Research Institute for Media, Arts and Performance
University of Bedfordshire
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The Cinderella Conference was inspired by the University of Bedfordhsire's acquisition in 2012 of a collection of items all about Cinderella. It was one person’s collection, gathered over a number of years - an example of a fascination with the fairy tale and its retellings in our culture.
The collection is housed at the University’s library at the Bedford campusand shares its archivally chilly lodging with the much larger Hockliffe Collection of rare primers, readers and children’s books which was donated by a specialist bookseller from the town.
Alongside the books, are cuttings, tins, jigsaws, souvenir programmes, figurines, and porcelain collectables – each not necessarily unique in themselves, but it is the collection itself that is intriguing.
This Coalport Pumpkin, with its mice is one of the key objects in the storytelling of Cinderella. It represents the magical transition with the wave of the wand, like childhood play transforming a bucket into a ship.
As a pot its functionality is limited, it was made to be collected. Such objects have codes, messages, some from the past, and some from their context of manufacture, use and sale.
This Coalport collectable has a name It is a name redolent of history, taking us back to the origins of the industrial revolution. Coalport was a pioneering porcelain pottery founded in 1795 by John Rose in Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire the birthplace of the an industrial revolution due to its natural deposits of coal, clay and iron.
The Coalport name was retained by Wedgwood the most famous British brand of fine china, and the most likely producer of the Pumpkin when it bought the company after manufacturer moved location further north to Stoke. Stoke had better connections with the railway, and the transportation network to the ports, ships and across the seas.
The word coal in Coalport is no chance name, and the association can be followed through to those images of Cinderella before the fire – is it fanciful to hear re the echo of the smoke and fire of the manufactories in these images of the kitchen hearth in front of which Cinders rests? These cards are two of thousands of images, one is numbered 3472 , designed printed by Raphael Tuck and Sons one of the most prolific and successful postcard companies. Tuck came from Prussia and the firm printed their cards in Germany and Bavaria.
You can see the influence in the dress and the birds, though the sources say he claimed to have designed them in England for the British postal system. He famously argued with the Government postmaster to allow an address and section for writing a message in the postcard design.
Sending postcards is in the decline today we might say ‘so what?’ But you have to imagine a time mid 19th century when colour printing was a novelty, when the post was at first expensive and gradually became within reach of everyone’s pocket. Receiving a picture postcard was a gift, and it changed the way people kept in touch. By 1904/5 when the first of these were printed ordinary people were collectors of postcards. You can see here written along the bottom: ‘I have about 300’ Gwen says. Tuck encouraged this with competitions for collections.
Of the many wonderful book illustrators in the books in the collection, Margaret Tarrant was one whose work you might recognise from Medici postcards, a firm originally run as a society with the aim of using high end colour printing to reproduce artists work for a mass market. She illustrated Henry Golding’s 1915 edition of Fairy tales. These pictures were much loved by their childhood owners and older readers recall them nostalgically. The collection has many works which are labelled or marked for ownership, or as gifts and school prizes, treasured books which sometimes act as cross generational communicators.
Of William Goble’s illustration of the popular Fairy tales by Dinah Craik, Jesse Rowan writes in an online forum: this was "My favourite childhood book, I read a version that had belonged to my grandmother, who I never knew as she died when my dad was about 10 years old. I felt a link to her, reading her book." When I looked at Macmillan’s archive I could see the repeated print orders and sales for Craik’s book yet holding it from the collection reading it I can see that her retellings are simple, the language unimaginative. What is remembered are the images.
My last object of interest from the collection is a retelling of the story with a particular slant. I am unable to resist the famous illustrator of Dickens’s work! The collection has a number of copies of illustrations, many form the Opie collection. And a chapbook by Cruikshank. Illustrated here is title page George Cruikshank’s Cinderella one of the four titles in the George Cruikshank’s Fairy Library series.
Cruickshank was a campaigner against the evils of drink. His father died early of alcohol poisoning. So in Cinderella and the Glass Slipper, the story is retold – amusing to us today - the King plans to celebrate the marriage of Cinderella and the Prince with “fountains of wine,” but the Fairy Godmother objects. So the father of the groom then orders all the “wine, beer, and spirits” in the land to be burned in a giant bonfire on the night of the wedding.’ (Toronto Library Website) Leaving Cinderella and her prince with a teatotal "happy ever after".
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