The John Johnson Collection



The John Johnson Collection is the product of a unique partnership between the Bodleian Library and ProQuest to conserve, catalogue and digitise more than 65,000 items drawn from the Bodleian's John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera. The project, which has been funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) through its Digitisation Programme, broadens access to a wide array of rare or unique archival materials documenting various aspects of everyday life in Britain in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera

Housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the John Johnson Collection is widely recognised as one of the most important collections of printed ephemera in the world and generally regarded as the most significant single collection of ephemera in the UK. It was assembled by John de Monins Johnson (1882-1956), Printer to the University, who was visionary in his preservation of Britain's vulnerable paper heritage. It contains a wide array of rare and unusual materials, which has remained largely unknown to scholars and researchers.

For information about gaining access to the original collection, please visit the John Johnson Collection pages of the Bodleian Library web site.

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The Project

The material selected for conservation, cataloguing and digitisation comprises a wide array of different types of printed document, including posters and handbills for theatrical and non-theatrical entertainments, broadsides relating to murders and executions, book and journal prospectuses, popular topographical prints, and a wealth of different kinds of printed advertising material. The resulting online collection forms an invaluable resource for researchers interested in the histories of consumption, leisure, gender, popular culture, commerce, technology, crime, and a host of other areas. With each item presented as a full-colour, high-resolution facsimile, the John Johnson Collection is also indispensable for researchers studying the development of printing and visual culture in modern Britain.

The John Johnson Collection offers access to 67,754 documents (a total of 174,196 high-resolution colour images) and consists of five different categories of material:

  • Nineteenth-Century Entertainment - which falls into two distinct groups: theatre material and non-theatrical entertainment material. Both categories provide a wealth of insights into nineteenth-century leisure activities, popular and high culture (especially the performing arts), and the development of different types of entertainment.
  • The Booktrade - examples include publishing material (e.g. prospectuses of books and journals) and bookplates. The former will be of interest to anyone studying the history of the publishing industry, or the reception of certain kinds of thought or learning during the period; the latter will prove invaluable to those interested in the provenance of books, or in design history.
  • Popular Prints - these items provide an invaluable record of locations and landscapes, architecture, popular tastes and appetites for artistic works and topography.
  • Crime, Murders, and Executions - a mixture of single sheets and pamphlets that afford unique insights into the judicial system and its punishments, notably the application of the death penalty and of transportation. The Murders and Executions broadsides are currently much used in a variety of research areas (e.g. women and crime, woodcut iconography)
  • Advertising - social and economic historians, historians of popular culture, trades and industries, students of typographic design and many others will find that these items provide an invaluable insight into the development of consumerism.

Cataloguing of the digital surrogates has been undertaken by dedicated specialist staff based at the Bodleian Library.

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The Online Collection

The John Johnson Collection provides access to 67,754 scanned items (a total of 174,196 images), including more than 20,700 pieces of theatrical and non-theatrical ephemera from the Nineteenth-Century Entertainment category and more than 11,700 items from the Booktrade category. Over 11,200 Popular Prints are available in facsimile form, along with more than 22,400 items from Advertising and over 1,500 from Crimes, Murders and Executions.

The completed collection now comprises more than 60,100 catalogue records, including some records pertaining to items that have not been scanned due to copyright restrictions. Users wishing to restrict searches to items for which facsimile images are available should use the checkbox positioned above the Keyword(s) field on the Search: All screen and on the five category-specific search screens (Entertainment, Booktrade, Crimes, Murders and Executions, Popular Prints and Advertising) to exclude records without images from their results.

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Mapping Crime: Enhanced Records for Crime, Murders and Executions

Of the five major categories of material included in the John Johnson Collection, the Crimes, Murders and Executions section is one of the most popular and most often consulted, providing documentary evidence which supports research in various aspects of social history. This section of the resource comprises more than 1,400 records, all with associated digital images, and includes both broadsides and pamphlets.

With funding from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) through its e-Content Programme, the Bodleian Library and ProQuest have enhanced this material by mapping individual records to the appropriate entries in a number of external online resources that contain references, citations or other related material, thereby offering users the scope to explore more easily themes and narratives encountered in the John Johnson Collection. The project guides researchers to other information directly related to their line of enquiry, and allows them to build connections or follow trails between different resources. The four main open-access resources to which the project provides links are the Old Bailey Proceedings Online; Harvard Law School Library's digitized broadside collections, Dying Speeches and Bloody Murders; the Newgate Calendar, hosted by the Tarlton Law Library at the University of Texas at Austin; and the Bodleian Library's digitized catalogue of broadside ballads.

Links to external online resources created as part of this initiative are displayed under the heading Related Resources on the Full Record display for items from the Crimes, Murders and Executions collection. Users can restrict searches to items for which Mapping Crime resources are available using the new checkbox that appears above the Keyword(s) field on the Search: Crimes, murders and executions search screen.

Find out more about the Mapping Crime project.

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The Curators' Choice

The John Johnson Collection is produced by a team of expert librarians, cataloguers, conservators, and digitisation and tracking specialists based at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Members of the team have begun sharing some of the fruits of their research work on the project blog, Curators' Choice, which provides fascinating insights into the history and context of items from Johnson's collection.

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The John Johnson Collection showreel

The JISC has produced a short video about the John Johnson Collection project:

Choose a link to play a clip. Note that you will need to have either QuickTime Player® or Windows Media® Player plug-ins installed on your computer.

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Access to the John Johnson Collection in the UK

The John Johnson Collection has been created with support from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) through its Digitisation Programme, and is available free of charge to all UK universities, further education institutions, schools and public libraries. If you are a librarian at a UK institution and you would like your own institutional account set up, allowing you to track your institutions usage of the John Johnson Collection, then please contact your customer service representative.

If you are an individual located in the UK you can access the John Johnson Collection via the UK free access link on the index page.

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The Bodleian Library and ProQuest welcome feedback on the John Johnson Collection. Please send us your comments and queries via the "Contact Us" link.

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