As we look to the start of a new year, thoughts inevitably turn to New Year’s resolutions and self-improvement. With the help of the fabulous Maurice Collins collection that we represent here at Mary Evans, we turn the clock back 90 years and take a look at self-improvement 1928-style, through the medium of workplace motivational posters. Never mind mindfulness, forget Feng shui – these posters channel bold, colourful imagery with pithy positivity for the workplace and beyond.
Parker-Holladay, a now defunct print company, was one producer of these motivational posters, which it made on a subscription basis for business owners to display and disseminate to their employees. Bill Jones, a fictional character created by Parker-Holladay, encouraged punctuality, good self-care, courtesy and teamwork, amongst a raft of other virtues, helping to instill best practice and positive mental attitude in the workplace.
Popular in their day, these striking posters fell from favour following the Wall Street Crash and the ensuing Great Depression of 1929, with economic events dealing a heavy blow to the self-made man and his entrepreneurial spirit. Though thankfully the economy is not suffering today as it did back in 1929, even nearly a century later these images still convey the power of positivity and the beneficial effect this can have in the work place and on an individual’s outlook.
Here on The Inquisitive Archivist, these posters march again, on into 2018, with messages that are still pertinent to the workplace today. Which of Bill Jones’s maxims will you take into 2018? Wishing all our readers a very happy and productive new year!
Combing the archive to reveal this season’s best buys for all the family.
We’re sorry but it’s becoming unavoidable. There are just eighteen oh-so-short shopping days to go until Christmas. As panic buying sets in the length and breadth of the country, FEAR NOT, for help is at hand. Fling away those gift guides in Sunday supplements, forget about jostling for a parking space in Westfield, throw caution to the wind and CANCEL that Amazon Prime subscription. You don’t need it.* We’ve trawled through history itself in order to help you solve any festive gift-giving dilemmas. Read on for some vintage inspiration and watch your family’s faces light up this Christmas.
*Did we mention you WILL need a time-travelling machine?
For discerning Uncle Jeremy, the ultimate in loungewear – a velvet smoking jacket from Peter Robinson with silk collar, cuffs and frogging.
For your tech-loving teenage son – the twin-lens artist hand camera from the London Stereoscopic Company. He’ll be extra-impressed that it’s the same one used by the Princess of Wales.
Top of any little girl’s wish-list – a toy roadside pub. Yes, that’s right. Complete with beer pumps, ashtrays and pork scratchings , this boozer offers instruction in basic arithmetic courtesy of the darts board.
For dear mother, what can be more thoughtful than an electric vacuum cleaner or state-of-the-art Frigidaire? No more daily shopping, no more drudgery of carpet beating. Now she can clean carpets all day to her heart’s content. How kind of daddy.
Stumped again about what to buy Aunty Irene? The answer is staring you (quite literally) in the face. Who doesn’t want a cat telephone cosy from Selfridges in their life? Aunty Irene need fret no more about her phone getting chilly during those winter months.
For seven-year-old Nicholas, a Tri-ang model motor car is just the thing. But how to choose between the Rolls Royce, the Brooklands or the Chevrolet Regal? Buy all three (they’re just £15 15 shillings each) and you needn’t feel so guilty about packing him off back to Harrow on Boxing Day.
Ever since Grandpapa singed his moustache while using a toasting fork, the need to modernise has been apparent. Treat him to this 1909 Elkington plate stand and lamp for making flame-free crumpets and toast at the breakfast table.
For that opinionated great-aunt you loathe. Buy her a horrific dinner gong or match holder. Do be mindful that these will be re-gifted back to you in her will when she pops her clogs.
Chain smoking Aunty Lil would love a new Ronson lighter. And why not also buy her a Perfu-mist scent dispenser at the same time? We can only hope she doesn’t get the two muddled up after one too many gin and dubonnets.
For the newest member of the family, how about a winter bassinette or a wooden horse on wheels from the 1888 catalogue of Dunkley’s of London and Birmingham? Strictly no actual playing with them though; it’ll seriously affect their valuation on Antiques Roadshow in 130 years’ time.
And finally, you know last year, when your sister bought you that Brian Connolly CD for Christmas and you vowed revenge? Remember when you dreamed of finding a present that would give her nightmares at night? Here you go.
Pssst… for actual Christmas presents you can buy today featuring Mary Evans images, visit; Prints-Online.
We’re all familiar with the closing credits of ‘Open All Hours’ when Arkwright, played by Ronnie Barker, goes through the daily chore of dismantling his display of wares before shutting up shop for the evening. Image then, if you will, the hours it might have taken to put together – and then dismantle – some of these shop fronts? While the art of retail display might still be seen daily on our high streets, very few can match the level of extravagance masterminded by some Victorian and Edwardian shopkeepers, whose penchant for fussy and highly populated displays mirrored conventional tastes in interior design and fashion. Butchers and poulterers seem particularly prone to boastful displays, while grocers err towards carefully composed symmetrical layouts using boxes of tea and soap powder. They obviously took pride in their creations as many photographs show employees, smart in long aprons, posed in front of gleaming windows or just visible among expertly butchered carcasses.
We’ve created a top 12 of our favourite shop front displays from history. Scroll down to see who occupies the top spot.
12.) The shop window of Schmidt’s famous German delicatessen on Charlotte Street, London, with a vast variety of tinned and preserved goods on display, a taste of ‘Germany in London’.
11.) Morecambe tourist shop selling everything from hoops to prams.
10.) Graham and Withers butchers shop, Bromley, Kent. Definitely wins the prize for most grisly.
9.) Shop front in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
8.) Mr Horner the Butcher sitting proudly in front of his magnificent display of flesh and fowl waiting for the Christmas rush.
7.) A little OCD evident from the look of the window of the Maypole Dairy in Greenwich.
6.) Undies galore at the Parisian Corset Company Ltd.
5.) Display of meat outside a butcher’s shop (unidentified location) with butcher, centre, brandishing a knife in case we should be in any doubt who’s responsible for all those first prize awards.
4.) Luggage shop in Paddington, London.
3.) Best foot forward. Cobbler’s shop front, St David’s, Pembrokeshire, South Wales.
2.) Butcher’s shop in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. The turkeys (joined by rabbits & a lone pig) are so numerous they literally cover the entire building.
1.) Never knowingly underadvertised. The marvellously named Herbert Fudge, Newsagent, Stationer and Tobacconist of 313 Lee High Road, London.
Mary and Hilary Evans spent more than fifty years collecting the material that now comprises the library and we’re often asked by visitors what proportion of the analogue archive has actually been scanned. A finger in the wind guesstimate might find us suggesting 15-20%, but the truthful answer to this is we don’t really know. But what we do know is that it is still possible to unearth incredible treasures containing images that have never made it near a scanner. While it’s frustrating to find ‘perfect’ pictures hidden away, the fact that we are still lucky enough to experience that sharp thrill of discovery more than compensates.
A case in point is a photo album recently discovered neatly filed and catalogued along with others, but apparently untouched for some years. The stained, green binding was fairly unpromising but inside is a superb collection of photographs dating from the late 1890s to the 1930s. The picture that particularly caught our eye at first was the interior of a Cambridge student’s room in 1911. Written above it in ink were the words, ‘My rooms. K. 5. New Court Trinity College Cambridge. 1911’. It may be Cambridge but even so, the room itself is unlike any student digs we might imagine today. Ornaments are neatly arranged on the mantelpiece of a large fireplace, the walls are adorned with landscapes, and a collection of ukuleles and lutes. Above the picture rail what looks like a hand painted border shows a maritime landscape that includes St. Michael’s Mount. A small occasional table is draped with an art nouveau style tablecloth on which are placed framed photographs, presumably of family members. An elegant seat is enhanced by a rather beautiful looking peacock cushion, and the inhabitant of the room sits in the window, a pet cockatoo perched placidly on his knee.
Further investigation soon confirmed that the album belonged to a ‘C. Grasemann’, the student in the picture. He features in most of the album’s other photographs which neatly chart his life and career from boy to man in a series of evocative images, many of which are excellent quality, printed in a generous 10” x 8” format. The earliest picture, from 1899, is a group photograph from Fretherne House School (a prep school in Welwyn Garden City up until the Second World War). Two more of Fretherne House take us up to 1904 as which point C. Grasemann became a pupil at Rugby School. Another photograph shows him cross-legged in the front row of W. N. Wilson’s House.
Every boy is annotated in miniscule, spidery writing. At Rugby, he was in the OTC band, playing the tenor horn by the looks of one photograph. He was also in the school orchestra and when he went up to Cambridge, became a rower, a sport well-documented in the album. Not only are there pictures of Grasemann’s rowing crew in action, but there are some beautiful views of Henley Regatta around 1911.
Together with photographs of college balls, society dinners, winter sports and a fancy dress party in Switzerland (even one of the famous skating couple Mr and Mrs Edgar Syers) these are images that take us back to that extraordinary pre-war era when a young man of Grasemann’s fortunate circumstances would have had the world at his feet. Except the world was about to slide towards catastrophe.
Grasemann’s war saw him gazetted on 10 June 1915, joining the Royal Engineers as a Lieutenant. The only wartime pictures in the album are a couple of his marriage to Irene Statham on 19 September 1916, while another photograph of him in uniform with a friendly dog arrived with the message, ‘As we can’t come we send our photo’. All leave had been cancelled.
Keen to find out more about who C. Grasemann was, some internet sleuthing revealed he was Cuthbert Grasemann (1890-1962) who after the war became the Public Relations and Publicity Officer for British Railways (Southern Region). Armed with this knowledge, some of the later photographs begin to make sense – one charming photograph of the South East and Chatham Railway Travelling Ticket Inspectors Garden Allotment Prize Giving in Catford in July 1922 for instance, or an annual dinner given to staff of the Superintendent of the SE & C Railway. Another shows him accompanying Sir Malcolm Campbell as he meets the driver of the Bluebird steam train emblazoned on the front with ‘Welcome Campbell’ (presumably this coincides with one of Campbell’s land speed records in the Bluebird – possibly in 1927). One gathering from 1925, an annual reunion dinner of the Railway Operating Division of the Royal Engineers, indicates how he progressed along his particular career path. He was also the author of two books, ‘English Channel Packet Boats’ in 1939, and ‘Round the Southern Railways Fleet’ in 1946; clearly his job overlapped happily with an enduring personal interest in transport.
Even without the detective work to uncover his personal story, the photographs in Cuthbert’s Grasemann’s album are a haunting and redolent memento of a lost era. Turning the pages, L. P. Hartley’s opening lines of ‘The Go-Between’, ‘the past is another country’ spring to mind. Especially in the case of the early photographs, this is pre-war Britain as it once was for a privileged few. One can’t help wondering about the fates of so many of the boys and men in those photographs. Who made it through the war, and who didn’t.
But there is one more thing that makes this album doubly interesting. Two photographs document a visit to Rugby School by Lord Roberts on 16 February 1906 where he inspected the Rifle Club, an early version of the school’s Officer Training Corps. Cuthbert Grasemann, who would have been 15 or 16 at the time, can be seen in his bandsman’s uniform standing in line near the back. In charge of the corps, standing at the front is one 2nd Lt Rupert Brooke.
Brooke is one of Rugby School’s most famous alumni. His father was a housemaster there, and at the time of Lord Roberts’ visit he would have been 18. Academically gifted, sporty, and with renowned good looks, he would go up to Cambridge in autumn of that year, having won a scholarship to King’s College. One of the most famous of the Great War poets, the tragedy of Rupert Brooke’s death, from an infected mosquito bite on a French hospital ship in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Skyros on 23 April 1915 caught the public imagination. Shortly after his death, his poetry collection, ‘1914 and other Poems’ sold 160,000 copies.
With three years separating them, it is unlikely Grasemann was on very close terms with Brooke, but it is clear that he was aware of his significance. Underneath the photograph in which Brooke’s handsome profile is unmistakable, Cuthbert Grasemann has unusually included Brooke’s Christian name in his annotations. It is probable this album was compiled a number of years after Brooke’s death by which time his name had entered into Great War mythology; a fallen warrior, a ‘young Apollo, golden haired’ as described by the poet Frances Cornford.
Did Mary and Hilary ever notice Brooke’s existence among these photographs? The fact that the entire album has never been catalogued or scanned suggests not; a natural oversight in a collection that numbers thousands and thousands of individual items. Only on closer examination did I myself notice the picture and it is finds like this that make Mary Evans such a unique place to work. How they acquired the album in the first place is unknown. Papers relating to Cuthbert Grasemann are held at the National Archives and the National Maritime Museum. It seems strange that this album of such exquisite personal photographs should have been sold. A small pencil inscription on the inside front cover suggests it was bought for £20 – quite possibly some years ago. Whatever was paid for it, we believe the contents are simply priceless.
Too see a wider selection of photographs from the Cuthbert Grasemann album click here