Our latest display in the reading room is something of a salmagundi. We decided to pick out a selection of the items donated to the Library’s visual resources collection over the past twelve months, just to demonstrate the wide range of the collection. We chose the title “A little treasure trove for a Monday” to capture the excitement of unpacking a new accession for the first time – often an unexpected delight. You can see the display until Friday 17 May during Library opening hours, but if you can’t make it, here are some highlights.
The visual resources collection (photographs, including a substantial collection of lantern slides, paintings, drawings, prints, posters, costumes and three dimensional artefacts) complements the Library’s printed and manuscript collections for all sorts of Quaker biographical, historical, local, and architectural research, and for research on Quaker work in Britain and overseas. It includes the Society’s own picture archive as well as items acquired by the Library – altogether a total of roughly 40,000 items.
During the past year there have been some wonderful additions to this growing collection. These acquisitions come from a variety of sources but most have direct Quaker connections, whether Friends, ex-staff members or local meetings. Material is sometimes received as a bequest after the owner’s death or from families sorting out a relative’s personal effects.
Ultimately, people donate Quaker material because they want it to be accessible, and looked after properly, in the right environmental conditions, so it is preserved for future generations.
Silhouettes of the Neave family
The Library holds over 120 silhouettes, dating mainly from the first half of the 19th century. These portraits are of individuals in profile – head and shoulders or full body. Silhouettes can be painted or drawn as a solid shape and are usually black in colour. The Library holds several books about Quaker silhouettes – you can find out more by searching for the subject “silhouettes” on our online catalogue.
This set came from Bournemouth Meeting and is of the Neave Family. They are lovely full-length pen and ink drawings with delicate details in Chinese white ink made by the Quaker artist Samuel Metford of Somerset (1810–1896), signed S. Metford fecit.
Edward Neave (1779–1861) was born in Poole and established himself in Gillingham, Dorset, as a draper. He married twice and had seven children.
Meeting house postcards
Our comprehensive collection of meeting house images is made up of paintings, drawings, photographs, prints and postcards illustrating the interior and exterior of meeting houses from around the world. It is a unique and frequently used collection. Mass-producing postcards were a cost–effective way of raising funds for building maintenance as well as providing a collectible memento.
This selection of postcards was kindly donated by a family whose mother had acquired them at a house auction.
Dolls and textiles
With 50 dolls and 54 shawls already held by the Library, this gift of a shawl and doll fits perfectly. The doll’s bonnet and shawl are pinned with a delicate glass bird, and her wax head, glass eyes and bisque body indicate she is from the late 19th century. Our dolls range from traditional 19th-century examples to wood carvings made by prisoners of war on the Isle of Man during World War I.
Plain dress was one of the distinguishing features of Quakers in the past – and quite a struggle for some to adhere to. While a distinctive form of dress has long gone, simplicity is still an important part of Quakerism. According to Quaker faith & practice, “The heart of Quaker ethics is summed up in the word ‘simplicity’ … Outwardly, simplicity is shunning superfluities of dress, speech, behaviour and possessions, which tend to obscure our vision of reality” (Quaker faith and practice, 4th edition, 2009, 20.27).
Most Quaker women dressed in monotone colours without adornment. The shawls in our collection are an assortment of fabrics and colours (white, cream, grey, brown, blue and black). They feature simple designs and date from 1815 to the 20th century. This cream shawl is from the early 20th century and is embroidered with white silk thread flowers.
Photographs and slides dominate the visual resources collection, with at least 25,000 photographic prints individually catalogued and in albums, 9,000 35mm slides and 2,000 glass plate lantern slides.
Olive Prescott collection of slides and photographs
The Olive Prescott collection is a personal archive of slides and photographs from her time in Africa working for Friends Service Council (FSC) from 1963 to 1969. Olive Prescott (1931–2011) was a Quaker with a background in social work and publishing. She travelled to Kenya in March 1963 to assist Walter Martin, the FSC representative in Nairobi. As well as helping to run classes at the Mucii Wa Urata rural training centre and the Ofafa community centre, she was involved in the administration of work camps and committees for the Christian Council of Kenya, particularly in relief and refugee work. After several years of political unrest, Kenya and Zanzibar gained independence from colonial rule in December 1963. FSC’s Nairobi office closed in 1965.
Olive was then seconded to East Africa Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, moving to Kaimosi in 1967 to serve as Literature Secretary. She worked in the bookshop and on the Mufrenzi magazine. She also researched a series of biographies of early African Friends and, before leaving FSC in 1969, wrote a book for people preparing for Quaker membership.
If you want to find out more about the visual resources collection, or are considering donating visual material, please contact the Library, using the link on the right hand side of this blog page.