The art of education

Posted on 21st September 2017

One of the latest interior design trends is the demand for vintage wall charts – the sort that cropped up in 19th century classrooms and covered all manner of subjects from geography and history to the world of natural sciences. However, they weren’t just aimed at schoolchildren as this was a time when education was expanding across the social spectrum.

In our Autumn Fine Art Sale on Tuesday 26 September, we have a collection of twenty-eight educational banners printed for the Working Men’s Educational Union in 1852. Each one measures approximately 90cm by 116cm and relates to the history of Ancient Egypt. Based in London, the Educational Union was a philanthropic society dedicated to the education of the working classes and many organisations provided facilities for the Union to stage lectures for which these banners provided the illustrations.

These large visual teaching aids originated during a time of educational reform in Germany and the first wall charts commissioned for classroom use were produced around 1820 and featured everyday topics such as the seasons and animals. During the following four decades, they extended their subject matter and format, and were developed for all levels of education and specialised curricula.

Thousands of these educational charts and banners were produced across Europe but many have become damaged over time or were simply got rid of as new teaching methods were adopted. After all, they were never intended to be objects of particular artistic value. It is, therefore, quite unusual to come across a collection of such size and in such good condition. These particular banners are printed on cotton, which was commonly adopted to avoid paper duty.

The banners are listed as lot 426 and carry a price estimate of £500 to £700. It does make you wonder about the thousands of people who must have studied them and what effect this education may have had on their lives.

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