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The Spellman Collection of Victorian Music Covers: University of Reading

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Spellman Collection of Victorian Music Sheet Covers

The Spellman Collection was donated to Reading University Library by Doreen and Sidney Spellman of London, through the good offices of the late Maurice Rickards and the University's Centre for Ephemera Studies, in December 1994. (At the same time a number of covers concerning opera and ballet were presented to the Covent Garden Opera House archives.) The complete collection was the subject of a little book by the Spellmans entitled Victorian music covers, published by Evelyn, Adams & Mackay in 1969.

The Spellmans' gift comprised approximately 1,650 mounted covers, 650 unmounted, and 150 complete with music, making 2,500 items in total. Since presentation, many of the mounted items have been removed from their mounts. In addition further material has been added by the Library and this is expected to continue.

Sheet music cover showing a figure of a minstrel clown or jester sitting on a table playing a mandoline, c. 1880s

The 800 images digitised under the JISC Image Digitisation Project, and available here, include a small number from the University Library's Great Exhibition Collection, the H Baron Collection, and a private collection. It was felt that these items added valuable content to the selection from Spellman in various ways. The aim of that selection was to identify the best items from a number of points of view, including their perceived social, documentary, artistic, and technical merits. The resulting corpus gives a good idea of the nature of the genre in general and of this collection in particular.

Although there are a few continental pieces and an occasional American item, the great bulk of the material was published in the British Isles. Similarly, while there are early nineteenth-century examples, and a few as late as the nineteen twenties, most fall within the period 1840-1900. Nearly all the items are printed by lithography; the majority are illustrated and coloured. Many examples of the work of the outstanding music illustrators of the period, particularly John Brandard, and Alfred Concanen are present.

As well as illustrating the nature of popular music in the period covered, the Spellman collection constitutes a pictorial archive of popular imagery embracing virtually every aspect of Victorian life, culture and preoccupations.

Sheet music cover showing the figure of Britannia with Union flags on either side, c. 1870

The images fall into many categories. One of the largest groups depicts people, and most prominent in it are music hall artistes, in the roles they made famous. Other categories include women in many contexts, children, the royal family and soldiers. Another large category comprises views of all kinds - English and foreign, town and country, land and sea. Other substantial categories cover sports and pastimes, animals and natural history, travel and transport, and events (such as exhibitions) including military events and battles.

The general character of the images may be sentimental, romantic, fantastic, religious, allegorical or symbolic, comic, or documentary; the purely party political are unusual. But none of these groups and categories is mutually exclusive, all may overlap to various extents.

In addition the collection documents the development of colour printing by lithography, and provides the wherewithal for studying the specialised activity of popular music production. In this it neatly complements the Library's H Baron Collection of lithographed music, which is predominantly continental, non-pictorial and confined to the first half of the nineteenth century.

Contact Details

Address: The Spellman Collection
Dept of History of Art & Design
Reading University Library
Tel: +44 (0)118 931 8787
Fax: +44 (0)118 931 6636

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