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In Praise of Ephemera Fairs

Edward Law relates how a chance discovery at an Ephemera Society
fair has contributed to his research into anastatic printing

For me, as, I am sure, for many other members of the Ephemera Society, the half-yearly ephemera fairs at Russell Square are occasions not to be missed. The social side is not the least of the pleasures, giving opportunities to meet friends and fellow spirits, and to renew acquaintances with dealers. In my own case, living in Ireland, it is an opportunity I would not otherwise have, of browsing the offerings of scores of dealers on the one day. I inevitably come away with items which give me particular pleasure, and as often as not they are minor items, either a bargain acquired or something of exceptional interest.

My visit to the fair in November 2004 was not among my most productive. There were no crest albums and very little associated material. However, I did have an important find (important to me at least) in the area of my latest passion, where I had not anticipated finding any material.

My current interest is research on anastatic printing; its discovery, exponents and output. The process, which was discovered in the early 1840s or just before, created a good deal of interest in that decade, being promoted and extolled by Michael Faraday, Edgar Allen Poe and (Sir) Walter Siemens. It was a cheap method of producing facsimiles of text or drawings, the only requirement of which was that the material to be copied should have been produced by a medium, usually ink, with an oily content.

As with most of my interests it does have a collecting side to it, but in this case it is books, substantial, rather than ephemeral, and I had no thought that I should find any material at the fair. However, on one of the dealers’ stalls where the policy is apparently “pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap”, I found my prize. My eye was caught by the pencilled initials, CDMS, at the foot of a small pen and ink sketch. I recognised these as the initials of Catherine Dorcas Maule Strickland, and at £4 would have bought the item even if there had been no further information on the paper.

Facsimile of an old print, drawn with the pen and prepared ink

I had been acquainted with the initials from early in my research having met with them in three works published by Philip De la Motte, an Oxford printer who was one of the earliest licencees of the anastatic process. The works were The Dodo and its kindred, of 1848, jointly authored by Mrs Strickland’s husband, Hugh; Contributions to ornithology, a periodical published in parts from 1848 to 1852, conducted by Mrs Strickland’s father, Sir William Jardine, Bart.; and On the various applications of anastatic printing and papyrography with illustrative examples,1849, penned, literally for it is a facsimile of a holograph booklet, by De la Motte himself.

The sketch is annotated below the initials “Facsimile of an old print, drawn with the pen and prepared ink. Feb. 12. 1848. H E Strickland”. Hugh Edwin Strickland has a particular niche in the history of anastatic printing. He utilised the process to reproduce drawings made on paper with lithographic chalk. In correspondence to the Athenaeum he named this variation on the art, papyrography, described it briefly in The Dodo and its kindred, and gave a more lengthy account in an early part of Contributions to ornithology, in which work many of the illustrations were drawn by CDMS and reproduced by papyrography. The section in De la Motte’s work is largely drawn from the piece in Contributions to ornithology. Strickland’s view that he had discovered a new process in papyrography was not shared by many others, and its use as the name of the process is not known in any works other than those noted above. Had De la Motte continued his Anastatic Press rather than moving to photography he might have perpetuated the style in other publications. Hugh Strickland had the misfortune to be run down by a railway engine in 1853; he was examining a railway cutting in pursuance of his geological interests, avoiding a coal-train approaching on one line he neither saw nor heard the passenger train, on the other line, which killed him. His widow continued to use the anastatic process for many years, contributing sketches over four decades (1850s to 1880s), to the journal of the Anastatic Drawing Society.

The sketch is in ink and thus not created in connection with the papyrographic process. Feeling that I had seen it, or something very similar, previously, I revisited De la Motte’s booklet, and The Dodo, and found it in the latter, captioned ‘Fac-simile of the Frontispiece of Leguat's voyage’, with the additional information that it was copied by eye (rather than by tracing) and transferred by the anastatic process to a zinc plate. In his memoirs of Strickland his father-in-law noted “the facility and exactness with which copies from various subjects could be made [by the anastatic process] induced Strickland to attempt the copying of some old plates representing the scenery of the islands where the Dodo was known to have formerly existed.” This exploratory work is clearly the origin of the sketch. It is interesting that the artist’s initials, CDMS, are not reproduced on the published image, as they are executed in pencil, the lead lacking any oily nature.

The dealer must have thought it strange when, having first enquired if he had anything else like the sketch, I questioned him on any knowledge he had of the provenance of this cheap little item. Its price of course belied its importance. It is believed that The Dodo and its kindred is the first genuinely commercial publication in England (there are several earlier works in America) to include Anastatic material, and it is a matter of great satisfaction to me that this original artwork has been identified and secured.

 

Ephemera - minor transient documents of every day life