Lebus archive catalogue online

Originally posted on 28 May 2012.

The catalogue of the Lebus archive is now online. For more information, visit Archives on the Museum of Childhood website.

This fascinating collection contains a large number of letters written by Anthony Lebus to his parents during his time at preparatory school, Eton and Oxford, which, together with a small quantity of his school work, provide an exceptionally intimate and detailed narrative of an upper middle class child’s education during the 1920s and 1930s. Unusual in that they describe a near-complete childhood, from the first days at school to graduation from university, they are also valuable in being written from a child’s perspective, and reveal Anthony’s thoughts not only about his school, but also his impressions of the changing world around him. For example, these drawings of the early airships and aircraft.

Lizzie Morgan, who catalogued this collection, has previously written a blog explaining a bit more about the Lebus family and introducing some of the highlights of the collection and, below, explains in more detail how she went about cataloguing the Lebus material.

Drawing, a biplane, Anthony Lebus, 1920s. MoC Lebus Family archive LEBU 4/1/11

Drawing, a biplane, Anthony Lebus, 1920s. MoC Lebus Family archive LEBU 4/1/11

Drawing, an airship, Anthony Lebus, 1920s. MoC Lebus Family archive LEBU 4/1/11

Drawing, an airship, Anthony Lebus, 1920s. MoC Lebus Family archive LEBU 4/1/11

Catalogues are a crucial tool for archivists; they provide an inventory of the contents of an archive, facilitating intellectual and physical control over the records. Creating an archive catalogue involves two main stages: arrangement and description, and it is predominantly the first of these that sets archival cataloguing apart from that undertaken by museum curators or librarians. A museum catalogue, for example, records each object as a stand-alone entry, capturing information about its provenance and form, but not about its contextual relationship to other items in the collection. It is these contextual relationships that are central to archival cataloguing. It is useful to know the form and content of a minute book, say, but it is even more valuable to understand that it is part of a series of minute books produced by a committee and that there are related agenda and administrative records within the collection.

In order to convey these relationships, an archival catalogue requires a hierarchical structure. The highest level (known as the ‘fonds’) in this structure records the creator of the archive, which for my catalogue was the Lebus family. The level below (the ‘sub-fonds’) can be used to describe particular functions or divisions of the fonds, for example a department within a company or a particular member of a family. My initial instinct when looking through the Lebus archive was to create a sub-fonds for each member of the Lebus family. However, it quickly became apparent that this would necessitate reorganising some of the material into different files, thus disturbing the original order of the material (a cardinal sin in archival cataloguing!). This was particularly the case with a small number of letters written by Oliver and Barbara Lebus that had been interspersed with those written by Anthony Lebus. In order to create a sub-fonds for Oliver and Barbara, their letters would have had to be removed and re-filed, destroying the context provided by the existing arrangement.

The higher levels described above are purely conceptual (i.e. they do not describe any tangible records) and serve to tell the user something of the environment in which the material was created. It is at series level that you start to find actual records; a series is a group of records that have the same form or that were created by the same process. As I looked through the Lebus archive, it became evident that it comprised a number of series, including correspondence, photographs and schoolwork. A series can be further divided into sub-series, and my initial arrangement of the collection included sub-series of ‘Year Files’ and ‘Undated Correspondence’ within Anthony Lebus’ correspondence. However, this arrangement of sub-series did not contribute anything significant to the understanding of how the material had been created and used, and the final arrangement, therefore, comprises only fonds, series, file and item levels. The final two levels, file and item, record individual files or records. As archival cataloguing is a very time-consuming process, it is often not possible to describe each letter, say, contained in a file, and catalogue entries therefore often provide a general outline of a file’s contents, perhaps highlighting anything unusual or of particular interest.

I had two weeks to arrange and describe the Lebus archive, which afforded me the luxury of being able to read or scan the majority of the collection and draw attention to the interesting bits. Hopefully as the collection becomes more widely consulted, users can identify further material that warrants a mention. This should ultimately result in a richer, more useful catalogue that will open up the Lebus archive to as wide an audience as possible, which is surely one of the fundamental aims of archival cataloguing.

Lizzie Morgan

Abbatt archive summary description online

Originally posted on 4 May 2012.

The summary description for the Abbatt archive here at the Museum of Childhood is now on-line, and you can see it on the Archives pages of our revamped website. It’s not the full catalogue, which is still being written, but it does provide a good overview of the type of material in the collection, and the dates covered.

Catalogue, Abbatt Toys, Paul and Marjorie Abbatt Ltd. ca.1934.

Catalogue, Abbatt Toys, Paul and Marjorie Abbatt Ltd. ca.1934. MoC The Paul and Marjorie Abbatt archive ABBA 1/1/1/1

In addition to a large number of catalogues from Paul and Marjorie Abbatt Ltd. and photographs of their products, there are also articles, lectures and other papers written by Paul and Marjorie explaning their ethos of the importance of play and design, material relating to Children’s Play Activities, Ltd. (CPA Ltd.) and the International Council for Children’s Play (ICCP), as well as other material relating to education and child development collected by Paul and Marjorie.

A large amount of this collection has been digitised, including these examples of early catalogue covers, both from ca.1934.

Catalogue, Abbatt Toys, Paul and Marjorie Abbatt Ltd. ca.1934.

Catalogue, Abbatt Toys, Paul and Marjorie Abbatt Ltd. ca.1934. MoC The Paul and Marjorie Abbatt archive ABBA 1/1/1/2

Mettoy archive catalogue online

Originally posted on 25 April 2012.

The catalogue for the Mettoy archive here at the Museum of Childhood is now on-line, and you can see it on the Archives pages of our revamped website. It’s the first catalogue to be available online, but more, listing our other archive collections, will be following shortly.

Advertisement, Playcraft and Mettoy Toy Fair, Mettoy Ltd. ca. 1961.

Advertisement, Playcraft and Mettoy Toy Fair, Mettoy Ltd. ca. 1961. MoC The Mettoy Company plc. archive METT 1/5/392

The catalogue lists the contents of the 12 volumes of press cuttings in more detail and, with many volumes numbering over 600 pages, there’s a lot of information held within them about the company and its products. Although there’s obviously a large amount of material relating to Corgi, other toy ranges are also well-represented.

As these advertisements for trade shows demonstrate, Mettoy had a very varied and prolific output. As we’ve previously blogged, these volumes were collected together by the Mettoy Playthings Marketing Dept., and as a group form a fascinating insight into Mettoy’s marketing activities and product development, as well as a picture of 20 years of the British toy industry.

Advertisement, Playcraft and Mettoy Toy Fair, Mettoy Ltd. ca. 1961.

Advertisement, Playcraft and Mettoy Toy Fair, Mettoy Ltd. ca. 1961. MoC The Mettoy Company plc. archive METT 1/5/392

Toy illustrations and anticipations

Originally posted on 2 April 2012.

These drawings of toys make me wonder what it must have felt like to be a child 60 or more years ago. I imagine the experience of seeing these toys in a catalogue, longing for having one of them and then – on that special date – opening the box and looking at the real thing for the first time.

'A Child's Guide to the Tri-ang Toy Fair', p.12. Lines Bros. Ltd. ca. 1956.

‘A Child’s Guide to the Tri-ang Toy Fair’, p.12. Lines Bros. Ltd. ca. 1956. MoC Lines Bros. archive LINE 3/1/120

What I mean is, back in those days children and parents didn’t really know what they were getting when they were choosing items from illustrations in catalogues. They were buying the idea of something. This something was part of their imagination; this something was full of their own expectations and anxieties. We are so used to having photographs everywhere, of everything we buy, that I wonder if nowadays we learn to cope with our own expectations in a different way.

I think about how children and adults of that time dealt with their feelings of anticipation. Did this process of seeing, choosing, sending a postal order, waiting for receiving and opening the package and finally seeing the real thing for the first time enhance a child’s imagination? Would their expectations being fulfilled? How did they cope with disappointment and surprise? Did this whole process help them learn about “waiting”?! Ah…too many questions…

Dani Tagen

Photoshop in 1940?

Originally posted on 10 February 2012.

I’ve been photographing some Lines Bros. catalogues from 1940 recently and have really been enjoying myself looking at the photomontages for the Pedigree Prams catalogues. It’s fascinating to see how photography was slowly introduced into the printing processes and also to see the photographic techniques used.

Catalogue, No. 44B Pedigree Prams, p.9, 1940.

Catalogue, No. 44B Pedigree Prams, p.9, 1940. Archive ref. LINE 3/1/53. Lines Bros. archive, V&A Museum of Childhood.

Catalogue, No. 44B Pedigree Prams, p.11, 1940.

Catalogue, No. 44B Pedigree Prams, p.11, 1940. Archive ref. LINE 3/1/53. Lines Bros. archive, V&A Museum of Childhood.

In the examples above, it is really clear how the use of a very blurred background helped convey the idea that the women and their babies – in the prams – were outdoors. I wonder if people in the 1940s believed that or if they knew it was a trick? Nevertheless, the technique is immaculate and still in current use today – more than many people may think.

The use of blurry shadows being cast from people or objects is an old trick. Things seem to be on the ground and not just flying. The airbrushing guys of the 1940s knew how to do their job – better than quite a lot of Photoshop shadows I see around.

Dani Tagen

A Merton Workbench

Originally posted on 17 January 2012.

It has been said that you can tell a lot about a person by the desk they sit behind. A cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind. So what can a phototgraph of a workbench tell us?

Photograph (detail), from album, 'International Model Aircraft Ltd', 1940s.

Photograph (detail), from album, ‘International Model Aircraft Ltd’, 1940s. Archive ref. LINE 2/2. Lines Bros. archive, V&A Museum of Childhood.

Looking closely at this bench, it appears to have been used by someone who was multi-skilled and able to turn their hand to anything. They would have been able to use a wide range of tools and equipment, ranging from the large, heavy metal mallet on the left to pieces of precision engineering such as the micrometer on the right.

This is not surprising – this bench was in was in the Design and Experimental Section of the Engine Development Section in the International Model Aircraft Ltd. factory at Merton, South London, part of the much larger Lines Bros. factory. This workshop was responsible for the design and refinement of the motors, such as the example below, used to power some of the IMA model aircraft.

Catalogue, 'International Model Aircraft Limited, FROG and Penguin', p.18, 1949.

Catalogue, ‘International Model Aircraft Limited, FROG and Penguin’, p.18, 1949. Archive ref. LINE 3/1/65. Lines Bros. archive, V&A Museum of Childhood.

This photograph is a section of one in an album in the Lines Bros. archive, and was taken in the late-1940s. Other photos in the same album include the drawing office, pattern shop, toolroom, model engine department and, surprisingly, the tropical packing department (items being transported to the tropics required specific packing, it seems). These, together with the other photo albums in the Lines Bros. archive, can help produce a more ‘intimate’ record of factory life and manufacturing, and possibly of the people who worked in it.

Photographing the British Toy Making Archive

Originally posted on 1 August 2011.

I have recently been appointed the photographer for the British Toy Making Project. I’m in charge of producing digital images of the catalogues, leaflets, drawings and photographs from the archive.

I started at the beginning of July, and after just a month of work I have already encountered some nice surprises – like Lines Brothers catalogues from the 30s, which feature an amazing wooden Rolls Royce powered by an electric motor.

One of the challenges of the job is to try to capture not only very descriptive photographs of the archive material, but to also interpret it when needed. For example, the Abbatts were really concerned with the image of their company (Paul and Marjorie Abbatt Ltd.) – their logo, print material and toys – so in some cases I’ll have to change the colour of the background I’m shooting on to enhance and reflect their aesthetic views. Or I have to be aware of the way their leaflets were intended to be read, so I can produce the best shot. I’m working closely with Ieuan, the project archivist, and between us we’re working through the material, deciding on the best way to capture it photographically. Overall, the photographic project is a mixture of very technical photography with a twist of creativity.

Advertisement, archive ref. METT 1/1/1, Mettoy archive, V&A Museum of Childhood

Advertisement, archive ref. METT 1/1/1, Mettoy archive, V&A Museum of Childhood

This was the first image I shot. It’s from the first Mettoy volume of press cuttings (archive ref. METT 1/1) which includes advertisements for the Company dating from 1950 and 1951. The cuttings were taken from the four publications ‘The Mercantile Guardian’, ‘Games and Toys’, ‘The Toy Trader and Exporter’ and ‘British Playthings’. There’s a lot of duplication, as the same, or very similar, advertisements was placed in each of the four publications every month, so we’re not photographing every single page. But we do have an example of every different advert.

Advertisement, archive ref. METT 1/1/53, Mettoy archive, V&A Museum of Childhood

Advertisement, archive ref. METT 1/1/53, Mettoy archive, V&A Museum of Childhood

Advertisement, archive ref. METT 1/1/25, Mettoy archive, V&A Museum of Childhood

Advertisement, archive ref. METT 1/1/25, Mettoy archive, V&A Museum of Childhood

The Mettoy archive we hold here at the Museum consists of 12 volumes of press cuttings, dating from 1950 to 1970, with many volumes numbering over 600 pages. They were collected together, it seems, by the Mettoy Playthings Marketing Dept., and include advertisements for Mettoy Playthings products, as well as clippings about the Company and the toy industry in general. As a group, they form a fascinating insight into Mettoy’s marketing activities and product development, as well as a picture of 20 years of the British toy industry. They also illustrate the development of graphic design. The full catalogue for this collection will be available on the internet shortly.

So far, I’ve produce about a thousand images so I know I still have a lot of surprises on the way as this is roughly 13% of the images to be produced.

I’m looking forward to it and for sure I’ll be back blogging.

Dani Tagen

What’s in a name?

Originally posted on 19 April 2011.

LINE 3/47, Lines Bros. archive, V&A Museum of Childhood.

LINE 3/47, Lines Bros. archive, V&A Museum of Childhood.

Pedigree Prams and Tri-ang toys catalogues are sequentially numbered! A particularly dull fanfare to start this blog, but it does mean that many of the gaps I thought were in this series have now disappeared (i.e. List no. 14 is for Pedigree Prams, 1926-27, no. 15 is for Triang Toys for the same period, no. 16 is again for Pedigree Prams for 1927-28, and 17 again for Tri-ang toys etc, so we’re not missing every other catalogue for both ranges).

The Pedigree Pram catalogues have also been particularly engaging. The illustrations show something of the society through which the children using the prams were perceived as being pushed. There is usually a backdrop of a well-tended park, and the women pushing the prams are elegantly dressed or wearing a nanny’s uniform. Men are almost totally absent, a rare exception being when they are called upon to fold a pushchair to stow it in the back of a motor cruiser or light aircraft.

LINE 3/51, Lines Bros. archive, V&A Museum of Childhood.

LINE 3/51, Lines Bros. archive, V&A Museum of Childhood.

This impression of affluence is continued in the names for the individual products. In the 1921-22 catalogue, naming conventions which continue to be used throught the company’s history emerge, although in a slightly haphazard way, with the ‘Joy’, ‘Ashdown’, ‘Bedford’, ‘Katrine’, ‘Cornwall’, ‘Devon’, ‘Essex’, ‘La France’, the ‘George’, ‘Hythe’, ‘Irene’, ‘Fairy’, ‘Unique’, ‘Oxford’ and ‘Prince’ all making an early appearance, soon joined by the ‘Happy’ and ‘De-Luxe Happy’. By 1938, however, the well-heeled, almost aristocratic names, with added connotations of heritage, have become more dominant. Prams now include the ‘Norfolk’, ‘Howard’, ‘Balmoral’, ‘Richmond’, ‘Holyrood’, ‘Grosvenor’, ‘Kensington’, ‘Buckingham’ and ‘Regal’, with the ‘Henley’, ‘York’, ‘Empire’, ‘Rex’, ‘Burlington’ and ‘Marlborough’ also included in the 1949 catalogue.

Another trend is the use of girl’s names. Apart from those already mentioned, from 1939 onwards the catalogue also includes the ‘Betty’, ‘Anne’, ‘Claire’, ‘Doris’, ‘Flora’, ‘Gwen’ and ‘Helen’. By 1952, although many of the original names are still in use, there is a subtle shift away from heritage, with the inclusion of more modern-sounding names such as the ‘Orion’, ‘Prestige’, ‘Supreme’, ‘Sunrise’, ‘Vogue’ and ‘Fanfair’ appear.

Maybe you can read too much into a name, but, in conjunction with the images on the catalogue covers, this list does evoke a strong impression of a particular target market and a particular time. More so when it’s contrasted with names of contemporary ‘strollers’ such as the ‘Quest Sport’, ‘Techno XT’ and ‘XLR’, ‘Grand Tour LX Stroller’, ‘Zapp Xtra’, ‘Orbital 3’, ‘Swift Lite’, ‘Eagle’, ‘Capri’, ‘Malibu’, ‘Yo!’ and X-Lander X-Q Jungle.

A friend introduced me to the world of caravan names on a long trip down the motorway – it’s a game I’ll now be playing walking down the high street crowded with pushchairs.

The King’s chat at Merton

Originally posted on 14 February 2011.

In response to the front pages of the newspapers today, full of Colin Firth’s award at the BAFTA’s last night for his role in ‘The King’s Speech’, I’ve found some images of the real King George VI. He visited the Lines Bros. Ltd. factory at Merton, South London, on June 10, 1941, to inspect the munitions production being undertaken by Lines Bros. as part of the war effort. In common with almost all toy manufacturers, Lines. Bros. ceased toy production completely, and turned instead to making components and parts for the war machine(s) (see the Sten Guns and Gliders blog for more information).

Other examples include Jerry cans, shell fuses and landmines amongst items produced by Mettoy at their Northampton and Fforestfach (Swansea) factories, and bomb noses and tails, made from laminated paper, produced by Cascelloid / Palitoy at Coalville, Leicestershire. I’ve also heard it mentioned that some toy companies continued to produce munitions as a sideline long after the war, but have yet to find any information on this. Can anyone confirm this?

The following photographs give some flavour of the King chatting comfortably with factory workers. The man in glasses and pin-stripe suit is Walter Lines, of course.

King George VI at Merton, 10 June 1941. V&A Museum of Childhood, Lines Bros. archive. © Crown.

King George VI at Merton, 10 June 1941. V&A Museum of Childhood, Lines Bros. archive. © Crown.

King George VI at Merton, 10 June 1941. V&A Museum of Childhood, Lines Bros. archive. © Crown.

King George VI at Merton, 10 June 1941. V&A Museum of Childhood, Lines Bros. archive. © Crown.

King George VI at Merton, 10 June 1941. V&A Museum of Childhood, Lines Bros. archive. © Crown.

King George VI at Merton, 10 June 1941. V&A Museum of Childhood, Lines Bros. archive. © Crown.

King George VI at Merton, 10 June 1941. V&A Museum of Childhood, Lines Bros. archive. © Crown.

King George VI at Merton, 10 June 1941. V&A Museum of Childhood, Lines Bros. archive. © Crown.

Toy Fair 2011 – part 2

Originally posted on 28 January 2011.

Toy Fair 2011

Toy Fair 2011

Toy Fair is now over for another year. It’s been great fun, though tiring, to spend three days in the middle of it all. The second and third days were as busy as the first, and we’ve continued to meet with a variety of people connected with the toy trade. We also gave a brief presentation to design students, from a number of design courses at universities in London and further away, highlighting what the archives and object collections here at the Museum can offer in terms of source material on the history of design. This was part of a day of short talks and meetings with manufacturers for students to give them more of an insight into what working in the design side of the industry is like.

The great thing about being able to spend time here is that you really appreciate what a varied business toys can be. A sample of the business cards we collected contains job titles such as senior play futurist, inventor, retailer, company director and founder, designer, imagineer, marketing director, corporate responsibility manager, product tester, agent, buying controller, merchandiser, trade mark attorney, demonstrator and even the odd magician (and this list doesn’t include those people who actually work in the factories producing the goods). And they’re all, in their own way, trying to find the next big thing, the next revolutionary new game or play pattern. The other thing is, after spending three days in this environment populated by flying fish, 6-foot Lego figures, miniature robots, puppets, dancing monkeys, pigs in teacups etc., the real world seems a bit more grey and lifeless than it did a few days ago. We’ve landed back in Kansas with a bump.

Toy Fair 2011

Toy Fair 2011

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