23 March 2012

Ephemera #3: 'Victa et Etona est'

Ephemera is not limited to just printed material. Transitory written matter, such as this 78 x 38mm. card with Latin verse, also fit the definition.

The card was found in 2008 among the contents of an unprocessed box of manuscript material (now fully catalogued) in the Reed Autograph Letters & Manuscripts Collection, Heritage Collections, Dunedin City Library.

The text reads:

Cui paret turba,
Nunc arbitrorum
Accipe verba.

Desine seria
Paullum tractare:
Solita feria
Detur. Sed quare?

Judices urgent
'Feria bona est'
Pueri assurgent
'Victa et Etona est'

G. D. to G. R.
Win: Coll.
Cloister Time 1878


O you who the throng of Wykehamists obey,
Now receive the words of the arbiters.

Cease dealing with serious matters for a while;
Let the customary holiday be granted. But why?

The judges are insistent: 'It is a good holiday'.
The boys will rise up [and shout]: 'Eton is beaten'.


Who were 'G. D.' and 'G. R.'? What event caused the author to compose this short verse?

It is believed that 'G.D.' was the judge and politician George Denman (1819–1896), who 'from his schooldays found verse writing easy and continued to read Greek and Latin classics for pleasure' (ODNB). The recipient was either George Ridding (1828–1904), headmaster of Winchester College from 1867 to 1884, or George Richardson, who was second master from 1873 to 1898 (though the headmaster seems more likely). 

Denman was not an Old Wykehamist, having attended Felsted and then Repton School before entering Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1838. He was, however, present at the assizes courts, which were held in Winchester in early July 1878.

According to Suzanne Foster (Winchester College Archives), who identified Denman and Ridding/Richardson as author and recipient, it was customary for Winchester prefects to write to the judges and ask for an extra day's holiday.

The reason for the desired holiday, noted Foster, was based on a cricket match. Winchester plays Eton each year and in 1878, Winchester beat Eton for the first time since 1871. This match was, and still is, one of the most significant days in the school calendar. Denman's verse, therefore, asks Ridding to grant an additional day's holiday, at a time when the boys were celebrating their success against Eton and looking forward to the end of term.

15 March 2012

Ephemera #2: 'Lest We Forget'

Cover designed by
Warrant Officer A. E. Darling
Anzac Day is the national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand. The day (25 April) originally honoured the members of the combined Australia and New Zealand forces who fought at Gallipoli in the First World War, but has since come to commemorate all who served and those who have given their lives in active service.

Despite being imprisoned in Stalag 383 during the Second World War, the interned Commonwealth soldiers managed to remember the anniversary in 1944 with a dawn service, a march past with military band, and a series of sporting competitions.

The commanding German officer allowed the men to produce this souvenir programme outlining the day's events (busy prisoners are not planning their escape). The programme was printed by a local firm in Regensburg, and its inside cover is stamped 'Stalag 383 4 Geprüft', marking the programme as 'examined' by the Stalag authorities. Eighteen of the soldiers present were also veterans of the First World War.

One New Zealand prisoner, George T. Seccombe, had the presence of mind to post his copy to the Dunedin R.S.A. The envelope, stamped with the Stalag 'Geprüft' stamp and the Red Cross emblem, was kept, and remains with the programme along with a letter by Seccombe describing the day.

The Dunedin Public Library copy of the souvenir programme (part of its Troopship Journals Collection) is one of just two copies recorded as being held by any institution. The other copy is in the University of Canterbury special collections. If any readers are aware of other copies in existence, please send me an email.

02 March 2012

Ephemera #1: 'Printed on the Thames being Frozen'

Last week I returned from Melbourne and a very enjoyable/ informative Rare Books Summer School session on the importance of printed ephemera for historians of the book. On the flight back to Dunedin, my thoughts turned to some interesting examples of ephemera in the Heritage Collections, and so decided to begin a new series around this interesting, wide-ranging, and subjective topic.

The first in the series is the earliest piece of printed ephemera in the Reed Collection, a frost fair keepsake printed on the River Thames in 1683/4.

The Thames had frozen over near London and Westminster a number of times since at least 1092. According to Brian McMullin, the winter of 1683/4 was 'the earliest recorded occasion on which printers took to the ice', and it must have been a true test of ingenuity to stabilize the presses for printing.

The keepsake in the Reed Collection was printed for the attorney Richard Blackall (d. 1743) of Wallingford, Berkshire (Wallingford is now located in Oxfordshire). Blackall later used the keepsake as a book label, affixing it to the front pastedown of a quarto Bible and Prayer Book (London, 1712; ESTC T89271) acquired by the Dunedin Public Library in 1973.

Unfortunately, the name of the printer who produced this keepsake was not included. The only frost fair printer known to McMullin by name is George Croom, active in London between 1671 and 1707, who printed a variety of frost fair keepsakes including one for Charles II and the Royal Family on 31 January 1684. Phrasing and typographical differences, however, suggest that Croom was either not the printer of the Blackall keepsake or allowed some visitors to try their hand at setting their own type.

The 1683/4 Thames frost fair was documented by the writer and diarist John Evelyn (1620–1706), who wandered its booths constructed of blankets and poles, and recorded in his diary for 24 January 1684:

The frost still continuing more & more severe, the Thames before London was planted with bothes in formal streetes, as in a Citty, or Continual faire, all sorts of Trades & shops furnished, & full of Commodities, even to a Printing presse, where the People & Ladys tooke a fansy to have their names Printed & the day & yeare set downe, when printed on the Thames: This humour tooke so universaly, that 'twas estimated the Printer gained five pound a day, for printing a line onley, at six-pence a Name, besides what he gott by Ballads &c: (4:361-2).

See Brian McMullin's "An Excursion into Printed Keepsakes: III: 'Printed on the Thames Being Frozen'" in the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand Bulletin vol. 11 (1987; issued Nov. 1989) for further details on the printing of frost fair keepsakes.

For the Evelyn reference see The Diary of John Evelyn edited by Esmond de Beer, 6 vols. (Oxford: at the Clarendon Press, 1955).

For other seventeenth-century printed ephemera in the Reed Collection, see my post 'Upon beat of Drumme' from early last year.