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Evanion Collection of Victorian Printed Ephemera

Henry Evans (1832?-1905), or 'Evanion' the conjurer, ventriloquist and humourist, enjoyed a reasonably successful career from the middle to the end of the 19th century. Evanion had developed a keen collecting instinct early in life and, during the course of a long stage career, he took every opportunity to amass a large collection of material relating to Victorian entertainment and everyday life.

Poster for Maskelyne and Cooke's Marvellous Entertainment at the Egyptian Hall

Poster for Maskelyne and Cooke's Marvellous Entertainment at the Egyptian Hall, London, 1887 Shelfmark: Evan.329. ©The British Library Board

Around 5,000 items from his collection, which mostly dates from the second half of the 19th century, were purchased by the British Museum Library in 1895. These include:

  • Posters, which record the character of popular Victorian entertainment as staged in the Music Halls, or Palaces of Variety, the Theatres, and Circuses. Major artists such as Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno are represented, along with a large number of well-known conjuring acts and illusions by artists such as Maskelyne and Cooke, and Evanion himself.
  • Tickets for theatrical performances, race meetings, lectures and exhibitions.
  • Advertisements and price lists for clothes, food, medicines, household items and domestic goods, which, along with the collection of
  • Trade catalogues and trade cards, describe the variety of products, trades and services that made up the business life of Victorian England from the late 1860s to 1895. The majority are English, and again London is particularly well represented.
Seed catalogue by Webb and Sons

Seed catalogue by Webb and Sons, the Queen's Seedsmen, 1885. Shelfmark: Evan.5848 ©The British Library Board

The Evanion Collection is a valuable resource for the study of many aspects of the Victorian age. In addition, it contains many examples of fine printing and illustrations, which are often extremely attractive.

Further information about the Evanion Collection is given in the article 'The Evanion Collection' by E Harland, in The British Library Journal, vol.13, no.1 (Spring 1987), pp.64-70.

While the British Library does not generally purchase ephemera, it owns other collections of early 19th century historical and political material that closely compliment the Evanion Collection. These have been catalogued under the name of the geographical area, event or person to which they relate. The collections also include a large number of playbills relating to the major London theatres, indexed under the name of the theatre in question.

Advertisement for teas by Cooper

Advertisement for teas by Cooper, Cooper and Co., 1887 Shelfmark: Evan.5861. ©The British Library Board


The collection is currently the subject of a digitisation project which aims to provide a full catalogue description of each item, with increased access to the material through indexes for names of artists, theatres, businesses, and subject and genre headings. Links are made to digitised images which can be used as substitutes for the fragile and vulnerable originals, now restricted from normal reading room use.

Additional images also appear on the Online Gallery and within British Library Images Online.


Helen Peden
British Collections 1801-1914, Early Printed Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7699
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7577


Related content

Evanion Catalogue