National Archives of Australia

Issue 7 August 2012

Restoring the dreams of colonial entrepreneurs

Conservators at the National Archives face many challenges in caring for the millions of records in our collection. Your Memento takes a look at their work on remarkable 19th-century trademarks records.

Register number 1 before treatment. Photographer: David Ezzy

The worn leather cover gives few hints of the treasures within. The faded label reads ‘Trade Marks Register, No. 1’. Inside are trademarks registered in New South Wales from as early as 1865. Some are colourful works of art; others merely hastily-drawn product names. There are beer labels, flattened bottle caps, and advertisements for potions that promise to cure all manner of ailments. The trademarks were glued in the register, and their details duly recorded by a clerk.

Each colony had its own laws about trademarks, copyright and patents. After Federation, the registration of trademarks became a Commonwealth responsibility, administered by the Trade Marks Office.

When the Commonwealth took over, some of the colonial records came too, and are now in the National Archives, including early registers from New South Wales.

Lotions, potions and an exotic cup of tea

The registers contain a kaleidoscope of labels, drawings, product names and advertisements. Some are for imported products, particularly from Britain and the United States, and include well-known brands such as Schweppes, Singer and Guinness.

Some of the products were home-grown and their makers used symbols of an emerging ‘Australia’, such as the Southern Cross, kangaroos, emus and boomerangs. In 1885, JM Coote of Sydney registered ‘Federal Brand Pure Tea’ and a map of Australia with the word ‘Federation’ emblazoned across it.

These trademarks provide an indication of 19th-century Australian tastes. They evidently enjoyed a good cup of tea, with imperial, oriental and royal mixtures on offer, as well as ‘emperor’s bouquet’, ‘mandarin’s choice’ and ‘oriental solace’. For tea-drinkers with less exotic tastes, there was ‘Federal Tea’, ‘Empire Tea’, ‘Southern Cross Tea’, ‘The Overlanders Blend’, and ‘Bob Tea’.

Trademark number 1330, registered 1885. NAA: SP1006/14, 2 Part 2

For those who wanted something a little stronger than a ‘Four o’clock afternoon tea’, an array of beer, wine, spirits and tonics was registered. Tobacco and cigarette companies produced colourful and elaborate trademarks for their wares.

Trademark number 1283, registered 1885. NAA: SP1006/14, 2 Part 2

There are lotions and potions for aches and pains, indigestion, irritable babies and thinning hair. Horsford’s Acid Phosphate promised to cure ‘dyspepsia’ and ‘derangement of the nervous system’, to give ‘vigor and renewed strength where there has been debility and exhaustion’. The makers of ‘Digestive Dinner Tablets’ claimed to be the ‘oldest establishment in Australia’. C Allen’s Black Wingen Oils would cure ‘both man and beast’. Applied to the affected parts of horses, cattle and their owners, it was a ‘certain cure’ for sciatica, rheumatism, gout, saddle girth and greasy heels.

Steward’s Infants’ Soothing Mixture assured parents that a dose once or twice a day would ‘keep the child free from Wind, [and] Gripes’ and keep teething children ‘quiet and comfortable’. No ingredients are listed on the label, but it was common for ‘soothing’ medicines for babies to contain morphine or similar drugs.

Trademark number 168, registered 1876. NAA: SP1006/14, 1

Preserving the registers

The oldest trademarks registers were chosen for intensive preservation treatment because of their significance, age and condition. The earliest of the New South Wales trademarks registers is almost 150 years old, and the registers were showing signs of their age. The leather spines were damaged, the glue that had been used to stick trademarks in the register had deteriorated and some items had come loose. The paper in the registers was brittle, torn and stained. Some of the trademarks had been folded to fit in the register and many had been lined with a bulky paper that was deteriorating faster than the artworks.

Conservators in the Archives’ Sydney and Melbourne offices very carefully removed damaged artworks – a process complicated by the information recorded on and around the trademarks, such as annotations, stamps, and ticks and crosses. ‘It took delicate coordination of heat, added moisture and ethanol to remove the artworks without damaging them or allowing the other inks to run’, explains conservator Lynn Sisopha.

The next step was to remove the degraded backing paper from the artworks and reline them with thin Japanese tissue paper. The pages of the registers were repaired and flattened. Conservators decided to keep some of the larger artworks separate from the registers, stored in polypropylene sleeves. ‘This meant that the beautiful lithographs could be kept flat and protected from unfolding and folding each time the register was used’, says Lynn.

Trademark number 741, registered 1883. NAA: SP1006/14, 2 Part 1

Conservators also re-sewed the pages of the books by hand and re-bound the volumes. Leather damaged by red rot was removed and replaced with archival-quality leather, made from goat hide.

Michael Veitch resewing the register. Photographer: David Ezzy

‘We really enjoyed working on the registers’, says Lynn. ‘As a conservator, it was a challenging project, with some painstaking detailed work and tricky problems to solve. And some of the trademarks were really beautiful.’

Individual trademarks from these early registers were digitised and have been added to the Archives’ database RecordSearch, so they are now much more accessible to researchers. These trademarks registers survive as evidence of the dreams of colonial entrepreneurs, and the tastes – and worries – of 19th-century Australians.

Trademarks register after treatment. Photographer: David Ezzy

Want more?

See more trademarks from the registers on Flickr

View other trademarks from the registers on RecordSearch. Choose ‘Advanced search – items’ and enter SP1006/14 in the Series number field.

Fact sheet 245 – Patent, trademark and design records in Brisbane

Read more about the work of Archives conservators in our preservation blog

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