Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Back to Baxter

A few months ago we were contacted by Mic Relf of the New George Baxter Society. He was keen to trace the missing 'George Baxter and his Methods' chapter from My Life's Medley. After some correspondence Mic asked if he could use some of the information on this site for a forthcoming presentation at the Society's AGM. Mic's knowledge of Baxter is superb and his work has filled in many a blank hole in our own knowledge. He was also kind enough to send us the illustrations that accompanied his presentation.

"The Printing company of Vincent Brooks is best known to ourselves for the ‘official’ republishing of Baxter’s prints in the mid 1860’s on presses that Baxter had lent them, managed by George Baxter Jr and under the supervision of George Baxter himself.

‘Vincent Brooks’ the company that we know was run by Vincent Robert Alfred Brooks (1815 – 1885) but we can’t overlook the influence of his son Fredrick Vincent Brooks (1848 – 1921) who joined the company during the company’s close association with George Baxter.

Vincent Brooks father was John Brooks a Bookseller and Stationer, who had set up business at 421 Oxford Street, London about 1813. He mixed in the literary circles publishing books by Shelley, Lamb, Coleridge and others. His wife, an amateur actress of some distinction and great beauty, was painted by the well-known artist Charles Hayter.

About 1820 John Brooks became interested in politics and was actively involved in the activities that bought about the Reform Bill in 1832 (giving voting rights to middle class-men over 21) and then the Chartist Movement, which demanded voting rights for all men over 21.

He was obviously an activist and one of his riskier activities was printing a poster, which was later held to be seditious (stirring up rebellion against the government) entitled:

The idea was to cause a run on the Bank of England and to stop the political efforts of the Duke of Wellington who was out to stop the Reform Bill being passed. A few years later he was approached to be a Constable but when being sworn in at Westminster Court he continually refused to swear on the bible and was fined £8.

His son, our Vincent Robert Alfred Brooks was born on October the 25th 1815.
After his schooling he worked for a short period with a firm of Artist Colourmans before joining and then taking over his father’s printing company about 1843 aged 28. Some time before 1851 his father had left the business and took his family to Jersey.

Vincent Brooks’s first colour efforts were on show at The Great Exhibition 1851. Interestingly Day & Son, who, we will see, Vincent Brooks would take over in 1867, were prize medal winners at the same Exhibition. A short while after he moved the business to 40, King Street, Covent Garden.

In 1855 he was conducting a Lithographic class for Ladies at Marlborough House, Prince Albert had arranged for it to be used as the National Art Training School later to become the Royal College of Art. Here he came to the attention of the Queen, Prince Consort and the Princess Royal and was entrusted to produce the Princess’ own picture “Dying Soldier on the Battle Field” in aid of the Patriotic Fund.

In 1857 Leighton Bros left Red Lion Square and Vincent Brooks took over part of their business. In 1859 the business moved again this time to 1, Chandos Street and in the 1862 Exhibition Vincent Brooks won a Gold medal for his Lithograph of Mulready’s ‘The Wedding Garment’.

In 1864 Vincent Brooks acquired plant and premises of Messrs J.S.Hodson & Son of High Street Lambeth and he embarked in letterpress and colour block printing. Hodson’s process was based on W. Dickes method and Hodson’s son was apprenticed to Leighton. One of Hodson’s principal customers was Mr Edward Whymper who, though by trade a Wood Engraver, was subsequently much better known as a Mountaineer and Lecturer. Mr Whymper’s work at the time chiefly consisted of coloured illustrations for the frontispieces of ‘The Leisure Hour’ and ‘Sunday at Home’.

At this stage shall I introduce you to the son, Frederick Vincent Brooks. Born on December 21st 1848 in the same room at, his Grandfathers house, 421 Oxford Street that his father had been born 33 years earlier, he was christened at the Parish Church, St. Ann’s, Soho, coincidentally the same church where up to only a few years ago the New Baxter Society held all their AGM’s in the Allen Room.

Frederick was schooled in various establishments but in 1862 we find him at the
High School at Bishop Stortford (only 20 odd miles from this AGM venue). A couple of stories came from his schooling with interesting colour printing connections.

In 1863 Frederick won a book as a school prize, it was entitled “Wild Sports of the World” with coloured plates by W. Dickes, one of George Baxter’s licensees. Frederick stated “I was very proud to be able to point out to the principal, Dr. Goodman, that the maps were engraved by my father”. Another book was won on Speech Day of 1864 entitled “A Chronicle of England” by Doyle, a well-known book illustrated with some of the best work by the colour printer Edmund Evans.

In 1865 he befriended Cecil Rhodes, who was only 12 years old at the time, later to be founder of the diamond company De Beers and the South African politician, his father being vicar and visitor of the school.

Frederick won a scholarship to Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge but he didn’t take this up as “my education was cut short in consequence of my father’s urgent need for help in his business”.

This must have been about 1866 and Fredrick states “Perhaps the most interesting work was going on at Lambeth as at the time my father was printing many of the ‘Baxter subjects”

Let me now take you back a couple of years to 26th & 27th July 1864 – George Baxter had held his 2nd unsuccessful auction of prints, plates and plant in 4 years which made him announce that “The entire series of these highly popular pictures are now in process of republishing by George Baxter, The inventor and Patentee, 12 Northampton Square London EC”. Within 6 months on 14th January 1865 he declared himself bankrupt so output of this series with labels on the reverse, where they can be found, must be small.

Vincent Brooks then purchased many of Baxter’s plates and printed them using Baxter’s presses which he had lent him on the understanding that George Baxter Jr took up the management of them and that George Baxter himself supervised the work. Everyone counts these Vincent Brooks printings as genuine George Baxter prints.

There are two known Vincent Brooks adverts stating “Republication of Baxter’s Celebrated Oil Prints”. The first states published by Vincent Brooks so must have been issued somewhere between the date of purchase of the plates and March 1867 i.e. the date Vincent Brooks took over Day & Son. Then the second slightly shorter list stating published by Vincent Brooks Day & Son, which would date it between March 1867 and Aug 1868 when the plates were sold.

Labels can be found on the back of these Vincent Brooks printings but they are very rare and only seem to be found on a few different subjects. By the time Vincent Brooks Day & Son were republishing Baxter prints after March 1867 it was without the benefit of George Baxter senior who had died in Jan of that year, after having an accident the previous November.

On both these lists are two interesting prints – new items not previously published by Baxter himself, “Miniature designs - The New Ten” showing the Princess Helena and Prince Christian, Courtney Lewes says this dates the printing to before June 1866 as they were married in July 1866 and would then have been described as Prince and Princess Christian. Prince of Wales and Queen Alexandre were married in 1863 so possibly could have been designed anytime between 1863 and June 1866. Was George Baxter involved in the original design?

The second item is the “soon to be published, The Tired Soldier”, interestingly the copy at Lewes Town Hall that we saw at the summer meeting is noted in pencil “printed (or presented) by my nephew Mr G Baxter 1867' (that would be George Baxter Jr).

So when did Vincent Brooks buy the plates? Courtney Lewes states it must have been by 1866 but he also states these plates were “thought to be stock held back from Bankruptcy (January 1865) OR sold before” so it could have been as early as late 1864, just a few months after Baxter’s own republishing. This is also ties in with George Baxter Jr who, in a letter in 1875 states “at the end of four years Vincent Brooks found the business did not pay… and I should have to leave and obtain a buyer for the plant” Le Blond bought the plates and blocks about August 1868 which could again date the purchase of the plates to 1864.

When Vincent Brooks purchased the “celebrated business of Day & Son Limited” that had gone into liquidation in 1867 it is interesting to note that he was financially assisted by Mr Henry Graves the Printseller of Pall Mall. This Mr Graves is also directly connected to George Baxter as at some stage he acquired and printed in monochrome the plates of ‘The Opening of Parliament’ and ‘The Coronation of Queen Victoria’. It has always been presumed he purchased them from George Baxter but perhaps he received them via Vincent Brooks who might have decided not to republish them himself, they were not included on either of his republishing lists and it has always been assumed he never had them.

At this stage I mention Day & Son, a celebrated company in their own right. William Day, senior, was a lithographer as early as 1823 and by 1825 was at 59 Great Queen Street. Interestingly he described himself as 'Successor to Rowney Forster', a firm of artists' colourmen who are today known as Daler–Rowney the major manufacturer of artist mount board.

By 1829, they had moved to 17 Gate Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, where they remained until Vincent Brooks moved into the premises in 1867, coincidentally this is only 100 yards from where the Society holds its committee meetings, we must have walked right past it so many times.

From 1833, the firm was frequently referred to as 'Day and Haghe' due to the popularity of the work that Louis Haghe, the Belgian draughtsman and watercolourist, did for William Day. It is not certain whether this was an official nomenclature or not.

They were “Lithographers to the King” and shortly after 'Lithographers to Queen Victoria and to the Queen Dowager, Queen Adelaide' as early as 1837 and when
William Day died in 1845, his son, William junior, carried on the business changing the name to Day and Son. They were awarded one of only four 'prize medals' for their display of colour lithography at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

It is not noted why Day & Son went into liquidation. They were the largest and most prominent lithographic firms especially known for the quality of their work and in many ways had a better standing than Vincent Brooks themselves.

On 3rd August 1868 Vincent Brooks, through George Baxter Jr, sold all Baxter’s plates and blocks to Le Blond, George Baxter Jr then Vincent Brooks’s employment.

Between 1869 and 1906 Vincent Brooks printed their well-known ‘Vanity Fair’ caricatures starting with Benjamin Disraeli.

By 1871 it is noted in records that Vincent Brooks employed 168 men and 40 boys.

There is a further Baxter connection when in 1885 Vincent Brooks acquired the remaining part of Leighton Bros. On the 29th Sept 1885 Vincent Brooks died and was buried at Wandsworth Cemetery but the business which had been successfully run by Frederick for many years went on to further successes.
In the early 1920’s they can be found at Parker Street, Kingsway as this interesting photograph illustrates.

1923 saw the centenary of this successful Lithographic house and one of the speakers was the then, Baxter Society President, Courtney Lewes who “responded in amusing an interesting fashion, recalling many facts connected with the introduction of Lithography into London and referred especially to the work of George Baxter in regard to which Mr Lewes is an authority.”

They were successful printers throughout the 20th century and appear to have printed many Railway and travel posters which are greatly sought after. Vincent Brooks Day & Son were taken over by Banyard Press in 1960.

So where did all this information come from? Courtney Lewes’ The Picture Printer, Baxter Society Journals, Baxter Times and The Centenary Baxter Book and also a new source a website I recently stumbled across.

Simon Vincent Brooks (Vincent Brooks’ great, great, great grand son) had recently discovered an old manuscript in his grandfathers house, he soon discovered that it was the autobiography of Frederick Brooks and promptly published it on the Internet. Chapter V was titled George Baxter and his Methods – I thought - this is going to be the only known account of how George Baxter produced his prints. Unfortunately, although Frederick knew enough about the subject and felt it important enough to warrant its own chapter it doesn’t appear that he ever got round to writing it. All the same I greatly appreciate Frederick’s and then Simon’s [and Laura’s] hard work to give us much new information."

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