Over 130 Years of Vintage Christmas Cards

The practice of exchanging greeting cards has a very long history, but the modern Christmas card tradition really got its start in the 1840s. Changes in postal services made it affordable for ordinary people to send each other cards, and developments in printing technologies gradually made it cheaper to produce cards commercially. Plus, Queen Victoria was doing it, which is how a surprising number of our modern Christmas traditions became popular. In Australia, it wasn’t until the 1880s that sending Christmas cards started to reach the heights of popularity. For most of Western Australia’s post-colonial history, people have been sending and receiving Christmas cards, and the State Library of Western Australia holds a surprisingly large number of them.

Early Western Australian Christmas cards

To modern eyes, early Christmas cards from Western Australia don’t seem all that Christmassy. One of the earliest dated cards in our collection was produced by the Perth Postal and Telegraph Company in 1887, and was part of a tradition of Postal Services around the world exchanging Christmas courtesies between themselves. The card features sketches of Perth and Fremantle, and also of a pearling fleet. The Western Mail at the time described the imagery as “suggestive of the youth and vigor of this young country.” This card is part of a larger collection of greeting cards collected by Emily Prinsep, and came to the library as part of the Prinsep family papers.

Others were more like picture postcards showing places or events throughout the year, with Christmas messages attached. These two examples show views of Mounts Bay Road and the Narrow with inserts of a cycling race from around 1896; and a view of Perth esplanade on June 20th 1897, with festivities for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. They may have been produced by early photographers as a way of advertising their services or reselling existing images, but from a modern perspective it can be hard to see the Christmas connection.

One early card that is more Christmassy features a setting of an original Christmas carol, estimated to date from about 1890. The lyrics are by Henry Ebenezer Clay, who was a notable but somewhat uncelebrated Western Australian poet. The music was written by Sir William Robinson, who served three times as Governor of Western Australia; from 1875 to 1877, 1880 to 1883, and 1890 to 1895. Robinson was quite a well-regarded composer, and a number of his songs were popular in Australia at the time.

Increasing variety of Christmas cards

By the early 20th Century, a wide range of consumer cards were available and being exchanged by Western Australians. In the collection of records from the Young Australia League is an album of Christmas cards and other greetings, mostly sent to the League’s founder J.J. Simons from around 1911 to 1914. This shows the diversity of cards which were being sent at the time, including items designed and printed in Western Australia. Much of the imagery was still about the place the card was sent from, or floral and springtime. In fact, some cards came with small packets of seeds for the plants which they represented.

Floral images were featured on the very first commercial Christmas cards produced in Australia, and local flowers remained a popular theme. Amongst others, this card produced by the WA State Government Printer in 1912 features a rich illustration of Western Australian wildflowers.

Businesses were getting in on the act, as well. Many corporate Christmas cards were fairly plain, not much more than calling cards, but there were creative solutions too. The property company Peet and Company was one. While they had their fair share of serious cards, in the 1920s the company produced a novelty cheque for the payment of “ten thousand good wishes for Christmas and the New Year” for their Christmas messages.

Handmade Christmas cards

While there was a rich marketplace of commercially-produced cards available in the early 20th Century, it was not uncommon to send handmade cards as well, particularly if you were of an artistic bent. The artist and illustrator Amy Heap made this delightful view of the Swan River for a Christmas card in 1913. It was found in the collection of Frank Allum, who was Chief Clerk and later Deputy Master of the Perth Mint. Both Heap and Allum were members of the West Australian Society of Arts, and it is likely that the card was exchanged in that context.

We also hold a substantial collection of handmade cards produced by the “Brierley girls” in the 1920s. These were probably the daughters of the Brierley family who settled at Balangup, on the Frankland River west of Mount Barker, in 1913. Many members of the family were skilful artists, and these handmade cards certainly demonstrate that. The images are heavily European, but then the family had only emigrated from England about ten years prior to making the cards. These cards were later sent en masse to William Elsey, the Bishop of Kalgoorlie, and it’s in the Elsey family papers that they came to the library. Elsey had first met the Brierley family as an itinerant Clergyman in the Diocese of Bunbury, and they remained family friends.

Celebration under adversity

Some of the more poignant cards in the State Library of Western Australia’s collection come from people celebrating under challenging circumstances. In the collection of Major A.E. Saggers are handmade Christmas cards exchanged between Australian soldiers who were prisoners of war in Singapore in 1943 and 1944. Saggers wrote a memoir of his experiences, and by 1944 his unit had already been captured in Singapore, sent to work building the Burma-Thailand railway, and been returned to Singapore after its completion. What’s striking about these cards is how good-natured they are, and how the senders managed to find positivity and even humour in trying conditions.

Modern Christmas cards

By the 1950s, what we would recognise as contemporary Christmas imagery was becoming established in Western Australian Christmas cards.

Percy Dix established the printing company Dix Print in the early 20th Century, and went on to make a tradition of producing humourous Christmas cards with his face on them every year. By the 1950s, these included familiar Christmas images such as wreaths and Santa Claus outfits.

Religious imagery seems less common that you might expect in the Christmas cards in the State Library’s collection. The exception, of course, is cards sent from religious organisations. This card was sent by the Parish of Williams, in the Western Australian wheatbelt, in 1952. It is part of a substantial collection of greeting cards collected by the Haynes family, who had farmed in the Williams and Quindanning districts since the late 19th Century.

The second half of the 20th Century also saw a flourishing of businesses sending Christmas cards. There are myriad examples, but some are found in the records of the Swan Brewery. These cards were sent in the 1960s, and feature images of various buildings that the brewery had operated from, including the art deco building on Mounts Bay Road which no longer exists today.

New Christmas cards

New Christmas cards are still being produced all the time, and the State Library regularly collects new cards. One recent example from the State Library’s collection is a series of cards commissioned by the William Street Collective in 2012. These feature local Western Australian artists such as Luisa Hansal, Anya Brock, Jen Garland, Martin E. Willis, The Yok and Lisa Max, and were available for free from various sites along William Street, just outside the State Library of Western Australia itself.

Much more to discover

In 1888, a Melbourne journalist predicted that “the Christmas card craze has reached its climax and will probably decline.”  In the 130 years since that prediction, Christmas cards certainly didn’t decline, and were created and exchanged in enormous numbers. At the State Library of Western Australia, Christmas cards can be found in our ephemera collections, in our pictorial collections, and spread throughout the private archives collections as items received or created by individuals and businesses. In writing this piece, it became apparent just how many Christmas cards the State Library holds, and we have only scratched the surface. There is so much more to discover, but then that’s true of all of our collections.

From Another View Project: Wiluna to the Carnegie Homestead, via the Canning Stock Route and Glenayle station 26 – 30 May 2018

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From 26-30 May, State Library staff, Bill Gannon and Rod Schlencker travelled from Wiluna via the Canning Stock Route to Windich Spring, Pierre Spring, the Weld Spring/Palatji and then via Glenayle Station to the Carnegie Homestead. The State Library recognise the right of Martu people to check images and content prior to posting online. Therefore, there will be a delay in posting information related to areas closer to the Canning Stock Route. Please check the Google Map for location details.

On 30 May 2018, the project team, Bill and Rod travelled to Mount Moore to view the cairn which John Forrest built at the eastern end of the peak.  During this trip, the project team worked closely with the Martu people from the Birriliburru Native Title area.  John and Alexander Forrest visited Mount Moore between 22 and 26 June 2018. John’s account in Explorations in Australia 1874 states that he visited on 22 June 1874. However, the published map contains the dates 25 and 26 June 1874, at Camp 50.  Mount Moore was named after Mr. W.D. Moore of Fremantle, a subscriber to the Expedition Fund.  On top of Mount Moore, Bill Gannon sketched the Timperley Range which John Forrest described in his diary:

Ascending the the hill we had an extensive view to the South-West, South and South-East. Fine grassy country all round and very little spinifex. To the south about nine miles we saw a lake, and farther off a remarkable red-faced range, which I named Timperley Range, after my friend Mr. W.H. Timperley, Inspector of Police, from whom I received a great deal of assistance before leaving Champion Bay. A remarkable peak, with a reddish top, bore South-South-East, which I named Mount Hosken, after Mr. M. Hosken, of Geraldton, a contributor to the expedition.  Forrrest, J. Explorations in Australia. 1875

To keep informed of project updates follow the From Another View project blog: https://fromanotherview.blog/

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In conversation with the J.S. Battye Creative Fellows

How can contemporary art lead to new discoveries about collections and ways of engaging with history?  Nicola Kaye and Stephen Terry will discuss this idea drawing from the experience of creating Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved.

In conversation with the J.S. Battye Creative Fellows
Thursday 27 April, 6pm
State Library Theatre.

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Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved is the culmination of the State Library’s inaugural J.S. Battye Creative Fellowship.  The Creative Fellowship aims to enhance engagement with the Library’s heritage collections and provide new experiences for the public.

Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved
visually questions how history is made, commemorated and forgotten. Through digital art installation, Nicola Kaye and Stephen Terry expose the unobserved and manipulate our perception of the past.  Their work juxtaposes archival and contemporary imagery to create an interactive experience for the visitor where unobserved lives from the archive collide with the contemporary world. The installation is showing at the State Library until 12 May 2017.

For more information visit: http://www.slwa.wa.gov.au

Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved

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Still scene: Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved, 2016, Nicola Kaye, Stephen Terry.

Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved visually questions how history is made, commemorated and forgotten. Through digital art installation, Nicola Kaye and Stephen Terry expose the unobserved and manipulate our perception of the past.  Their work juxtaposes archival and contemporary imagery to create an experience for the visitor where unobserved lives from the archive collide with the contemporary world.

Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved is the culmination of the State Library’s inaugural J.S. Battye Creative Fellowship.  The Creative Fellowship aims to enhance engagement with the Library’s heritage collections and provide new experiences for the public.

Artists floor talk
Thursday 6 April, 6pm
Ground Floor Gallery, State Library of Western Australia.

Nicola Kaye and Stephen Terry walk you through Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved

In conversation with the J.S. Battye Creative Fellows
Thursday 27 April, 6pm
State Library Theatre.

How can contemporary art lead to new discoveries about collections and ways of engaging with history?  Nicola Kaye and Stephen Terry will discuss this idea drawing from the experience of creating Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved.

Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved is showing at the State Library from 4 April – 12 May 2017.
For more information visit: www.slwa.wa.gov.au

Through the mirror-glass: Capture of artwork framed in glass.

 

State Library’s collection material that is selected for digitisation comes to the Digitisation team in a variety of forms. This blog describes capture of artwork that is framed and encased within glass.

So let’s see how the item is digitized.

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Two large framed original artworks from the picture book Teacup written by Rebecca Young and illustrated by Matt Ottley posed some significant digitisation challenges.

When artwork from the Heritage collection is framed in glass, the glass acts like a mirror and without great care during the capture process, the glass can reflect whatever is in front of it, meaning that the photographer’s reflection (and the reflection of capture equipment) can obscure the artwork.

This post shows how we avoided this issue during the digitisation of two large framed paintings, Cover illustration for Teacup and also page 4-5 [PWC/255/01 ] and The way the whales called out to each other [PWC/255/09].

Though it is sometimes possible to remove the artwork from its housing, there are occasions when this is not suitable. In this example, the decision was made to not remove the artworks from behind glass as the Conservation staff assessed that it would be best if the works were not disturbed from their original housing.

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The most critical issue was to be in control of the light. Rearranging equipment in the workroom allowed for the artwork to face a black wall, a method used by photographers to eliminate reflections.

 

We used black plastic across the entrance of the workroom to eliminate all unwanted light.

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The next challenge was to set up the camera. For this shoot we used our Hasselblad H3D11 (a 39 mega pixel with excellent colour fidelity).

 

Prior to capture, we gave the glass a good clean with an anti-static cloth. In the images below, you can clearly see the reflection caused by the mirror effect of the glass.

 

Since we don’t have a dedicated photographic studio we needed to be creative when introducing extra light to allow for the capture. Bouncing the light off a large white card prevented direct light from falling on the artwork and reduced a significant number of reflections. We also used a polarizing filter on the camera lens to reduce reflections even further.

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Once every reflection was eliminated and the camera set square to the artwork, we could test colour balance and exposure.

In the image below, you can see that we made the camera look like ‘Ned Kelly’ to ensure any shiny metal from the camera body didn’t reflect in the glass. We used the camera’s computer controlled remote shutter function to further minimise any reflections in front of the glass.

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The preservation file includes technically accurate colour and greyscale patches to allow for colour fidelity and a ruler for accurate scaling in future reproductions.

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The preservation file and a cropped version for access were then ingested into the State Library’s digital repository. The repository allows for current access and future reproductions to be made.

From this post you can see the care and attention that goes into preservation digitisation, ‘Do it right, do it once’ is our motto.

Simpson and his Donkey – an exhibition

Illustrations by Frané Lessac and words by Mark Greenwood share the heroic story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick in the picture book Simpson and his Donkey.  The exhibition is on display at the State Library until  27 April. 

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Unpublished spread 14 for pages 32 – 33
Collection of draft materials for Simpson and his Donkey, PWC/254/18 

The original illustrations, preliminary sketches and draft materials displayed in this exhibition form part of the State Library’s Peter Williams’ collection: a collection of original Australian picture book art.

Known as ‘the man with the donkey’, Simpson was a medic who rescued wounded soldiers at Gallipoli during World War I.

The bravery and sacrifice attributed to Simpson is now considered part of the ‘Anzac legend’. It is the myth and legend of John Simpson that Frané Lessac and Mark Greenwood tell in their book.

Frané Lessac and Mark Greenwood also travelled to Anzac Cove to explore where Simpson and Duffy had worked.  This experience and their research enabled them to layer creative interpretation over historical information and Anzac legend.

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On a moonless April morning, PWC254/6 

Frané Lessac is a Western Australian author-illustrator who has published over forty books for children. Frané speaks at festivals in Australia and overseas, sharing the process of writing and illustrating books. She often illustrates books by , Mark Greenwood, of which Simpson and his Donkey is just one example.

Simpson and his Donkey is published by Walker Books, 2008. The original illustrations are  display in the Story Place Gallery until 27 April 2017.

  • This exhibition is supported by a self-guided trail and educators guide. For school group bookings visit our website.
  • Copies of the book are available for sale from the Discovery Store at the State Library.

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Teacup – One Boy’s Story of Leaving His Homeland

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“Once there was a boy who had to leave home …and find another. In his bag he carried a book, a bottle and a blanket. In his teacup he held some earth from where he used to play”

A musical performance adapted from the picture book Teacup written by Rebecca Young and illustrated Matt Ottley, will premiere at the State Library of Western Australia as part of Fringe Festival. 

Accompanied by musicians from Perth chamber music group Chimera Ensemble, Music Book’s Narrator Danielle Joynt and Lark Chamber Opera’s soprano composer Emma Jayakumar, the presentation of Teacup will be a truly ‘multi-modal’ performance, where the music of Matt Ottley will ‘paint’ the colours, scenery and words into life.

Performance Times:

Fri 27 January 2:30pm
Sat 28 January 10:30am, 1pm and 2:30pm
Sun 29 January 10:30am, 1pm and 2:30pm

  • Suitable for all ages.
  • Bookings not required

Matt Ottley’s original paintings from the picture book Teacup from part of the State Library’s Peter Williams collection of original picture book art. The artworks will be displayed in  Teacup – an exhibition in the ground floor gallery between 20 January – 24 March 2017.

Image credit: Cover illustration for Teacup, Matt Ottley, 2015. State Library of Western Australia, PWC/255/01  Reproduced in the book Teacup written by Rebecca Young with illustrations by Matt Ottley. Published by Scholastic, 2015.

This event is supported by the City of Perth 

Housing the Fairbairn Collection

The Fairbairn collection includes over 100 artefacts of various types; clothing, a sword,  hair ornaments made out of human hair, items used for sewing , just to name a few. All of these objects need to be stored in the best possible way.

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Housing is the process of making protective enclosures for objects to be stored in. By housing an object or group of objects we are creating a micro environment; temperature and humidity become more stable, direct light is deflected, materials are not damaged when handled or when placed on a shelf. Housing can be a box, folder or tray that has been custom made and fitted out to the exact requirements of the object. Inert materials and/or  acid free board are used.

Some of the objects in the Fairbairn collection required conservation treatment before they were housed. For example, the leather had detached from the front of this object but was reattached during treatment.

Some objects required individual housing (for example clothing items, sword and shoes) but the majority of the objects could be housed in groups. These groups were determined by object type and the material it was made of (for example all the coin purses made from similar materials are in a group).

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This was done not only for ease of locating a particular object but because different material types can need different storage conditions and some materials can affect other materials if stored together (for example the vapours released from wood can cause metals to corrode).

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Each object was arranged to fit into a box in such a way so that its weight would be evenly supported and so that it can be retrieved without being damaged or damaging neighbouring objects. Then layers of board and/or foam were built up to support the items.

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Labels were placed to give direction on safely removing the objects from there housing. Labels were also placed on the outside of the boxes to identify what each box holds  as well as the correct way to place each object inside the box.

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Custom supports were made for some objects. For example the internal support for this hat.

 

Each item in the Fairbairn collection has now been housed and placed carefully into long term storage with the rest of the State Library of Western Australia’s collection.

School Magazines

avon_northam_june_1939_cover_2016-10-26_0936School magazines provide a fascinating glimpse into the past.

What was high school like from 1915 through to the 1950s? What issues interested teenagers? How did they react to current events including two world wars? In what ways did they express themselves differently from today’s teens? What sort of jokes did they find amusing? (Hint: there are many of what we would call “dad jokes”.)

The State Library holds an extensive collection of school magazines from both public and private schools. Most don’t start until after 1954 which, as with newspapers, is our cut-off date for digitising, but we have digitised some early issues from public schools.

 

In the first part of the 19th Century they were generally produced by the students, with minimal input from school staff – and it shows. The quality of individual issues varies widely, depending, most probably, on the level of talent, interest and time invested by the responsible students.

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Cricket cartoon Northam High School (The Avon) Sept. 1930

These magazines may include named photographs of prefects and staff, sporting teams and academic prize winners. Photographs from early editions tend to be of much higher quality, possibly because they were taken using glass negatives.

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Essay competition. The subject: “A letter from Mr Collins congratulating Elizabeth on her engagement to Mr Darcy”  Phyllis Hand and Jean McIntyre were the prize winners.      Perth Girls’ School Magazine Nov. 1922

You will find poetry and essays, sketches by and of students, amateur cartooning, and many puns, jokes and limericks.

Some issues include ex-student notes with news about the careers, marriages and movements of past students. There is an occasional obituary.

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Northam High School (The Avon) June 1943

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Does anyone know these twins from Meckering?  Northam High School (The Avon) May 1925

Issues from the war years are particularly interesting and touching. You may also find rolls of honour naming ex-students serving in the forces.

There is also often advertising for local businesses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Girls’ A Hockey Team Albany High School (Boronia) Dec. 1925

These magazines reflect the attitudes of their tight-knit local community of the time.  Expect to hear the same exhortations to strive for academic, moral and sporting excellence that we hear in schools today – while observing the (in retrospect) somewhat naïve patriotism and call to Empire and the occasional casual racism.

 

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The following high school magazines for various dates are either available now online or will appear in the coming weeks: Perth Boys’ School MagazinePerth Girls’ School Magazine (later The Magpie); Fremantle Boys’ School; Northam High School (The Avon); Girdlestone High School (Coolibah); Eastern Goldfields Senior High School (The Golden Mile – later Pegasus); Bunbury High School (Kingia); Albany High School (Boronia) and Perth Modern (The Sphinx). None are complete and we would welcome donations of missing volumes to add to our Western Australian collections.

If you would like to browse our digitised high school magazines search the State Library catalogue using the term: SCHOOL MAGAZINES

*Some issues of The Magpie are too tightly bound for digitising so they are currently being disbound. They will then be digitised and rebound. Issues should appear in the catalogue in the near future.