Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A special find in the Charles Hasler collection

Auditing is an every-day sort of activity in the life of a museum worker. It involves sifting through objects, ticking off numbers and making sure everything is where it’s supposed to be. The other week I was thus employed with a box of magazines from the Charles Hasler collection. Pencil in hand, I ran down the inventory list: Two editions of Radio Times – check, eight editions of the Observer check, and two copies of the first edition of Picture Post, 1 October 1938 - check.

Wait... Can you see what is not quite right here?

Two copies of Picture Post, Hulton's National Weekly, 1938, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (CH5/2/8/1 and 2)
Picture Post was a British weekly magazine that ran for 13 years until 1957. It is considered a pioneering publication for photojournalism. It was founded by film maker, cameraman and editor Stefan Lorant with the financial backing of publisher-millionaire Edward Hulton. Hulton become aware of Lorant through his editorial work on the lad's mag Lilliput (MoDA has editions from 1934 to 1956). The story goes that a dummy run of Picture Post was knocked up on a weekend in the autumn of 1938 and the magazine scheduled for release in September of that year

Which brings us to this curious case of our not-quite-first edition here in the Charles Hasler collection. On closer inspection it is clear that one of the magazines is in fact the dummy run. It was used to promote Picture Post to potential investors (companies who would buy advertising space).

The opening page contains a note by Lorant casting the vision for what Picture Post will be:
PICTURE POST will have a definite attitude to the problems of to-day – but it will choose its pictures first for their picture-value and their freshness… The drama of great achievement or calamities ; the private lives and interests of famous men and women ; the high-lights of sport ; the astonishing range of expression on the human face ; the natural grace of children ; the improbable and sometimes terrifying, ways of animals and insects… from this vast field PICTURE POST will take picture-records and picture-stories to entertain and interest its readers week by week.
On the other side, it is down to business: setting out the cost of advertising space, with the enticing special introductory offer of a twenty percent discount.

Page 1 of a dummy run of Picture Post, Hulton's National Weekly, 1 September 1938, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/2/8/1)
It is fascinating comparing the dummy run to the first edition to see who purchased advertising space and which photographs were used or replaced. Take for example Page 8 and 9. The dummy run advertises a full spread on page 8 for £120 and on page 9, four cameramen snap away at a swim-suited beauty up a pole with a caption that explains that 'Picture Post photographers cover the world... Picture Post will portray world events more fully than has ever been done before.' 

Page 8 and 9 of a dummy run of Picture Post, Hulton's National Weekly, 1 September 1938, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/2/8/1)
Regent Chemists Ltd. purchased the full page advertisement on page 8 of the first edition to sell Urillac tablets for rheumatism. On page 9, the swim suit model has been replaced by Hitler and Chamberlain at Godesberg in September 1938, with the caption: 'The Fateful moment: the issue between Peace and War is presented'.

Page 8 and 9 of Picture Post, Hulton Press Ltd. 1st October 1938, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/2/8/2)

In his opening note in the dummy run, Lorant speculates that the magazine would have a national circulation of hundreds of thousands. In fact the first edition's print run of 750,000 copies sold out by noon and within six months the magazine's circulation was over 1.6 million. By the Second World War it is thought that up to 80% of the country was reading the weekly publication.

When one factors in the high readership of the magazine and the significant period of history that it covered (the lead up to, the experience of and aftermath of World War Two) it is no surprise that we prize Picture Post as one of the more significant magazines in our collection. MoDA holds editions of the magazine from 1938 to 1957. I would thoroughly recommend it to researchers for it's visual representation of social, political and cultural matters impacting the UK during this time. To get a sneak peak inside the magazine, check out this online exhibition from Getty and this magazine article about one of Picture Post's prominent photographers, Thurston Hopkins.

Now, I will get back to auditing. In regards to the dummy run of the first edition of Picture Post, please do get in touch if you have any thoughts, information or ideas about this special find.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Butterflies, bacon and other things left behind in books

There is a famous story within library circles of a book discovered in the Duke University Library with a rasher of bacon as a bookmark (later the Guardian uncovered a similar case in Worthing). More often it's mundane and less fatty materials that get slipped between pages as markers, reminders or supplementary information for later readers. 

At MoDA we often find things like newspaper cuttings, bus or theatre tickets and sometimes on rare occasions, pressed flowers in books. See the example below of the contents of Miss Bracegirdle and Others which includes a sweet wrapper and recital programme.

Ephemera found in the book by Stacey Aumonier, Miss Bracegridle and Others, London: Hutchinson & Co., 1923 , Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA3031

The other week, we were looking through Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics by Arthur Twidle (Twidle was also the illustrator for many of the Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle). 

Arthur Twidle, Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics, London: R.T.S., 1920, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA2208)

Between the pages, and alongside some of Twidle's colour illustrations of action-packed butterfly catching, we made an unexpected discovery: a beautifully preserved butterfly with iridescent wings sitting on a padded board beside a pressed fern.


We make an effort to keep all things found in publications at MoDA and so this butterfly will be repaired and stored either in or close to the book. Obviously we have to be careful that anything found inside books isn't going to do any damage, however one can never be too sure if these remnants could reveal information in the future. 

The little scraps found in books - be they butterflies or newspaper cuttings - act as identifiers, reminders or clues to past readers. One may pick up a book on birds, with the intention of some ornithological research but on discovering a theatre ticket, a little scrap of paper with a hand-drawn sparrow, it reminds us that the book had belonged to someone else once. It had been enjoyed, read and used in other ways.

Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics is part of the Silver Studio's reference collection and would have been used by the Studio's designers when working up designs. Perhaps real specimens like the one found in this book, aided the development of patterns such as the design for a dress silk below. For now, the butterfly and how it came to be in the Silver Studio collection, remains somewhat of a mystery, but a beautiful one at that. 

Design for a silk by Winifred Mold for the Silver Studio, 1923. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD2764.1)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Technology students get creative!

Regular readers of this blog will know that at MoDA we always get very excited when artists and creative people take inspiration from the museum collections.  We've recently been working with Middlesex University MA/MSC Creative Technologies students on a collaborative project devised jointly with RedLoop, the University's centre for design & innovation.  The project has now ended so we thought we would tell you a bit about it. 

The students were given a brief to develop a site-specific 'digital intervention', enabling users at the University's Hendon campus to gain access to and engage with MoDA's collection. The brief was to design an 'intervention' that would provide inspirational, educational and 'potentially magical' experiences for users, whilst working sensitively with the chosen site.

This brief came about in response to MoDA's new approach to sharing the collections, 'Online, On Tour & On Request', within which we seek to take advantage of innovative digital means to making the collections more available to students, researchers and the public.  MoDA's website showcases the collections, and touring exhibitions travel to other venues around the UK.  However it is difficult to find suitable spaces to display museum objects around the Hendon campus due to concerns about security, environmental stability, light and humidity.  So the brief was to help us to meet one of our priorities for the coming year to find new ways to make parts of the collections visible on campus.

So to start the project the students were first introduced to some of the highlights of the collection by our curator, Zoe Hendon.  

Suitably inspired, the students were given eight weeks to formulate their ideas, undertake further research and finally pitch their ideas by means of a formal presentation.  


Everyone listened carefully to the presentations and the feedback



Overall we were very impressed with the ideas for 'digital interventions' put forward by the students.   They showed a good understanding of the exciting technologies available, and made some innovative suggestions about how they could be used to show parts of MoDA's collections in different locations on the Hendon campus.  

Students gained from the experience of working for a 'real life client', to a specific brief, and of pitching their ideas to a panel.  Magnus Moar, MA course leader, commented:

'The students really appreciated the opportunity to take part in the challenging and interesting project devised by MoDA and RedLoop. They were able to work in groups to create several innovative concepts, some of which may be developed further as part of their future studies.The MoDA and RedLoop staff were very generous with their time and advice. The students particularly appreciated the insightful feedback they received.'

It's not often that we get the opportunity to work with science and technology students.We really enjoyed being involved and hope to do something similar again next year.  We enjoyed working with the students, and we're hoping develop some of their ideas further so that we can put them into practice. 
Watch this space for further developments!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

ColourColourColour


Back in June this year, MoDA's new website was launched. Since then we've made it a priority to regularly update the site and make more of the collection available to the public. We've recently focused our attention on objects related to the topic of 'colour'. We've grouped these together and created a new online 'Theme', which you can look at here.


Through this new colour theme we hope to showcase our collection to those working in what is a very broad and interdisciplinary research field. Organisations like the UK Colour Group help to bring together researchers studying colour across a range of disciplines. It is a very broad subject, of interest in equal measure to chemists and engineers as to fine artists and fashion designers.

MoDA has had assistance identifying objects in our collection which could be of use to researchers from  Gwen Fereday,  lecturer in Fashion and Textiles at Middlesex University.  Gwen is currently researching the phenomenon of Grapheme-colour synesthesia.

One of the books in our collection she discovered is The Laws of Contrast of Colour from 1868 by the French chemist Michael Eugène Chevreul (Incidentally as well as as introducing the idea of a systematic approach to seeing colour, Chevreul also discovered the fatty acid that led to the invention of margarine). If Chevreul is of interest to you, I'd recommend checking out this re-enactment of an interview between Chevreul and the great photographer Felix Nadar in 1886 where they discuss photography, colour theory, balloons and how to live to 100.

ME Chevreul, The Law of Contrast of Colour, translated by John Spanton, London: George Routledge & Sons, 1868. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA2289)


Perhaps the most obvious use of MoDA's collection for those researching colour, is investigations around the developments of colour choice, style and taste in home decoration. From turn-of the-century best-selling author Mrs JE  Panton (an authoritative voice on home-making) right through to DIY magazine columnists of the 1960s, MoDA's collection contains a wealth of opinion on colour choice. Often these opinions tended to insinuate that decisions about tones and shades for the home also communicated things about the personality or temperament of it's occupants.

In Nooks and Corners, the companion book to Kitchen to Garrett, Panton advises on the right colour scheme for halls, recommending her personal favourite 'yellow' and condemning the use of terra-cotta or real green.
I cannot and never do recommend either a terra-cotta or real green wall; the latter is such a nondescript and uncertain colour that the use of it in the entrance appear to me to strike the keynote to the character of the inhabitants, who are thus pronounced uncertain in their ideas, and not particularly satisfactory...'
The 1951 publication Designs for Living: Colour in Home Decoration illustrates to the reader through a series of colour photographs, 'appropriate application of colour and pattern', whilst also claiming to assist with planning a colour scheme to suit ones' personality. Below is an example of a colour scheme for a 'smartly conservative' personality.

An example interior for the 'smartly conservative', from Effa Brown, Designs for Living; Colour in Home Decoration, Chicargo: Wilcox and Follett Co., 1951, page 11, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA938)
A 1950s paint chart from the Ripolin collection, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture(BADDA4024)


We hope that our new thematic group is a helpful 'way in' for those wanting to make use of MoDA's collection to study colour. We would be very interested to hear from anyone who might have other creative ideas about to use our collection to explore this theme.