Celebrity branding and merchandising has a long history not confined to the period after 1900, and there is even evidence for it embedded in parish collections. The celebrities in question, though, may not be ones who spring immediately to mind.
Overseers of the poor accounts often survive in robust, well-bound books, but they may have been kept more informally in the first instance, on scraps of paper or in flimsy notebooks. Tettenhall overseers used this method, and kept discrete workhouse accounts for at least two years in the 1820s in what look like paper-covered exercise books. The two surviving books feature extracts of popular verse and fairly crude accompanying images (that is to say, crude in execution not subject matter).
The first notebook is covered in coarse dark-blue paper, and features stanzas from the popular eighteenth-century poem ‘The Diverting History of John Gilpin’ by William Cowper (1731-1800). Gilpin was a linen draper who was alleged to have been the Captain of a London ‘trained band’, in other words one of the men who defended London in the cause of Parliament during the English Civil War. The poem, though, is not a serious consideration of republicanism but a comic story of a wedding anniversary celebration gone awry. Gilpin found himself undertaking a ride from Cheapside to Ware and back again at break-neck pace, losing his hat, wig and cloak (twice) in the process.
The final stanza reads
|Now let us sing, Long live the King!|
|And Gilpin, long live he!|
|And when he next doth ride abroad|
|May I be there to see!|
thereby mocking Gilpin’s republican sympathies and bringing him firmly back into line with a restored monarchy.
The second exercise book is more generic, featuring a short piece of doggerel verse and a picture reminiscent of a Quality Street tin.
Apart from overseers, who bought items like these? They carry few clues to alternative uses. The second notebook, though, features on the back cover a conversion table of income giving weekly, monthly and annual incomes from 1d up to £2. This suggests that they were not exercise books for use by children, but account books for business owners or employers. This arguably makes these choices of cover decoration notably quirky.