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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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’ 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;
- 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).
- 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’.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- Mary collected several hundred different editions of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, including a first edition.
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)