Navigating the E.H. Shepard Archive

The business correspondence in the E.H. Shepard Archive sometimes refers to illustrations which accompanied the individual letters. Sadly, these items are no longer kept with the letters. So, a little like Bagpuss and the chocolate digestive, I catch sight of an illustration only to have it whisked away almost immediately. 

So how has this come about? 

Firstly, the illustrations seem to have gone backwards and forwards between illustrator and publisher and the same item may have been sent, amended and returned, possibly several times. Therefore the same item might be referred to in several letters. Also, the final version would have been sent to the publisher for use in the book. The correspondence indicates that at least some artwork was returned to Shepard. However, the references I have located so far are more along the lines of hasn’t that been returned yet? rather than please find enclosed… Using this source alone, it is difficult to determine how long it would take for illustrations to be returned but I would suggest there would have been something of a gap after the last letter on the topic.

Secondly, it is unclear how Shepard managed his papers and artwork. But, if the illustrations were returned much later than the last of the correspondence, then he would have had to deliberately reunite letters and drawings.   

This then takes us to the fact that generally people and organisations do not create archives for the benefit of researchers and archivists. They create or accumulate records in the course of their existence because they need to or want to. (Identifying an item as having archival value is a separate activity.)  As a result, some records which would be really useful to have in the archive are never created in the first place. Some are created but disposed of. And then some simply aren’t maintained in the way which best answers our current questions. So, whilst I really wish Shepard had made a note on the back of each illustration indicating clearly which letter/s refer to this illustration (I am not asking for a full citation – name of correspondent and date would be perfectly acceptable…), it appears he didn’t need to do this to be able to locate his own letters! 

On the other hand, archives wouldn’t be half as exciting if all the answers were there when you opened the first box!

So, what to do? Well, it is possible to identify the loose illustrations which relate to the various books he illustrated. (I say loose illustrations – the sketchbooks are a whole blog in themselves). Type (for example) Ben and Brock into our online catalogue and you will find the relevant illustrations, books and possibly the correspondence. Possibly, because there is a caveat – we have not yet catalogued each individual piece of business correspondence (we haven’t forgotten about this, it is merely on hold for the time being). Therefore, if correspondence is not found as part of the search, all is not yet lost. Armed with the date of publication, you can search within the business correspondence for that time period. Personally I would browse the catalogue first in order to get a feel for what correspondence exists and how it is laid out, (Tip: where you see a + in the list, click on it to open sub lists.) Then I would move onto a more targeted search putting  EHS/C/* in the RefNo field and the date range in the Date field (eg 1930s, or 1923-1928). This will hopefully yield a list of potential items to look at. At this point you will have the relevant Ref Nos and be able to request the items you wish to see in the Research Room.  (The Ref No is how you tell an archivist which specific item you wish to look at – if you have it, then it makes life considerably easier all round!). 

Have fun with your research!