The Greatest Wonder of the World


The Greatest Wonder of the World Men's Clothing Company, Gulgong, 1872

Photo: State Library, New South Wales

While on my recent travels I was lucky enough to stumble upon The Greatest Wonder of the World exhibition at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The banner outside in big gold letters of various scripts obviously attracted my attention, and what a treat it was (and still is until 12th May 2013).

A&A Photographic Company, Hill End, 1872

Photo: State Library, New South Wales

The exhibition pertains to the results of scanning many photographic plates that were commissioned by the renowned gold miner Bernhardt Holtermann. The images were taken in the 1870s and are an astonishing insight into the lives of those in New South Wales, especially the gold mining towns, at the time. Further, they are a remarkable testament to the skill of (wet plate) photographers Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss. In his forward to the brilliant free guide to the exhibition, Dr Alex Byrne refers to their “amazing detail, achieving resolution that is exceptional even today”.

No.2 Sign Painting shop from Greatest Wonder of the World Exhibition

Photo: State Library, New South Wales

I was obviously looking at the exhibition through my painted signs bias and was chuffed to find a huge number of images featuring the work of 19th Century Australian sign painters. One (above) even showed a couple of these gentlemen outside their sign painting shop. These signs add to many of the images’ ‘frontier town’ depictions and always manage to stand out in the streetscapes in which they are found.

Tinsmith James Jaye, Bathurst, 1873 from Greatest Wonder of the World exhibition

Photo: State Library, New South Wales

I feel extremely lucky to have been in Sydney while this exhibition was showing and I wonder what other delights are taking place elsewhere without my knowledge. If you’re in town over the next week then make sure you catch it before it ends. There is an accompanying website where it is possible to see a selection of images and also order them to buy.

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