AN INTERVIEW WITH JUDITH GRANT
As part of our series looking at what gives some people the “collecting bug” we spoke to Judith Grant, collector of historical documents and ephemera, who is also one very few women professionally involved in the hobby – though we are pleased to see more and more female collectors coming through our doors (please see Voice of a New Generation for young philatelist Katrin Raynor’s fascinating article on astronomy celebrated via philately).
Judith says she always had a tendency towards collecting, of the more obvious things as a child – dolls, teddy bears, sewing things etc – but it was only when a dealer asked her to help him and look after his table at an
Ephemera Fair that she found the area she wanted to specialise in as a solo dealer, having flirted briefly with financial ephemera. As she puts it, “The minute I walked into the room I had a revelation!” It was here that she found an 18th Century engraved invoice with beautiful vignettes at the top, and the “combination of history and paper” had her hooked.
From here, Judith developed an interest in the Elizabethan Poor Law, and started collecting
the paperwork of that era and up to 1834 – this formed the basis of her first collection.
She moved on from these, and her actual collection is now royalty – mostly unique and one-off documents, for example a gift given by Queen Victoria to one of her children. Judith’s collection is mainly paper, or paper-related (a picture on silk for example) as she says these items are “so much more meaningful – even though Queen Victoria wrote hundreds of letters, each one is unique.”
Documents and ephemera, like other collectables, are literally Living History: “whatever you choose to collect, you are literally holding history in your hand.” Judith buys pieces because they are meaningful – she mentions a tiny book of poetry dedicated by Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII and mother of George V, to her daughter Princess Louise as a birthday present, signed ‘Mother Dear’.
When asked how modern technology has impacted on her business, she muses that the internet has ruined a lot of personal face to face dealing – sharing with fellow collectors, enjoying finds with them and seeing their pleasure – though acknowledges that it is a useful tool for cataloguing. However this can only ever be to a certain extent, as the nature of historical documents and ephemera is so diverse that even with her wealth of experience Judith is still seeing things she has never seen before.
She believes there is absolutely no advantage to being a woman in what might traditionally have been seen as a man’s world, and quips “it’s every man for himself”! Despite 99% of her customers still being men, Judith believes that collecting is an even playing field, as “we are all looking for the same thing – nothing beats the rush of adrenaline finding something spectacular for stock.”
Judith is clearly a passionate and devoted collector, who “learns Russian for my relaxation”, and we are grateful to her for her generosity in sharing some of these fascinating items with us.
Judith gave a talk on Royal Children at the Guildhall in October via Zoom, which may be screened again between January and April if live talks are still unable to go ahead. To check the full events schedule visit the Guildhall Library website, https://www.cityoflondon. gov.uk/services/libraries/guildhall-library.