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This is a random selection of about a quarter of the 400 folkish illustrations which we have on line. If you want to see them all put in the keywords ILLUSTRATION and CUSTOM on our website. We have many more on file but not scanned. Collections has been collecting these since we began photographing customs in 1963 and about half are from our own collection. The other half is from the wonderful EFDSS library, and there are a few from the library of an old friend. They all come from books and magazines and individual prints picked up from bookshops and market stalls. We do not claim that there are any undiscovered gems here; most of the images will be familiar to hardcore folklorists. However it is unusual to see them all together.

Brian writes: This is very much my personal interest. I have always been intrigued to see proof that these customs really do ‘go back a hundred years’ and more, and to see how they have or haven’t changed. Most of the illustrations here are nineteenth century, but many are copies of much earlier works. People go on about copyright now but it was already a well established custom then for lazy engravers simply to trace existing images onto a new block and produced their own version. It is sometimes possible to trace several versions getting worse and worse each time. On the other hand some copies were perfectly legitimate. It was normal for artists to have copy engravings made of their paintings for sale to a wider public. They were a relatively cheap, but respectable, way to acquire an ‘old master’ and many of us will remember them on our grandparents’ walls. Hogarth did particularly well with his ‘Rake’s Progress’. Also printers used to lend, or hire, blocks or plates to each other, with the result that exactly the same illustrations appeared in several publications.

All the scans on this website were done by me, so some explanations are necessary. After some experimentation I decided to do them to resemble artists proofs on white paper, regardless of the original. The originals were printed on anything except white paper but I have managed to get rid of foxing, show-through, ink-spread and other ravages of the ageing process to produce pretty consistent results. However there is a slight loss of finer detail with copper engravings. Life is full of compromises, but I hope the artists would have been happy enough with them...

I am aware that in academic circles the dimensions of the original images is more important than the images themselves but in this website they are much too boring to include. They all look about the same size here but the printed originals vary from a tailpiece less than an inch wide to twenty inch double page magazine spreads.

I would like to pay tribute to the artistry and incredible skill of the people who created these illustrations. The likes of Rowlandson, Ackermann and Cruikshank are very well known but I hadn’t come across Isaac Taylor before. His work is sharp and funny, and his children much more convincing than the idealised little dears created by everyone else...