This exhibition is based on the collection of John Fraser (1836-1902) who was the Secretary of the printing and publishing department of Cope’s Tobacco Company in Liverpool from the 1860’s until about 1900. During this time not only did Fraser amass a collection of books and pamphlets relating to the history of tobacco, but he also collected together examples of the advertising material produced between 1870 and 1894 under his direction. To promote Cope’s tobacco products Fraser drew on the talents of the artist John Wallace (1841-1903) and a group of writers including James Thomson (1834 -1882) and Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947) to produce posters, the literary review Cope’s Tobacco Plant, and a series of Smoke Room Booklets.
In the selection of items exhibited the advertising material presents smoking as ‘an essential social habit’ enjoyed to its fullest extent by the informed connoisseur taking time to savour ‘the soothing weed’, while the books and pamphlets embody several centuries of debate between the opponents and advocates of tobacco.
I would like to extend my thanks for their help to my colleagues in Special Collections and Archives, Ian Qualtrough and Suzanne Yee of the Graphics Unit, and the staff of the University Art Collections, Ann Compton, Matthew Clough, and Carol Clarke for hosting this exhibition.
Dr Maureen Watry, Head of Special Collections and Archives, May 2002
John Fraser (1836-1902) was a native of Wick, Scotland, but in his youth he moved to Liverpool and during the 1860’s took up employment as the secretary of the printing and publishing department at Cope’s Tobacco Factory, Lord Nelson Street, Liverpool. Fraser’s book collection reflects several lifelong passions including Scottish literature, positivist philosophy, phrenology, bee-keeping, and tobacco.
In 1900 Fraser seems to have made a decision to refine and focus his collection by selling, among others, twenty-one of the limited editions published by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press which were some of the most highly prized books by the collectors of the day. Fraser’s books realised a total of 426 pounds, 18 shillings and 6 pence that he appears to have invested in adding more tobacco-related material to his collection. Indeed of the two thousand books and pamphlets in the collection almost half, ranging in date from 1574-1901, is devoted to every aspect of tobacco. The concentration of books in this field is an indication not only of Fraser’s passion for the subject but also his enthusiasm for his work at Cope’s. In his role as the editor for Cope’s Tobacco Plant (1870-1881), Fraser regularly mined his collection for poems and references for this monthly periodical devoted to tobacco.
The great debate concerning the use and abuse of tobacco is well represented in John Fraser’s collection. Beginning with James I many of the anti-tobacco publications expressed both medical and moral arguments against the use of tobacco. By the end of the nineteenth century anti- and pro-tobacco writers found themselves united with social reformers against juvenile smoking, a problem that was addressed specifically in the Children’s Act of 1908 which prohibited the sale of tobacco to those under sixteen years of age.
The pro-smoking publications especially those of the Victorian period stressed the historical, scientific, and literary contexts of tobacco use and were aimed at a fellowship of smokers who shared the experience of ‘the divine weed’.
Thomas Cope (1826-1884) and his brother George began manufacturing cigars in Liverpool in 1848. By 1876 Cope’s Tobacco Factory in Lord Nelson Street employed some 2,000 workers including 1,500 women. The Co-operative News for 26 August 1876 reported with some admiration that the women workers at Cope’s were responsible for making thirty-six million cigars a year. Cope’s were proud of the factory and the working conditions including a series of free evening classes where women workers could learn to cook ‘simple dishes, cheap, nutritious and palatable’. In the first class in September 1875 the instructor Mrs Thwaites cooked ‘sea pie, Australian (i.e. tinned) meat pie, and treacle pudding’. A month later additional classes were conducted in St George’s Hall for ‘women in a better position than wives of the artisan class’ who could pay a fee. As well as recording the success of this Liverpool School of Cookery John Fraser’s scrapbook of press cuttings includes accounts by various visitors to the factory, that ‘great establishment for the production of the soothing weed’. Many visitors commented on Cope’s ‘well appointed printing and lithographic office where they produce their own showcards and labels’. From 1870 this office, under John Fraser’s management, also produced Cope’s Tobacco Plant and many full-colour lithographic posters designed by the artist John Wallace.
Not content to fill Cope’s Tobacco Plant and the Smoke Room Booklets with nuggets of tobacco lore reprinted from old and new books John Fraser commissioned a number of writers to produce articles and poetry for his publications. Perhaps the two best-known writers commissioned by Fraser were James Thomson (1834 -1882) and Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947). Thomson was introduced to Fraser by William MacCall, himself a contributor to the Tobacco Plant. From 1875 Thomson provided articles on a number of subjects including tobacco smuggling, tobacco legislation, Ben Jonson, and George Meredith, as well as reviews of books. Thomson described the Tobacco Plant as ‘one of the most daring and original publications of the day, a periodical which actually loves literature, though it has to make this subordinate to the Herb Divine’. With reference to John Fraser Thomson wrote: ‘the editor is an admirable one to have dealings with; payment is fair and regular’. Richard Le Gallienne, a native of Liverpool, was introduced to Fraser by Walter Lewin in 1889. Le Gallienne had already privately published a book of poems, My Ladies Sonnets, in 1887 and was a reviewer for The Academy. Le Gallienne’s work for Fraser included poems, an introductory piece on Carlyle, and other literary work for several of Cope’s Smoke Room Booklets. In 1892 Le Gallienne moved to London and took up the position of reader for Elkin Mathews and John Lane at the Bodley Head, probably the most fashionable publishing house of the 1890’s.
As a bibliophile Fraser collected examples of the ‘new ideals in printing’ from the private presses and publishers such as the Bodley Head and Heinemann. He allied Cope’s publications with these luxury items by producing the Smoke Room Booklets in large paper copies and to amuse the discerning collector he also parodied the advertisements of publishers known for their ‘artistic’ publications.
These fourteen pocket–sized booklets published between 1890 and 1894 contained a mixture of articles that initially appeared in Cope’s Tobacco Plant and specially commissioned pieces. The first in the series was a reprint of The Smoker’s Textbook by John Hamer. In addition to the ordinary edition some of the titles were published in a deluxe edition printed on handmade paper that bore the Cope’s jester as a watermark. With reference to these fine productions the prospectus for the Smoke Room Booklets included the following note: ‘an edition on English hand-made paper with special copyright watermark, wide margins, edges uncut…will be issued for that choice and select band known variously as booklovers, bookworms, bibliophiles, bibliomaniacs…who would never desecrate a book or waste their time by reading it. This edition will be strictly limited and each copy authenticated by at least one real printer’s thumb mark without which none are genuine’. The thirteenth Smoke Room Booklet is devoted to Ruskin. Fraser, an admirer of John Ruskin’s work, had reviewed Fors Clavigera in Cope’s Tobacco Plant commenting that: ‘We can easily imagine how many cigars would have smoked more pleasantly, and how their perfume would have been enriched, had they been associated with the perusal of Mr Ruskin’s pages’. Unfortunately, this ‘guide to the study of Fors Clavigera’ with an introduction by Walter Lewin became a source of some difficulty for Fraser when Ruskin sued Cope’s for infringement of copyright. Cope’s agreed to withdraw all copies of the booklet from circulation and no other action was taken. The defending barrister noted that ‘Mr Ruskin is a non-smoker and that may perhaps have made him a little more bitter against the Defendants’.
A scrapbook of press cuttings collected by John Fraser for a decade from 1870 contains a number of articles that describe visits paid by journalists to Cope’s Tobacco Factory. A visitor from The Glasgow News in July 1880 gave the following account of the exterior: ‘Viewed from Lime Street one gets sight of a solid substantial building, three storeys high, whose front presents an architectural harmony of plinths, corbels, architraves, mouldings, wooden doors, and large lofty windows…The end next to Lime Street is ornamented with a handsome tower, rising up to a considerable height above the parapet of the main building and covered by a high-pitched slated roof, on which there is placed a spirelet, surmounted by a large weather vane. The entrance doorway is on the Lord Nelson Street side of the tower, the space over the entrance is divided into three panels, and is filled in with sgraffito work , which Messrs. Trollope & Sons, of London, are making so popular in architecture throughout the country.’
In October 1875 a journalist from The Sheffield Post had visited the ‘massive and imposing building’ of Cope’s on Lord Nelson Street and after touring the tobacco store, the cavendish press and roll spinning room, the cutting room, the stoving room, and the packing room, he reached the cigar-making room which he described in some detail as:
‘A large well-ventilated and well lighted room, in which upwards of a thousand respectably attired girls are seated at long rows of low tables busily making cigars…pleasant snatches of melody arise from various parts of the spacious room. Talking and even singing are allowed, but…work is not neglected. The workers are paid piece work…Each girl is furnished with so much leaf to make a hundred cigars…the worker takes a certain quantity of leaf and rolls it with her hands into a rough shape: this is the “fillings” or inside of a cigar. Then…she cuts a strip of more perfect leaf and winds it round as a sort of wrapper… Cope Bros. have patented and adopted an excellent contrivance for getting exact uniformity of size and shape in their cigars. After the cigars are made by hand they are put in these moulds and kept for some time in a press…the ends are then cut off by means of a gauge, and then they are sent to the foreman who inspects them and casts out any inferior samples. These are deducted from the number sent in, and the remainder are placed to the credit of the workwoman…Exceedingly good wages are earned by some of these girls, the more expert of them averaging 25s. and sometimes 27s. per week.
From 1874 Cope’s published a card issued free to subscribers to the Tobacco Plant, and usually published in February. Designed by John Wallace the cards were large, full colour lithographs depicting a topical or fanciful scene peopled with caricatures of politicians and celebrities. A key to the figures, including an explanation in prose or poetry, was also issued for those wishing to derive full enjoyment from a card.
Although intended for Christmas 1873 the first card was published in February 1874. The genial form of Father Christmas is shown smoking ‘two monstrous meerschaum pipes…carved in the semblance of human faces significant of the highest stages of satirical enjoyment’. The key explained that the card shows ‘the world’s chiefs gathered for one amicable hour in the wigwam of nations’. The anti-tobaccoites are tormented by a jester, a knight, and imps while caricatures of artists, writers, and politicians make up ‘the panorama of the pipe fumes’.
The card issued in 1875 took the form of a calendar. The key explains that ‘Old Time…the perennial sage enfolds the world in the blue, curling fumes from his peace pipe’ and Disraeli is ‘the great god Pan’ who ‘charms all nature with his tuneful pipes’. Around the edge of the card is ‘the borderland of living biography’ that ‘lies just outside the full charm of Pan’s bewitching pipes’. The central scene shows ‘the magic circle where all are ruled, whether they will or not, by the sweet influences of Benjamin Disraeli’.
‘Cope’s Arctic Card’ issued in February 1877 shows in its border ‘in vivid allegory, the history of the many expeditions that in former days have striven for the Arctic Prize’. The main scene depicts the celebration as the artist imagined it would have been if Sir George Nares had enjoyed a successful expedition and ‘brought the pole home’. The commentary on this card in the Tobacco Plant concluded by stating that: ‘for ourselves, we could be content if the expedition, failing in all else, had but realised the little picture that “Pipeshank” has drawn at the foot of his cartoon. It were pleasant to think of our old Friend the Anti-Tobaccoite left behind in the Silent North, in the congenial company of the Walrus and the Polar Bear. The artist is right – the Bear would be by far the jollier member of the select society. He might “pipe” but our Anti would never dance’.
‘The Peerless Pilgrimage to Saint Nicotine of the Holy Herb’ shows sixty-five modern pilgrims on their way to Saint Nicotinus, ‘with smile ineffable, and full of blandest benison…with pipes galore, and snuff-box near his heart; with fragrant circlet of the golden cloud around his kindly brows’.
Fraser’s collection of books and printed ephemera is complemented by a small number of prints depicting those engaged in the act of smoking. Of the two selected for display one is a print, ‘The Joys of Smoking’, from the seventeenth century after a painting by David Teniers, and the other is a nineteenth century print presenting the scene of one of Sir Walter Raleigh's servants throwing a jug of water over his master as he was smoking.