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The name of Glaisher is well known at the Fitzwilliam Museum. James Whitbread Lee Glaisher (1848-1928) was a celebrated mathematician and Fellow of Trinity College, but he was also widely known and respected as a collector of ceramics. When he died in 1928, his collections were bequeathed to the museum and his pottery and porcelain housed in a purpose-built gallery named after him. Probably less well known is the fact that Glaisher also maintained a number of secondary collections, including children’s books, samplers, wood carvings and valentines. Of these other collections, the valentines are the largest and probably the most significant.
The collection numbers some 1,600 valentines, the majority contained inside 20 albums. It is one of the largest collections of valentines amassed by a single donor in the UK. Other large, single-donor collections include the valentines within the John Johnson collection of ephemera at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the Jonathan King collection of valentines at the Museum of London, and the valentines within the Laura Seddon collection of greetings cards at Manchester Metropolitan University.
We know, from inscriptions in the valentine albums and letters in the Fitzwilliam Museum archive, that Glaisher’s collection was arranged and mounted into the albums by his friend, the local antiquarian, Catherine Parsons, with whom Glaisher corresponded almost every day from 1916 until his death in December 1928. Catherine Parsons was a keen collector of keys, among other things, and had her own collection of valentines. In a letter to Parsons dated July 20th 1924, Glaisher, now at the end of his life, is anxious about how much organising of his collections there is to do. He was still working on his catalogue of ceramics at this point: ‘I have so many things to attend to now that I make progress with none – pot lids being now added to Valentines and Children’s books as side issues …’. By September of the same year, Glaisher is expressing relief that Catherine Parsons has agreed to shoulder the burden of organising his valentines collection for him: ‘It is indeed good of you to offer to arrange them, & it will be a great relief to me to have you do something to them, even if you do not complete it.’.
The majority of the collection was well established by 1920, but Glaisher’s letters to Catherine Parsons during the 1920s reveal that he was still actively collecting valentines. In addition to arranging and mounting the valentines, Parsons also carried out some cleaning and restoration, as Glaisher’s preference was for clean valentines in good condition. During this period, Glaisher asked her opinion of those valentines sent to him by dealers and often sent back the ones of which she didn’t approve. He was himself, a discerning collector and considered many different factors, including style, colouring, condition and cost when making decisions about which valentines to buy and which to return. Glaisher bought valentines from a number of second-hand booksellers based in London, including R.S. Frampton in Finsbury Park and John Salkeld in Clapham. Glaisher also ‘bought in’ ready-assembled albums of valentines. There are five of these, at least one of which came from John Salkeld. Another source was Actons of Brighton who also supplied Glaisher with pottery. One of the ‘Misses Acton’ had her own collection of valentines of which Glaisher was very envious.
Although Glaisher didn’t keep records of his purchases in a diary or describe them in a hand-written catalogue, as he did with his ceramics, he amassed with great diligence a collection that is broadly representative of valentine production in all its great variety from the beginning of the nineteenth century and into the 1920s. To achieve this aim sometimes meant paying a high price or buying valentines which he didn’t particularly like, as he admitted to Catherine Parsons in April of 1925: ‘… prices are high, but valentines are getting scarcer and I must think of the things themselves rather than of prices’ and ‘… in making a collection I have had to get many things that did not give me pleasure’. Glaisher’s collection features all the major names involved in the manufacture of valentines during this period, including Henry Dobbs, Joseph Mansell, Eugène Rimmel and Marcus Ward & Co., to name just a few.
Glaisher was interested in the work of the artists involved in valentine production and his collection includes preparatory studies and proofs for valentines, as well as the finished objects.
Among the valentines by Marcus Ward & Co. assembled by Glaisher, for instance, are a small group of valentines designed by Kate Greenaway. These valentines were produced early in her career.
The breadth of Glaisher’s collection means that it is possible not only to trace technological developments in fancy-paper manufacture, such as the invention of lace-paper (see NOTE), but also to witness advances in print-making across the 19th century.
The images employed in valentines had, by the 1820s, largely progressed from etchings and engravings to lithography, a method of printing images drawn on stone.
At first, the lithography was coloured (painted) by hand but by mid-century, valentines were constructed using colour-printed chromolithographs. Chromolithography was developed in England around 1840 and was in its heyday during the 1850s and 1860s. In the second half of the nineteenth century, chromolithography was combined with paper embossing to create colourful images with textured surfaces. Additional glazing of the prints prior to embossing (usually with a type of glue or gelatine gum) enabled the paper to stretch without cracking the printing ink, while saturating the colours and enhancing gloss, thereby making the surfaces appear even more luxurious.
Valentines were often produced by manufacturers in series’, where different images and verses were employed within the same basic design. Glaisher’s commitment to collecting as many of the variants within a series as possible is evident throughout his collection. One of the best known series’ of this period was the so-called ‘Despondent Lover’ set, of which there were 14 to collect. Printed as etchings with aquatint and hand colouring on large sheets of embossed, folded paper, the series features scenes on the theme of love and includes men and women in attitudes of despair and joy alike. The series was first published around 1828 but was reprinted throughout the 19th century. The Glaisher examples are thought to be later reprints. Glaisher managed to collect all but one of the 14, with several duplicates of various numbers.
From ‘The Despondent Lover’ series, aquatint and etching with hand-colouring on embossed paper, probably c.1880, Bequeathed by J.W.L. Glaisher, P.14346-R-1 and P.14346-R-10
Valentines were commonly sent as tokens of friendship, not just between lovers, and from parents to their children or from male and female relatives to their nephews and nieces. A whole section of the valentines industry was directed at children, who both received and sent specially-designed valentines, often featuring sentimental images of juvenile romance or animals. Glaisher’s collection contains a number of children’s valentines which are again, mainly arranged together in the same album. Among these is a small group of cards signed simply “Mamma” which were apparently sent from a mother to her child in the 1860s. One of these features a chromolithograph of a boy and girl riding ponies. “Mamma / 1868” is written onto the back of the print.
Glaisher’s collection is notable for the number and variety of its comic valentines. These range from moveable and changeable types, employing flaps and push tabs to the cheapest and most vulgar which were produced on single sheets of thin paper and featured hand-coloured woodcuts of grotesque characters. Glaisher referred to these cheap comic valentines as his ‘ugly ones’.
Among these, there is a significant group which focusses on the 1850s fashion for the crinoline, most of which were arranged and mounted together in the same album by Catherine Parsons. They make fun of the hazards, both physical and moral, of wearing the crinoline, and portray women caught in compromising situations when boarding omnibuses, attempting to walk through doorways or going outside on a windy day, when their skirts could get blown up around the hoops and expose their underwear.
When the tab of this valentine by Joseph Mansell is pushed upwards, the flounced skirt rises to reveal the hoops and petticoats of its wearer. Joseph Mansell, lace-paper, lithography and hand-colouring with moveable part, c. 1850, Bequeathed by J.W.L. Glaisher, 1928, P.14579-R
Lace-paper, a prime ingredient of the Victorian valentine, was developed in 1834 by Joseph Addenbrooke, an employee of paper-manufacturing firm, Henry Dobbs. Addenbrooke discovered a method of using a sandpaper rasp to create a perforated filigree design on paper which resembled lace. The designs of lace-paper could be very elaborate and additional silvering or gilding of the paper added to its decorative and precious appearance.
The catalogue records for the J.W.L. Glaisher collection of valentine cards will soon be available to view on-line.
The collection is currently undergoing digitisation, conservation and removal to purpose-built storage.
A small selection of Glaisher valentines will be on display in one of the cases in Gallery 1 at the Fitzwilliam Museum from Tuesday 14 February 14.
Rebecca Virag, Fitzwilliam Museum