Friday, 25 October 2013

Student style and a wallpaper sandwich

Louisa Knight, Assistant Curator of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, finds out more about an unusual wallpaper 'sandwich': 

In November 2003, wallpaper fragments from Peterhouse Cambridge were given to the museum. They were discovered during renovations of the college's dorm rooms and gifted to the museum as a large slab of papers stuck together and scraped off a wall. As the museum's conservator began work on the slab, 12 separate layers of papers were revealed which represented over 200 hundred years of wall decoration in the dorm room.

Petershouse Cambridge (source: Petershouse)

Peterhouse Cambridge is the oldest college of the university and was founded in 1284 by the Bishop of Ely. It had many eminent past students including Frank Whittle, James Mason and Michel Portillo.

For many years, Cambridge students were able to decorate their own rooms. The variety of patterns in the wallpaper sandwich reflects the choices and style of past students whilst the plainer and more modern fragments is the kind of wall covering more familiar to students of today (plain white woodchip paper!). The graphic below reveals how the layers were built up on top of each other over 200 years.

All layers of the wallpaper sandwich from a dormitory in the university college, Peterhouse, Cambridge, salvaged ca.1999, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4869)
Soon after the sandwich came to MoDA, a conservator separated part of it into individual layers, thus allowing us to identify and date each paper by it's printing or paper-manufacturing techniques, paper quality and pattern style. A piece of newspaper, which was also plastered to the wall, has also helped with dating it.

wallpaper fragment, 'Mallow’designed by Kate Faulkener for William Morris  & Co and printed by Jeffery & Co. 1879. Reg: GJ.9659 Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4689.3)
Wallpaper fragment with a pattern of white vertical and horizontal lines on a brown ground, 1930s,
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4689.10)

Wallpaper fragment of ivy leaves forming a lattice on a grey and cream ground, machine printed and manufactured from 1905-1920, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4689.7)

In the act of conserving each layer, we felt it was important to preserve its original condition as a sandwich of wallpapers. Part of it was therefore left intact, allowing the observer to appreciate the context and place for each individual layer which together says much about student style choices over time, from the late eighteenth to the twentieth century.

If you would like to see more of the wallpaper sandwich or other wallpaper samples at MoDA, please contact us to book a study room appointment.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Highlights of Hasler: brands and packaging

As regular readers of this blog will know, we've recently been doing a lot of work to make the material in our Charles Hasler collection more accessible to students and researchers.  We've discovered some interesting foreign banknotes, a whole mass of stuff relating to Rye and other English market towns, and quite a lot of material about the Great Exhibition of 1851.

At first glance these might seem unrelated topics, but what binds them together is Hasler's interest in all aspects of lettering, typography and graphic design.  He was an avid collector of packaging, and his interest seems to have been in the way that the outside of a packet could be designed in order to 'sell' its contents.

packaging material from the Charles Hasler Collection, 
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, CH5/4/1

This idea was presumably part of the reason for his interest in wine labels and book jackets.  In both cases, the external appearance of the item has to attract the buyer's attention before they have the opportunity to sample the contents.  More than that, a wine label or book jacket possibly even subtly influences the purchaser's experience of the product; hence the importance of getting it right. 

All of this seems to have related to Hasler's interest in the psychology of branding, which was emerging in the 1930s and 40s, and which was explored in new publications like Shelf Appeal magazine.

Shelf Appeal magazine, October 1935,
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, CH5/2/5

Published in the 1930s, Shelf Appeal explored the  - then relatively new - idea that products could have a 'brand identity'; so that consumers could be persuaded to buy a particular brand of soap, for example, rather than seeing soap as a boring commodity.  We're now so familiar with the idea that certain colours and letters represent specific companies (think of a large golden 'M' and you'll know what I mean), that this seems like a commonplace.  But the material in Hasler's collection is a reminder of the power of typography and lettering in the development of brand identity - worth thinking about if, like me, you tend to choose wine because of the attractive labels.

More of the material from Charles Hasler's collection will be featured here soon, or you can check out the ephemera section of our website.  If you would like to make an appointment to see anything from the collections for your own research please contact Maggie Wood at the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Jean de Brunhoff and Babar the Elephant

On this day in 1937 Jean de Brunhoff, creator of the beloved childhood character Babar the Elephant, died at the age of 37 from tuberculosis.

De Brunhoff was an French artist and illustrator who found fame through his six books about Babar the Elephant. It was de Brunhoff's wife, Cécile who recounted the first tales of the elephant and his adventures in Paris. In a 2003 interview with CNNLaurent de Brunhoff (son of Cécile and Jean) described how his mother's stories inspired his father's work:
The start, very start of Babar was a bed story from my mother. And my brother and I, we loved the story. We went to my father's studio and told him about it. He started to make a book for us. After the first book he made another one and another one. And he -- he just discovered himself, I think. 
Babar the Elephant's popularity continued on after his maker's death, with his son picking up the tale and going on to write numerous stories about him.

Like other children's book characters, Babar quickly leapt from the pages of books into merchandise items like clothing and homeware. We've mentioned other fictional characters that have inspired interior decoration like Mickey Mouse, Winnie the PoohAlice in Wonderland and Peter Pan or, more generally, adorable animals like Pandas  or Teddy bears. I imagine it will come as no surprise to hear that Babar also found himself on furnishing fabrics in the 1930s, as shown by this curtain pelmet textile in our collection:
Curtain pelmet with Babar the Elephant decoration, 1930s, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (Badda2052)
This year Babar  was picked up by a fashion label to grace the shirts and shorts of a menswear range. If on a pelmet or a jacket, today is a good day to remember the gentlemanly elephant Barbar and his creator de Brunhoff.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Highlights of Hasler: English market towns

A tranche of MoDA's work this year has focused on the graphic designer Charles Hasler and his collection of reference material. As we've studied this collection, we've realised its detailed, multi-faceted nature is what makes it both significant and somewhat problematic. It's full of so much interesting stuff! But the sheer quantity and variety can create a barrier to engagement. We hope that our recent project will go some way to making it accessible. To aid this, we are taking a month on the blog to draw attention to some Hasler highlights. This week we begin with Hasler's papers on English market towns.

Three folders in Hasler's collection are marked as 'Rye reference material' (the small East Sussex town, rather than the cereal). On closer investigation, it seems there is more than one town in the box, but lots of different papers on several English market towns - namely, Rye, Stourbridge and Hawes.

It's a strange collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century papers, ranging from ballots for local elections to clippings, packaging and office labels from local businesses. There are as many official looking documents like this 1858 voting paper for Councillors to the Borough of Rye as there are ephemeral items likes these 'POISON' labels from O.R. Bowe - a Hawes chemist and druggist.

Further research into the collection will likely reveal Hasler's thinking behind this group of papers; perhaps they were acquired through a friend or picked up as research for a particular job. I think we can be certain that with his keen interest in typography, Hasler would have found the fonts and graphics a great source of inspiration. Here are just a few examples:


These English market town papers are now accessible to MoDA study room visitors and we hope that graphic design students in particular will find these of interest. Perhaps with a bit more documentation work they will also be something local historians can make use of.