The Story of Street Jewellery

In 1975 Christopher Baglee and Andrew Morley began their collaboration to learn more about enamel advertising signs and to promote public awareness about this aspect of early advertising, which erstwhile had excited the interest of a handful of collectors, but had been ignored and neglected by historians, curators and publishers.

They received encouragement in achieving this aspiration from Richard Green, then a curator at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne. Richard facilitated the creation by Baglee and Morley of the first major loan exhibition of enamel advertising signs at any public museum. Many collectors generously loaned material for the exhibition, which opened at the Laing in April 1978 under the title 100 Years of Enamel Signs. It ran there for a month, achieving high attendance and acclaim, then continued as a touring exhibition for eighteen months, visiting twenty other venues, with equal success.

Realising that an illustrated catalogue, whilst being a potentially desirable feature of the exhibition, would be too costly to produce, Baglee and Morley sought to write and have published a book on the subject, to be issued to coincide with the exhibition. This they achieved in the space of sixth months, with the help of Allen Levy and Carol Montague of New Cavendish Books. The book was on sale at the exhibition venues and bookshops in time for the tour, requiring reprints in hardback and limpback editions during the following few years. At Carol's suggestion the book was entitled Street Jewellery, an expression used in the first paragraph of the book as a sobriquet for the otherwise unwieldy phrase `enamelled iron adverting signs'. The term 'street jewellery' took on a life of its own, becoming common usage among enthusiasts from then on, and gaining its own entry in the OED in 1980.

Having read Street Jewellery, many collectors contacted the authors with more information and pictures, enabling More Street Jewellery to be published in 1982. An open invitation (printed at the end of More Street Jewellery) to form a Society for enthusiasts of the subject elicited a good response, so in 1983 The Street Jewellery Society was formed. In 1985 Baglee and Morley passed the baton of directing the Society to other members. Thanks for building and maintaining the Society go to Susan Szczepanski, Simon Valedy, Peter Cooper, Neil Smith with John Phillips and Nick Ciovica with Fred Brumby. Between 1985 and 1997, they were the Newsletter's editors and SJS secretaries, each - after a term in office - passing on the task to the next person or team. From then till its closure in June 2010 the Society's administration returned to its origins, once again being co-ordinated by Baglee and Morley.