19th Century signatures of rich and famous go on display at Great North Museum

THE name was the game for tenacious Tyneside autograph hunter John Crosse Brooks.

THE name was the game for tenacious Tyneside autograph hunter John Crosse Brooks.

Throughout the 19th Century, the shipowner collected the signatures of the rich and famous across the centuries.

He either wrote to the leading lights of the time or bought up historic documents and letters bearing the signatures he wanted.

Brooks built up a collection which filled 26 vellum-bound volumes, each headed under categories such as eminent men, churchmen, peers, commoners, bishops, kings, queens and US presidents.

When he died in 1897 he left the volumes to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, of which he was vice-president.

Now a selection of his collection has been digitised and can be read by visitors to an exhibition which opens tomorrow at the Great North Museum in Newcastle to mark the 200th anniversary of the society.

His collection, which had been started by his uncle, includes a pardon document signed by Queen Elizabeth I and documents signed by Charles I and II, James II and George I.

The signatures of US Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington figure, along with Prime Ministers, the Duke of Wellington, Gladstone and Disraeli.

Other scoops are Capt Bligh from HMS Bounty and an expenses claim with signatures of the ship’s officers, and a document signed by explorer Capt James Cook.

There is a letter signed by Florence Nightingale asking for supplies of soap, and others with signatures ranging from Charles Darwin to Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Wordsworth.

North East figures include Lord Armstrong, George Stephenson, Admiral Lord Collingwood and miners’ leader Thomas Burt.

“It was the autographs of famous people he was after and if he could find a portrait he included that, such as Lord Byron who had signed an etching of himself in the same way as celebrities today sign a photograph,” said society president Lindsay Allason-Jones.

“As well as the signatures, the documents he acquired add up to being a very historically important collection.”

John Crosse Brooks’ first job was as clerk/draughtsman in the timber-ship building yard of William Rea at Walker on the Tyne.

He subsequently became a part-owner and manager of ships and for many years he lived in Wallsend, but moved to Lovaine Place in Newcastle in 1882.

He was a also a collector of coins, medals, tradesmen’s tokens, pictures and engravings.


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