Over the past few months I have been working on a project to uncover the early printed photographs that are hidden within the The John Rylands Library book collection. Using Helmut Gernsheim’s Incunabula of British Photographic Literature 1839-1875 [R151490] as an informed guide I have identified numerous photographs, which have previously not been documented.
It is evident that the Library holds an eclectic mix of photographs within these volumes, ranging from landscapes and portraits to images that reflect the culture and times in which they were taken. There are examples of people travelling and experiencing far off places, ones that reflect colonialism and those which indicate leisure pursuits and fashions of the time.
However, my favourite find has been the bizarrely named Life and Death of the Sublime Society of Beef Steaks, 1871. [R62940] This is an account of a London dining club between 1735 and 1869, where 24 men met to eat beef steak, drink wine and sing, their motto being “May Beef and Liberty be our Reward”. The volume holds photographs depicting the society’s emblems, such as the gridiron (an albumen photograph which has been tipped into Arnold’s book as its frontispiece). It also lists an array of popular songs and toasts that the society used.
In this day and age where celebrity chefs and environmentalists are encouraging people to take an interest in what they eat and where their food comes from, the Sublime Society of Beef Steaks appeared to be celebrating this already and to be light years ahead of the trend.