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Baxter’s Crystal Palace Exterior – An interesting label - To the Doorkeepers of the Crystal Palace
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1) Baxter's print - Crystal Palace No 1 Exterior 2) The unusual label on the reverse 3) A view of Baxter's stand at the Crystal Palace from Courtney Lewis' His Life and Work 4) A view of the Stationary Court seemingly showing most exhibits are now in glass cases - Art Journal for September 1st 1856

In February 2022 I purchased at auction a copy Baxter’s ‘Crystal Palace No 1, The Exterior with an interesting label on the reverse:

This parcel contains a View of THE CRYSTAL PALACE by Baxter, the inventor and Patentee of Oil Colour Picture Printing, and may be taken from the Palace at ANY HOUR OF THE DAY
By Order of the Directors

(Thomas Belshaw was the Superintendent of the Exhibitors Department 1852-1855)

I knew the item was very rare but that it might not be unique as I remember a reference to something the same or at least very similar being shown at the ‘Six of the Best’ New Baxter Society exhibition in July 1998. I chatted to the society member who exhibited that piece and he confirmed that the wording was identical but perhaps his label was stuck to the back of the frame rather than the print.

When I looked closely at the label it appears to be on very thin paper the label showing rippling and creasing and had been stuck to the back of the print in, perhaps, an amateur fashion. Part of Baxter’s embossed seal had been trimmed from the mount, presumably for framing, so although the title was visible the additional wording ‘Published and sold by special desire of the directors by George Baxter at the Crystal Palace’ was missing. As the label was affixed centrally to the back of the print it indicating to me that the label had been stuck down after the mount had been trimmed. The wording of the label “This parcel contains” also implies that this label was meant to be a single sheet ‘flyer’ rather than stuck to the back of the print and would explain why the only other known copy might be on the back of the frame rather than the actual print.

The label is very specific to this print or possibly Baxter’s proposed series of Crystal Palace views and infers that the holder of this flyer gave them permission to remove this parcel, containing the print, past the doorkeepers and out of the Crystal Palace. On discussing this with another collector it seems that their view was that all sorts of items were sold at the Crystal Palace. If that was the case why would you need a label to take this print out of the building and again why specific to this print, if the label was needed for all of Baxter’s print sales, wouldn’t the label be more generic?

The whole subject surrounding this label needed further research and I called upon the assistance of Melvyn Harrison, the chairman of the Crystal Palace Foundation, who was incredibly helpful and both of us spent many hours over the next few weeks discussing the new research we had found. The foundation hadn’t really studied the exhibitors in this depth before and we discussed what this label could be as well as Baxter in general including his house in Sydenham ‘The Retreat’ which was literally just up the road to newly opened Crystal Palace.

One thing that became apparent is that although there is a wealth of information known and written about the Crystal Palace this information spans the whole 82 years of its life before it was burnt to the ground in 1936. During that period things would have changed constantly and trying to find out exactly how the Palace operated at a certain time of its life, let alone just in the first few months, is near impossible. A picture has to be created from the various bits of information found about this short period of the life of the Palace that we are interested in.

The Crystal Palace building was originally designed by Joseph Paxton for the Great Exhibition of 1851. This building was never intended to remain in Hyde Park, part of the original agreement was that it had to be removed and the grounds reinstated once the exhibition was over.

Even before 1851 the good and mighty of the land wanted to ensure that our national monuments and their contents be retained in their best state to “afford facilities to the public for inspecting works of art located in those various edifices, with a view to their moral and intellectual improvement.” The middle classes greatly supported this philosophy that exposing the working classes to art and education as they felt it would give them the ability to ‘improve’ themselves. The 1851 Great Exhibition was a perfect opportunity, although sadly many people who only had Sundays off were unable to attend as the Lords Day Observance Society was set against the exhibition being open on a Sunday. Not everyone was so keen on the exhibition, some of the gentry thinking it would bring ‘the wrong types’ into the area.

On 29th April 1852, as reported in Hansard, Parliament discussed what would happen to the now closed exhibition building. The report said that “The middle classes were in favour of, and the aristocratic classes were against, the retention of the Crystal Palace”. One reason given for the latter’s view in this report is that when it was in Hyde Park it ruined their riding in Rotten Row! The motion for that debate was "That a Select Committee be appointed, to consider the preservation of the Crystal Palace, or the central portion thereof, with a view to its applicability to purposes of public instruction and recreation". Interestingly, on that day they voted against the motion 102 to 221.

Obviously further discussions were held and on 18th August 1852 a Royal Charter was applied for and then granted in December of that year for the Crystal Palace Company. Joseph Paxton, a gardener designer who had gained experience of building substantial greenhouses at Chatsworth, was an ideal candidate to design the original Great Exhibition building. Perhaps he saw this as his ‘baby’ and was instrumental in setting up The Crystal Palace Company, arranging the purchase of the now redundant building and its transfer to land purchased from his good friend Leo Schuster, 389 acres of Penge Place. Schuster and some of the other founding directors of the company were also directors of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway who foresaw the great profit opportunities that transporting the many thousands of people to the Palace gave them.

Although the exhibition was due to open in 1853 work was delayed, not helped by a strong religious contingent in the area who objected to the ‘nudity’ on show and for several months sculptors worked creating ‘fig leaves’ for the many statues on display. The opening date was changed to 10 May 1854 but was again delayed. The Exhibition was eventually opened on the 10th June 1854. A Supplemental Royal Charter was granted on 11th August 1854 revoking the provision of the previous Charter not allowing the selling of alcohol.

Baxter took stand 20 in the Stationery Court, a photograph of that appeared in Courtney Lewis’s 1908 book ‘George Baxter his Life and Work’ (Fig 3). Baxter published three prints of the Palace, the first, the print in question ‘Gems of the Crystal Palace No 1 – The Exterior’ was published 10th June 1854, the day of opening, the second The Pompeian Court is not dated but an advert in August 1854 states "Now publishing, No. 2, The Pompeian Court, on a large scale. 7s. 6d." Crystal Palace and Gardens was published on 30th October 1854 although Courtney Lewis states some were dated 28th October. He also states that in some catalogues Baxter referred to this print as "Baxter's Gems of the Crystal Palace No. 3. The Exterior and Gardens, from the Railway." So it seems obvious that Baxter intended to create a similar series of views as he had done for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

In ‘A Guide to the Palace & Park by Samuel Phillips Published by Crystal Palace Library 1854’ Baxter advertises “that he has in preparation a series of views of the Exterior and Interior of the Crystal Palace including faithful representations of the Egyptian, Pompeian and other courts”, the series was not completed. Only Gems No 1 is now referred to by its number as it is titled as such on Baxter’s embossed mount but only two months later, on publishing the Pompeian Court, the number series seems have to been dropped from the embossed title, the same for Crystal Palace & Gardens. Baxter prepared the steel plate for the Egyptian Court (wrongly titled by Courtney Lewis as Assyrian Court), which presumably was going to be No 4 in the series but it was never published and the only known impressions are in monochrome from Mockler’s reprints from Baxter’s plates in 1894.

You can see from these dates that all three of Baxter’s prints on the subject were published within four and a half months of opening of the Palace and nothing afterwards. A Baxter advert for his works in Dec 1854 lists Crystal Palace and Gardens but not the other two prints and majors on his now complete book The Gems of the Great Exhibition (1851). I feel that Baxter, along with much of the public, lost interest in The Crystal Palace quite soon after it was opened and Baxter’s substantial stall couldn’t have been there for long. Courtney Lewis states that it was the Crimean War, which ran from Oct 1853 to March 1856, that took interest away from the exhibition which is most probably partially true but I think there is more to it than that.

To give you a feeling for the Crystal Palace in the first few months of opening here is a brief background, much gained from reading many newspapers and periodicals of the day. The Crystal Palace Foundation ( state the 1851 building had cost £150,000 to construct, in comparison, just 3 years later, the building now removed and greatly enlarged had cost £1,300,000 - £800,000 over budget resulting in debt that the company who had purchased the building could never pay back.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 had made a profit of £186,000 (Wikipedia) a fantastic return on the £150,000 outlay in under 6 months. Not surprising that the directors of the new company, especially those directors that also ran the local railway company, easily managed to raise the initial £500,000 required to purchase the land and building and move it to its new location. Perhaps it was Paxton’s zeal that made them decide to enlarge what was already a vast building. They also laid out extensive grounds, including fountains that never worked until Brunel built new water towers two years later and of course, Waterhouse Hawkins’s concrete dinosaurs that are still there today. Routledge’s Guide to the Crystal Palace and Parks published in 1854 states that a total of £225,974 alone was spent on the gardens including water towers, hydraulic works, fountains, lakes, artesian wells, park and terraces. All items not required when the building was in Hyde Park in 1851.

Their original £500,000 was used up before it was even half completed and the company had to raise the unexpected £800,000 additional monies, which, according to inflation calculator would be equivalent to £68,361,000 as at Aug 2022.

I can see that initially their ideal was to replicate the 1851 exhibition, without the international exhibitors, but on a more permanent basis. Entrance fees alone should have been enough to give them a handsome return after only a few years but the £800,000 of additional debt must have focused their attention on every profit opportunity.

We know, not surprisingly, that the company never published their exhibitor’s rental charges but there seemed to be an annual charge. Did they have to raise the rental charges higher than initially expected in light of these unexpected costs? We do not know, but an article in the Chelmsford Chronicle of 23rd June 1854, reviewing their visit the previous weekend only a week after opening, gives us an insight “Up till the present time the space let to exhibitors will produce a rental to the company of something more than £30,000 per annum but vast ranges of both the ground floor and galleries remain yet unlet and a revision of the tariff which is so high, at least nominally, as to deter many, may not be unadvisable. When manufacturers and mercantile firms hear of such high prices as five hundred and three hundred pounds being given for a stand of a few feet square they abandon altogether the idea of applying for space in the building”.

Although the company would have had minimal experience in catering, they decided that this profitable area was an opportunity not to be missed. Just two months before opening The Examiner of April 29th 1854 announced “the company had undertaken the supply of refreshments in the building.” A review of the day of opening in the Belfast Mercury of June 15th 1854 spoke of “food sufficient for 10,000 people left over and that some of the waiting staff had “in the excitement of the moment, made arithmetical mistakes to the disadvantage of the public”. Within a year they had outsourced the catering, a situation that remained until 1936.

Were items sold at the Palace? The 1851 exhibition banned any sales, although under the counter sales most probably took place along with orders taken and business cards exchanged etc. The Journal of the Society of Arts, and most probably plenty of other publications of the day, ran advertisements throughout November and December of 1852 “The Crystal Palace, 1853 – To intending exhibitors…” “Rent will be charged for space and exhibitors will be permitted to affix prices and to effect sales within the building under certain regulations – written applications for space may be made to Mr T Belshaw, Managing Superintendent of Exhibitors space”. We do not know, and most probably never will exactly what those ‘certain regulations’ actually were.

Chambers Edinburgh Journal of 19th November 1853 states “Sydenham will have a more of a commercial character than it had at Hyde Parke. The exhibitors will pay a rent for use of the space appropriated to them – this rent is looked forward to as part of the revenue of the company – and in return for this they will allowed to effect sales in the building”. The company wanted to take control of the standard of exhibit and “not degenerate too much into a mere shop or bazaar enterprise the directors reserve an unlimited discretion in dealing with each individual application for space”. Then most importantly state “The directors, we believe, mean so to arrange that not only shall there be a supervision over the goods generally, but that no goods shall be sold ‘over the counter’ there being offices instead for receiving orders”. So, items were not sold at the Palace but orders could be placed at the correct ‘office’. If the exhibitors were displaying their products to other businesses this would seem fine, ordering a piece of farm machinery or 20 dozen envelopes, to be delivered at a later date wouldn’t be a problem but seems to preclude sales to the general public such as purchasing a single note pad etc. It wouldn’t surprise us all that perhaps the company demanded a commission on all sales made and this was their way of keeping control of it?

The company must have seen another profit opportunity, perhaps for the general public who would want to walk away on the day with an ‘official’ souvenir of the Palace. The company appear to have made contractual arrangements with various parties for which they received a fee or royalty, on every sale.
The Chelmsford Chronicle 23rd June 1854 mentioned above says “Messrs Pinches of the Haymarket pay a hand (some?) royalty for striking medals by their improved machinery: Mr Baxter for painting his charming pictures in Oil and Mr Cox we are informed no less than 4d on every 6d bottle of soda water or lemonade sold”

So when Baxter states on the embossed seal of this Gems No 1 print "Published and sold by special desire of the directors by George Baxter at the Crystal Palace". It appears this ‘special desire’ is actually a legal agreement entered into by Baxter where he had to pay a royalty on every copy of this print sold.
An engraving of The Crystal Palace Medal Press operated by Pinches clearly shows ‘By authority of the Crystal Palace company’ on the side of the large machine. The wording by authority or by desire of the directors of Crystal Palace seems to be associated with a handful of exhibitors that produced ‘official’ Crystal Palace items and who had most probably entered into these royalty contracts.

Adverts of the time mentioning Baxter’s other anticipated Crystal Palace prints all state “Each picture will be published and sold by special desire of the directors by George Baxter at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham.” So it appears that a royalty was due on all Baxter’s Crystal Palace prints sold.

Day & Son and Baxter both with their views of the Palace, Pinches with his souvenir medals, and De La Motte with his photographs or ‘sun pictures’ of the Palace are all quoted as working under the authority of directors, all producing souvenirs of the Palace and hence all, most probably, paying a royalty for the privilege.

So did it all work out as the company planned? Put simply no unfortunately it didn’t and it all seemed to go wrong right from the start. We mentioned above, just a week after opening, Chelmsford Chronicle reported “vast ranges of both the ground floor and galleries remain yet unlet”.The London Journal 22nd July 1854, so six weeks after opening, states “So that if the Crystal Place is to be opened all the year round, we do not see that the receipts from visitors, reasonably to be anticipated, will more than cover the unavoidable expenses. The directors will therefore have to look to other sources of income – among these, the rents to be received from the exhibitors…” and goes on to remind us that “Next Year there is the Great Exhibition in Paris, which will absorb all the attention and patronage of men of business in this respect. The Sydenham Palace, therefore, as an exposition of useful arts and manufactures, cannot expect even to begin business at least before 1856.”

The same journal just three weeks later is even more damning and says “nothing has occurred to lessen our apprehension of its ultimate failure. The people have not yet visited it; and the moment the London season is over, the Court has gone to Scotland, and the wives and daughters of the middle and higher classes have betaken themselves to the sea-side, or gone to France or Italy, we anticipate that the building will be comparatively deserted. Indeed, our impression is that, in as much as it is still unfinished, the exhibitors’ department is empty, and for this year and also the next is certain to remain so, it would be wiser to close the place for the winter months”. It then closes with “the building is unfinished. The gardens still a wilderness, and the mechanical and the manufacturing skill and industry of the country have not yet deigned to visit Sydenham, we do think that it would be prudent to close in October and re open next May, with every arrangement completed.”

Even the Directors report of 1855 admitted there was a major problem. They stated that during the second half of 1854, there had been 956,232 visitors, but ominously this had fallen to 365,776 for the first six months of 1855. As the long-term financial projections for the success of the Palace had been based on maintaining the high volume of visitors that had visited the Hyde Park exhibition this was a worrying sign.

The company struggled with debt from day one and barely made a profit in any year. It got so bad that in 1874 the company had to borrow monies to pay the shareholders dividend. That not being bad enough, an accountant and shareholder stated that the security that they had used had already been pledged to debenture holders when raising £50,000 in 1862!

Baxter didn’t completely move out of the Palace. In the Art Journal for September 1st 1856 they review the Stationery Court at the Palace and state “a variety of Baxter’s examples of printing in Oil colours” can be found in the Stationery Court but this could so easily have been just a framed display, just like he would have had in the 1851 exhibition. The accompanying engraving showed the court and everything is in glass display cases. (Fig 4)

Would these ‘regulations’ have continued for long? I don’t think so, looking at all the reviews of the first months of the buildings existence it seems things weren’t going as planned and could be said to be pretty dire, confirmed by the company talking of visit attendance in their Directors report for 1855. With so many exhibitors initially not applying for a stand and of the ones that had perhaps drifting away and then exiting complexly to attend the Paris 1855 exhibition. The rental charges must have been reduced and regulations regarding sales loosened quite quickly to ensure exhibitors returned. When they did, like Baxter, as described in 1856, perhaps some were more in the form of a cased exhibition display than actually a stand.

What I initially thought would be a small easy article to write about this label turned out to a lot larger task looking into areas of previously un-researched Crystal Palace history.

We know that in the early days of the Crystal Palace general sales of goods were not allowed although prices could be affixed and orders could be placed at the official offices of the Palace, presumably to be delivered direct at a later date. This would mean that the general feel of an exhibition was retained and purchased goods would not be taken away from the Palace on the day. The only exclusion to this were the few exhibitors, including Baxter, that had entered some form of contract to supply Crystal Palace souvenirs, prints, medals, photographs etc. which they sold ‘under the authority’ or ‘desire of’ the Crystal Palace and for which they would have to pay a ‘handsome’ royalty to the Palace on each item sold.

This single sheet flyer or receipt would have been the answer. Baxter etc. would have possibly purchased these in blocks of 20, 50, 100 from the Crystal Palace company and paid the royalty due. One copy would then be given to each purchaser enabling them to exit the building through ‘security’ the doorkeepers, proving they had purchased the item and perhaps more importantly to the Palace, that the royalty had been paid.

Would Baxter have been able to sell his other prints from his stand, no, not in the early days, he could price them and people could order them via the office but only one of his Crystal Palace prints could be actually purchased ‘over the counter’.

I can’t see that Baxter would have kept his large stand for long, dwindling numbers and having to pay the royalty on all his Crystal Palace prints and possibly a commission payable on any other orders taken could have meant the arrangement soon became financial unsound.

With Baxter’s last print of the Palace published on 30th October 1854 and then seemingly cancelling his planned other prints in his series, it might have been at this point that Baxter moved out of the Palace, ceased selling his Crystal Palace prints and hence the need to pay this royalty. That would explain why Gems of the Crystal Palace No 1 is not a common print, the Pompeian Court quite a rare print which commands a very good price today and even Crystal Palace and Gardens is not that often seen. The latter might seem strange to many of you thinking that the print is regularly seen but from my experience 95% of the copies are actually Le Blond Baxter reprints from 1868, quite often with a fake ‘published by George Baxter…’ rubber stamp applied.

In his 1860 auction catalogue of 3004 lots of prints only one Lot, number 2188 mentioned Crystal Palace, I think the prints were too important and still topical at that time to be just described as ‘and others’ in that sale. A number of Great Exhibition (1851) prints were included and possibly this ‘Crystal Palace’ Lot could have even been also referring to one of those prints. All three plates appeared in that auction sale but remained unsold. None of the three prints seem to have been listed in any of Baxter travelling sales 1860 – 1863 but Gems No. 1 – The Exterior and Crystal Palace and Gardens did appear in Baxter 1864 republication list. So copies were still available or more likely had been specifically reprinted at that time, but still no mention of Pompeian Court. Only Crystal Palace and Gardens was reproduced by Le Blond circa 1868.

As I mentioned Crystal Place Exterior is not a common print and Pompeian Court hard to find. Perhaps sales of these prints were restricted to just the very few months that Baxter remained at the Palace. We will most probably never know the wording of the royalty contract but if Baxter had to continue to pay this royalty on all sales of his Crystal Palace prints, not just ones sold at the Palace, perhaps he decided to stop producing them at this stage, as they were not financially viable. That would explain the scarcity of at least the Pompeian Court.

In theory other such labels should have been issued for Pinches’ medals for example but perhaps the only reason the two known copies of this label have survived is that the purchasers decided to stick them on to the back of the print or frame, something the purchasers of one of Pinches’ medals or Mr De La Motte’s small photographs would struggle to do.

This has been an interesting and revealing few weeks researching and writing this article. Melvyn Harrison of the Crystal Palace Foundation says that this is a new area of research for them and encouraged him to research the larger picture of exhibitors at the Palace. I would like to thank Melvyn for his help on this and our many conversations trying to get the answers that this research has highlighted.

As an aside, while researching this article I came across many examples of what we would today call ‘classist comments’. The middle classes seemed to see it as their place to educate and improve the moral wellbeing of the working class by exposing them to works of art and interesting and educational exhibits. This snippet from the Belfast Mercury 15th June 1854 gives one journalist’s view. Talking of Day and Sons Lithograph of the Palace, “the largest ever printed in colours and will form for the more aristocratic visitors of the Crystal Palace a graceful memento of its beauties. For the great shilling public Mr Baxter has been at work with his process of printing in oil colours”. Perhaps Baxter’s ‘art for the masses’ wasn’t quite highbrow enough (or perhaps just cheaper) for that writer. It then states both artists work “under the authority of the directors”.

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