Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg


November 2016

The Coffin Works : Newman Bros.

… a delightful slice of manufacturing history …

newmanbros-025-1-469x1024When Joyce Green, the last owner, shut the door on “the Coffin Works” in 1998, her dearest wish was for the place to become a museum and, after a 15 year campaign to save it, you can now wander around this virtually untouched factory and imagine what it would have been like to work here.

The enthusiastic and informative guide explained in the Stamp Room that the factory didn’t make actually make coffins at all but the furniture, the metal fittings, which decorated the wooden boxes.  He demonstrated how the metal was stamped and cut into shape with bench and drop presses whilst we marvelled at the dust, noise and total lack of any safety guards.

Upstairs in the Shroud Room, the lines of sewing machines were still left waiting for the women who made the “frillings” for the inside of the coffins and samples of the silk shrouds were laid out on display, including a rather natty one in the claret and blue Aston Villa football club.img_1877

With their telegraphic address as “Shroud, Birmingham”, Newman Brothers was a leader in its field in the c19th and c20th and provided coffin furniture for famous people such as Winston Churchill; however the business slowly declined due to the increasing use of plastic furniture and changing tastes in funerals.

To me, the most delightful room of all was Joyce Green’s office.   This woman started out as an office junior in 1947, methodically bought up all the shares and eventually owned the business – a remarkable achievement for the time.  She was obviously a tremendous character and it’s because of her vision, we can stroll around this factory today.img_1881

Newman Brothers is in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham and further details of opening times and exhibitions can be found at their website here.


Judging a Book by its Cover : Favourite Designs of 2016

I’ve been blogging for just about a year now and, during this time, I am gradually appreciating just how important the cover designs are and just how much thought goes into each one.   So I thought I’d take a moment to celebrate some of the truly brilliant covers that have passed through my hands.  My favourites complement their novel’s theme and genre whilst creating a stand out design to attract the browsing customer.

In no particular order, my top five are:

Beetle Boy by  M.G. Leonard.  These gorgeous illustrations are by Barcelona illustrator, Julia Sarda Portabella.  A link to her website is here.  I love the whole joie de vivre of the concept including the fore edge decoration – which is an added bonus.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff.   The UK cover was designed by Cherie Chapman from the Harper Fiction team featuring an illustration by Philippines-based artist, Kerby Rosanes; it’s absolutely brilliant.  A real asset to the novel.  Here’s a link to Jay’s blog post where Cherie describes the design process.  I think it is so much better than the US design.

Blade and Bone by Catherine Johnson.   I loved this cover with its old engraving style and the clever use of colour to create a Tricolour impression.  The wonderful illustrator is Royston Knipe.  His website is here.

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl.   With Peter’s visual background in animation, it’s not surprising that the book has a great cover created by Kath Millichope, Fiction Designer at Usbourne.  There’s a lovely post by Middle Grade Strikes Back which includes an interview by Kath and the design animated by Peter.  The illustrations are by a wonderful American artist,  Becca Stadtlander.  Her work really enhances the story.  You can see more of it here.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I thought, on first picking it up, this was an old Fifties style design.  Of course, it’s a stylish remake by the Italian twin sisters, Anna and Elena Balbusso.  Their website is here.

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