Behind-the-scenes in SCA: Part 6

Have you ever wondered what the Special Collections and Archives team do behind-the-scenes? In this sixth post in the series, Laura Cooijmans-Keizer talks about her role as a Project Archivist.

Hi there! My name is Laura, and I’m an Archivist at the University’s Special Collections and Archives (or SCA, for short). Since starting at SCA in September last year, I have been working on a wide and wonderful variety of archival collections, some of which I will highlight in a little more detail in this blog post.


First and foremost, my role is to catalogue archival collections to make them available to anyone keen to research them in our reading room. So far, I have focussed my attentions on two collections: the personal papers of science-fiction poet Steve Sneyd (1941-2018), and the material of John Fraser who, from the 1870s to the turn of the century, was responsible for anything to do with advertising within the Liverpool-based tobacco company Cope’s. These two collections are very different, not only in the time periods in which they were created, but also in terms of the topics addressed, the materials they hold, and their state of conservation. Their differences, however, have made them all the more fun to work with!

The Fraser collection consists of an eclectic mix of items mainly collected by John Fraser, with some later additions made by his sons who also held an interest in the tobacco industry. This material spans almost four centuries, with the oldest item – a cutting from a rare book on the topic of tobacco – dating to 1599. The most recent entry, by comparison, is a 1969 photocopied typescript catalogue of watercolours, designed for Cope Bros. & Co. by John Wallace (1841-1903). In addition to these two, the collection features large, colourful advertising posters, Victorian caricatures, correspondence concerning Cope’s various publications, printing plates and galley proofs, nineteenth-century literature both promoting and discouraging tobacco use, several complete sets of cigarette cards, scrapbooks of tobacco labels, and even some 3D objects, including a wooden tobacco box.

  • Wooden Cope's 'Bond of Union' tobacco box
  • Nineteenth-century engraving of women 'Snuff Takers' as included in an album of collected English tobacco labels in the Fraser Collection.
  • Advertising poster for Cope's tobacco products, showing illustrations of beachgoers on famous English and Dutch beaches.
  • Caricature of an anti-tobaccoist throwing a fit after reading Cope's 'Tobacco Plant' journal.
  • A limited edition Charles Scribner's Sons 'Modern Poster' showing a stylised peacock.
  • Three tobacco advertising posters showing a bagpiper with pipe in front of Edinburgh Castle, a kilted man lighting a cigarette in the rain, and a sailor cutting tobacco.
  • Tobacco label showing three sailors tying down a sail.
  • Advertising poster for Cope's tobacco products, showing a trumpeter in the snow.

Although much more contemporary, the papers of Steve Sneyd are by no means less interesting. Within science-(fan)fiction poetry circles in the UK and USA, Steve Sneyd was a well-known and well-regarded poet, editor, and avid correspondent and ‘loccer’ – a term used in fandom to denote a person who writes letters of comment to fanzines. His poetry and essays were published in a wide variety of often niche journals, stretching across nearly sixty years, from the early 1960s (when he was still a teenager) up to right before his death in 2018. In addition to his writings, he was a prolific doodler, some examples of which you can see below:

The Steve Sneyd papers are still in the process of being catalogued, so unfortunately not yet ready for consultation by researchers. Keep your eyes peeled, however, as I hope to complete work on this over the next months!

Online exhibition

In addition to cataloguing, I have been working on several projects relating to outreach and engagement. This includes the creation of an online exhibition on Eleanor Rathbone (1872-1946), a local and national politician and social reformer who – born in Liverpool – was well-known for furthering causes relating to women’s rights and underrepresented groups including dock workers and refugees. The exhibition will celebrate what would have been Eleanor’s 150th birthday, and will highlight photographs, letters, books, and other materials from the Rathbone Papers held at the University of Liverpool Special Collections and Archives. The exhibition is due to go live on 12 May, so stay tuned!

  • News-cutting of a satirical cartoon showing Eleanor Rathbone, concerning the introduction of family allowances.
  • Portrait of Eleanor Rathbone, taken by Kenneth N. Collins (1935)
  • Typescript letter from Eleanor Rathbone to her mother in which she discusses the 'novelty' of her female candidacy in the municipal elections, 1909.
  • Postcard showing Eleanor Rathbone and other Liverpool suffragists campaigning in support of the pro-women's suffrage candidate in the Kirkdale by-election.
  • Telegram from Commander Harry Pursey in Santander reporting on the refugee situation in Northern Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1937)
  • Photograph of Eleanor Rathbone with the Bermuda delegation (1935)
  • Printed leaflet entitled "Utopia Calling! A plea for family allowances from an address broadcast by Miss Eleanor Rathbone, M.P., from Northern Stations on February 11th, 1930", produced by the Family Endowment Society.

Handling Skills Session

Another exciting engagement opportunity I have been a part of was our recent workshop on ‘Handling Special Collections and Archival Material’. Open to students, researchers, and any other interested parties within the University, the workshop aimed to dispel any and all fears about handling historical materials and offered hands-on experience using genuine collection items. Arranged around four ‘stations’ that each covered different types of collections – from rare books to magazines, zines, objects, and ephemera, and from photographs to archival papers and oversize maps and plans – the session offered everything a prospective visitor to the archives might need to confidently handle anything that comes their way!

Other than the very practical knowledge gained during the session, it was also a great opportunity to look at some beautiful items:

The session was a great success as some of the feedback from attendees clearly shows:

The session was excellent. […] everyone got a taster of the Special Collections and how to handle the different kinds of media.

“The fear of archives is always, for me, the idea of wading through boxes - it was great to know this isn't the case and the helpful staff are on hand. Thank you.

We’ll be running more skills sessions in future, so do make sure you keep an eye out for them via our website, social media, or the KnowHow communications.

Although there is plenty more to talk about, I’ll have to draw this blog post to a close. If you are interested in seeing some of the material discussed above for yourself, you are very welcome to come and explore the Special Collections and Archives in person. All the information you’ll need to plan your visit can be found here. Hope to see you soon!