Answers to Correspondents

The agony column is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 19th century, earnest readers of The Girl’s Own Paper wrote in to the weekly publication under pseudonyms asking for advice on all manner of problems. It’s unlikely that many girls today concern themselves with pressing issues such as how to remove ink stains from ivory piano keys, the correct etiquette of visiting cards, or, thankfully, how to remove a boil from the eyeball.

The advice they received in the ‘Answers to Correspondents’ page was prescriptive, stern, sometimes harsh and often astonishingly encyclopaedic. Any indiscretions involving the opposite sex were severely reprimanded, while those with poor handwriting usually suffered a withering critique.

The questions themselves were never printed which make many of the answers all the more intriguing, and, we have to admit, occasionally hysterical.  Whoever the Girl’s Own agony aunt was, she refused to suffer fools gladly and her advice perhaps tells us more than many other contemporary sources what life must have been like for a middle class girl in the 1890s.

The First Letter'

ALICE. – A crayon copy is not eligible for exhibition at the Royal Academy.

MADGE. – Yes, there is a verse in the Bible that has all the letters of the alphabet in it. See Ezra vii. 21.

Johann Strauss II
. – Why do you wish to whiten your face and neck? Of course you could dip your face in a flour-barrel, or get some whitewash applied by the cook next time she whitens the scullery. But what a coarse, orange-peel-looking skin you will soon have if you fill up the pores of the face!

BLACK TOM. – 1. The girl you name as being hopelessly attached to a man she has never met but only seen at concerts, should be sent away from the foreign town where you are both staying. The story is of a most humiliating character; she disgraces the sex, the members of which should be sought, not themselves the seekers. 2. We could not hazard an opinion on what was your disease. Your writing slopes the wrong way.

ALYS and MABELLE. – ‘Nigel’ is pronounced as it is spelt; the last syllable as the first in ‘gelatine’.


WORRIED (but not) TO DEATH. – We know nothing of the method advertised. We can only advise you not to try it without the opinion of your own family doctor.

PUSSIE. – We cannot tell you of the diseases induced by the bad habit of eating anything not designed for food. You must be already in a very unwholesome condition. The best means of curing yourself would be to tell your mother, and request her to put a stop to it at once, if you have no strength of mind and will to cure yourself of such nasty habits.

School class in Great Britain, 1930...

MARJORIE. – 1. Your heliotrope dress will probably fade if you wash it. 2. To raise his hat on the first meeting is all that is required of a man. To do so five or six times would be ridiculous.


Going Under: Diving Suits through History

Serious exploration of the underwater world began in the early 17th century, when the first submarine was invented by Dutch physician Cornelis Drebbel.  Then, the environment beneath the sea was considered the most dangerous and mysterious on earth – long before the prospect of exploring environments, such as outer space, was even feasible.

The invention of individual diving suits in the early 18th century allowed a more refined exploration of the ocean depths.  The initial drive for the creation of diving suits was to aid salvage missions, at a time when many ships (carrying many treasures) were lost to the ocean on perilous journeys.  The first diving suits were designed in 1710s and in 1715, English inventor John Lethbridge created the first fully-enclosed suit, consisting of watertight sleeves, a pressurised air filled barrel and a viewing hole.

These basic elements formed the foundation for the design of future diving apparatus, the technological advances of which were covered regularly in illustrated scientific periodicals of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.  Expeditions to ships sunken in WWI and WWII, fueled by public intrigue and fascination, were often dramatically illustrated in the likes of newspapers such as the Italian Sunday supplement; “La Domenica Del Corriere” and the French illustrated supplement “Le Petit Parisien”, with bold and vivid interpretations of almost robotic-like diving suits placed in otherworldly environments.

Early diving suits, far away from today’s equivalent, continue to be well-received in popular culture as a representation of the quirky and bizarre, due to their odd appearance and design aesthetics and for their kitsch, retro-futurist elements.  Film and television characters in early diving suits have appeared in cult productions, think the Ghost of Captain Cutler in Scooby Doo – this eerie, glowing and growling deep sea diver is of the show’s most popular villains (Below: Captain Cutler in SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED, 2004, (c) Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection).

SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED, 2004, (c) Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection
For anyone enchanted by the exploration of the undersea world and have an appreciation for unusual design; the photographs and illustrations of early diving suits held by the Mary Evans Picture Library are a joy to behold.


Above: French inventor Freminet’s ‘Machine Hydrostatique’ which incorporates something like a  modern diving suit combined  with an air tank.  Engraving by an unnamed artist in Pesce, ‘Navigation sous- marine’, 1772.


Above: Klingert’s diving suit and apparatus.  Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la Science’ volume 4 page 637, 1797.


Left: Cabirol’s diving suit combines effective protection with considerable ease of movement, the two basic requirements for working underwater.  Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la science’ volume four, page 639, 1856.

Above: Diving dress and equipment of an amber hunter.  Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la science’ volume four, page 639, 1856.

Right: A state-of-the-art diving suit of the late 19th century, made of rubber and fitted with an emergency air tank, just in case the unthinkable should happen… Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la science’ volume four, page 655, 1875.


Left: Diving suit designed for work on the ‘Lusitania’, sunk during World War One and lying at a depth of 80 metres.  Unnamed artist in ‘Le Petit Journal’ 17 December 1922

Right: Divers explore the wrecks of vessels torpedoed during World War One: the amazing suit on the left is specially designed for very deep dives.  Unnamed artist in ‘Le Petit Journal’ 23 May 1920.

 Deep-sea diving suit, for salvage work on HMS 'M1' subrine

Above: A German deep-sea diving suit brought from Kiel for examining the lost submarine ‘M1’. On 21 November 1925, while on an exercise in the English Channel. The ‘M1’ submarine sank with the loss of her entire crew, the crew members appear to have tried to escape by flooding the interior and opening the escape hatch, but their bodies were never found. At the time the submarine was lying too deep to use ordinary diving apparatus. So the decision was made to ask for the assistance of Messrs. Neufeldt and Kuhnke, of Kiel, who specialized in deep-sea diving apparatus.

Diver in metal diving suit attached to cable

Left: A diver in an iron diving suit developed by a German company in Kiel, seen here being lowered into the sea, 1922.

Centre: A diver in an electrically controlled metal diving suit attached to a cable, ready to be lowered into the sea, c. 1924.

Right: A diver in a special iron diving suit is lowered into the sea attached to a cable, c. 1920.

Diving suit used during Lutine salvage operation

Left: Full figure of man in underwater diving suit, c 1940.

Centre: A man holds up a rubber diving suit used during one of many salvage operations of HMS Lutine, which sank off the Dutch coast during a storm in 1799. Photograph c. 1934.

Right: American inventor H.L. Bowdoin with his deep-sea diving suit. On the shoulders are two 1000 watt automobil lamps. 15th August 1931.


Above: A German underwater photographer struggles to get into his rubber diving suit, with a little help from his friends. Unattributed photograph for Barnaby’s Studios Ltd c. 1930s.


Above: William Walker, diver, who worked under Winchester Cathedral between 1906 and 1912.


The GREAT Mary Evans Christmas Gift Guide

Tatler Christmas Shopping Guide

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.

Advert for Peter Robinson, gentlemen's clothing 1895

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.

Frigidaire fridge advert

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.

Cat telephone cosy from Selfridges, 1919

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.

Advertisement for Tri-Ang toy model motor cars

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.

Stand and lamp for making toast 1909

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.

Advertisement for Ronson lighters, 1931

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.

Top 10 spookiest photos in the archive

It’s October, the spookiest month of the year and Halloween is only four weeks away.   At Mary Evans Picture Library we have plenty of images to give you a good scare, thanks to our collection of several thousand images on the subject of the ‘paranormal’.

Co-founder of the library, Hilary Evans (1929-2011) was a leading voice and author on the paranormal and helped to co-found the Association for the Study of Anomalous Phenomena in 1981.  Due to Hilary’s extensive research on the subject, the library amassed many thousands of images on all things otherworldly. In addition he also formed relationships with external paranormal collections which we continue to represent, including the renowned Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, which we exclusively represent along with other collections from independent paranormal investigators and collective societies.

Here are the top 10 most creepy and unsettling images from our paranormal archive, guaranteed to send a chill down your spine.


1.) The ghost of Raynham Hall, Norfolk.  This figure is not seen but is unknowingly photographed on the staircase; it may be the ghost of Dorothy Walpole, known as ‘The Brown Lady’. 
The image was first published in the December 26 edition of Country Life Magazine 1936 and has since become one of the most famous ‘ghost photographs’ in the world to date.

Image courtesy of the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, University of London.

Phantom priest in the church at Arundel, Sussex

2.) Phantom priest photographed in the church at Arundel, Sussex, date unknown. 
Image courtesy of the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, University of London.


3.) Eastry Church Ghost, Kent, 1956. 
When Bank Manager Mr Bootman took this photograph of Eastry Church in 1956, he claims it was empty.  Image courtesy of the Andrew Green collection.

Ghosts on the Tulip Staircase of the Queen's House

4.) Ghosts on the Tulip Staircase of the Queen’s House, Greenwich, London 19 June 1966.

Figures photographed on the Tulip Staircase of the Queen’s House during normal opening hours of the museum, though the photographer saw nothing.  This image was taken by Rev. R W Hardy of White Rock, British Columbia, Canada whilst on holiday in the UK.  Image courtesy of Peter Underwood.


5.) Enigmatic Figure, 23 May 1964. 
When J P Templeton photographed his daughter on Burgh Marsh, Cumberland, this enigmatic figure appeared behind her.  Image courtesy of Peter Underwood.

Ghost of Lord Combermere

6.) Ghost of Lord Combermere 5 December 1981. 
Sybell Corbet’s photograph of the library at Combermere, taken between 2-3 pm, seems to show a figure, resembling Lord Combermere, at the time he was being buried.  Image source: Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol V December 1895 page 167.


7.) Ancient Ram Inn Ghost, 5 June 1999.  This photograph appears to show an apparition just before an ASSAP (Association for the Study of Anomalous Phenomena) night vigil at The Ancient Ram Inn, Wotton- Under-Edge, Gloucestershire.  A murder was committed years earlier on this staircase.  We like to fondly refer to this image as ‘The Malibu Ghost’!  Image courtesy of Julie and Mark Hunt.


8.) Watertown Photo, 1924.  When sailors Courtney and Meehan of American ship S.S. ‘Watertown’ are accidentally killed, then buried at sea, their faces are seen following the ship and photographed.  Image source: Captain Tracy, the vessel’s captain, reproduced in Gaddis, ‘Invisible Horizons’.


Ealing Ghost

9.) Ealing Ghost, date unknown. A figure seen at an upstairs windows of a house where murder and 20 suicides have taken place (possibly the ghost of Ann Hinchfield who killed herself in 1886).  Image courtesy of the Andrew Green collection.


10.) Leeds Poltergeist, 1970.
The photograph seems to show papers flying through the air.  This was photographed during a case investigating the disturbance in the offices of Air Heating company, Leeds, centred around  a 16-year old typist : the phenomena continued for six months.  Image courtesy of the Andrew Green collection.

A Transcontinental Metro and other dreams of the future – as illustrated in the past

I always love delving into the unusual here at the archive and from spooky spectres to spoon-bending we have it all, but one area I’m particularly fascinated with is the collection of imaginative illustrations dating pre-1960 which fantasise on what the future may hold in the year 2000 and beyond.  These popular images regularly appeared in scientific and general interest periodicals, children books, collectables and magazines.  Common illustrated themes included wonderful and complex infrastructure, high capacity and ultra hi-speed transport, space exploration and domestic living with machines for every chore you could think of.

Much of the ideas depicted were entirely plausible at the time, for example video calling, but equally some imaginations of the future were a good way off reality and really delved into the realm of fantasy;  ideas such as life on Mars in 50 years time and underwater bikes being used for the casual commute across the English Channel!

One particularly charming example in the archive is the promotional sticker book published c.1950 by Belgian chocolate company ‘Aiglon’, titled ‘L’An 2000 / ‘t Jaar 2000’ The album features many unique future scenarios such as the dredging and reclaiming of the Mediterranean sea between France, Spain, Italy and North Africa, aeroplanes the size of cruise ships and post sent by intercontinental rocket.  How I would have loved to collect each individual sticker with the purchase of a chocolate bar!  At Mary Evans we are lucky enough to hold the full completed album (images below).

As much as some of the ‘guesses at futurity’ are hard-to-swallow, the images offer a fantastic insight into the vivid, thought-out and often humorous imaginations of our forefathers at what our world may look like by the new millennium.  There are hundreds of images of the ‘future’ for your perusal on our website, which are available to license and you can find them here, but below you can see some favourites from a variety of sources – I do hope they delight!

Future 1

Future 1a

Cityscapes of the Future:

New York of the future

Left: Autogyros and other aircraft land on rooftops in the London of the future, by Henry Woolley in ‘The Wonder Book of Aircraft’, 1931.

Centre: Postcard showing the New York of the future, date unknown.

Right: A city street of the future by Henry Woolley in ‘The Wonder Book of Aircraft’, 1931.

Transport and Infrastructure:


Left: Transatlantic tunnel, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.

Right: Observation of the sea bed from transparent-bottomed boats, using atom-ray illumination, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.


Left: Reclaiming the Mediterranean for agricultural use, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.

Right: Transcontinental metro travelling underground beneath continents, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.



Left: Super-jumbo aircraft carrier, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.

Right: Submarine motorbike, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.



Left: Channel road bridge between Calais and Dover c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.

Right: Jet-propelled snow mobile, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.



Left: Traffic control centre, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.

Right: Monorail proposal, March 1941.  Illustration by B und H Romer- Munchen, in Delhagen und Klafigs Monatshefte.



Left: A prediction that aircraft will be guided to their destinations by beacons – vertical lights positioned beside motorways, indicating the route from town to town, c. 1935.  Collectors’ card by Byrrh, French aperitif.

Right: A suggested central London overhead airport at King’s Cross showing aeroplanes landing on the runways of a huge wheel-shaped structure. Illustration by Charles W Glover in the Illustrated London News, 6 June 1931.



Left: Prediction of what the railway train of tomorrow will look like.  Totally streamlined for greater speed and economy, c. 1935.  Collectors’ card by Byrrh, French aperitif.

Centre: Future Transatlantic passenger liners, which will be aerodynamically shaped for faster travel. This vessel is based on a project by American designer Norman Bel Geddes, c. 1935.  Collectors’ card by Byrrh, French aperitif.

Right: Landing spot for airplane, parking space for cars on every storey, France, circa 1930.

Domestic living:

future, vision In the year 2000, television-phone,

Above: Future vision un the year 2000, television-phone, colour lithograph, France, 1910.

future, household, automatic floor polisher with

Future vision in the year 2000, an electric scrubber, colour lithograph, France, 1910.

Futuristic home, with chores done automatically

Above: A futuristic home, with chores done automatically. The housewife’s life will be an easy one in which she can sit back, read the paper and listen to music.  Allers Familj Journal (Sweden), 24 May 1929.

Robot servant polishing shoes

Left: A futuristic device to help a gentleman get dressed in the automatic home of the future. At the press of a button, a mechanical arm holds out his suit, top hat and walking stick, while a platform on wheels delivers his shoes. Allers Familj Journal (Sweden), 24 May 1929.

Centre: The servant of the future – a robotic servant polishes a man’s shoes while he sits reading in his armchair. Le Petit Inventeur (France) c. 1929.

Right: A futuristic invention for the lazy person — no need to leave your seat when you need a drink, in the automatic home of the future. A man sits in his armchair, smoking a cigar, while a mechanical arm drops through the ceiling to offer him a tray of drinks. Allers Familj Journal (Sweden), 24 May 1929.


Left: Suburban home with garage for family rocket, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium

Right: Kitchen of the future, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium

Say It With Flowers — but mind your language!

The concept of flower symbolism goes back many centuries, and examples of it can be found in many countries. One theory for its origin is that in some countries where women were not taught to write they used flowers instead to convey their messages.

A famous example from English literature is the madness and death of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Having handed out some meaningful herbs and flowers to various characters during her mad scene (rosemary, pansy, fennel, columbine, rue, daisy, violet), she drowns in a stream with weeds and flowers in her hands (crow flowers, nettles, daisies, long purples). In his painting Ophelia (1852), the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais combines flowers from both scenes, and adds a few more of his own (roses, forget-me-nots and poppies).

Ophelia, 1851-52. Millais, Sir John Everett (1829-1896), oil on canvas, 76 x 112 cm, Date: 1851-52.

In the 19th century there was a huge surge of interest in the language of flowers or ‘floriography’. By the end of the century many ‘floral dictionaries’ had emerged, both in the UK and in America, some including poetry and illustrations. A book entitled Flower Lore: The Teachings of Flowers, Historical, Legendary, Poetical and Symbolic (1879) by a Miss Carruthers of Inverness became a standard source, and one of the best known examples, thanks to its illustrations, is Kate Greenaway’s The Language of Flowers (1884), still in print today.

Illustration by Kate Greenaway in 'The Language of Flowers'

All of this came at a time when flowers were part of a coded language of courtship—a man giving a woman snowdrops, for example, could be an expression of hope, while violets would signify faithfulness. The nosegay (a small bouquet) was very popular with the Victorians, either as a gift or as a wedding bouquet. Flower symbolism also appeared on greetings cards (especially Valentine’s cards), postcards, in embroidered form, as well as in accessories such as fans and ephemera such as soap wrappers.

Floral decorative fan with frilly edging showing pictures of flowers -- each section explains the symbolism of flowers, eg Pansy for Thoughts, Snowdrop for Hope. Date: c. 1910s
Roses to most people’s minds signify love, but the different colours, and whether in bud or full flower, have different shades of meaning: single rose (simplicity), deep red (bashful shame), damask (brilliant complexion admired), cabbage (ambassador of love), white (I am worthy of you), white and red together (unity), white bud (girlhood), red bud (pure and lovely).

Chocolate box design, featuring three red roses. Date: 20th century

But some flowers have negative connotations. Here are a few which are perhaps best avoided: aconite (misanthropy), columbine (folly), lavender (distrust), morning glory (affectation), narcissus (egotism), oleander (beware) or yellow carnations (rejection).

With all this floral activity going on there was bound to be a cynical backlash sooner or later. The scientist and novelist H.G. Wells wrote a humorous essay (circa 1897) ridiculing romantic flower symbolism: There was no downright “No!” in the language of flowers, nothing equivalent to “Go away, please,” no flower for “Idiot!” The only possible defence was something in this way: “Your cruelty causes me sorrow,” “Your absence is a pleasure.” For this … you would have to get a sweet-pea blossom for Pleasure, wormwood for Absence, and indicate Sorrow by the yew, and Cruelty by the stinging-nettle. There is always a little risk of mixing your predicates in this kind of communication, and he might, for instance, read that his Absence caused you Sorrow, but he could scarcely miss the point of the stinging-nettle.’

Whether we agree or not with H.G., the flower industry seems to be still flourishing nicely!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.