Posted in Decorative Arts, Event, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, History of Medicine, Horticultural History, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Mrs Beeton, Theatre History, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Mary Evans Picture Library – Celebrating 50 Years

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

In October 1964, in the Evans’ small Blackheath home, Mary clambered onto a stool to reach the top shelf of a clothes cupboard in order to retrieve an engraving for the BBC. By this time, every last corner of their home was stuffed full of the antiquarian books, prints and ephemera that were the personal passion of Mary and her husband Hilary, and became the foundation of Mary Evans Picture Library; thus valuable engravings were forced to share a home with Hilary’s casual wear.

The library grew rapidly throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 1975 was a key year when Hilary and Mary were founder members of both the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA), the industry’s trade organisation, and the Picture Research Association. In the same year they published the first edition of The Picture Researcher’s Handbook, which ran to eight editions.

Hilary and Mary’s daughter, Valentine, joined the company in 1992 and her three young children are frequent visitors to the library.

(Above extracts from Mary Evans Picture Library’s website)

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This year, Mary Evans Picture Library celebrates its 50th anniversary. Earlier in the Summer I received an invitation to attend an Open Day at the Library’s premises in Blackheath, London. Such a wonderful opportunity to visit this unique, family-owned, historical picture library whose core philosophy since opening, in 1964, has been:

to make available and accessible all the wonderful images created for people to enjoy over the centuries which were originally published in books, on posters, in advertisements, or as prints.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

The Library have more than half a million images currently available online and five hundred new images are added every week. A quick glance at the end credits of a documentary or pictures featured in an editorial will reveal Mary Evans Picture Library to be one of the main contributors.

The building that now houses this priceless collection was formerly the Parish Hall of All Saints’ Church on Blackheath. It is designed in the Arts and Crafts style by architect Charles Canning Winmill (1865-1945).

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

There is something really quite special about the Library. Upon entering you are immediately transported into a maze of corridors and staircases leading to room after room of historic treasures. This vast collection is presided over by a team of friendly, knowledgeable staff who are passionate about the priceless ephemera they are custodians of:

Few working offices feature desks surrounded by a fine collection of coronation mugs, a melted wax fruit display, an original Edison Phonograph and a broomstick in full flight suspended above the heads of staff.

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The set-up of our office is unashamedly individual, and the archive of postcard folders, rare books, boxes of ephemera and racks of bound magazines is as integral to the working space as the computers and desks, squeezed, as they are, into the last available corners.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

The main room downstairs will always be known as Mary’s office…. Conducting a tour of the library invariably involves squeezing past colleagues, step ladders, Missie the dog, someone preparing lunch or a private researcher hidden behind five large volumes of Illustrazione Italiana from the 1880s.

(Fifty; 50 Pictures for our 50th Birthday , 2014, Mary Evans Picture Library)

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
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©Come Step Back In Time

Mary Evans Picture Library also manage a number of private collections. At the Open Day I was thrilled to meet some of these contributors which included:

Me with Anne Zielinski-Old at the open day. ©Mary Evans Picture Library
Me with Anne Zielinski-Old. ©Mary Evans Picture Library

 Anne Zielinksi-Old

Fashion artist Anne worked for a range of prestigious clients during the 1980s and ’90s.  Anne studied fashion and design at the University of Brighton (1970-73), St Martins School of Art (1975-1976) where she was trained by Elizabeth Suter and Colin Barnes. In 1993 Anne studied at the Royal College of Art, London, undertaking a Research Degree by project. During her long and high-profile career Anne’s clients have included Harrods of Knightsbridge, Fortnum and Mason, Garrards Crown Jewelers, Burberrys, the Sunday Times, Vogue, Cosmopolitan Magazine and more.

One of Anne’s many career highlights includes working for Mattel Inc. in California (1997-1998) as an Art Director for Barbie Collectibles. During her time at Mattel Inc. Anne created a Princess Diana Doll and an Elizabeth Taylor Auction Doll which was purchased by actress Demi Moore. I had the pleasure of speaking at length with Anne about her extraordinary career.

  • For further biographical information about Anne, click here.
  • For more information about Anne’s career as a Doll Designer, click here.
  • Browse Anne’s Air Kiss Collection which is managed by Mary Evans Picture Library, click here.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

London Fire Brigade (LFB)

The archive of the LFB (The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority) is managed exclusively by the Mary Evans Picture Library. The collection contains extensive documentation of the fire service in London from the nineteenth century to the present day. Subjects covered by the images include: World War Two, the Blitz, 1936 fire at Crystal Palace, fire-apparatus from Selfridges Department Store (1966), historic fire-fighting equipment and vehicles.

  • For more information about the LFB archive, click here.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

Grenville Collins Postcard Collection

Grenville Collins’ collection comprises over ten thousand images, mostly from before World War One. Grenville has one of the world’s most comprehensive selection of postcards depicting Turkey and the late Ottoman Empire. In the 1960s, Grenville managed rock band, The Kinks, following which, in the 1970s, he lived near Bodrum in Southern Anatolia, Turkey. Included in his collection are several books of postcards by Max Fruchtermann who published Turkey’s first commercial cards in 1895. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Grenville, his collection is outstanding.

  • Browse the Grenville Collins postcard collection managed by Mary Evans Picture Library, click here.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

H. L. Oakley Silhouettes

One of the more unusual collections managed by Mary Evans Picture Library are the silhouettes of Captain H. L. Oakley (1882-1957). Oakley’s great nephew and biographer, Jerry Rendell, attended the open day with some fine examples from his private collection. Jerry has written a book about his great uncle’s work, Profiles of the First World War – The Silhouettes of Captain H. L. Oakley  (2013, The History Press).

Oakley was known as ‘the man with the magic scissors’ who began cutting silhouettes aged just seven years old. He trained at the Royal College of Art. During World War One, he served with the Yorkshire Regiment, the Green Howards, transferring to the 96th (Lancashire) Brigade in May, 1918. Oakley contributed silhouettes and drawings to the trench newspaper, The Dump. His work also appeared in The Bystander (8th March, 1916, ‘Trench Life in Silhouette’).

  • ‘The Man with the Magic Scissors: Oakley of The Bystander‘s Western Front in silhouette’, by Luci Gosling (Mary Evans Picture Library), published 27.8.2013, click here.

Mary Evans Picture Library – A Few Fascinating Facts

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  • Mary Evans’ lifelong passion for dogs influenced her collecting habits which has resulted in an eclectic mix of books, objects and assorted ephemera. Mary eventually acquired the Thomas Fall Archive in 2003;
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  • The library represents some of the best historical sources of material from around the world. They have exceptionally detailed coverage of the history of many countries, with notably large collections from Germany, France, the United States, Spain and Italy;
  • The library recently launched a superb First World War blog (Picturing The Great War)dedicated to showcasing some of the more unusual and surprising content from the period which is currently held in the collection, click here.
  • In October, 1965, London Life, launched. Although the magazine only lasted fifteen months (closing, Christmas Eve, 1966), it is a wonderful record of swinging sixties London. The library has a complete run of London Life, in five volumes. Each publication reads like a who’s who from the world of sixties music, fashion, media and photography (Terence Donovan, Twiggy, Gerald Scarfe, Jean Shrimpton, Terence Stamp, Ian Dury, Vidal Sassoon, Joanna Lumley, Celia Hammond, Peter Akehurst, the list goes on). These iconic individuals helped shaped London as a vibrant cultural hub during one of the twentieth century’s most dynamic decades. London Life was edited by Mark Boxer, founder of the Sunday Times magazine, the managing editor was David Puttnam (now Lord Puttnam).
    ©Come Step Back In Time
    ©Come Step Back In Time

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  • The Illustrated London News (ILN), launched on 14th May, 1842, is one of the library’s high profile collections. Although the ILN Picture Library (which also includes The Graphic, The Sphere, The Tatler, The Bystander, The Sketch, The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, The Illustrated War News and Britannia & Eve) remains under the ownership of Illustrated London News Ltd, the back catalogue of publications are housed at the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath. Due to the importance of this world-class collection, it was once known as the ‘Great Eight’.

    ©Come Step Back In Time
    ©Come Step Back In Time
  • Hilary Evans was a world-renowned authority on paranormal phenomena. The library has an excellent selection of images on this topic in addition to Hilary’s own publications in this field: Seeing Ghosts: Experiences of the Paranormal (2002), Panic Attacks: The History of Mass Delusion (2004), and Sliders: the Enigma of Streetlight Interference (2011).
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
  • Vintage fashion is well-represented in the library’s collection with a number of rare publications. They have: a six-volume Le Costume Historique by A.Racinet; Strutt’s Dress and Habits of the People of England;  French fashion journals, Gazette du Bon Ton and Art, Goût, Beauté, both with pochoir fashion plates. The  library also represents designers Hardy Amies (1909-2003) and Victor Stiebel (1907-1976).
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  • Ninety plus volumes of A & C Black colour books, published between 1901 and 1921, are held in the collection. These books have distinctive cover designs which are decorated in gilt and inside, plates have been produced by adopting a three-colour process which was popular at the time.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
  • Mary collected several hundred different editions of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, including a first edition.
©Mary Evans Picture Library
The perfect habitat for this social historian to while away the hours. I truly did get to ‘step back in time’. ©Mary Evans Picture Library
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100 year old stereoscopic viewer which allows the user to see two separate images as one single three-dimensional picture. ©Come Step Back In Time
100 year old stereoscopic viewer which allows the user to see two separate images as one single three-dimensional picture. ©Come Step Back In Time

Think History – Think Mary Evans

Closer to History

Centuries of Inspiration

From Antiquity to Modernity

The Specialist History Source

Visual Documentation of the Past

Picturing the Past

The World of Images

First Choice for History

(Fifty; 50 Pictures for our 50th Birthday , 2014, Mary Evans Picture Library)

©Come Step Back In Time
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©Come Step Back In Time
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Selection of retail merchandise which has featured images from the collection at Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
Selection of retail merchandise featuring images from various collections managed by Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
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3 thoughts on “Mary Evans Picture Library – Celebrating 50 Years

  1. Is it possible to ‘visit’ the Mary Evans Picture Library? Do you have open days? Many years ago in the early ’70s when I was working for Lintas Advertising Agency I sourced some Cries of London pictures for a campaign we were running for the Daily Telegraph who was a client of ours. I remember it was in Samuel Smiles House. which intrigued me as he was one of my ancestors. Can you please let me know what the connection between him and the house name is. I thought he lived partly in Edinburgh with some less illustrious relatives living in London, and I only have a very battered copy of ‘Slf Help’
    client

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    1. Dear Mary, thank-you very much indeed for getting in touch. What an interesting story, so glad you have shared it with me. Unfortunately, the Mary Evans Picture Library is not available to the public as an open access collection. Events are held, but these are by invitation only. However, the staff who work at the Library are extremely friendly and keen to share their wonderful collection. I would suggest that you e-mail them directly pictures@maryevans.com and put your enquiry to them. If as a result of your enquiry, it becomes necessary for you to visit the Library in person, I am sure that they will be able to arrange an appointment for you to view the relevant material held in the collection. Many kind regards. Emma.

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