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About the Evanion Catalogue

In 1895 the British Museum purchased a rich and fascinating collection of 19th century ephemera formed by Henry Evans (1832?-1905), a conjuror and ventriloquist, who performed under the stage name ‘Evanion’. During the course of a long career, he took every opportunity to amass a large collection of material relating to Victorian entertainment and everyday life. Harry Houdini, who described the collection as "full of priceless treasures", later acquired many of the items relating to magic. These are now in the possession of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

The British Library owns approximately 5,000 items from Evanion's collection. These fall into two main categories – Popular entertainment, and everyday life - and include posters, advertisements, trade cards and catalogues, most of which date from the later 19th century. While London is particularly well represented, the collection includes items from all parts of the country.

As a whole, the Evanion Collection is a valuable resource for the study of Victorian popular culture and social history. It may also be of interest to printing historians and students of design and communication.

Popular entertainment

The material relating to Victorian entertainment is legendary, particularly amongst historians of conjuring, who value it for its range and quality. Some of this material was bequeathed to Evanion by the English barber James Savren who had been able to acquire a marvellous collection while working, without pay, for such famous magicians as Anderson, Compars Herrmann and Gyngell.

The posters are especially interesting and important. Many conjurors and illusionists of the later 19th century, including Evanion himself, are represented alongside such famous names as Maskelyne and Cooke and David Devant. Circus performances and public exhibitions are also featured. Many of these posters are fine examples of chromolithography, a printing technique used increasingly during the second half of the 19th century in the mass production of colourful, eye-catching advertising material.

Also included are notices and handbills advertising entertainments of all kinds in venues throughout England, ranging from lectures on astronomy, exhibitions and trade fairs, to the amusements around the pleasure gardens and Music Hall entertainments showcasing such popular performers as Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno.

Everyday life

This part of the Evanion Collection covers a variety of material, from advertisements, trade cards and catalogues, to advertising novelties, envelopes and even paper bags. Most of the items date from the late 1860s to 1895, and the majority are English, although there are a small number from France, the USA and Canada. Popular subjects include clothing, food and drink, patent medicines, kitchen equipment and domestic appliances, and a wide range of products and services.

Further information from Elizabeth Harland: 'The Evanion Collection'. (The British Library Journal, vol. 13, no. 1, Spring 1987, pp. 64-70)

About the records

A full catalogue description containing the elements outlined below is given of each item alongside a digital image, where available.

The British Library shelfmark for the item.

Heading or Venue
The name of the Company or business concern, the name of the venue for a theatrical entertainment, or the name of a particular author, or person prominently named in the item.

The city or town followed by the county where the named business or venue was located. London addresses give the borough or district, in place of county.

A full text transcription, with original punctuation, of the most important details given on the front or first page of an item. Where significant details have been printed on both sides of an advertisement, or inside a booklet such as a trade catalogue, then these are also given.

The place where the item was produced and name of the printer.

A heading to define the particular type of ephemera. Our genre headings have been taken from those used in: Maurice Rickards, Encyclopaedia of ephemera: a guide to the fragmentary documents of everyday life for the collector, curator, and historian. Edited and compiled by Michael Twyman (British Library: London, 2000).

Subject headings
Library of Congress Subject Headings are used.

The names of all other persons and corporate bodies associated with the item.

The height of the item in centimetres, rounded up to the nearest half centimetre. If the width is greater than the height, then the dimensions are given as height by width.

The year when the item was printed. When a date of printing is known but not printed on the item, this is recorded in square brackets. A question mark indicates an approximate date.

This area is used to explain and further expand on the information contained in the record. Such features may be noted:

  • The source of the date when it has been recorded in square brackets; perhaps the item bears a dated MS. inscription, or contains enough evidence to estimate a date
  • Description of any illustration – with the name of the artist, if known
  • Further information on the business, Company, theatre, performers or other persons concerned

Each digital image on this website is available in three sizes: thumbnail, medium and large. For information about using and reproducing these images, see Copyright information and Ordering Reproductions.


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