905, when the young American tennis player May Sutton (later Bundy) (above, second from left), played at Wimbledon, she rolled back her cuffs to reveal her forearms because her sleeves ‘were too long and too hot’. It may seem tame to us, but her action was shocking to many spectators. In her 1910 book, ‘Lawn Tennis for Ladies,’ Mrs Lambert Chambers wrote a chapter on tennis clothing prescriptively advising the wearing of, ‘…a plain gored skirt – not pleated; I think these most unsuitable on court – about four or five inches from the ground. It should just clear your ankles and have plenty of fullness round the hem. Always be careful that the hem is quite level all round; nothing is more untidy than a skirt that dips down at the back or sides – dropping at the back is a little trick a cotton skirt cultivates when it comes home from the laundry. A plain shirt without “frills or furbelows” – if any trimming at all, tucks are the neatest – a collar, a tie, and waistband, go to make an outfit as comfortable and suitable as you could possibly desire.’

She also prescribed thin-soled white ‘gymnasium shoes’, choosing white cotton over heavier, coloured flannel or ‘stuff’ due to its infinitely washable properties and avoiding the wearing of hats. A decade later, the girl who beat Mrs Lambert Chambers in a gruelling 3-set match to take the Wimbledon title in 1919, would revolutionise tennis fashion. Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen presciently brought the youth and vivacity of the 1920s to the tennis court, sporting a succession of lightweight garments; chemise style dresses with pleated skirts, loose, straight cardigans and short-sleeved blouses or V-necked vests (still considered a risqué neckline). Lenglen’s outfits were designed by Jean Patou, the French couturier who pioneered sportswear as fashion and championed the ‘garconne’ look, opening a dedicated sportswear department in his couture store in 1925 and subsequently opening further branches in fashionable resorts such as Deauville and Biarritz. Lenglen’s clothes were embroidered with Patou’s signature, a visible declaration of the creative and commercial bond between designer and sports person and one that remains an essential relationship in the sportswear industry today. Patou was to continue as the go-to designer for a leisured lifestyle; in 1927, dialling in to the new trend for tanning with the launch of the first suntan oil, Huile de Chaldee in 1927 and a fragrance called, quite simply, ‘Sport’ the following year. Lenglen meanwhile, who topped off her on-court attire with a white fur coat (below, second from left), was hailed as a fashion revolutionary. London department store, Selfridges drafted her in to design a range of tennis clothes for them in 1933 (below left). Elizabeth Ryan, a contemporary of Lenglen and holder of 19 doubles titles at Wimbledon, said of her, “All women players should go on their knees in thankfulness to Suzanne for delivering them from the tyranny of corsets.” Ryan had witnessed the drying rack in the dressing rooms at Wimbledon where blood stained corsets were hung.

Tennis, perhaps because of the high profile of women players, continued to be a showcase for the development of sporting style. When the Spanish player Lili D’Alvarez wore a divided skirt designed by Elsa Schiaparelli at Wimbledon in 1931, (above, second from right) the garment caused a sensation, causing many magazines to note how it also ‘divided opinion’. The actress Gladys Cooper appeared in The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News in June the same year (above right), ‘trouser-skirted’ in an outfit she was planning to wear to Lady Cranfield’s tennis party at West Hall. Around the same time, some daring ladies began to wear shorts to play in, including one Mrs G. E. Tomblin, spotted in a 1932 issue of The Sketch wearing them while at a club in Chiswick (below, second from left), though the same magazine asked in one fashion column in March that year, ‘Can shorts rival these graceful frocks for the courts?’ (below, second from right). It’s an unsurprising viewpoint considering Aristoc were still advertising silk stockings suitable for the tennis court in 1933 (below right). It would be the pioneering American Alice Marble who was the first to wear them at Wimbledon in 1937 (below left).

By the 1950s another big personality was beginning to dominate the tennis fashion scene with his wildly feminine styles. 6 ‘ 7” Cuthbert Collingwood “Ted” Tinling (1910-1990) was an English tennis player and referee, already firmly doing the social round by the early 1930s. Suffering from respiratory problems, he had been sent to the French Riviera as a teenager and began to play tennis on the courts of the Cannes, eventually becoming Lenglen’s referee. We discovered a photograph of him from this time with Lord Charles Hope on the courts there in a 1931 volume of The Tatler (below left). Tinling’s playful, fashionable, flirty designs were worn by the majority of major tennis stars in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, from Billie Jean King to Martina Navratilova, but he is probably best known for the notorious frilly knickers worn by Gussie Moran in 1949, the scandal of which led to him being dismissed from his position as player liaison at Wimbledon (he would be welcomed back in 1982). Within our archive, there are some fabulous sixties designs by him featured in the swinging, ‘London Life’ magazine (three pictures below).

Despite the forays of tennis stars such as Serena Williams into the 21st century world of sportswear design, female tennis fashion today feels more serious and functional than the glory days of Tinling, though thankfully, the styles of over a century ago are consigned to the club’s excellent museum. How interesting it would be to see modern-day tennis players try to play in the corsets and long skirts of May Sutton, Lottie Dod and Dorothea Lambert Chambers. One wonders, when the mercury rises on Centre court, could they endure a three-setter in the searing heat?

Adapted from an excerpt taken from ‘Retro Fashion’ by Lucinda Gosling, published by New Holland.

Click here to see a wider range of tennis fashion images.

Colouring in the Past – a History of Colouring Books, Then & Now

As crazes go, they don’t get much bigger than the current obsession with adult colouring books. Heralded as the new absorbing, therapeutic route to de-stressing and ‘mindfulness,’ colouring in is no longer just for the kids. Johanna Basford’s colouring books of intricate natural worlds, published by Laurence King since 2013, have sold a staggering 10 million globally. Millie Marotta, Batsford’s colouring queen, is shifting in equally eye-watering quantities. Jumping on the bandwagon is the magazine industry; titles currently on the newsstand include the self-explanatory ‘Colour In’ magazine, as well as those overlapping into the self-help market with titles such as ‘Colour Calm’ and ‘Zen Colouring.’ At a recent visit to the Spring Fair in Birmingham, we witnessed colour-in T-shirts, bags, cushions and more. Type ‘colouring in’ into Amazon and you find hundreds of books with words and phrases such as ‘therapy’, ‘relaxing’ and ‘I can’t sleep.’

How did we get here? What happened? How did it suddenly become acceptable for grown-ups to spend their time colouring in? For anyone who has sat with a child and helped them colour in, it is undoubtedly a rather pleasant experience (except when the child in question takes a thick, black crayon and starts going over the lines undoing all your good work. That can actually be quite upsetting). Adult colouring books began a few years back with a smattering of tongue-in-cheek books marketed at the young and hip. Those in search of an ironic gift could give their nearest and dearest a book from Mel Elliot’s Colour Me Good range starring outline drawings of the likes of Ryan Gosling, Damian Lewis, Taylor Swift or Benedict Cumberbatch. Michael O’Mara Books were one of the first publishers to produce a more ‘mainstream’ colouring book in 2012 with the ‘The Creative Colouring Book for Grown Ups’, i.e. something you were actually meant to colour in – properly. In 2016, there are now adult colouring books on every conceivable theme from Harry Potter and Game of Thrones to a neat little pocket book featuring Liberty of London textile patterns.

And so here we are. Modern life is so stressful, we apparently need to sit down and colour in to recover from it all. But whether you view colouring in as a harmless creative activity, or a mindless (as opposed to mindful) harbinger of the fall of civilisation, the advent of colouring-in, back in the 19th century, is rooted in surprisingly similar principles.

According to Wikipedia, the concept of colouring in was first suggested as a way to democratise art and was inspired by a series of lectures by painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the works of Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and his student Friedrich Frobel. The belief was that colouring in led to spiritual edification and was a way to enhance cognitive abilities, so improving future prospects. Latching on to this idea, the first colouring book, ‘The Little Folks Painting Book’, illustrated by Kate Greenaway, was published in the United States by trailblazers McLoughlin Bros. in 1879. It’s worth mentioning that early colouring books were intended for paints and even by the 1930s, when crayons had become widely available, colouring books were produced with the aim of being suitable for either paints or crayons and continued to be called ‘painting books’ for quite some time.

We do not have ‘The Little Folks Painting Book’ at the library but we do have several other early examples, not least another Kate Greenaway illustrated book entitled simply, ‘Kate Greenaway’s Painting Book,’ published by Frederick Warne. Untouched by childish hands, this edition is in ‘mint’ condition, but rather more interesting is ‘The Merry Moments Painting Book,’ also published by Warne, where most of the outline drawings have been coloured in with crayon, the young artist carefully replicating the full printed version on the opposite page. Probably done at least half a century ago, it feels all the more charming for it. We also have a couple of beautiful colouring books by the animal artist Cecil Aldin as well as a 1930s ‘Magic Paint Book’ made by Renwick of Otley, which has clearly never come into contact with water. Tempting though it is to see if the ‘magic’ still works after all these years, we shall return it safely to the shelf without trying. Those of a certain age will also remember colouring in Christmas cards and we even have examples of these from the 1960s and 70s via the Medici Society archive.

Mary Evans Picture Library is awash with images that are begging to be coloured in though rest assured, any colouring in these days is done digitally and no crayons or coloured pencils are allowed near our collection of Victorian periodicals (some of our city panorama engravings from the Illustrated London News would keep even the most experienced colour-inner going for days). Fashion illustrations from The Tatler, domestic scenes from Girls’ Own or Good Housekeeping magazines, cartoons by Heath Robinson and H. M. Bateman not to mention hundreds of beautiful nursery illustrations by artists such as Margaret Tarrant from the Medici Society archive – all have massive colouring in potential for avid colour-inners who are looking for something with a historic or vintage flavour.

Inspired by the potential of our archive as a treasure trove of colouring in material, we felt it only fair to compile and share with you our own colouring book. It’s a little alternative, and, may we say, not for the faint-hearted, and it’s most definitely aimed at the adult market (though it’s all in the best possible taste). We should warn also warn you that, rather than calming and de-stressing, this is a colouring book to excite and stimulate the parts other colouring books don’t reach. Not for us namby-pamby vegetation, ocean worlds or furry animals, THIS is a colouring book that looks at the seriously colourful side of history. Sharpen your pencils and prepare to bring to life in full technicolour the past’s most risqué, decadent and bizarre from across the centuries. And please do share the fruits of your labour with us on our Facebook page. This is one kind of adult colouring book we think is seriously worth the effort! Click here to download your copy.

Handsome Chaps from History – A Valentines Top 10

Valentine’s Day is this Sunday and with love in the air, and romance on the breeze, how could we not dedicate our latest blog post to the enduring theme of ‘amour’? To be perfectly honest, perhaps the theme is more lust than love. Let me explain. Over the last year, TV viewers have been treated to a feast of lavish historical drama, with, for some of us, characters who remain indelibly stamped into our consciousness forever more. Damien Lewis gave us a simmering alpha male Henry VIII in ‘Wolf Hall’, fans of the epic ‘War & Peace’ may have fallen for the proud and troubled Andrei (though personally, I rather preferred the sexy swashbuckling arrogance of Dolokhov), and need we say any more about Poldark’s scythe or Philip Lombard’s towel in ‘And Then There Were None’?

Inspired by such a parade of historical and fictional romantic leads, we thought it would be fun to share with you a top ten of handsome chaps from history, illustrated, of course, with images from our archive. Here’s our rundown of who we’d like to share an intimate Valentine’s dinner with. And before we’re accused of sexism, we plan a similar list of ladies the minute we find an excuse!

10. Captain Leslie St. Clair Cheape Cheape (1882-1916). We always promise the obscure as well as the well-known at Mary Evans, and Leslie Cheape may not be a familiar name but in his day was hailed, ‘England’s greatest polo player’ – playing for England in the Westchester Cup three times in 1911, 1913 and 1914. He was pivotal in bringing the cup home in 1914 despite a ball breaking his nose during practice just a couple of days earlier (what a hero). Seated here on his polo pony, with, thrillingly, the hint of a tattoo on his muscular forearm, he’s the very essence of the upper class sportsman, many of whom lost their lives during the Great War. Unfortunately Leslie was one of them. He was killed on 23 April 1916 while commanding a squadron of the Worcestershire Yeomanry in Egypt.
9. Gary Cooper (1901-1961) There are so many movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age to choose from but Gary Cooper made the top ten because lurking behind those chiselled good looks, is the sense of masculine potency and seductive promise. Talullah Bankhead said there was only one reason she accepted a role alongside Cooper in the 1932 film, The Devil and the Deep, but you’ll have to look it up as it’s unprintable here.
8. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (1928-1967) As Cuban revolutionaries go, Che had his fair share of good looks, and excellent facial hair to boot. Surely not everyone who wore a T-shirt with his face on it did so purely out of political empathy?
7. Anthony Wilding New Zealand tennis player Tony Wilding reputedly caused lady spectators at Wimbledon to faint when he made an appearance and it’s easy to see why. Tall, blond, a dedicated athlete and with matinee idol looks, he won Wimbledon four times between 1910 and 1913. He was also romantically linked with the actress Maxine Elliott, his elder by some fifteen years. Contemporary accounts testify to him being a proper gent and thoroughly nice chap – an ideal Valentine’s dinner companion. He was killed during the Battle of Aubers Ridge in 1915.  Read more about him on our WWI blog here.
6. Paul Newman Undeniably, dazzlingly, perfectly handsome, Newman once joked, “I picture my epitaph: ‘Here lies Paul Newman, who died a failure because his eyes turned brown.’”
5. British WWI flying ace  Captain Albert Ball (1896 – 1917) was our highest scoring fighter pilot during the conflict. Combining heroics with aerial wizardry and devastating boyish good looks, Albert was something of a pin-up but, like so many heroes of the skies, died tragically young, just before his 21st birthday. Special mention must also go to Manfred von Richthofen (1892-1918) whose cheekbones were as finely honed as his cockpit skills. May we recommend Michael Fassbender for any forthcoming biopic?
4. Robert Powell as Jesus of Nazareth (7–2 BC to AD 30–33). We should point out that Mr Powell remains hale and hearty but his portrayal of Jesus in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 film saw him give a mesmerising and swoonsome performance as the son of the Lord. Those rippling locks, those piercing eyes…it’s enough to convince the most ardent atheist to attend a Last Supper.
3. Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926). If anyone has any doubt over why the greatest movie idol of the early C20th attracted such global adulation, then this photograph of him in the character of the faun for a proposed film version of the erotic ballet, L’Apres Midi d’un Faun, might prove to be that moment of revelation. Valentino’s sensual on-screen seductions were enough to make millions of women fall under his spell. Here, with oiled limbs and smouldering gaze as the priapic faun, the world may have quite simply imploded with unsuppressed lust had this film ever made it into cinemas. If the Internet had existed nine decades ago, Valentino would definitely have broken it.
2. Leslie Hutchinson (1900-1969). Better known simply as Hutch, clubland crooner and serial womaniser Leslie Hutchinson numbered Edwina Mountbatten, Tallulah Bankhead (and Ivor Novello!) among his many conquests. Suave, sophisticated and a talented tickler of the ivories, Hutch was not only the biggest cabaret stars of the 1930s, he was also rumoured to possess a member of legendary proportions (Sir John Mills once witnessed him in the shower in a men’s changing room and confirmed the rumours by simply commenting “What a man,”). Locker room secrets aside, being serenaded by Hutch might just have been the perfect Valentines treat.
1. King Charles II Claiming the top spot is the Merry Monarch himself, whose lust for life and bawdy bedroom antics marks him out as the king to have a fling with. Swarthy and sensual, he famously stood six feet two inches tall, an impressive height in the C17th. Lavishing apartments, jewels and other gifts and money on his succession of demanding mistresses while the kingdom went to pot, John Evelyn commented that the libidinous Charles would have made a good ruler, “if he had been less addicted to women”. More interested in fleshy delights than government business, the King might not have been the most dedicated ruler, but who wants sensible when it’s Valentine’s Day? Ruled by love, rather than duty, Charles II is our naughty but nice choice for a Valentine’s dinner companion.

The Maurice Collins Collection

Mary Evans’ reputation as purveyors of the quirky and unusual was given a boost last year with the welcome addition of the Maurice Collins Collection to the library’s offerings. A cornucopia of gadgetry and bizarre inventions, Maurice’s unique collection is a celebration of technological advancement, manufacturing prowess and rampant consumerism over the 19th and 20th centuries (not to mention a heavy dose of Victorian eccentricity). Among the thousands of peculiar and often dubiously useful objects Maurice has collected over the years are such curiosities as hen peck protectors, adjustable skirt lifters (to protect long hemlines from muddy puddles), bed linen smoothers, cricket bat string applicators and chewing gum holders. We thoroughly recommend whiling away an hour or so browsing his fascinating collection online. Click here to see the entire collection.

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Image numbers (left to right): 11041344, 11041464, 11041359 & 11041457

In the first of a series of contributor interviews, we talked to Maurice to find out more about his fascinating hobby and collecting habits.

How did you start your collection?

I began collecting when my children were younger in the 1970s. My daughter was handicapped, and in order to spend time with my son, we used to go bottle digging on old Victorian rubbish tips to see what we could find. We uncovered pot lids, old bottles and I recall finding a particularly unusual bottle – a genuine Hiram Codd mineral water bottle, with a pointed bottom and a marble in the neck to stop the contents’ gas escaping and the drink going flat. That was the beginning and I’ve been collecting ever since.

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Image numbers (left to right): 11043914, 11043905, 11043895 & 11043869

What is the scope of the collection? What are the qualifications an item must have to be included?

I look for anything unusual or something I simply like the look of. They might be every-day items for their time, though seem curious in retrospect. But the main rule I have is that the majority of objects fall roughly within the century from the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851 to the Festival of Britain in 1951. The collection now numbers around 2000 individual items, and they are catalogued in so far as they are stored eight to a box, with a description of each piece.

Do you have a favourite particular piece?

It’s my clockwork teasmade dating from 1902. The Science Museum have one in their collection. Other than that I’m intrigued by security devices, such as traps in coat pockets against thieves, or products that were powered by clockwork. Also escape items – I have button or collar stud compasses, or compasses disguised as razor blades, used by the RAF during the Second World War.

And a preference for a particular period?

I admire the aesthetics and design of the 1930s and the Bauhaus movement, but for sheer variety and invention, the gadgets of the late 19th century take some beating. Some were essential advances to improve the health and well-being of the population such as Royal Doulton’s water filter or the Jennings toilet as shown at the 1851 Great Exhibition (George Jennings invented the first public flush toilet). There are other gadgets that demonstrate society’s increasing quest for comfort and ease such as car seat heating or coachman’s belly warmers. Others are just plain bonkers such as a tin of South-end air you could send as a refreshing alternative to a postcard!

Where do you find your treasures?

I’m always looking – antiques fairs and markets, eBay of course now, which makes searching internationally so much easier.

What is the most recent acquisition?

A clockwork alarm from around 1820 consisting of a small clock connected to a bell and ratchet. It is very beautiful and the mechanism is very effective.

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Image numbers (left to right): 11041331, 11042765, 11041461 & 11041660

As an inveterate collector yourself, are there other collections you admire?

It has to be Robert Opie and his marvellous collection of advertising, packaging and brand ephemera.

And do you collect anything else other than gadgets?

I have a sideline collection of ephemera consisting of graphic design material, adverts and posters, particularly a major collection of WWI and WWII posters. I was a compositor and then owned my own printing business for a number of years, so am naturally drawn to this sort of material.

What projects have you got lined up for the collection?

I have always lent objects to museums and for exhibitions – any fees are donated to disability charities. I will be at the Gadget Show in Birmingham this year (the show runs from 31 March to 3 April at the NEC) showing a selection of objects. I have written books based on the collection (Ingenious Gadgets and Eccentric Contraptions) and have another planned.

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Image numbers (left to right): 11047261, 11047192, 11047000 & 11044365

What do you think your collection tells us about society over the past two centuries?

It’s commonly assumed today that we buy and own too much stuff. But there is a rationale behind this and that is that society is dependent on the production and sale of goods. All wealth is created by someone buying something over a shop counter which in turn means that people are buying products, meaning employment, which allows taxation, which is then spent on the infrastructure of a democratic society, from health, roads, education and even the preservation of our past through provision of museums. It is a principle of economics that has remained constant over the centuries. My collection of objects and gadgets, whether life-changing, ground-breaking, totally pointless or utterly obsolete, represents this perennial rhythm of industry and consumerism.

The Maurice Collins Collection is exclusively represented by Mary Evans Picture Library, with 3800 images available to search. Click here to see the entire collection.

The Dolly Sisters and Mr Selfridge

In the fourth and final series of ITV’s ‘Mr Selfridge’ currently showing on Friday evenings, two new characters are introduced – The Dolly Sisters. We’ve invited contributor Gary Chapman, owner of the wonderful Jazz Age Club Collection and biographer of The Dolly Sisters, to provide us with an introduction to this fascinating duo.

Welcome to the wonderful, glittering world of the delectable, dancing Dolly Sisters.

‘To me they appeared to be marvellous birds of paradise….If one could believe the tales, thrones were about to crumble and multi-millionaires willing to go broke for love of them…. In London under Cochran they were lionised. No Mayfair party seemed complete until they arrived, chattering like magpies, one taking up when the other paused for breath and trailing chinchilla or foxes or sables as if they were dish rags.’

The actress June in her autobiography The Glass Ladder

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Image numbers (left to right): 10503017, 10235725, 10503053 & 10503018

The last series of the hit TV show ‘Mr Selfridge’, will bring the Dolly Sisters to a much wider, global audience. Let’s hope viewers realise that, like all the characters, they will be portrayed in the context of a make-believe drama, bearing only vague resemblance to their true, glamorous story. For a start, they were not blonde and they were identical twins – unlike the unrelated actresses who portray them in the TV show. Also, only one sister was the object of Harry Selfridge’s affection, not both of them.

The dark and exotic-looking Dolly Sisters first met Harry Selfridge at the Kit-Kat Club in London in the summer of 1925 when they were at the height of their fame and fortune. They had already conquered Broadway, London and Paris with their dainty dancing, glamorous good looks and immense charm and were, quite simply, legends in their own time on both sides of the Atlantic.

Born in Budapest, Hungary 25th October 1892, Janszieka (Jenny) and Roszicka (Rosie) were keen dancers but their father did not approve of his daughters becoming entertainers. Due to the unfortunate deterioration of his business he moved to America where the girls arrived with their mother in 1905, followed by their younger brother Edward (later to be a successful stage and screen choreographer). In New York, they began to earn their living as entertainers to help make ends meet. From their rather humble origins they swiftly danced their way to fame and fortune on Broadway finding work with the great Ziegfeld and the Shubert Brothers. They were close friends with the elite of Broadway and Hollywood and became the essential prerequisite for any Broadway festivity. Sporting sleek black bobs, their identical appearance and chic sense of style was a magnet for dress designers, significantly Lucile, Jeanne Lanvin and Jean Patou, who provided costumes and wardrobes for the Dolly Sisters in what was often a mutually convenient arrangement of celebrity endorsement.

Rosie married songwriter Jean Schwartz (1913) and Jenny married comedian and entertainer Harry Fox a year later. However, none of their friends was more important than the millionaire Diamond Jim Brady who indulged their every whim and taught them the art of a flutter with the horses. Such was his infatuation, he once bought them a Rolls Royce wrapped up in ribbon.

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In 1920, they abandoned their husbands and conquered London in shows produced by Albert de Courville and C.B. Cochran, showing off such numbers as the Dollies and the Collies and the Pony Trot. But they found Paris, Cannes, Deauville and Le Touquet far more to their liking and in Paris they appeared in a string spectacular revues with Paris Sans Viole (1923), Oh Les Belles Filles (1923), Paris En Fleurs (1925), A Vol D’Oiseau (1926) and Paris – New York (1927).

Earning incredible salaries, the Dollies invested in property and vast collections of jewellery. ‘Behung with baubles like a couple of Christmas trees’ they were renowned as the most extravagant gamblers in Europe.

The toast of, first London, and then Parisian society, they were romantically linked with dozens of named and unnamed men of title or wealth, including the Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VIII), King Alphonso of Spain, Henri Letellier and Viscomte de La Rochefoucauld. Each vied with the other in an elaborate game of falling in love, engagement, rumours of marriage and then cold feet.

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Image numbers (left to right): 10503046, 10503060 & 10503038

When Jenny met Harry Selfridge, Rosie was engaged to the French socialite Francois Dupre, but Jenny had another prominent suitor in the form of Jacques Wittouck – a wealthy Belgian businessman. All was not simple and clear-cut. From 1925, Selfridge and Wittouck would be inextricably linked with Jenny for the next ten years, with constant rumours of marriage as each took it in turn to be her escort as they vied for her attention in a rather unusual menage à trois.

One of the oft-quoted pieces of mush leveled against them was that they had ‘ruined’ Selfridge and were ‘gold-diggers’. Let’s get this straight right away – Selfridge’s fall from grace and his ruination must be attributed to himself, no other. He was obsessed with all things beautiful, not least glamorous women, whom he showered with gifts. He also had a passion for gambling and was more than reckless. He did give Jenny expensive gifts, property, shares and aid her in a business venture. But she was also known for her acts of generosity and kindness as much for her jewels and furs. Their attraction was also re-enforced by their mutual love of gambling. This is the best description of their relationship ‘I should say that he saw at least part of his own daring and acquisitive image reflective in her tingling absorption in games of chance. She may have seen in him the father image, approving her daring.’

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Image numbers (left to right): 10503042 & 10089352

Rosie, never married Dupre but instead, ran off and married, and then swiftly divorced, Sir Mortimer Davis Jr, the heir to an estate worth $150m and affectionately called ‘The Fat Boy.’ Much more gossip, scandal, and ultimately tragedy followed.

Although they were not the first sister act to appear on the stage, the Dolly Sisters were certainly the most famous and paved the way for many of the subsequent duos and trios that proliferated in their wake. Even the Gabor sisters followed in the Dollies’ dainty footsteps.

When they retired in late 1927, numerous imitators took their place, but none were more outrageous than the Norwegian Rocky Twins, two boys who dressed up in drag as the Dollies and parodied their routines.

DOLLY BLOG 3
Image numbers (left to right): 10503012, 10503073, 10503010, 10503024 & 10503071

Living close to the rhythm of the time the Dollies were adept at always being in the right place at the right time in the company of the right people. It was a recipe that was to maximize their success. As true icons of the Jazz Age, their lives mirrored luxurious ‘society’ on both sides of the Atlantic and their story provides a fascinating glimpse of this privileged world that was eventually eroded by the Second World War.

The TV show ‘Mr Selfridge’ can only introduce the Dolly Sisters with ‘cameo’ appearances, a little taster of what was a much bigger and more fascinating true story, every bit as dramatic and engrossing as the best fiction.

For a selection of our Dolly Sisters images please click here.

Gary Chapman is the author of the only biography about the Dolly Sisters and has also compiled a lavish picture book about them. He is an expert on the Jazz Age and has a private collection of material solely licensed through Mary Evans Picture Library.

 

The Dolly Sisters: Icons of the Jazz age

The Dolly Sisters in Pictures

www.jazzageclub.com

www.eddittpublishing.com

 

How to catch a ghost? Harry Price’s wondrous ‘ghost-hunting’ kit

During the recent run of Christmas television, viewers were acquainted with the weird and wonderful world of Harry Price in the TV drama, Harry Price: Ghost Hunter, with the fine Rafe Spall taking on the role of the world-famous ‘debunker’ of the paranormal. Throughout the programme we were introduced to Price’s remarkable way of thinking and his persistent determination to find scientific reason behind so-called ‘paranormal occurrences’. The programme’s plot centred around the supposed haunting of a high-profile MP’s country home – a haunting fabricated for TV viewing and not one of Price’s famous investigations (for example, the Borley Rectory), but the method in which Price investigated these disturbances and the show in general remained relatively true-to-form and was closely based on how Price carried out his investigations into alleged hauntings. Price (born January 1881 in London) is best known as one of the leading (and most controversial) researchers and authoritative voices on all-things paranormal, his popularity gained predominantly through his work investigating well known haunted houses and exposing fake spiritualists during a time when séances, and the ‘paranormal’ in general were at the peak of public interest.

HPC BLOG 1Image numbers (left to right): 10004168, 10020093 & 10003882


It can be said that Harry Price was the pioneer for modern paranormal research and following his untimely death in March 1948, the University of London was bequeathed Price’s ‘Library of Magical Literature’, an extensive wealth of information he collected over the years on the subject, which, by the efforts of external donations and contributions has now grown to become an asset of almost 13,000 works detailing all aspects of the occult. The pictorial element of this otherworldly collection is something that Mary Evans has represented for some years, and out of the many peculiar collections we have the privilege to work with, the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature is certainly one our most curious.

A couple of images from the collection which have fascinated me for some time, and I continue to be drawn to, are the images of Price’s tools of the trade, or collectively his ‘ghost hunting kit’. During Harry Price: Ghost Hunter, we had the pleasure of seeing elements of this kit come to life – a fascinating spectacle, if a little dramatised. These photographs give us a more accurate look at the equipment that Price used on his investigations and are dated circa 1925 – 1930; around the time of Harry Price was Honorary Director of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research.

hp2  harryPrice hp1

Looking at the images it is certainly apparent that the contents of the kit demonstrate Price’s scientific approach to alleged hauntings. Price always strived to carry out all of his investigations in conditions suitable for scientific experiment. He would carry a sketch pad, pencils and drawing apparatus in order to precisely plot a location and would use steel tape, plaster, string, and tools to seal rooms, doors and windows. This was always essential to any investigation and would ensure that nobody could tamper with the equipment once set up, or, provide an opportunity for a group or individual to fabricate paranormal activity during the night. It also helped keep external draughts at bay and safeguard any trigger objects from being set off due to natural conditions. For further safeguarding, Price would also initial any tape used in sealed areas. Miscellaneous electric apparatus and bells can also be seen, which I assume may have been set up to sound, if, for example a sealed area had been breached or potentially to record a change in atmospheric conditions.

In terms of cameras, visible here is an Adams and Co Reflex Camera that would have used infra-red film (a necessity for early night photography) and a Cine camera which would have taken the Agfa Novapan Film, also seen in the kit. These cameras would often be placed in the area central to the activity with trigger weights and a trigger thermograph. The trigger set up meant that any change in temperature or movement in the room would cause the shutter to release.

HPC BLOG 2
Image numbers (left to right): 10252585 & 10252587

A bottle of Mercury was also carried and at the scene of an investigation would be placed in a bowl, any movement of the mercury in the bowl would show and this was perfect for detecting any tremors in the room. If any disturbance was recorded, Price also used chalk to mark areas of activity. In addition, he carried brushes and powdered graphite for developing potential finger-prints.

For practical purposes a flashlight and matches would be used to navigate in low light. However, Price was also known to use matches as a ‘trigger object’ or something used to ‘entice’ a ghost. The matches were used in particular to see if a ghost who once smoked, would respond.

HPC BLOG 3
Image numbers (left to right): 10252577, 10252576 & 10252579

Examining and explaining these images of his ghost hunting kit serve to highlight Price’s triumphs in debunking the paranormal and uncovering reasons behind the unexplained. The ‘ghost hunting’ equipment of today is far more technologically advanced and sophisticated, but in fact not too dissimilar to Price’s original kit and further argues that Price was indeed the pioneer of modern ‘ghost hunting’ techniques.

A great deal has been written on both Harry Price himself and his work over the years, with opinions both slating and praising his work. Whatever your opinion on the work of Harry Price, it is likely his legacy will continue to intrigue and fascinate for years to come.

You can view more images from the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature here.

Black Bounty – the Mary Evans ‘Black Beauty’ Book Collection

A very warm welcome to our new Mary Evans blog: The Inquisitive Archivist. They say that every picture tells a story, and, working as we do among a cornucopia of original, historical material ranging from books and periodicals to scraps and cigarette cards, being distracted by the stories behind the pictures we supply is a daily hazard (or perk) of the job. And so it seems natural that we should combine our fabulous archive with our own insatiable appetite for history and bring you… ‘tales from the archive’. We aim to combine the fascinating and topical, strange and curious, fun and irreverent elements of history for your delectation with posts from the Mary Evans team as well as guest contributors. Mary Evans Picture Library is renowned for the depth and eclecticism of its world-class collection, and we hope this blog will be a fitting reflection of our unerring enthusiasm for the past.

The decision as to what to choose as a first blog post is of course a weighty responsibility but looking across the office at the bookshelves running parallel to our desks, it suddenly became patently obvious. We often talk of how the library’s founder, Mary, was a great dog lover – and she was. The library has a superb collection of dog photographs (particularly the Thomas Fall archive), and countless doggy books from the 19th and 20th century. But she was an animal lover in general, and was also very fond of horses. Nowhere is this better represented than in her extraordinary collection of Black Beauty books. Filling several shelves here in the library, it is difficult to give an accurate number, but a rough estimate would put the collection at around 350 individual books, and is, we imagine, the world’s largest and most complete set of different editions of Black Beauty.

When Black Beauty was first published on 24 November 1877, its author, Anna Sewell (1820-1878), had been a housebound invalid for seven years. She died just three months after publication and £30, paid by the publisher, Jarrold of Norwich, was the sole amount ever received by the Sewell family for what would become one of the world’s best-selling books (sales figures are estimated around 50 million). Sewell had loved horses since childhood, pleading at the age of two to be allowed to go outside the family’s Shoreditch home to the Bishopsgate cab rank to feed the working horses there. Her passion continued into adulthood. Black Beauty was never intended as a children’s book, but, written BY rather than ABOUT a horse, it set out to highlight the terrible cruelties suffered by horses during the 19th century, in particular the use of the bearing reign which forced a horse’s head upright and back while pulling loads. Her expert equine knowledge is evident throughout the book to the point where, Edward Fordham Flower, the harness expert, wrote of it, ‘It is written by a veterinary surgeon, by a coachman, by a groom; there is not a mistake in the whole of it.’ When the book was published in the United States for the first time in 1890, by George T. Angell, the founder of the Massachussetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, it sold an astonishing million volumes in the first two years. Mary acquired an American first edition for her collection, as well as a first English edition with an inscription by Sewell herself offering thanks to her good friends, Mr and Mrs Tench, who proofread the book.

 bb4 bb3 bb2 bb1

These two first editions of course are jewels within the collection. There is also a limited edition from 1915, one of only 600, illustrated and signed by the famous equestrian artist, Lucy Kemp-Welch. But beside these treasures are many, many more; several volumes illustrated by the great sporting artist, Cecil Aldin and plenty of children’s budget versions from various decades including one I remember owning myself, when I first wept as a child at the adventures of Beauty, Ginger, Merrylegs et al. Her quest for completeness also extended to other blast-from-the-past examples, notably several Black Beauty annuals based on the 1970s Sunday tea-time drama, ‘The Adventures of Black Beauty’ (apologies if this triggers incessant humming of the famous theme tune in any readers!).

It’s easy to see why Black Beauty appealed to Mary. She was a fervent supporter of animal welfare, a vegetarian and as a young girl, had, like Sewell, been horse mad. Acquiring as many editions as she did is firm evidence of her collecting bug that forms the basis of the library. A note to Clarissa Cridland who had sent her a signed book plate to accompany Mary’s copy of ‘Pony Thieves’ which Clarissa had written when she was fifteen, reveals the pride Mary took in her ever-growing Black Beauty collection:

‘Dear Mrs Cridland
How kind of you to send me a signed book plate. I shall treasure that greatly. I have read your book from cover to cover and really enjoyed it. It took me back to my pony passion childhood and teenage years. Your book will be in good company on my bookshelves along with my horse book collection with ‘Ponies of Bunts’ and all the classic books of the time…I also have a large collection of ‘Black Beauty’ different editions which I treasure and am still adding to.’

This note is within a folder found among the Black Beauty books, also containing numerous pieces of Black Beauty-related correspondence and research. Included is an original leaflet, which looks to be from around the 1890s or 1900s, produced by the Anti-Bearing-Rein Association. Clearly, animal rights activism is not a recent phenomenon. A further note, dated 1999, from Mary to Norfolk and Norwich Central Library who had sent her an article about Anna Sewell’s birthplace in Great Yarmouth, seems an apt quote to end on.

‘Thank you very much for the piece about Anna Sewell House. I must come and look at it to see what it is like now. How I would love to take it over and restore it as a museum – and put my large collection of “Black Beauty” books there!’

Mary’s unique collection of Black Beauty books remain here, in the library at Blackheath. Now thoroughly mired in nostalgia for the book, I don’t mind admitting that it’s sorely tempting to browse the shelves and choose one to take home for bedtime reading tonight.

For a selection of our Black Beauty images please click here.