Metal crafts, printmaking and the acquisition of a nielli print

Looking at a work of art on paper, it can be difficult to imagine the close relationship between a print, and metal craft. Yet printmaking owes much of its legacy to metal arts and this affiliation was more apparent in early western prints as many of the masters learned their art from the metal smiths, such as Albrecht Dürer who was the son of a goldsmith and was familiar with that art. In the 15th century and early 16th century many experiments and innovations in printmaking took place in the design of metal (from which printed impressions are taken). Some of these early techniques were short-lived and are now unfamiliar to 21st century audiences.

One such technique thought to have developed in Italy is nielli printing which was practiced up to the 16th century. This is technique utilises an engraved decorative design on silver in which lines are filled with ‘niello,’ a black chemical substance, which contrasts with the silver. Before niello is applied to the metalwork, the lines are filled with ink and an impression taken, and this is a neilli print. Rare examples of niello objects and their impressions are held in the British Museum. The Baillieu Library Print Collection has acquired its first example of a neilli print and like most of these impressions it is tiny work measuring only 4.2 centimetres diameter.

Nielli print

The portrait depicts Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351-1402) who became the first Duke of Milan. While the artist of this nielli print is uncertain, the portrait was adapted from an effigy that adorned the monastery Certosa di Pavia. Another version of this effigy was engraved by Agostino Carracci for the book Cremona fedelissima città, et nobilissima colonia de Romani published in 1585.

Another substantial example of metal craft held in the Baillieu Library is the Wilson Hall presentation set organised by the Walsh Brothers. The set comprising trowel, mallet, mortar board and their box was given to Sir Samuel Wilson on 2 October 1879 by Sir Redmond Barry, on behalf of the Council of The University for use during the ceremonial laying of the memorial stone for Wilson Hall. If the ornate silver trowel from this set were to be inked, it is easier to imagine its decorative design appearing in reverse on a sheet of paper, just as nielli prints were made directly from metal objects.

Wilson Hall presentation set

Other examples from the Print Collection displaying the relationship between metal work and prints include designs for medallions and ornamental decorations.



Further reading

Arthur M. Hind, Early Italian engraving: a critical catalogue with complete reproduction of all the prints described, London: Pub. for M. Knoedler, New York, by B. Quaritch, 1938-1948

Australian-made piano rolls – a generous donation to Rare Music

While piano (or pianola) rolls might seem the ultimate in technological obsolescence, rare music was delighted to accept a generous donation of 126 piano rolls (just part of a larger collection) last year.


Piano rolls were first available for purchase in the mid-1890s and are, surprisingly, still being produced today, though only one company remains (QRS). For those unfamiliar with them, a piano roll consists of a roll of paper, 285 mm wide, wound onto a spool, with tiny holes (perforations) punched out that encode musical information such as the notes to be played and when the “soft” and sustaining pedals are to be depressed.

Early pianolas (or player pianos) were powered by a pair of foot treadles with a “tracker bar” (visible on the photograph of Percy Grainger above) reading the roll and “playing” the piano. There was also scope for the “player pianist” to control aspects of the sounds that were made; volume and speed, for example. With technological advances, manufacturers developed high-end, high fidelity “reproducing” pianos which offered something very different: fidelity to the interpretation of the best-known virtuoso pianists of the day. The Grainger Museum’s Duo-Art piano, belonging to Percy Grainger, is one of this type. Grainger sometimes modified piano roll recordings of his performances for effect (rather than to just correct a mistake), adding additional holes to a roll, for example, and producing piano music that would otherwise be unplayable by just 10 fingers.


While Grainger, as an international pianist, recorded piano rolls overseas, the collection donated to Rare Music is all Australian-made and the music is mostly popular. Provenance-wise the rolls can be traced back to 1947 when they were located in an outbuilding on a Euroa property at the time it changed hands; just possibly, given the number of rolls, the collection functioned as a lending library of some type.


The Australian rolls in our new acquisition were produced by the Anglo-American Player Roll Co. (Melbourne) and Mastertouch Piano Roll Co. (Sydney). The former business, producing Broadway Word Rolls, was essentially, a “one man show”, established around 1921 by Len Luscombe (1893-1957), who was both the sole recording artist and business owner. 1) His taste and interest was in popular dance music and our collection is dominated by fox trots plus a handful of waltzes and one-steps. Luscombe used a number of aliases to give the impression of a larger enterprise. “Word rolls”, by the way, have the lyrics written on the paper, parallel to the lines of perforations, and reveal themselves gradually as the roll turns–ready for singing along—very much as do the lyrics during karaoke.


Sydney’s Mastertouch Company was a little different, involving a larger number of recording artists, including in-house “pianola pianists”. 2) The firm was established by George Horton in 1919 and closed as recently as 2005. 3) Lettie Keyes from Nathalia (near Shepparton) and Katoomba sisters Laurel and Edith Pardey (later Edith Murn) dominate the performer list. Keyes (active for Mastertouch from 1923-29, and from 1961) was both an accomplished pianist and a highly skilled arranger of music and editor of rolls. Keyes’s speciality was opera arrangements and our collection includes her selections from Rigoletto, Faust and Martha, which exploit that potential for a liberally “edited” piano roll to deliver a complex, almost orchestral texture.


Four-handed arrangements were the specialty of the Pardey sisters, full-time employees of Mastertouch, specialising, like Luscombe, in popular music. The sisters recorded some Australian compositions, such as “After the Dawn: Waltz” by Jack O’Hagan (of Along the Road to Gundagai fame). The collection also includes a “Gippsland March”. Our collection also includes some “classical” repertoire, recorded by, for example, Russian pianist Paul Vinogradoff. Well-known pianists would simply visit and record, leaving staffers to edit for them.


Piano rolls, like recordings made with other early technologies, are currently of interest to musicologists as a rich source of information on performance practice of a variety of types of music. Testament to that interest is the Player Piano Project at Stanford University; it was Stanford which acquired Australian Denis Condon’s massive collection of 7540 piano rolls (including only very few Australian rolls) and ten instruments in 2014. There are some fascinating videos associated with the project, including one of the Stanford Orchestra playing the first movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor last year with Percy Grainger as soloist per-piano roll. Or to see a pianola in action close up, and to hear the distinctive popular “pianola sound”, sample Gershwin playing the opening of “I’m forever blowing bubbles”.

Returning to the challenge of technological obsolescence, time has already overtaken an earlier plan to digitise the piano rolls by playing them on a pianola and recording them digitally in “real time”. Stanford is developing and will fabricate, a dedicated scanner for piano rolls that will allow them to derive audio from digital images; playback will be via an MP3 player or perhaps another type of player that is “e-roll” capable. Internet searches have revealed other recent advances in this area, so a “watching brief”, keeping a close eye on the Stanford project, is probably the best option for Rare Music. We shall have to be patient!

Jennifer Hill, Rare Music curator

1) See Glenn Amer, “Len Luscombe: Australia’s premier piano roll pianist and arranger” and the article on Luscombe by Barclay Wright in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

2) See Glenn Amer, “Artists of the Mastertouch Piano Roll Co. 1919-2006”.

3) The Anglo-American Player Roll Company’s stock and equipment was bought out by Horton after Luscombe’s death and the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, acquired the Mastertouch Piano Roll Company collection on its closure.

Cricket on the fore-edge: finding hidden paintings within the page-ends of books


Next time you open a book from the late 18th or 19th century, take time to gently fan the pages.  If you are lucky you may be surprised to find a hidden fore-edge painting lying unexpectedly within.

Fore-edge painting

The fore-edge of a book is the long open side opposite the spine where the page edges are exposed to view, and the side from which you enter to turn the pages of the text.  The painting of decorative pictures on the fore-edge of books gained momentum in the 1750s, when it became a signature device of the Halifax, Yorkshire bookbinding firm Edwards. These watercolour illustrations were applied to the book edge whilst the fanned surface was held in a brace.  Once dry, the book was allowed to relax to its normal position with the fore-edge painting cleverly retreating inside, out of immediate view.  The closed fore-edge was often painted over in gold pigment, to cover the residual traces of watercolour that were sometimes faintly observable.

mrs-heymans-sideThe technique of using the fore-edge to record information on books can be traced as far back as the 900s.  In modern book shelving systems, the fore-edge faces towards the back of the shelf, but in the medieval period, books were commonly shelved on their side and/or in chests, with the fore-edge facing outwards and open to view.  As the heavy leather bindings were difficult to write on, the fore-edges were inscribed with the title of the book or with a rudimentary shelf mark to aid identification, in much the same way that call numbers are attached to the spines of library books today.

Felicia Hemans and her poem, Casabianca

At first glance this elegant volume of poems by Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) is no different to many of similar age and provenance in the Rare Books Collection.  But if you slowly splay the page edges and look again, a hidden image of a cricket field appears which did not seem to be there when the book was lying flat in its closed position.  The effect is curiously captivating and you find yourself fanning the pages again to make sure, and miraculously the picture reappears!


Felicia Hemans was a prolific English poet, who spent much of her life in Wales, and whose early work gained the attention of Shelley, with whom she briefly corresponded.  Her poem, Casabianca, is well known, especially for its oft repeated first line:

The boy stood on the burning deck,

Whence all but he had fled;

The flame that lit the battle’s wreck,

Shone round him o’er the dead…

The poem, which continues for another nine stanzas, tells of the heroism of a 13-year old boy, Giocante Casabianca, son of the Admiral of the Orient at the Battle of the Nile (1798).  After the ship had caught fire and all guns had been abandoned, he remained at his post, and subsequently died in the tremendous explosion when the flames reached the gunpowder store.

Parodies of  ‘The boy who stood on the burning deck’

On a more humorous note, the poem has also been much parodied since it was first published in 1826, including the following by English comedian Eric Morcombe (1926-1984):

The boy stood on the burning deck,

His lips were all a-quiver;

He gave a cough, his leg fell off,

And floated down the river.

And to accompany our cricketing scene, a contribution attributed to that great wit Anonymous:

The boy stood on the burning deck,

Playing a game of cricket;

The ball rolled up his trouser leg,

And hit his middle wicket.

Susan Thomas, Rare Books Curator

Bibliography & further reading:

Hemans, Felicia.  The poetical works of Mrs Hemans.  London : Frederick Warne, [1880?]

Weber, Carl. Fore-edge painting : a historical survey of a curious art in book decoration.

Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y. : Harvey House, c1966.


Revolutionary printing: money!

In 2016 we celebrate 50 years of decimal currency and innovations in paper money such as the next generation five dollar note. In Australia before the unifying advent of Federation which occurred in 1901, currency was a more chaotic affair. Banknotes represent a nation’s economic stability and during times of war and upheaval, these crises are likewise reflected in the currency. To show both students of printmaking and financial studies, the rich links between printing and economic history, the Baillieu Library Print Collection has acquired three engraved banknotes.

French Revolution banknotes

A variety of currency which arose and fell with the French Revolution was the assignat which were only printed between 1789 and 1795. Rather than having a value assigned to silver or gold, this engraved note was instead assigned to a value of land and was interest bearing. The Domaines Nationaux (1789-93) was an organisation established from the sale of the church lands, land which became the financial basis for assignats. Controlled by the National Assembly it was responsible for printing assignats and for their circulation in France. Louis XVI is featured on the note, and would remain there until his deposition when his portrait was replaced by the cap of liberty. The acquired note also features the signature of Camberlain, a representative for La Caisse de l’Extraordinaire, a department formed to issue assignats and combat their forgery.



A British government sanctioned scheme saw economic warfare unleashed when British artists and other individuals flooded the French economy with forged assignats. These forged notes were intended to further ruin the financial stability of the French nation.[1] By 1795 an assignat was virtually worthless and they were withdrawn from use.

The British authorities showed no leniency towards its own citizens who forged the nation’s currency, however. To be found in possession of a forged banknote was a crime punishable by hanging. Forgery was not always an act of war; it was most often the crime of destitute men, women and children. In 1819 the artist George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was so disturbed by the sight of the hanged forgers wreathing the walls of Newgate prison, that he designed what is commonly referred to as the hanging note . [2] This note was influential in drawing attention to the overly harsh punishment which brought about reform and the lesser punishment for forgery offences: deportation to the penal colony of Australia.

Australian Pre-Federation banknotes

Many of the convicts sent to Australia were forgers, such as Joseph Lycett (born c. 1794). Lycett produced important colonial works of art including the book Views in Australia (1825) which is a highlight of the Rare Books collection.[3] However, he was also forging colonial banknotes: ‘unfortunately for the world as well as himself [Lycett] had obtained sufficient knowledge of the graphic art to aid him in the practice of deception, in which he has outdone most of his predecessors’.[4] Due to a shortage of British coins, a system of promissory notes, (which functioned somewhat like a cheque) was being used in the colony.  Given that the history of banknote production and that of forgery occur concurrently, printing had to evolve, and so banknotes feature very sophisticated artistry and printing techniques.

Unlike present day Australian banknotes which are a uniform set carefully overseen by the Reserve Bank of Australia, before Federation any bank could issue paper currency and all of the states colonies were printing their own notes. Not surprisingly this cornucopia of paper money was an inefficient system.

Lycett, like many other forgers, was using a copper plate to produce clever imitations. As the uncirculated Bank of Australasia five pound note states in the inscription by the lower margin, it was produced with a patent hardened steel plate by Perkins, Bacon & Co. Jacob Perkins (1766-1849) pioneered new printing innovations including one he called ‘siderography’ which is to engrave on steel. This method enabled thousands of identical complex designs to be printed from a superior metal plate and was extremely difficult to copy. Engraving on steel would be one of the products born of the Industrial Revolution.[5]

Five pounds

A great leap in the complexity and visual appeal is evident in the Bank of Victoria one pound colour trial specimen, which depicts that colony’s namesake: Queen Victoria. Several artists and equipment would have been utilised to produce this sophisticated banknote. Unlike the previous two notes, this specimen is printed on both sides, an innovation which thwarted many forgers. The verso shows a guilloche, or an intricate repeated design which is produced by a lathe. A tool called a stump engraver would have been used to print the word ‘one pound’ repeatedly. These features, together with the use of multiple colour plates form an almost impenetrable security system.

Colour trial specimen

Verso colour trail specimen

By the 1890s in Australia, approximately 64 banks were trading before a crisis in 1893 which saw many of them close. By 1910 British pounds were no longer the nation’s currency and promissory notes were not legal tender.

Kerrianne Stone (Curator, Prints)


[1] Peter Bower, ‘Economic warfare: banknote forgery as a deliberate weapon’ in The banker’s art: studies in paper money edited by Virginia Hewitt. London: British Museum, 1995, pp.46-64

[2] The story of paper money by Yash Beresiner and Colin Narbeth, Wren publishing Melbourne, 1973, pp 23-26

[3] Joseph Lycett, Views in Australia, or, New South Wales & Van Diemen’s Land delineated: in fifty views with descriptive letter press, London: J. Souter, 1824-[1825]

[4] From the Sydney Gazette 1815 quoted in Printed images in colonial Australia 1801-1901 by Roger Butler, Canberra : National Gallery of Australia, c2007, p. 51

[5] See Gary W. Granzow, Line engraved security printing: the methods of Perkins Bacon ,1790-1935; banknotes and postage stamps, London: Royal Philatelic Society London, 2012

James Cassius Williamson: A Musical and Theatrical Legacy


Rare Music has a magnificent collection of Concert and Theatre Programs including a compilation of J.C. Williamson programs covering opera, drama, comedy theatre, musical, ballet and Gilbert & Sullivan. The collection provides a wealth of research material for anyone interested in the history of theatre in Australia. The précis of Williamson and the collection here intends to stimulate curiosity and establish the historical significance of the compilation in the annals of theatre in Australia.

James Cassius Williamson (1845–1913), actor and manager, and his actress wife, Maggie Moore came to Australia from America in 1874, with a new play called Struck Oil. The play’s huge financial success was to lay the foundation for the couple. They toured the play in India, England and America and returned to Australia in 1879 to form the Royal Comic Opera Company. They also returned with the rights of the Gilbert & Sullivan opera H.M.S. Pinafore and contracts for succeeding works by the duo. They gave their opening performance of H.M.S. Pinafore at the Theatre Royal, Sydney on 15 November 1879, both of them playing leading roles. This performance reflected Williamson’s innovativeness in modernising the Australian stage, producing stage shows that reflected the life of the time. Rather than reproduce Shakespearean drama—16th century “characters in doublet and hose”—“he brought [the stage] into intimate relation with the lives of plain people”. 1) To fill the roles Williamson brought out stars from America and England, but encouraged local talent when he could find it.


J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd was established in 1879 by Williamson in partnership with George Musgrove and Arthur Garner. They became known as “The Triumvirate”. Their theatres included: Her Majesty’s, Melbourne; Comedy Theatre, Melbourne; Empire Theatre, Sydney; Theatre Royal, Sydney; His Majesty’s Brisbane; Theatre Royal, Adelaide; His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland; Grand Opera House, Wellington; Theatre Royal, Christchurch. By 1911 J.C. Williamson’s Theatre Ltd had become known as “The Firm”. There were many variations to the partnership over the succeeding years. 2)tittell-brune-jcw

The Concert and Theatre program collection encompasses theatre and drama beginning with a 1906 souvenir of Miss Tittell Brune as “Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall” (Box 103 a). IMAGE?? Twenty-five years after the death of Williamson—and, I imagine, to his chagrin—there was a resurgence in Shakespearean plays, performed by international companies such as: John Alden Company (Box 103 c); The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company (Box 103 b); The Old Vic Company featuring Katherine Hepburn and Robert Helpmann (Box 103 e); and The Royal Shakespeare Company featuring Judi Dench (Box 103 j). Australian plays such as Peter Scriven’s Tintookies (Box 103 f), however, were also promoted.


On 28 April 28 1928 the doors opened at The Comedy Theatre, on the historic site of The Iron Pot “bring[ing] to fruition…. an intimate theatre … form[ing] the coping stone of the worldwide organisation of J. C. Williamson Ltd …” 3) Performances ranged from solo artists such as Maurice Chevalier (Box 104 b) to plays like A Streetcar Named Desire (Box 104 d) and Australian productions as Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (Box 104 f). The opera collection also encompasses The Melba Grand Opera Season of 1911 (Box 105 a), which was touted as the greatest musical occasion in the history of Australia. The Quinlan Grand Opera Season (Box 105 b–c) followed in 1912–13. The Williamson & Dame Nellie Melba Grand Opera Seasons of 1924 and 1928 (Box 105 d–g) included the 1924 farewell performance of Melba in La Boheme (Box 105 f). Further opera collaborations were formed from 1948–58. A major landmark in the establishment of opera in Australia was in 1965 with the return of Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge and the formation of the Sutherland/Williamson Grand Opera Company (Box 107).jcw-pavlova

J.C. Williamson Ltd has been instrumental in presenting some of the world’s greatest ballet dancers to the Australian public. In 1913 Adeline Genee’s company was the first to perform. Along with Pavlova’s seasons of 1926 and 1928 (Box 112 a) they laid the foundations for the development of ballet in Australia. Many international acts followed and on 8 May 1939 Edouard Borovansky established his Dancing Academy in Melbourne; coincidentally World War II provided an opportunity to train Australian dancers. The Borovansky Australian Ballet had its first season at The Comedy Theatre from 9 December 1940 (Box 11 a). After the death of Borovansky, The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in a joint venture with J. C. Williamson Ltd formed The Australian Ballet. It began its inaugural season in Sydney on 2 November 1962 (Box 11 h).jcw-ballet-sainthill-design-de-basil-copy

Her Majesty’s Theatre (Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney) was the home for numerous musical productions from The Maid of the Mountains (Box 108 a [1921]) to La Cage Aux Folles (Box 109 e [1984]). Musicals are still a major part of the cultural fabric of the theatre scene in Australia. Her Majesty’s was also the backdrop for many Gilbert & Sullivan productions (Box 110).


Williamson’s success can be found in his middle-class background, which gave him an understanding of what the public wanted to see; his very popular actress wife was also influential in the company’s triumph. Williamson’s theatrical legacy has significant cogency in the history of cultural production in Australia and New Zealand. His legacy transverses the worlds of drama, ballet, opera, comedy and musical. This historical overview endeavours to entice the reader to find out more by visiting Concert and Theatre Programs listings online.

  1. Elizabethan Trust News: J. C. Williamson’s Theatres Ltd. Centenary Year 1974 (July 1974) p. 4–5 (Box 96 k).
  2. “The History of the Firm” in The Royal Ballet [1959] (Box 112 e).
  3. Opening Souvenir Comedy Theatre [28th April 1928] (Box 104 a).

Dr Nigel Abbott

Nigel has worked on the Concert and Theatre Programs collection as a volunteer since 2012, developing and listing the collection, which now numbers well over one hundred boxes.

New website: ‘Teaching with unique collections’

Ever wondered what you could do with Shakespeare’s second folio and a bamboo pipe? These and many more objects along with innovative learning ideas are presented on a new website: Teaching with unique collections .  Made possible with a Melbourne Engagement Grant, the website provides resources, an online showcase, and a virtual setting for teaching and learning in many disciplines.

The university’s unique collections are dynamic resources brimming with opportunity to enhance student engagement, in particular, through the incorporation of object-based learning within coursework subjects. These learning opportunities range from analysing a work of art first hand to more surprising encounters, such as music to operate by.

The website features objects, books, manuscripts, works of art and other items from the university’s Prints, Rare Books and Rare Music collections, Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne Archives and Ian Potter Museum of Art. Visitors will also find information and ideas about some of the intriguing objects reproduced on the façade of the dynamic new, and object-based learning focused Arts West building.

Showcasing six objects

Kava spoon

Kava spoon, Grainger Museum
This spoon carved out of a coconut shell is of Melanesian origin, probably from the island of Papua. It is one of many ethnographic items acquired by the Australian-born composer, pianist and conductor Percy Grainger (1882–1961) over his lifetime. It could be used to investigate the drugs, such as the potent kava drink, that shaped society.

Figurine of a horse and rider

Figurine of horse and rider, Cypriot, Ian Potter Museum of Art
This equestrian figure may come from Agios Iakavos, a village in north-eastern Cyprus, and is decorated with an abstract bichrome (two-colour) pattern. One intriguing aspect of its appeal is the uncertainty of its precise function. What does it reveal about ancient life, and the afterlife?

The goldweigher

The gold weigher, by William Baillie, Baillieu Library Print Collection
Jan Uytenbogaert was the Dutch receiver-general or tax collector. It is likely that Rembrandt knew Uytenbogaert, who helped the artist secure payments for his art. Rembrandt was working during a time of flourishing trade and expanding colonial possessions, fuelled by unrivalled sea power; it was the Dutch golden age. This print can be used to illustrate financial and economic concepts such as demand, supply, and market forces.

Bamboo pipes

Bamboo pipes, Rare Music Collection
In England and France during the 1920s and 1930s there arose a pipe music education movement, which aimed to involve children in making musical instruments in class and then playing them. The movement overlapped with the Great Depression and offered an innovative and inexpensive entry into music performance. Pipes could be made using cheap materials and they offer the opportunity to develop skills for both music and health.

Grammar of ornament

The grammar of ornament, by Owen Jones Rare Books Collection
The grammar of ornament is a decorative arts source book of almost encyclopaedic scope. It gathers together ornamental designs from vastly different eras, places and cultures and has influenced many artists and architects. Designs are vividly reproduced in 100 chromolithograph plates, an innovative colour process perfected in the 19th century. It may be used to analyse buildings, places and architectural images.


Corroboree, by Tommy McRae, University of Melbourne Archives
Tommy McRae, an Indigenous artist of the Kwat Kwat people, was born near Wahgunyah in north-eastern Victoria. As well as working as a stockman, he was a prolific draftsman, filling his sketchbooks with narrative images such as Corroboree (c.1890). The drawing encourages discussion into materials and motifs in Australian art.

These are just a few of the inspiring objects and ideas to be explored on the website Teaching with unique collections

Zodiac Man: a time capsule of weather prophecies, health predictions and popular culture in a 1616 almanac

Library catalogue entry:

If the mobile phone has become the essential life accessory of the 21st century, the almanac can be considered the indispensable accoutrement of the early modern period, reaching an apex of popular appeal in a ‘golden age’ of the 1640s.  These annual calendars, which were published prolifically from late medieval times to the 18th century, provided cosmic guidance on the events of the year ahead – how to act, make decisions, cure diseases, solve misfortunes – according to the most propitious alignments of the heavens.

The moon’s aspect in relation to the major planets, for instance, would influence which days were best for hiring servants, beginning journeys and seeking the love of women, whilst others were fortuitous for repairing houses, putting on new clothes and conversing with old men. In an age where death and disaster were an everyday feature of life, to be without an almanac to supply forward navigation through the year could put you at risk of unseen misfortunes and potential catastrophes.  What better to have forewarning at the year’s outset, so that you could prepare for and steer a course around impending calamities.

Library catalogue entry: fiercely competitive publishing market developed for both general and specialist almanacs, the former printed for an avid reading public and the latter for targeted audiences such as farmers, sailors, clergymen and for particular regional areas. Mainly produced as small pocket-sized booklets which could be carried and stored for ready consultation whether at home or on the road, almanacs were also issued as wall charts in sheet form.  To minimise production costs and maximise profits, predictions and remedies contained in almanacs were necessarily short and to the point, and information was presented without detailed explanation.

An early almanac in the Rare Books Collection, A concordancy for the yeares (1616) explaining ‘the infortunate and fatall dayes of the yeare, as also of the good and happy dayes’ was written by a respected Hertfordshire astrologer Arthur Hopcroft (1588?-1614).[i]  Part astronomy, part astrology, the predictions contained in almanacs reflected a world view in which cosmology and the physical universe were harmoniously intertwined and with divinity and the workings of God.

Close reading of this pocket-sized handbook provides a fascinating encounter with a mini 400 year old time capsule, evoking the thoughts and preoccupations of the period in which it was produced. Hopcroft’s astrological calendar for October 1616 portends that the 5th will prove unhappy but the 3rd, 16th, 24th would be ‘not to bad’.  By far the most perilous month of the year would be January with eight unfortunate days and no happy ones.  Actions to be avoided on unhappy days included the beginning of ‘wordly affairs, giving birth, or being bled’.

Zodiac Man

An essential element in popular almanacs was the Zodiac Man, who was pictured prominently with the 12 astrological signs around him, each governing a different body region. Inhabitants of the early modern world had a heightened awareness of the relationship between celestial bodies and the human form.  Ill-favoured planetary alignments would result in illnesses in certain regions of the anatomy, as well as provoking calamitous events such as plagues and other natural disasters.

Library catalogue entry:

The relative positions of the celestial bodies when a patient first became ill were very important in diagnosis and treatment – often given more weight than actual symptoms – and the Zodiac Man helped explain and reinforce the most propitious remedies. A poem from a contemporary almanac explains the powers of each sign:

[Aries] The Ramme doth rule the head and face:

[Taurus] The Necke and Throat is Taurus’s place.

[Gemini] The Twinnes the Armes and Shoulders guide:

[Cancer] The Crab the Breast, the Spleene and side.

[Aquarius] The legges T’Aquarius doth fall:

[Pisces] And Feete to Pisces last of all.

[Leo] The Heart and Back’s hold Leo’s share:

[Virgo] Of Belly and Bowels the maid takes care.

[Libra] To Libra Reines and Loynes belong:

[Scorpio] The Secrets to the Scorpion.

[Sagittarius] The thighs the Archer doth direct:

[Capricorn] And Capricorne the knees protect.[ii]

The region of the knees were at most risk in January when Capricorn was dominant in the skies, whilst persons born under the sign of Aries were more prone to diseases of the head and face ‘such as head-aches, tooth-aches, migraines, pimples and small pox’.[iii]

Gradually as new scientific knowledge increased and faith in old beliefs lost their sway over the shared imagination, parodies of some of the more outlandish forecasts of almanacs began to appear. The Owles Almanack of 1618 predicted drolly that ‘the best time to fell timber was when one needed a good fire, and to cut hair when it is too long’, listed amusing sinners days as well as saints days, and included witty chronologies ‘commemorating the farmer who tried to teach his cow rope-dancing, and the gentleman who bought a periwig for his magpie’.[iv]  Later in the century after dining out on Friday 14th June 1667, Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary ‘thence we read and laughed at Lilly’s prophecies this month, in his Almanack this year!’

Despite Hopcroft’s own respected astrological credentials, he himself was to meet an untimely demise in his 26th year in the London parish of St Dunstan’s.  Although the circumstances of his death remain unrecorded, we can only hope that he was able to find amelioration and guidance from the predictions he made in his concordances.

Library catalogue entry: catalogue entry:

Susan Thomas, Rare Books Curator

Bibliography and further reading:

Hopcroft, Arthur. A concordancy of yeares: containing a new, easie, and most exact computation of time, according to the English account. Also the vse of the English and Roman kalender, with briefe notes, rules, and tables, as well mathematicall and legal, as vulgar, for each priuate mans occasion. Newly composed, digested and augmented by Arthur Hopton, gentleman. [London] : Printed [by Nicholas Okes] for the Company of Stationers, 1616.

Bertelsen, Lance. ‘Popular entertainment and instruction, literary and dramatic : chapbooks, advice books, almanacs, ballads, farces, pantomimes, prints and shows’ in John Richetti (ed.) The Cambridge history of English literature, 1660-1780. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Capp, B. S. (Bernard S.) Astrology and the popular press: English almanacs, 1500-1800. London : Faber, 1979.

Curth, Louise Hill. English almanacs, astrology and popular medicine : 1550-1700. Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2007.


[i] Hopcroft, Arthur. A concordancy of yeares… [London] : Printed [by Nicholas Okes] for the Company of Stationers, 1616.

[ii] Curth, Louise Hill. English almanacs, astrology and popular medicine : 1550-1700. p.121

[iii] Op cit, p.123

[iv] Capp, B. S. Astrology and the popular press: English almanacs, 1500-1800, p. 251



The interaction of art and science in the Print Collection

Working at the University of Melbourne’s Print Collection as part of the 2016 International Museum and Collections Award was like entering a veritable Aladdin’s cave of riches for a recent Art History Graduate like me.  Although the shelves are stacked with plenty of treasures for me to feast my eyes on, I was particularly struck by The Reward of Cruelty which is part of a series of four engravings entitled ‘The Four Stages of Cruelty’ by William Hogarth and was published in 1751.

William Hogarth, The Reward of Cruelty, 1751, engraving, plate: 38.8 x 31.8 cm, Purchased, 1995, Baillieu Library Print Collection, the University of Melbourne.

I was familiar with both Hogarth’s Gin Lane and A Harlot’s Progress with their satire of English 18th century life and their motive to serve as a warning to the lower classes. Each image is clearly designed to emphasis morals (or the absence thereof) and demonstrates the downfall of those who spend their lives courting vice, whether through drinking, prostitution or gambling.
In one sense, The Reward of Cruelty can be seen in a similar vein, offering a deterrent to those who may choose a life of criminality by highlighting the consequences—ultimately, a public execution and a body which will be dissected and thus denied a Christian burial and place in the afterlife.

William Hogarth, Gin Lane, 1751, engraving, image: 35.3 x 30.2cm, Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959, Baillieu Library Print Collection, the University of Melbourne.

William Hogarth, Apprehended by a magistrate, (1732), engraving, plate: 22.7 x 37.9cm, Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959, Baillieu Library Print Collection, the University of Melbourne.

Yet this image is macabre and perhaps propagandistic to the extreme, suggesting not only an undignified end to those who submit to a life of crime but also demonstrating the then popular suspicion of surgeons and a distaste for this practice of anatomisation.

Here the dissectors at hand are portrayed as vultures surrounding a carcass, quick to begin their preparations despite the fact the hangman’s noose has not yet been removed from the body, thereby signalling that their subject may in fact still be alive. They are devoid of humanity or caring and the crowds suggest this public spectacle is one of entertainment rather than to further the pursuit of medical knowledge. Hogarth succeeds in not only creating a grim warning that plays upon the steadfast religious attitudes of the era but also an image which demonstrates public distrust of contemporary medical advancements.

This contrasts vividly with another print in the collection: that of Johannes Pieter de Frey’s etching after Rembrandt The anatomy lesson (1798). In this image the surgeons seem more focused upon the book in front of them rather than the cadaver; they appear scholarly and sensible, studying their text instead of launching into the dissection. The composition of the print draws parallels with the motif of the depiction of the lamentation of Christ and emphasises that although this body is also of a criminal denied a Christian burial, this sacrifice is necessary for the furthering of scientific knowledge.

Johannes Pieter de Frey after Rembrandt van Rijn, The anatomy lesson, (1789), etching, image: 28.1 x 36.2 cm, Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959, Baillieu Library Print Collection, the University of Melbourne.

It is this intersection between both art and science that can be traced throughout these prints and offers a different way of contemplating this collection.
These prints, alongside many other examples by artists such as Claude Lorrain, Francisco De Goya and Rembrandt, are available to study and view on request in the Baillieu Library Reading Room.

To learn more about the Museums and Collections Award please see:
Emily Robins – intern at University of Melbourne’s Collections
International Museums and Collections Award

For further reading please see:
Fiona Haslam, From Hogarth to Rowlandson: Medicine in Art in Eighteenth-century Britain. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1996

Emily Robins
International Museums and Collections Award Recipient 2016

Alkan in the afternoon: an unusual recital on Percy Grainger’s piano

erin-helyard-and-stephanie-mccallum-at-the-duo-art-pianoOn Sunday 28 August the galleries of the Grainger Museum rang with the sound of Charles-Valentin Alkan’s music played on Grainger’s Weber Duo-Art piano by Stephanie McCallum (Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney) and Erin Helyard (Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne). The rich textures of rarely-heard four-hand piano repertory were enjoyed by an appreciative and numerous audience, augmented by the attentive faces of the portraits hanging in the front gallery as part of the exhibition Water, marks and countenances: Works on paper from the Grainger Museum collection.


Alkan’s 1850 arrangement of the Overture to Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera Le Prophète provided a dramatic introduction to the recital—and to Grainger’s piano—entertaining with a range of styles and techniques, from impressive contrapuntal passages to the melodramatic power of tremolo octave writing. It was a treat to hear this work in the way that so many families experienced opera in the nineteenth century: unable to access or afford theatre tickets, they enjoyed the music at home, performed at the piano.


The central work of the afternoon was a 1906 transcription of Alkan’s Nine Preludes for pédalier op.66 (1866) by José Vianna de Motta, which traced a stimulating and moving journey and showcased McCallum and Helyard’s full range as performers from sensitive to exuberant, even athletic, pianism. For the revival of this extraordinary—and largely forgotten—music we are indebted to McCallum’s advocacy.

The encore was taken from Fauré’s Masques et Bergamasques suite of 1919, a composition that preceded the piano’s manufacture date by just over a decade, and it was a delight to hear this engaging repertoire performed on an instrument of its time, its distinctive tonal qualities enhancing the colours of Fauré’s beautiful writing.

Congratulations and thanks to Dr Jennifer Hill and the Grainger Museum for hosting this event, which was a tribute to the creative interaction of research and performance.

Dr Elizabeth Kertesz, Honorary Fellow, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music

The eminently capable Mr Brown: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and his magnificent tree moving machine

Library catalogue entry:

The Rare Books Collection contains vestiges of many intriguing characters from the worlds of history, science and literature.  Amongst the colourful cast can be included the landscape gardener Lancelot Brown (1716-1783), whose 300th birthday is being celebrated this year.  Both lauded and lampooned in his lifetime, Brown transformed 18th century English garden design, had an intense aversion to red brick (‘it puts the whole valley in a fever’), and invented an exceptionally effective tree moving machine.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown

Born on the estate of Kirkhale Hall, Northumberland to a yeoman father and house maid, Brown is better known by his nickname of ‘Capability’, for assuring his aristocratic clients of the great potential, or ‘capability’, for realising improvements to their landed estates.  Brown remodelled the spaces surrounding English stately homes into verdant sweeping landscapes, of a kind that could be appreciated from the ease of one’s carriage, or from vantage points picturesquely positioned in one’s grounds.

By account Brown was a swift worker and could assess and produce a plan within an hour of riding about an estate and soon found his services sought by the most fashionable and wealthy gentry of the day.  This success was in part due to his ability to envision and design expansive gardens, but was underpinned by a particular capacity to translate theory into practice.

Library catalogue entry:

Trees and tree planting

One of Brown’s signature devices was the deft positioning of trees and copses and other arboreal plants to create ‘naturalistic’ effects in the landscape.  Trees, however, take years to grow and planting is rarely the interest of younger generations.  If Brown’s gardens were to mature in their owners’ lifetimes, then mature plantings were needed – his wealthy clientele simply couldn’t, or wouldn’t, wait the 30 or more years needed for an oak tree to attain a lofty height, or for a picturesque woodland feature to mature.  One shortcut to achieving this instantaneous sylvan idyll was the technique of repositioning semi-mature and advanced trees in a new setting, as if they had grown there from seed.

Methods for transplanting large trees had been devised before but it was an expensive and labour intensive activity, based on a tradition of moving the plants in an upright aspect, using a cumbersome combination of chains and pulleys.  Brown was the first to understand the practical advantage of moving trees in a horizontal position and designed a simple but effective machine for this purpose.  The machine, which served him well for the length of his career, was not only faster but enabled transplanting of advanced trees of between 15-36 feet relatively easily.

The Transplanting Machine

Writing 40 years after Brown’s death, Sir Henry Steuart, the author of The Planter’s guide…(1828) describes Brown’s ‘Transplanting Machine’ as it was used at Allanton House, Lanarkshire, Scotland:

‘It consists of a strong Pole and two Wheels, with a smaller wheel occasionally used, which is fixed at the extremity of the pole, and turns on a pivot.  The pole operates both as a powerful lever, to bring down the Trees to the horizontal position, and in conjunction with the wheels, as a still more powerful conveyance, to remove them to their new situation’.

Library catalogue entry:

The roles of the various labourers involved in the transplanting operation were critical: the Machiner (who positioned the apparatus to receive the tree), the Steersman (who walked at the rear of the machine and managed the top of the tree), the Balancemen (two or more workers who scrambled on top of the horizontal tree and acted as movable counterweights), and the whole party supported by assistants who held ropes and walked at the side of the transplanting apparatus to help steady the moving specimen.

Occasionally things did not go to plan, such as when a tree unexpectedly took on the properties of a giant catapult:

‘In proceeding with the Machine down a gentle slope of some length, at an accelerated pace, on which occasion both the Balancemen had gained the top with their usual agility, it so fell out, that the cords, which secured the rack-pins of the root, unfortunately gave way.  This happened so suddenly, that the root at once struck the ground, with a force equal to the united weight of the mass, and the momentum of the movement, and pitched the Balancemen (now suddenly lifted to an elevation of nearly thirty feet), like two shuttle-cocks, to many yards’ distance, over the heads of the horses and the driver, who stood in amazement at their sudden and aerial flight!  Luckily for the men, there was no frost upon the ground, so that, instead of breaking their bones, they fell only on the soft turf of the park; from which soon getting up and shaking themselves, they heartily joined in the laughter of their companions, at the extraordinary length of the leap which they had taken’.

Apparently, despite the collective mirth, it ‘proved impossible’ to coerce the Balancemen ‘to resume their elevated functions, for many months after’…

Susan Thomas, Rare Books Curator

Library catalogue entry: and further reading from the Rare Books Collection

All quotes and images are taken from Henry Stueart’s The Planters guide…(1828)

Cradock, Joseph.  Village memoirs: in a series of letters between a clergyman and his family in the country, and his son in town.  Dublin : Printed for P. Wilson, Skinner-Row; and M. Mills, Capel-Street, 1775.

Goldsmith, Oliver.  The traveller, The deserted village, and other poems.  London : Printed for John Sharpe…by C. Whittingham, 1819.

Hinde, Thomas.  Capability Brown: the story of a master gardener.  London : Hutchinson, 1986.

Neale, John Preston.  Views of the seats of noblemen and gentlemen, in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland / from drawings by J. P. Neale.  London : Published for W.H. Reid, 1818-1823.

Steuart, Henry.  The Planter’s guide: or, a practical essay on the best method of giving immediate effect to wood by the removal of large trees and underwood… 2nd edition.  Edinburgh : John Murray, 1828.

Walpole, Henry.  The history of the modern taste in gardening. New York : Ursus Press, c1995.

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