“Cries of London” in the Thordarson Collection

August 14, 2017

While our Thordarson Collection is perhaps best known for its holdings of science and natural history on the one hand and Iceland on the other, as in our current exhibit, it also contains much by way of illustrations of English history and life in London. So, for example, the volume with spine title “London Cries” (and thanks to my colleague Susan Barribeau for pointing it out).

It’s a slim volume, handsomely bound in polished calf (call number: Thordarson T 4883).

Spine and front cover of “Cries of London.” From the Thordarson Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The illustrations, with captions at the bottom, are themselves mounted on paper frames, and highlight day-to-day trades and services in London. Why “cries”? These popular illustrated prints, which began to appear as early as the 17th century, memorialized those in London – and elsewhere – who hawked their wares with what became familiar cries. (Think “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o” in “Dublin’s fair city.”)

Herewith, a sample:

“Nice flowers madam.”
“Images, very pretty! Very fine.”
“Green and large cucumbers.”
“Sweep, sweep!”
“New almanacks new, some lies & some true.”
“Eels! Live Eels.”
“Come buy my fine singing birds.”

For more about the genre, see such accounts as Sean Shesgreen, “The first London Cries,” in Print quarterly, 10:4 (1993), available in JSTOR, and the British Library’s exploration of such illustrated series as “The itinerant traders of London” by artist William Marshall Craig. We await receipt as well of The Gentle Author’s Cries of London (2015).