E H Shepard and a world before online meetings

Once upon a time, in order to communicate with a business associate in another location, a person would write a letter using pen and paper.  Or they might dictate their message to their secretary who would type it.  The letter would be placed in an envelope and sent by messenger or postal worker.  The letter would be conveyed to the recipient by means of bike, van, train, plane or on foot, or a combination thereof.  The recipient would read the letter and, in order to reply, repeat the process of writing or dictating and sending.  And by the repetition of this sequence of actions, information would be conveyed and decisions taken over a period of days, weeks or months.  Whilst still within living memory, this method of business communication seems to belong to a very different world, even more so now that the pandemic has led to many people communicating routinely and almost instantaneously via online meeting software and emails with attachments and hyperlinks.   

This contrast has been very much on my mind this week because I have been proof-reading the catalogue records for publishers’ letters to E H Shepard. 

So, what do these catalogue records reveal?  Firstly, how inspiration and research worked in the pre-internet era.  On 10 November 1932 the publisher wrote to Shepard with a list of portraits of Charles Lamb which would provide inspiration for his illustrations for Everybody’s Lamb (Letter to E H Shepard from G Bell & Sons, EHS/C/1/2/4)On 10 January 1933 Dorothy Ensor recommended Lucas’ “Life of Lamb” as a source for portraits and illustrations which Shepard could draw on (Letter to E H Shepard from G Bell & Sons, EHS/C/1/2/7).  The volumes are duly dispatched on 11 January (Letter to E H Shepard from G Bell & Sons, EHS/C/1/2/8).  By this point I am relearning to appreciate the internet which I otherwise take for granted because a quick search suggests she is referring to The Life of Charles Lamb by E V Lucas.

And, in addition to the book-based research, there are the glimpses of research visits: to Christ’s Hospital (Letter to G Bell & Sons from Christ’s Hospital, EHS/C/1/2/16), to Horsham and Brighton (Postcard to E H Shepard from G Bell & Sons, EHS/C/1/2/20) and I suspect to Arundel Castle (Letter to E H Shepard from the Fitzalan-Howard Estate, EHS/C/1/2/30). 

I am also getting a sense of the ebb and flow of the process of illustrating books.  Information and requirements are supplied and then illustrations are sent – on 1 February 1933 G H Bickers asks for two of the first batch of illustrations (Letter to E H Shepard from G Bell & Sons, EHS/C/1/2/9) and on 22 February 1933 I am relieved to find that the publishers are pleased with the first three pictures which Shepard has supplied (Letter to E H Shepard from G Bell & Sons, EHS/C/1/2/13).  The proofs of these drawings are dispatched to Shepard with a letter dated 7 March 1933 (Letter to E H Shepard from G Bell & Sons, EHS/C/1/2/17).  And a week later there appears to be a change of pace when Shepard is asked to confirm the next 17 drawings (Letter to E H Shepard from G Bell & Sons, EHS/C/1/2/19).  Deadlines start to appear in May – three more drawings are requested on 16 May 1933 for the following Wednesday (Letter to E H Shepard from G Bell & Sons, EHS/C/1/2/27).  Once again the internet proves useful and I now know that 16 May 1933 is a Tuesday so it seems Shepard is being given a week’s notice.  Another set of proofs arrive with a letter dated 31 August 1933 (Letter to E H Shepard from G Bell & Sons, EHS/C/1/2/4).   This is the final letter between G Bell & Sons and E H Shepard in this archive.  This makes sense as although we do not hold a copy of Everybody’s Lamb in the archive the British Library does, and according to their online catalogue record the volume was published in 1933.

So overall, I find I like the pace of the letters and their steady progress.  The tone of the letters has been reflected in the catalogue summaries and is soothing and encouraging me to use words like “thereof” even though this word does not appear anywhere in this catalogue!  It all feels less frenetic than the constant arrival of information which has surrounded me whilst writing this blog.  On the other hand, I very much like being able to access information quickly to increase my understanding of what is going on.  And I am also very pleased that we are able to make these catalogue records available online: this means that anyone with access to the internet can read these catalogue entries and learn what I have just done.  Whilst not everyone has internet access, it is still a great step forward from the days when you had to visit an archive in order to consult the hardcopy catalogue. 

The cataloguing of the individual letters within the E H Shepard business correspondence is part of a larger project to enhance the E H Shepard Archive catalogue and make this material more discoverable.  In the coming weeks I will continue to proof the catalogue records and make them available on our online catalogue.  Work on the enhancement work itself is on hold but we intend to resume it as soon as we are able. Anyone with an interest in the collections should email archives@surrey.ac.uk. Although our Research Room is currently closed and we have limited access to the collections, we will endeavour to answer all questions a fully as possible.