Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The ephemera of fireworks

(C) Bodleian Library: John Johnson Collection: Music Tites 3 (42)
Guy Fawkes Day (November 5) has generated a lot of ephemera: fliers and posters for events, prints, and, above all, the promotional material, packaging and labels for the fireworks themselves.

These resources are somewhat scattered, but there is much to be found online, through flickr and various virtual archives, mounted by specialist enthusiasts. Examples are: Maurice and Steve's virtual firework heritage museum and the fireworkmuseum.co.uk/.

More can be found through Google images, with contributions from, for example, The Museum of British Folklore. It is the hope of the Director, Simon Costin that this museum will acquire premises. It does, however, have material and has mounted a series of exhibitions, including (in 2011) Remember, remember: a history of fireworks in Britain, which I visited at Compton Verney. The webpage has embedded a You Tube video of the exhibits. On October 31 (appropriately) The Museum of British Folklore acquired the Museum of Witchcraft

There are also, of course, resources in major libraries and museums: The British Library, the V&A and also via image libraries such as the Look and Learn site (notably in the Peter Jackson collection), and the Mary Evans Picture Library, which has a feature on Guy Fawkes Night.

The John Johnson Collection includes four folders of material relating to fireworks not yet catalogued or digitised. One of our prize firework-related items is, however, online: a  ticket for the Royal Fireworks at St. James's Park in April 1749, the fireworks for which Handel wrote his famous music.
(C) Bodleian Library: John Johnson Collection: Tickets Show Places various (46)
There are also trade cards for 'artists' in fireworks
(C) Bodleian Library: John Johnson Collection: Trade Cards 26 (53)

(C) Bodleian Library: John Johnson Collection: Trade Cards 26 (32)

Another major source of information about fireworks and pyrotechnic effects in the John Johnson Collection (mostly unrelated to November 5) is playbills. Fireworks often formed part of entertainments, both indoors and outdoors. Not all have illustrations (as the example below) but the full text searching of the The John Johnson Collection: an archive of printed ephemera (ProQuest site  with access via HE, FE, public libraries and schools) facilitates finding entertainments which included fireworks.

(C) Bodleian Library: John Johnson Collection: 
London Play Places 7 (19)

(C) Bodleian Library: John Johnson Collection:
Dioramas 6 (8)
This handbill  of c. 1896 relates to a panorama of the life of Guy Fawkes, complete with 'a grand display of thousands of fountains of fireworks'.
There are also ballads in the Bodleian (and, of course, elsewhere) relating to Guy Fawkes. The new Bodleian Broadside Ballads online site is well worth exploring.

If you know of further collections of firework-related ephemera, please email jjcoll@bodleian.ox.ac.uk and I will write a supplementary post.