State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 33 April 1984

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The Harold Paynting Collection

It was a chance encounter which led to the acquisition of the Harold Paynting Collection. Its existence was brought to the Library's notice by a user who handed me a newspaper advertisement as I met him in the street. The advertisement spoke of the photographs, negatives, rare motoring memorabilia and books available at the James Flood Charity Trust Treasure Shop, on the corner of O'Heas Street and Cumberland Road in Pascoe Vale South.
The Treasure Shop is housed in a former service station, one part of which now houses Mr. Harold Paynting's collection of motor cars (including a Rolls Royce with a gold radiator grill). It was cold and rainy on the day I visited the shop, but even the creeping cold from the concrete floor gradually turning one's knees to ice could not dim the excitement which one felt on viewing examples of negatives. I bought five glass and four cellulose negatives as samples to show to the Library's management. These included irrigation farming in northeastern Victoria, a group of drinkers in an Essendon pub, school-children on an excursion to one of Melbourne's theatres, and a staff canteen in a factory.
Mr. Paynting, a well-known motoring enthusiast and indefatigable worker for charity, had acquired the archive of a commercial photographer named Lyle Fowler, consisting of between 14,000 and 15,000 8" x 10” cellulose negatives, most of which were identified, dated and labelled. They were largely for the period 1932–72 (one not well represented in the La Trobe Library's Picture Collection) and were all of reproducible quality.
It is difficult to acquire work for the period between the two world wars, as many photographers’ archives from that time were acquired solely for their silver content, a practice which is still prevalent in Melbourne today. The number of images lost in this way can only be estimated; it is sad to see Victoria's pictorial history disappearing because the silver content of negatives is deemed to be more important than the visual content.
After a period of negotiation, during which

The public bar, Hancock's Essendon Hotel. c. 1938.

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Road works carried out by Albion Quarrying. 31 March, 1950.

the Friends of the La Trobe Library generously acquired a further 100 negatives as examples, the Library Council of Victoria agreed to purchase the entire collection over a period of two financial years, the final payment being made on 30 June, 1985. This is a satisfactory way of acquiring material, since it gives the Picture Collection some time to process items by accessioning and indexing.
Why is the Paynting Collection so important an acquisition? It is important because the Library's funds are usually directed towards other sorts of pictorial acquisitions. Twentieth century photographs have normally been acquired by gift. The Picture Collection already has two significant twentieth century collections. The Argus collection, numbering about 60,000 photographs, relates almost entirely to World War II. It is moderately easy to use, since it is partly indexed and the images are in positive form. The Airspy collection of aerial photographs is more difficult to use (and consequently under-used) since it consists mainly of negative images which are only rudimentarily indexed.
The Paynting Collection will fill a large gap in the Library's holdings of twentieth century material, covering as it does many aspects of Melbourne and surrounding commercial areas. As most of the negatives were commissioned by large commercial enterprises over a period of time, it is possible to build up a visual history of these companies. An example of this is work done for London Baby Carriages, a company no longer in existence and whose archives consist of a filing cabinet in a private house. The Paynting Collection includes photographic negatives of a full range of products, photographed for London Baby Carriage catalogues from 1946 until 1972. The Collection also has a number of boxes of negatives made for the Company's smaller rival, Paramount. James Hardie Industries is similarly well-documented, and this will be of interest and use to the company when compiling its centennial history in 1988.
The scope of the collection is very wide. Domestic fittings marketed by the Metropolitan and Colonial Gas Companies, as well as their window displays and showrooms, are well-documented. Kraft Foods are well represented, as are displays of Argus glassware at Myers. Theatrical and other events at the Emily McPherson College are recorded, as
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are numerous displays by nursery and garden suppliers. One of the major strengths of the Collection is its architectural significance. There are numerous images of Housing Commission undertakings in great detail, houses on the Mornington Peninsula designed by Chandler and Patrick, and houses by Mockridge, Stahle and Mitchell (whose architectural drawings were recently acquired by the Library). Images of works by other prominent Melbourne architects such as Bates, Smart & McCutcheon, Stephenson and Turner, and the builders Leighton, Irwin are numerous. There is good material for those who are seeking sources for a history of cinemas, including views of the Regent Theatre, the Capitol, provincial cinemas in Ballarat and elewhere, and the Clayton Drive-In. The South Melbourne Bathing Box is well illustrated, as is an exhibition held in 1948 at George's Gallery in Collins Street.
Although the major part of the Paynting Collection has now been received by the Library, more remains to be deposited. Use is already being made of the Collection by Mr. Paynting himself, who is (in conjunction with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria) preparing a book entitled Victoria illustrated 1834–1984, to be published later this year. Much more must be done to make the Collection fully accessible, including the printing of positive images. This will, of course, be a lengthy and expensive undertaking. In the meantime, requests for information will be handled as quickly as possible. Intending users should note that material of use to them may be discovered by staff as work on the Collection proceeds.
We are grateful to Mr. Paynting for making the Collection available to the Library in its entirety, and for his co-operation and enthusiasm during the necessarily complex negotiations. It is a collection worthy of bearing the name of one who has long been interested in recording the history of Victoria through photographs.
CHRISTINE DOWNER

Olney House, 47 Locksley Road, Ivanhoe. March, 1936.

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The dining room of a house built in Heidelberg by Coates and Co. c. 1938.

Boys in theatre foyer. c. 1938

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Unidentified tailors’ shop, Melbourne. 1930s.

Laying the floor of the new Gardner Naylor factory. 20 July, 1951.