Christmas in SCA

If you have visited Special Collections and Archives since the start of December, and have seen our Christmas tree adorned with 2B pencils, latex glove baubles, and tinsel made from paper clips and unbleached cotton tape, then you will know that SCA is fully into the swing of Christmas.

Our latest Christmas-themed treasures event will take place Thursday 5th December 5pm – 6pm, and will look back at how Christmas has developed into the holiday that we know it as today.

As we approach the Christmas break here at the University of Liverpool, we wanted to share some of our festive favourites that will be shown at the event.

Newton, A. Edwards, The Christmas spirit, privately printed (1930) – SPEC K11.9(30)

This facsimile of the first ever Christmas card produced in 1843, shows a family celebrating together in the center, surrounded by images of charitable giving. This is a theme that became ever more popular in the Victorian-era, and other Christmas souvenirs were quick to follow in promoting concepts of charity and togetherness.

The idea for the card came from Henry Cole (1808 – 1882), in response to the growing number of unanswered letters he had received containing Christmas well-wishes. Looking for a way to reply to these letters quickly, Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley (1817 – 1903) to design a Christmas card.

Cole had more of these cards printed, and sold them at a shilling a piece. This was considered a lot of money for the period, and initially the idea didn’t cotton on. It wasn’t until a few years later that the idea of the Christmas card grew in popularity.

Dickens, C., A Christmas Carol: In Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, (London: Chapman & Hall, 1843) – SPEC Y84.3.65  

This second edition of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, from 1843, includes beautiful illustrations by John Leech.

In the century before its publication, as a result of industrialisation and social changes, Christmas traditions had fallen into decline. However the Victorian era marked the revival of old traditions such as Christmas carols, as well as the introduction of new ones, such as the Christmas card and the decorating of Christmas trees, which was popularised by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria.

‘A Christmas Carol’ was fundamental in re-popularising Christmas. Dickens (1812 – 1870) wrote the text in response to the growing problem of child poverty he had witnessed during his lifetime. He had hoped that the text would remind readers of the need to address wealth inequalities between the poor and rich, and that by encouraging Christmas traditions he would be able to promote ‘carol philosophy’, a term coined by Dickens to mean charity, generosity, and merriment.

The first print of six thousand copies had sold out by Christmas Eve, and since then the book has never fallen out of print.

Christmas Book (1930-1938) – RP XVB.4.7

This notebook from the papers of Sybil and Reynolds Rathbone shows just how much the concept of gift-giving and sending Christmas cards has grown since the Victorian era. The notebook includes pages of names of intended recipients for cards, calendars and presents.

The book records giving gifts such as chocolates and bath salts- not too different to today it would seem.

Also at the event there will be a selection of books from the Sci-Fi collection, which show the extent to which these modern concepts of Christmas have fed into popular culture since Dickens.

Tolkien, J. R. R., Letters from Father Christmas, (London: Harper Collins, 1999) – PR6039.O32.L47 1999 O/S  

This book contains letters written by J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973) to his children, pretending to be Father Christmas, sharing stories of life in the North Pole and discussing the gifts they have asked for from Santa.

If you would like to see all these treasures and more then come along to tonight’s event, held in Special Collections and Archives from 5pm to 6pm.

Don’t forget to keep an eye out on our social media for details of the next Treasures event in the new year!

Written by Eleanor Mckenzie, Graduate Trainee.

The Literary Annuals – the Perfect Gifts for Christmas

For the last few months, I have been undertaking a SOTA300 work placement here at the Special Collections and Archives. The key focus of the placement has been to catalogue the literary annuals collection; we have around 200 literary annuals in the collections. The literary annuals were popular in Britain in the early-mid 19th Century; most of the annuals we have are dated from 1830-50 and span across many different titles. I have been cataloguing the binding details and inscriptions found in the collection. The annuals were typically targeted as gifts for the female audience with many even written by women. This is evident in the inscriptions as many of the annuals have been dedicated to women: family, friends, and sometimes prospective lovers. The annuals were often extravagantly designed with the content being made up of short poems and pictures. They ranged from tiny pocket-sized annuals to larger ‘scrapbooks’ and ‘drawing room’ books which were intended to be displayed in cabinets. Many prominent authors disparaged the literary worth of the annuals, but they nevertheless have proved important in literary history; the annuals influenced the publishing market and invoked changes due to their sheer popularity.

There are distinct differences between the older annuals; like the early Forget me Nots (the first of their kind in Britain) and the later annuals as seen in the pictures below. The annuals saw the introduction of new binding techniques.

The Forget me Not for 1824 was one of the first annuals introduced in Britain. The book is hardback and is kept in a cardboard slipcase; the pictures and designs are intricate, but it is clear this is an early prototype for what was to come

The Souvenirs pictured here are from 1848 and 1853. There is a clear shift towards lavish designs; the colours are unique, and the use of gold was commonplace across the annuals.

Silk was used on some of the earlier annuals, with leather or cloth covers increasingly used for durability. The use of bright colours and embossed designs were introduced in this period, and it became incredibly commonplace for gold to adorn the annuals; gilt-tooled/blocked designs and gilt edges became almost synonymous with the annuals. The literary annuals were innovative, for example by using steel plate engravings. The standard gradually increased as audiences desired the most attractive books to own.

The annuals were ideal Christmas and New year gifts. They were released late in the year and were dated for the following year, much like modern annuals. The Forget me not pictured above provides an example of an annual gifted at Christmas. This particular copy in our collection is inscribed ‘To M. A. Garle From Mr J Garle. December 25th 1823.’ This appears to be a gift from a husband to his wife; the presentation plates were provided in order to prompt buyers to dedicate their editions.

Some of the annuals were even published in Liverpool, and many of the copies in our collection have links to Liverpool as they have been gifted by prominent locals such as the Rathbones, the Holt family, Sir Henry Tate (1819-1899), and Sir. Charles Sydney Jones (1872-1947). Meanwhile, there are some other annuals in the collection from America and mainland Europe; the annuals proved popular worldwide. With their beauty and poetic contents making them ideal Christmas gifts, it is easy to see why they reigned for so long.

Some of the annuals will be presented in our upcoming exhibition. From the beginning of second semester, the display will show a selection of the bindings and the interesting inscriptions alongside further details and information. Visit the exhibition in the Sydney Jones Library from February 2019 to see more!

Two Advent Calendars

For 2014, SC&A has two advent calendars, one sombre and one festively seasonal.

The sombre view is online via the SC&A website, with images linking to 24 posts and tweets exploring the First World War through SC&A’s diverse collections. See more on the Red Wall at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, where the the ‘Professors, Parents, Patriots, Pacifists’ section of the First World War exhibition, Over by Christmas is on display until it closes for … well, Christmas.


Visitors to the Sydney Jones Library this month can see the December “caseload” in the display cases outside the Special Collections and Archives reading room:

24 Days of Christmas Display Cases 1

The 24 days of Christmas display consists of 24 books related to the festive season, including, from the library of Sir Charles Sydney Jones, a copy of Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester, with a Christmas message from the author.  Other highlights include an 1843 edition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in a very festive holly leaf binding.

One item will be unveiled each day to create a colourful Special Collections and Archives advent calendar.

Advent and After: 5. Family and friends

image: Dec 5 1861 letter to Emily Lyle (envelope)

RP X.I.180 Dec 5 1861 letter to Emily Lyle (envelope)

Christmas is for many a time of family visits, and in the Victorian era this could mean dozens for dinner.
The archive of one Liverpool family, the Rathbones, documents their life throughout the nineteenth century, including glimpses of their Christmas preparations.On this day more than 150 years ago, December 5 1861, the family was welcoming a new member – a second fiancée for William Rathbone VI, local businessman, philanthropist and MP. His first wife Lucretia had died in 1859, shortly after the birth of their fifth child. Lucretia’s sister, Lizzie, kindly wrote to congratulate Emily Lyle on the engagement to her brother-in-law.

Dear Emily,

I must at once write to say how much pleased I am to find, you are to fill dear Lucretia’s place, I know of no one I should so much like to have again, as a sister as you. You cannot tell too, how thankful I am her children are once more to have a mother’s care.

Emily’s welcome to the family was repeated in a letter from her father-in-law, William Rathbone V, written on Boxing Day 1863, describing their Christmas dinner at Greenbank – for fifteen, including four grandchildren (the younger ones had their nursery tea earlier in the day). Since William V and his wife Elizabeth had five surviving children, and eighteen surviving grandchildren, the nursery must have been pretty full.And the family kept growing: William VI and Emily went on to have  six children of their own, five of whom survived infancy, including the future MP and social reformer,  Eleanor Rathbone. By 1874, when William and Emily’s last child, Francis, was born, the Greenbank Christmas dinner might  have been joined by 29 grandchildren!

William Rathbone VI

William Rathbone VI

Emily Rathbone (nee Lyle)

Emily Rathbone (nee Lyle)

Advent and After: 2. Feasts and Fasts

Advent is traditionally a time of fasting, but preparations for the Christmas feast begin from the last Sunday before the start of Advent: ‘Stir up Sunday’. Named after the first words of the collect, or prayer, set for that day in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, this is also taken as a reminder to cooks to make their Christmas puddings.

Christmas pudding recipe from Liverpool School of Cookery

Christmas pudding recipe from Liverpool School of Cookery (1911)

This unusual recipe for Rich Christmas Pudding is given in the 1911 Liverpool School of Cookery Recipe Book, with breadcrumbs instead of flour. This was one of the books shown during the Special Collections & Archives visit for the Mr Seel’s Garden Connected Communities AHRC project. An earlier owner of this cookery book in the Children’s Collection (JUV.1401:1.2) seems to have had a small helper in the kitchen keen to draw attention to more pudding recipes.

Pudding recipes from Liverpool School of Cookery

Pudding recipes from Liverpool School of Cookery