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Picturing Gypsies

An exhibition from the Gypsy Lore Society archive and Scott Macfie Gypsy collections mounted in the University Art Gallery, 4 September-6 October 2000 in association with The Role of the Romanies conference at the University of Liverpool, 17-20 September 2000.

Katy Hooper, Special Collections Librarian, September 2000


Case 1: Scott Macfie and the Gypsy Lore Society

The Gypsy Lore Society was founded in May 1888 "with the object of investigating the Gypsy question in as thorough and many-sided a manner as possible", publishing a quarterly journal as the means to achieving this end. The first series of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society ran from 1888-1892, under the Secretaryship of David MacRitchie. In 1907, Robert Andrew Scott Macfie, a Liverpool businessman, and member of the University Club (which also included the scholars and gypsiologists Kuno Meyer, Harald Ehrenborg and John Sampson), was persuaded by Sampson and MacRitchie to revive the Society, or "set the old vardo in motion again", as the latter put it in a letter of 31 December 1906. Scott Macfie worked quickly, exploiting the Scottish connection he shared with MacRitchie to get a press notice about the revived Society into Scotia on 2 February 1907. By the end of March, he had arranged for the cover of the Journal to be the subject of one of The Studio's design competitions. Stationery bearing an early version of the Society's water-wagtail emblem was produced by the Chiswick Press. By June, Scott Macfie had exhausted his initial stock of stationery, and ordered more from Oxford University Press. The loss of the original block in the post gave him the opportunity to ask whether, "In making a new cut perhaps somebody who knows about wag-tails could correct the old design. I think it is too fat, and some people have criticised it for being sedate, whereas a Gypsy bird, they say, should be impertinent and lively." MacRitchie thanked Scott Macfie for "the animated and `raffish' wildfowl" he drew on letters in the interim, and the progress made by the Society and the first issue of the Journal can be measured by their demeanour. The new series of the Journal flourished under Scott Macfie's editorship until 1914, when he left to serve as Quartermaster-Sergeant with the Liverpool Scottish Regiment in the First World War. The Society was revived for a third series of the Journal in 1922, with Scott Macfie as official Editor from 1933, but his death on 9 June 1935 deprived him from celebrating its Jubilee in 1938.

  1. Circulars and circulation lists (April 1907-January 1908) relating to the revival of the Gypsy Lore Society
  2. Postcard (to H.T. Crofton) showing the original Chiswick Press wagtail
  3. A progress of wagtails on letters from Scott Macfie, May-July 1907
  4. Photographs of Scott Macfie and other members of the GLS
  5. Ticket and menu for the GLS Jubilee Dinner, 11 June 1938


Case 2: Augustus John and John Sampson

Discussing the revival of the Gypsy Lore Society with Scott Macfie in January 1907, David MacRitchie expressed his private opinion that "the primary duty of the society should be to publish Sampson's rich store of knowledge." Much of John Sampson's Romani scholarship appeared in this form, and the Society also advertised writings described by Dora Yates as `Sampson at play', for example his Omar Khayyam (1902). This translation into Welsh Romani of twenty-four quatrains of Fitzgerald's famous version of the poem appears on the list of approved books in the first issue of the new series of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society. The frontispiece is by Augustus John, who met Sampson, then Librarian of University College, when he came to Liverpool in the spring of 1901 to teach at the art school affiliated to the College. In his autobiography, John described the meeting as "one of the outstanding events of my life", which led to a friendship lasting until Sampson's death on 9 November 1931. At the ceremonial scattering of Sampson's ashes on the Welsh mountain Foel Goch, John was the obvious choice to recite the prefatory Romani verses and blessing from the Omar Khayyam. The special Sampson memorial issue of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society had as its frontispiece John's portrait of Sampson from c.1903, which is shown below alongside his caricature of Sampson. John also appeared in Sampson's work, for example in the Romani Poems which, although written many years before, were not published until 1931. They include `The apotheosis of Augustus John' and `To Ida J-', which was written by Sampson on the birth of Ida and John's son David in January 1902. The previous year, Sampson had published his Gypsy anthology, The Wind on the Heath, including the passage,`A Singular Personage' by John. The frontispieces for both books are reproductions of work by Augustus John.

  1. Sampson, Omar Khayyam (1902) with frontispiece by John. No. 1 of ten copies printed on vellum.
  2. Sampson, Wind on the Heath (1930) with frontispiece by John
  3. Romani Gilia, John Sampsoneste(1931) with frontispiece by John, letter from Ida John with Sampson's poem on the birth of her son, David
  4. Portrait of Sampson by John for commemorative issue of the JGLS, 1928 and caricature of Sampson (from the University Art Collections)
  5. Press cuttings showing Augustus John at Sampson's funeral


Case 3: Augustus John and the Gypsy Lore Society

Augustus John, like Scott Macfie, was drawn into the Gypsy Lore Society by John Sampson, serving as President 1937-1961. He enthusiastically adopted an Edwardian Gypsy lifestyle for himself and his family retinue, contributing to the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society songs, vocabularies and drawings of the Gypsies he met in his travels. These included the `Singular Personage' (described in Sampson's Gypsy anthology, The Wind on the Heath) who was a member of the group of Romanian `Coppersmith' GypsiesJohn had met in Marseilles in 1910; they camped in Liverpool and Birkenhead the following year. His drawing of them became the frontispiece to JGLS, new series, vol. 5 1911-12, with the title Calderari: Gypsies from the Caucasus. Scott Macfie commented approvingly, "it is Gypsy like to give misleading descriptions". Aware of the artistic and financial benefits John's illustrations brought to the Society, Scott Macfie was used to laying siege to procure them; in a letter of 21 May 1909, the request for a picture read, "As for subject - I have no ideas: I would rather like Fenella [Lovell] doing the last stage of the Salome dance before Lord Farrer with George Smith of Coalville's head on a tea-tray: but I suppose some gâjafied members would be offended - not that it would matter awfully much". John replied on 23 May, "Your suggestion of the subject is certainly most inspiriting. But I think I would like to do a kind of Gypsy Walpurgis Nacht but there is no reason why Fenella shouldn't be there too." Issued as the frontispiece to JGLS, n.s., 2 1908-09, it was entitled, Wandering Sinnte John also produced a self-portrait for the Jubilee issue of the Journalin 1938, for which occasion, on John's suggestion, the cover was produced in the Romany colours of black, red and yellow.

  1. Frontispiece by John in JGLS new series 2:1 1908-09 "Wandering Sinnte", with photograph of Fenella Lovell, 1911
  2. Letters from Scott Macfie to John, 18-19 Nov. 1912 discussing his Calderari illustration
  3. Frontispiece by John in JGLS new series 5:1 1911-12 Calderari, with photograph of Worsho Kokoiesco, Birkenhead, 1911
  4. Letter from John to Dora Yates Feb. 27 1938 on the cover design for the 1938 Jubilee issue of the JGLS
  5. Frontispiece self-portrait by John, and cover design for the JGLS, Jubilee issue 1938


Case 4: Picturing Gypsies

These volumes of pictures of Gypsies were regarded by Scott Macfie as one of the treasures of his collection, filled with "photographs of real Gypsies from everywhere on earth, engravings of artists' Gypsies such as have never been seen anywhere in the world, highly coloured illustrations of camps, and ancient woodcuts of the costume Gypsies wore of old." In the chapter `The Photograph' in his Gypsy Coppersmiths in Liverpool and Birkenhead (1913), he recalls producing them to show the visitors, the `Aristocrats of the Gipsy World' [1] - the Calderari of Augustus John's frontispiece for the Journal - depicted during their subsequent stay in London. They turned the leaves "indifferently, punctuating their talk with contemptuous exclamations of `Sinte' " until they reached the page of photographs shown [2] and a "somewhat mean picture-postcard which had reached me through several hands, but came originally from Lemberg in Galitsia. It represented a troop of elaborately costumed performers, whom I had always taken for `counterfeit Egyptians', dancing and playing huge accordions on an artistically decorated stage, and the subscription was `Gypsies from the Caucasus' ... `Our Roma,' they said, approvingly". The text in Scott Macfie's hand in the otherwise blank space explains that the postcard showed, amongst others, the brother of Tinka, the Romanian chief's wife, whom she had not seen for more than twenty years. Scott Macfie refused offers of "first a silver plate a foot in diameter, and then a great gold ring such as she herself wore" and removed the card to give to her, leaving "a blank space, of which I am prouder than of my rarest Callot".

  1. `Gypsy Cuttings book', a collection of Gypsy illustrations and newscuttings compiled by Scott Macfie, 1907-1914
  2. `Gypsy Pictures Vol. II', a collection of reproductions of drawings, paintings and engravings of Gypsies compiled by Scott Macfie, 1907-1914


Case 5: Scott Macfie as Collector (1)

The wide range of Scott Macfie's collecting activities can be seen in these examples from his book collection, which includes Victorian children's fiction, popular `yellowback' railway novels, folk-tales, and narratives of Gypsy life, in addition to philological, historical and legal texts across a wide span of dates and languages. Many of the works were presented to Scott Macfie by their authors and the evidence of his critical attention remains in the notes, word-lists and indexes he added, for example the manuscript Romani vocabulary at the end of his copy of Bercovici's Romany Chai. The cloth binding of the Borrow vocabulary, which was printed for private circulation, shows the traditional Romani colours of red, yellow and black. The bindings of many of the articles and pamphlets, and Scott Macfie's own copy of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, are stamped with his monogram and the rampant lion crest which also appears on the two bookplates designed for his collection. The 1898 design, which echoes the letter forms in Scott Macfie's signature, is possibly by Robert Anning Bell, a fellow member of the University Club; the 1921 design reflects his post-war "retirement" to Lunds in the Yorkshire Dales.

  1. Emma LESLIE The Gipsy Queen London [1884]
  2. Mrs Henry CLARKE Gipsy Dick London [1902]
  3. An English Gypsy Word-book; being George Borrow's Romany Vocabulary transposed London, 1889
  4. Charlotte Grace O'BRIEN Gipsy Marion London [1895]
  5. Konrad BERCOVICI A Romany Chai London [1933]
  6. Francis Hindes GROOME In Gipsy Tents Edinburgh, 1880
  7. John SAMPSON XXI Welsh Gypsy Folk-Tales Gregynog, 1933
  8. The Suffolk Gipsy, containing the real history of John H. Steggall ... narrated by himself London, 1856
  9. Irving BROWN Gypsy Fires in America New York, 1924


Case 6: Scott Macfie as Collector (2)

Collecting Gypsy songs is a major topic in Scott Macfie's correspondence with members of the Gypsy Lore Society, and many of his correspondents sent verses and notation they had gathered `in the field'; Scott Macfie himself organised Gypsy song recitals locally, for example in Southport in 1910, but the popular image of Gypsy song remains that portrayed on the music covers and music Scott Macfie collected together in the album shown below (1)

Countering this romantic view of Gypsies as part of a rural idyll are items from Scott Macfie's collection of edicts recording their persecution. The edict from Vienna (2) was published by Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor on 22 November 1689; the proclamation from Darmstadt (3) was published by Ernst Ludwig, Landgrave of Hesse on 11 October 1734. The text of the latter declares the Gypsies outlaws, ordering them to be shot dead after the lapse of a month, and offers rewards of six thalers for live and three thalers for dead Gypsies. Scott Macfie's collection of edicts against Gypsies includes two bound volumes, single sheets and manuscript copies of similar examples from Augsburg (1720), Augustusburg (1756), Berlin (1717), Bologna (1565, 1566, 1610), Bonn (1763, 1774), Brunswick (1597), Coburg (1732), Cologne (1596), Flanders (1785), Frankfurt-am-Main (1720, 1722, 1726, 1738, 1763), Magdeburg (1652), Neuburg (1720, 1766) and Nuremberg (1699).

  1. `Gypsy Music and Music Covers' a collection of Gypsy dances, songs with music and words, and music covers dated c.1845-1914 compiled by Scott Macfie
  2. } from a collection of single sheet edicts, compiled by Scott Macfie
  3. }