Introduction The Evidence that History forgot

Chap-books and slip-ballads

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Chap-books and slip-ballads

Chap-books were small booklets sold by “chapmen”, and were common in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. They were aimed at children and the barely literate working classes. The subject matter was similar to that of the broadsides, and ranged from nursery rhymes to accounts of executions.

18. The death and burial of Cock Robin : as taken from the original manuscript, in the possession of Master Meanwell. (Lichfield : printed and sold by M. Morgan, and A. Morgan, Stafford, [1800?])

This is an example of a chapbook on a single sheet, as it would have come from the printer, before being folded into a booklet.

19. Natural history. (London : T. Goode ; Melbourne : S. Goode, [184-?]) 1 folded sheet (8 p.) : ill. (one col.) ; 10 cm.

This is a very early Melbourne imprint. Presumably it is an example of a chapbook printed in England and distributed in Melbourne in the 1840s. The crude colouring is typical of chapbook illustrations.

20. Married at last. [Prospect, Connecticut : J.F. Libby, 1887?] [16] p. ; 77 mm.

This is an example of a chapbook which is part tract, part advertisement. The text is interrupted at various points by “unsolicited testimonials” on behalf of “Piso’s cure for consumption” and “Piso’s remedy for catarrh.”

21. A very curious collection of old ballads. Catnach Press & Newcastle, Derby, &c. &c.

This is a contemporary collection of ballads, pasted into a volume, previously used as the manuscript catalogue of a library. It gathers together 144 early to mid-nineteenth century broadside street ballads. The volume is open to show two “slip ballads”. These were ballads printed on sheets in double columns, meant to be cut individually. One of the ballads seen here is “The convict maid”, a warning to young women not to steal from their masters, for fear that,

To Botany Bay you will be conveyed,

For seven years a convict maid.

22. Public reading of the news … every evening at a quarter past 7 … will begin this evening Friday, May 18, 1832. (Barlow, Printer, Bennett’s Hill, [London]) 1 sheet, 44 x 28 cm.

The rise of news-papers took place most noticeably in the Victorian era, especially after the Education Act of 1870 made schooling compulsory. However, in the early 19th century, there was a strong public interest in current affairs, especially around the time of the 1832 Reform Act, and the popster displayed here shows one of the ways people who were illiterate or too poor to afford newspapers were able to keep up with the news.

Twentieth Century


The late Victorian period saw a craze for sending and collecting postcards. Postcards were often used to promote places as tourist destinations, as souvenirs for people living, to holidaying in a town to send back to friends elsewhere. You could ask for your portrait photograph to be printed on postcard stationery so you could write to relatives or loved ones. This became especially popular during the First World War, when soldiers could send postcards of themselves home and families and sweethearts could send postcards overseas. Novelty postcards were also popular.

23. Postcards of scenery

These are Australian postcards showing views in Sydney and Melbourne. They include a series from 1905 of coloured moonlight scenes, and a coloured view of two schoolgirls “at the Hanging Rock, near Kyneton.”

24. Promotional postcards
We see a promotional postcard of a performing canary, “Little Tweet”, a Harz Mountain Roller, known as the “Canary Caruso.” Little Tweet was a theatrical performer and the back of the card gives details of his career.

25. Trade Cards

On display is some late 19th, early 20th century cards. They include one for Wertheim’s Pianos, die-cut in the shape of a woman’s hand; another features the classic optical illusion of “my wife” and “my mother-in-law”, issued by Ince Bros, Tailors of 174 Swanston Street, Melbourne.

26. Postcard albums.
Once people began to collect postcards they were sent, they needed albums. We have on display an album which consists entirely of the classic seaside novelty postcards holidaymakers would send home from Blackpool or Brighton.

27. In Memoriam

The rituals surrounding death generated a great deal of ephemera. A selection of late 19th century cards of remembrance of is on display.


One of the classic issues which has generated pamphlets and ephemera over the years is the anti-vivisection campaign. This has as its aim the banning of experiments on live animals. It is a campaign which has traditionally run alongside the anti-vaccination issue. Nowadays it has become part of the animal liberation movement.

28. Anti-vivisection and anti-vaccination tracts.

These date from the 1910s and 1920s. Two of them have the graphic illustration of a calf tied down and vaccinated in dozens of places with smallpox toxin to enable the growth of the anti-toxin. Among the titles are Vaccination and ruin (New York Anti-Vivisection Society [1917?]) and Australia unvaccinated – yet still free from smallpox, by A. W. Hyde (Melbourne : British Union for Abolition of Vivisection, [1927?])

29. Animal liberation ephemera

These are from the UK where the movement is extremely active. It includes material from specific campaigns such as, the anti-fur campaign, and “Yes, I want to help ban the farrowing crate”, with a picture of a pig, captioned, “Imprisoned because she’s a mother.”

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