02 May 2012

Ephemera #4: Keepsakes Printed on Silk

Courtesy of the Otago Settlers Museum
Silk and the book have a long history together. Chinese scribes were using the material as a writing surface in their manuscript books as early as the fourth or fifth century B.C. Silk has been employed in the crafting of textile bindings from the sixteenth century, and was used to make end leaves and doublures in bindings from the nineteenth century.

Entire books have also been printed on silk as special issues, such as a nineteenth-century French edition of Laurence Sterne's Sentimental Journey (Paris, [1841]), and the 1748 edition of Cicero's Laelius and 1751 edition of Anacreon's Odes printed in Glasgow by R. & A. Foulis (Hillyard, 19).

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, silk was used as a printing surface for a range of ephemera. Publishers had commemorative issues of periodicals printed on silk, such as the 29 May 1865 issue of the Christchurch Evening Mail and the 10 May 1890 issue of the Ovens and Murray Advertiser (McMullin, BSANZB 21:3, 183), and it was used as a printing surface by a variety of businesses and other organisations for special menus, concert and theatre programmes, and to mark birthdays, coronations and anniversaries.

Australasian examples of silk or satin keepsakes have been recorded in the Bulletin of the Bibliographical Society of Australia & New Zealand. In addition to the two specially issued newspapers already mentioned, Harold Love's article 'Early Melbourne Theatrical Ephemera' notes four programme posters on silk with borders of tasselled embroidery (much like the example produced in Dunedin shown above) printed for the 'Lyster opera company ... for Vice-Regal performances in Adelaide in 1879' (Love, 5).

In his trilogy on printed keepsakes, Brian McMullin records the printing of silken keepsakes during three colonial celebration processions held between 1850 and 1863 (these processions included horse-drawn carts carrying a printing press and pressmen, who ran off commemorative sheets, on paper, not silk, and distributed them to the crowds lining the streets). The two examples cited are an 1850 tract that was a 'chronological epitome of the most notable dates and events in Port Phillip', with the likenesses of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert printed above, and a seven stanza poem called The Old Chum's Musings; suggested by the commencement of the Geelong & Melbourne Railway, September 20th 1853 (McMullin, BSANZB 11:3, 98)Though not an Australasian example, McMullin has also noted in the BSANZB a keepsake printed on silk in Malta held by the British Library. The item is an eight-page issue of The Daily Malta Chronicle. And Garrison Gazette, 'published 26 June 1897 ... [and] commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria' (McMullin, BSANZB 35:2, 114).

Two examples of printing on silk were recently discovered in the Heritage Collections, Dunedin City Library.

The first was this programme printed by Mackay, Bracken & Co. in the Saturday Advertiser office, Dunedin, produced for the Dunedin Choral Society's final concert of the 187879 season.

The second (and to me, the more interesting) silken keepsake was found affixed to a page in a date and signature book called ‘Men of ANZAC, 1914–1918'. The book, possibly kept by a New Zealand nurse or foreign correspondent, includes the signatures of numerous First World War soldiers written in the calendar. The last pages contain later signatures, photographs and some ephemera, including one printed on silk:

The soldier was Leslie Waters Dickinson from Opotiki, Bay of Plenty, who embarked aboard the 'Willochra' for active service on 16 October 1916. His personalised Christmas keepsake is the first of its kind that I have seen, and I would be grateful to hear from anyone who knows of other examples.

Here on the South Island, the Otago Settlers Museum holds a fine collection of no less than thirty-four nineteenth- and early twentieth-century keepsakes printed on silk or satin by at least nine Dunedin firms. The Canterbury Museum also holds a collection of silk and satin keepsakes produced in and around Christchurch.

Does your institution hold a collection of items printed (or written) on silk or satin? Aware of other holdings? If so, please leave a comment.


Brian Hillyard. 'Books Printed on Silk or Linen'. Factotum 20 (1989): 1920. Vincent Kinane followed up in Factotum 29 by adding one further book printed on silk by the Foulis brothers, and a vellum copy of Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (Parma, 1791), which included a title-page vignette printed on white satin.

Harold Love. 'Early Melbourne Theatrical Ephemera'. Bulletin of the Bibliographical Society of Australia & New Zealand 14:4 (1979): 312.

Brian McMullin. 'An Excursion into Printed Keepsakes II: Colonial Celebrations'. Bulletin of the Bibliographical Society of Australia & New Zealand 11:3 (1989): 97107.

----. 'Bibliographical Note No. 6: Printing Newspapers on Silk'. Bulletin of the Bibliographical Society of New Zealand 21:3 (1997): 183.

----. 'Bibliographical Note: Printing on Silk in Malta'. Script & Print: Bulletin of the Bibliographical Society of Australia & New Zealand 35:2 (2011): 114.

Information on the history of silk and books was drawn from The Oxford Companion to the Book, 2 vols. (Oxford: OUP, 2010), 2:1158.

1 comment:

  1. Katherine MilburnMay 4, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    Hi Anthony,
    I have been finding a few as I work my way through the ephemera collection at Hocken...