Tag Archives: Collecting

I find a perfect tin to put my buttons in

At Christmas, I found a delightful button tin in Oxfam, that had more than a hint of 1940s utility about it.  I pounced, brought it home, only to have overlooked the fact that my cantilevered sewing box has a maximum height of 1 ¾” per tray.  Foiled.

This hardly constitutes a national emergency, but whilst doing a little mending yesterday, the fit came upon me to find a more suitable button tin.  Maybe something with ‘Gold Flake’ or ‘Gee’s Linctus’ written on it.

Being a child-free weekend, I had the mother of all lie-ins this morning.  I dozed intermittently through The Archers Omnibus, snuggled pleasantly through Desert Island Discs and finally emerged winking and blinking into the light of an overcast noon.  I made a lovely plate of Egg Florentine (you see, I do eat my own recipes) and settled down to watch a wonderfully romantic 1945 film called, ‘I Know Where I’m Going’ starring a young Wendy Hiller and the delightful Roger Livesey.

Then I started to feel a little lazy.  I ought to go for a walk, get some air in my lungs, burn a couple of inches off .. well.. anywhere really.  Then suddenly I had the overwhelming feeling that today I was going to find my special button tin.  But I wanted to finish the film.  Then I remember that I had it on DVD in a Powell & Pressburger boxed set, if you please.

I jumped up, bunged a bit of lippy on and headed for the Harborough Antique Market.  I searched and searched but no tin.  There was a small ‘Players’ tobacco tin but it was scratched and dull and simply didn’t fit the bill.  I tore myself away, managing not to buy a silver-topped, cut-glass claret jug that was calling to me, and trudged sadly home.

When I went to pick up The Boys, I told The Father of My Children about my Button Tin Sadness, knowing that he would understand.  “Mmmmm”, he said, and disappeared upstairs.  He came down proffering a small chocolate tin which had been produced by Cadbury Bournville to commemorate the Queen’s Coronation.  “Would this do, do you think?” 

I fell sobbing with gratitude at his feet, murmuring my thanks  like Jenny Agutter in the ‘Railway Children’.  And here it is.

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Shire Books and The Joy of Lavatories (as well as many other subjects of note)

We are blessed in Market Harborough, as we have a Waterstones, an independent bookshop – Quinns, and a couple of excellent second-hand bookshops.  As you go through the door of Quinns, there is a rack of Shire Books which will have any right-minded person drooling and cooing at the boggling array of deliciously English subject matter.

Shire Books was set up in 1962, producing low-priced, factual paperbacks on the most astonishing range of subjects which catered for the enthusiasms and niche interests of ordinary people all over the country.

The only problem was, that despite the indisputably interesting content, they began to look really dull and old-fashioned in their layout and with black and white photography and illustrations.

But then in 2007, the owner retired and sold the company to Osprey Publishing.  In 2008 a major revamp of its list of titles as well as an overhaul of content and cover designs, was undertaken, resulting in the gorgeous and irresistible collection of books on sale today. Even the paper they’re printed on feels lovely. And they’re still cheap.

I have taken the reckless step of obtaining the current Shire Catalogue and, because I am a dangerous obsessive, I have typed up the list (leaving the catalogue untouched for posterity) so that a) I can remember what I’ve got and b) I can mark the books with which to treat myself each month.

The First Six

My latest purchase is entitled ‘Privies and Water Closets’ (making this a Bog Blog?) and the front cover features a delightful illustration c.1814 by Martinet of Paris, of a large gentleman with a rather strained expression, sitting on a commode.  The book contains a beautifully written, lavishly illustrated history and technology of the lavatory, beginning with an interesting explanation of where we get our words for ‘toilet’ from.

I am allowing myself two Shire Books per month and I now have four weeks to agonise about which two to buy next.  Shall it be:-

British Family Cars of the 1950s and 60s?
British Pigs?
The Victorian Workhouse?
Old Medical and Dental Instruments?
Fields, Hedges and Ditches?
Women of the First World War? or
Nailmaking?   Who wouldn’t want to own a book about nailmaking?

Then again, it’s still February, and March is only a matter of days away…

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Robert Opie: The Complete Package

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Robert Opie is a name familiar to many of  us as a consumer historian and through the wonderful range of products now in the shops bearing the best of  advertising and slogans from the past.  But it wasn’t always this way.

Opie came from a family of collectors; his father Peter collected books about children’s life and literature (a collection now in the Bodlean Library) and his mother, Iona, is a leading authority on European folklore, children’s street culture and nursery rhymes.  Between them they amassed an astonishing collection of children’s books, toys and games.

Robert had had the bog-standard collections as a child such as stamps and coins, but he wanted to find something different and more individual.   It all began with a packet of Munchies (purchased at Inverness railway station in 1963) when he was sixteen and he soon realized that it was possible to find earlier examples of packaging and products.

He began to collect everything he could find relating to consumer culture; cigarette packets, cereal boxes, tins, cartons, and this soon developed into a deeper interest in the origin and development of brands and advertising.

For many years the collection was kept at his own house, but it soon became impossible to maintain.  In 1984 it moved to the Museum of Advertising and Packaging in Gloucester, but in time, with a collection of over 12,000 items, the size and scope of the collection was proving to be a logistical and financial nightmare.  By 2001 it looked in serious danger of being sold off piecemeal as no-one seemed to have the foresight, or the money, to back this incredibly important social treasure trove.

Then, in 2005, the independent branding consultancy pi global got on board and began the arduous work of fundraising and getting the company charitable status.  The collection was then moved to their premises in London and became The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising.

The American businessman, David Ogilvy stated “Advertising reflects the mores of society, but it does not influence them”.  Packaging gives a remarkable insight into the motivations of society and an inkling of where it is psychologically and socially rooted.  Opie comments “When the thousands of pieces of our social history are assembled into some giant jigsaw, the picture becomes clearer as to the remarkable journey we have all come through. I don’t see them as individual collections – they are one entity.  So, it’s like putting a jigsaw together. There are potentially a million items in this jigsaw and I’ve got half.  It’s selecting the items that fit together so the museum is laid out so that every part connects to the next part.  It’s only when you get enough pieces together that you can actually see the whole picture”.

If you can’t manage to get to the Museum, the next best thing is to collect his gorgeous Scrapbooks, which currently range from The Victorian to The 1970’s.  These are eye-wateringly sumptuous picture books arranged by subject with handwritten explanatory and introductory notes. They make great presents.

Opie is often asked whether he has a favourite  item  or something he is desperate to get his hands on.  He is always on the lookout for rare items.  Oxo packets are rare as no-one bothers to save them and he is desperate for a tin of wartime Spam.  If anyone has one lurking at the back of the cupboard, please send it to him (and make  sure you tell him the Wartime Housewife sent you!).  My Aunty MacHaggis had a cupboard full of ration tins until about 20 years ago – butter, milk etc and I’m sure there was a tin of Spam.  God forgive me, I threw them away.  I was young.

As for the future of the museum, Opie would like to include examples from the Egyptians and Romans.  They had pots, containers and toys and the story of consumer products goes back further than  one might think. 

For myself, I am just so happy that this remarkable man is finally making some proper wonga from a passion which will continue to benefit, not just the social historians, artists and advertisers, but anyone who has an interest in social history.  Or just appreciates a nice piece of packaging.

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A genuine benefit of moving

I have only been in the house I’m now leaving for a year and have only really just got everything where I want it.  Which means that I’ve never given myself the time to settle in to the habit of dipping into my library other than my reading books at night.

Tonight I was emptying the bookshelves in the sitting room.  I have a lovely glass-fronted cabinet on permanent loan from the Father of My Children in which I keep my Precious Books (other than Ladybird Books).  Fragile books from my childhood, colourful Victorian picture books, Kiplings, Hardys, some original editions by my great-grandfather who was a well known cartoonist; nothing of massive monetary value to anyone else, but objects of great beauty to me.

I confess that I lingered over the packing of them, admiring beautiful illustrations by Margaret Tarrant, Irene Cloke, Mabel Lucie Atwell and Edward Ardizzone.  I wondered , as always, at the nerve of Kipling putting swastikas on the spines of a set that included Stalky & Co and The Jungle Books.  Many of them have affectionate associations and I can always remember who gave me particular books and in what circumstances and I quietly thank them all over again.

In the bottom of this cabinet are the majority of my photo albums.  I’m very boring with my camera and I photograph everything I do for three reasons;

a)  I have a terrible memory and can’t remember what I’ve done or with whom unless I have a photographic record of it
b)  I’m a reasonably good photographer and love taking pictures
c)  No-one took pictures of my childhood and consequently I don’t know what I did.  Although my lovely sisters (in whom I am well pleased) recently found a load of slides and cine film which they put on disc that had the first photos I had ever seen of me as a little girl and it was the most incredible thing.

These carefully labelled albums catalogue my life from my late teens to when I moved to The Midlands in 1996.  I have another bookshelf upstairs that has a big, expandable album for every year since then.  If anything happened to me, they would provide a very good record for my children of who their family was and what they did.

Once I am settled in over the road, and have organised myself to a reasonable degree, I am going to make a point of looking in that cupboard more often, reading the books, sharing them with the boys. After all, there’s no point in having these things, if they just sit patiently behind glass, like prisoners who never have a visitor.

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Adventures in Learning

Illustrated by Tunnicliffe

As my regular readers will have gathered by now, I love my books.  I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read, although I can remember the frustration of not being able to write (and some would argue that I still can’t as my handwriting is a diabolical, loopy, tortured scrawl).  Books meant everything; they taught me things, they took me places, they gave me new words, we travelled in time, they showed me another world.  

I started collecting books deliberately when I was about 16, before then I had read what was in the house or in the school library.  I joined a book club and used some of the money I earned in the holidays – doing bar work or picking strawberries in Norfolk – to explore new authors. In the end I decided that I needed my own bookshelf and, having found the perfect item in the ‘under £10’ section of The Staines Informer, Sister the Second drove me in her two-tone Morris Marina to pick it up.  I still have it and the books I put in it. 

James I and the Gunpowder Plot

 As children, my sisters and I had a large collection of Ladybird books, mainly the ‘Adventures from History (Series 561), but also some of the natural history titles and the children’s stories.  We were not always very careful with our books and I still cringe at the memory of our removing all the dust wrappers from our early editions of The Famous Five books because we thought they looked more grown-up.  (I am collecting them anew out of guilt).  However, the Ladybird books survived in marvellous condition and about 15 years ago I began to collect them in earnest. 

There are a lot of books.  I only collect up to 1975 which was when Penguin took over from Wills & Hepworth in Loughborough and temporarily trashed the brand, but even so, that adds up to well over 350 titles. Up until 1975, the books followed a simple structure – a page of writing opposite a full page picture.  The writing was beautifully and meticulously researched and many of the illustrators were heavyweights of their time, Tunnicliffe, Wingfield, Ayton and Payne are names that immediately spring to mind. 

The Party ill. J H Wingfield

 For me, a child with a very narrow life, the Ladybird books showed me worlds that I dreamed of.  The Party (Series 563 Learning to Read) was about a little girl and her brother getting ready for a party.  She had a pale blue party dress with matching shoes!  I can’t tell you how I longed to go to a party in a dress like that with matching shoes.  The children played Blind Man’s Buff and Hunt the Thimble, Mother had clearly made all the food and they had great jugs of quite strong squash and straws and it all looked utterly wonderful. 

No sexism here

 But these books weren’t just about fantasy, I learned to read with The Party and Helping at Home and my prep. school used Ladybird books to support the curriculum.  I still have my exercise book in which I had copied pictures from The Seashore and Seashore Life and Pond Life and even now, if I want a basic fact about something, for myself or my children, we invariably find what we want in a Ladybird book (assuming that it’s not a subject where technology has advanced beyond Ladybird’s wildest imaginings).  I idly wonder how they would have tackled The Ladybird Book of Chat Rooms ?

Wonk by Muriel Levy

Once I had started collecting, I realised that there were far more titles than I had ever come across at home or at school.  One of my greatest joys has been The Adventures of Wonk (Series 417) which came out during WW2. They were written by ‘Auntie Muriel’ of radio fame and they are about a little Koala Bear in Australia who lives with his friend Peter and with whom he has many gentle adventures and lovely outings. I have four out of a possible six and I crave the other two with a gnawing hunger.

There are many excellent contemporary children’s books around but, with the possible exception of Dorling Kindersley, there is nothing to rival the beauty, simplicity and sheer range of the Ladybird books.  You’ll find no dumbing down on these pages although they are sometimes criticised for being sexist or elitist.  I would call them aspirational.  The five year old Wartime Housewife would have given anything to be in the family featured in Helping at Home.  Still would.

A Robert Ayton illustration of mist

The Seashore and Seashore Life

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Badges of Honour – ARP

This is Part 2 of my WW2 mini series based around some badges that I bought at the Harborough Antique Fair.

Air Raid Precautions (ARP) were organised by the national government and delivered by the local authorities. The aim was to protect civilians from the danger of air-raids.

In September 1935, four years before WW2 began, British prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, published a circular entitled Air Raid Precautions (ARP) inviting local authorities to make plans to protect their people in event of a war, including the of  building public air raid shelters.

In April 1937 the government decided to create an Air Raid Wardens’ Service and during the next year recruited around 200,000 volunteers. These volunteers were know as Air Raid Precaution Wardens, and there were 1.4 million ARP wardens in Britain, most of who were part time volunteers who had full time day jobs. The main purpose of ARP Wardens was to patrol the streets during the blackout and to ensure that no light was visible. If a light was spotted, the warden would alert the people responsible by shouting out “Put that light out! or “Cover that window!“.

The ARP Wardens also reported the extent of bomb damage and assess the local need for help from the emergency and rescue services. They were responsible for the handing out of gas masks and pre-fabricated air-raid shelters (such as Anderson and Morrison shelters), and organised and staffed public air raid shelters. They used their knowledge of their local areas to help find and reunite family members who had been separated in the rush to find shelter from the bombs.

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Badges of Honour – WVS

Being as how I am a Wartime Housewife, I was very easily seduced by an array of badges that I found at the Harborough Antiques Fair recently.  There is a new boy there who just sells badges; lots of military and wartime stuff as well as clubs, societies and unions.  The great thing about collecting things is that one always learns so much more around the subject as well, and the people who trade in these things are always so tremendously knowledgeable (and let’s face it, occasionally a tiny bit scary). 

I would always encourage children to start collections as soon as they get interested in something.  It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as they take a genuine interest and learn something.  I collect lots of things and I fine that my focus fluctuates in phases.  I will come across some near perfect Ladybird books and turn my attention back to them until the supply dries up and I turn back to cut glass, WW2 ephemera, old kitchenware or any of the multitude of fancies that prevent me feeding my children on a regular basis.

I will tell you all about them today, tomorrow and Monday and I will try to find an appropriately themed verse for the Sunday Poem.

THE WVS (1938-1946)As war began to look imminent in 1938, Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, came up with the idea of setting up a women’s voluntary organisation to help in the event of air attacks. On 16 May, the Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions was founded. The Dowager Marchioness Lady Reading was appointed chairman, and The Queen and Queen Mary, the Queen Mother became joint patrons of WVS.When war was declared on 3 September 1939 WVS had a membership of 165,000 drawn from groups who, for whatever reason, could not do essential war work – including the old, the young, the housebound and those with dependents. Men were not excluded and occasionally helped with jobs such as driving which at the time not many women could do. WVS work quickly diversified, and as a result the organisation changed its name to WVS for Civil Defence. New tasks included evacuating mothers and children from large cities to the country, staffing hostels and hospitals, sick bays and communal feeding centres, and undertaking welfare work for the troops.WVS also provided food and clothing for over 22,000 refugees, as well as organising rest centres for those made homeless during raids. By the end of 1941, there were over a million WVS volunteers. Throughout the war, the WVS was also staffing Incident Inquiry Points, where people would go to find out information about the dead and the injured. 

WVS played a vital role in supporting civilians during the war – 241 serving members were killed by enemy action.  There was also a growing need for support for older and housebound people, and the first Meals on Wheels were delivered by the WVS in 1943.

I couldn't find a picture of WVS ladies so here is a picture of Princess Elizabeth in the ATS

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