An Easter Egg Hunt in Trove

Every year our newspapers produce stories on Easter. If you don’t believe me, do a search in Trove; the substance rarely changes, though the tone does. Most notably they become less pious and more commercial, and the assumption that the reader is christian falls away. Still, it is a time when priests and bishops can get their message out.

While Easter Eggs aren’t at all news, I thought I’d break from my blog theme and have a look at how they’ve changed over time, using newspaper articles as a guide.

Easter eggs were once predominantly painted chicken eggs. Over time they changed into what we have now – chocolate eggs, possibly filled with toys or sweets. Here’s an article published in Hobart’s The Mercury following the easter of 1872:

EASTER EGGS IN PARIS.

There is no disguising that these eggs have become to many persons a tax, a burden, and a source of bitterness. So long as no further innovation was attempted than selling sugar eggs in lieu of genuine ones it was well ; for a sugar egg, even when coloured pink and filled with carraway comfits, is not much to bealarmed at.

But one day there appeared an artificer of woe who set himself to blowing out all the yolk and white from an egg, cutting the shell neatly in two, lining the halves with white satin, adapt ing them to each other on the screw-top system, and then putting a gold or a silver thimble inside. This was the first oeuf a surprise.

It looked like the real thing, and could be set by the donor in the donee’s egg-cup without fear of detection, until at the critical moment when the spoon was going to crash through the top everybody round the table would cry out affectionately “Gare” and pleasantly mystify the recipient.

Of course this ingenious invention cost from 20 to 50 francs, and found numerous imitators. Ducks’, geese’s, and swans’ eggs were pressed into service as capable of contain- ing not only thimble, but small scissors, needle-case, &c, and of being sold at from five to ten guineas.

Then somebody asked why one should not put earrings, sleeve-links, or broaches into the eggs instead of thimbles; and this lead to an enterprising jeweller drawing ahead of every one else by fitting up ostrichs’ eggs as work boxes, scent-bottle stands, or jewel cases.

This jeweller, who deserved well of his kind, worked in the Easter-egg trade the same sort of revolution as Victor Hugo and the “Romantiques” wrought in the drama. Up to that time it had been considered essential to keep up some semblance of respect for probabilities, but, from the ostrich-egg day probabilities were discarded.

Eggs appeared measuring a foot in diameter-big chocolate and sugar eggs filled with sweetmeats, or monster eggs filled with toys; or, again, huge mahogany eggs, with brass mountings and feet, to stand up on end and act as liqueur receptacles.

Then people use the Easter egg as a medium for giving presents which they would have had no good excuse for offering at other times, and also for paying off arrears of etrennes. An august personage very gracefully sent one of his Ministers the insignia and patent of the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour in an Easter egg ; and the late merry Due de Caderousse-Graraont presented an actress with the most stupendous egg on record; it was acolossal wooden thing, painted white, and containing a brougham. They conveyed it along the boulevards in a cart to the delight of admiring crowds, and it was the nine days’ wonder of that Easter.

There must have been people who hoped that the collapse of the Empire would have entailed that of the Easter egg ; but they were mistaken. This year the confectioners, jewellers, aud nick-nack shops are as full of eggs as ever, and the only difference between to-day and two years agoseems to be that the tradesmen have drawn from their country’s woes further inspiration in the way of egg contrivances, and have added about 10 per cent, allround on the prices of former inventions.

Thus, a Parisian bachelor who has dinedout this winter, and feels himself bound to give eggs, has only to set out on a ramble of inspection, and he may choose either a stuffed hen, life-size, sitting on a nest of 12 eggs, each containing a silver egg-cup ; or a stuffed turkey, whose upper half comes off, and discloses a berceaunette with baby’s layette complete ; or an unpretending pheasant’s egg with an emerald ring inside; or, more unpretending still, a little wren’s egg with a set of studs ; or if he be bent on gratifying a lady whose tastes are authorlike, a smooth ebony egg that slips into the pocket like a darning ball, and houses, inkstand, pens, sand-horn, stamps, wafers, and pencil.

To be sure he may choose nothing, argue that he is not rich, that eggs are an abuse, and that he emptied his pockets to feed his friends with sweetmeats at Christmas-tide. But in this case he had better go and admire the monuments of London for a fortnight, or proceed to Rome to see whether the Holy week festivities there have degenerated ; and when he returns he must plead that he was called away by urgent private affairs. Even then, however, let him not be surprised if society watches him for some time with a cool and guarded eye as one inclined to make light of those beneficial observances which raised man above dumb brutes. –Pall Mall Gazette.

– EASTER EGGS IN PARIS. (1872, June 6). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8920972

A long article but an amusing one! Notable French extravagances included enormous wooden eggs containing horse-drawn carriages. This article also describes recently invented easter eggs, with the contents blown out, halved and a screw mechanism installed – containing small presents. These would be the ancestors of the Kinder surprise!

Of course, when we think Easter egg we think chocolate. Here we have an 1894 article from the Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette – Tasmanians clearly enjoy Easter – relating an invention by the “chic shop of the season”–

For the Ladies.

EASTER EGGS.

A lady correspondent writes from London  under date March 28 ;— ”Easter Eggs,’ as presents to be made at this season are indiscriminately called, are of good variety, and from the lowest prices to substantial cost.

Fuller’s, in Regent Street, is the chic shop of the season, and presents a spectacle both pretty and curious. Firstly, it is running over with flowers, in fancy receptacles past numbering or describing ; secondly, it has got a specialty, an Easter egg of its own, not to be bought elsewhere, and of the oddest because of the most ordinary aspect.

Nothing very attractive in a brown paper case, with partitions and an innocent-looking new-laid egg in each of them, just as you mayh ave them sent home from the stores, is there?

No, but when you have removed the shell, which is real–that is where the joke  comes is- you come upon a chocolate egg, and it is full of cream. Your attitude of mind in respect to this phenomenon resembles that of George the Third when he propounded the historic query about the dumpling and the apples. Mrs. Williamson tells me of a really pretty novelty– an egg made of sugar with a rough gritty surface, transparent itself, but tinted with splashes of rose, amber and emerald.

– For the Ladies. (1894, May 15). Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette (Tas : 1890 – 1897), p. 3. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64962701

So there you have it – in London, at least, the chocolate egg dates to 1894. No doubt the labour of putting chocolate eggs within flawless chicken eggs was conducted by poor unfortunates, but it must have been a merry treat for the Victorian middle class.

I’ll finish off this post with some cartoons. To my surprise, the Easter Egg has had much use in caricature. I’ve included captions for anyone using a screen reader.

Two male hands press upon a globe in shape of easter egg, deforming it. Text superimposed: Armament PressureEASTER EGG. (1939, April 6). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 10. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12115185 

The cartoon above comes from April 1939, months before the Second World War began with the German invasion of Poland. The same cartoonist seems to have enjoyed his easter eggs; here’s another effort from 1949, this time concerning problems at the Australian Egg Board:

A chicken labelled "Egg Board" lands upon and pecks a globe; the visible land mass is Australia, which is labelled "Trouble"
Today's Armstrong. (1949, March 29). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 2. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22719330

Here is a 1939 cartoon in response to a tax increase by Queensland premier Forgan Smith.  Queensland under Smith became the highest taxing state in the Commonwealth.

Premier Smith (hands in pockets, wearing waistcoat) beams at a large easter egg, addressed to him "grudgingly, motorists". The egg is labelled "£ Holiday Savings £".
HIS EASTER EGG. (1939, April 5). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), p. 6. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article39019740

It seems particular cartoonists stick to the same theme; here’s another one with Smith taking Queenslander’s money off to Sydney & Melbourne. Proof it’s not just West Australians that complain about money going to those cities.

Premier Smith, depicted as a chicken, walks with a paper labelled "Loan Council" and a briefcase labelled "to Sydney & Melbourne." An egg remains behind, labelled "Relief Tax Deduction"; a man gestures at the chicken and says "Remember now - you'll have to come back and hatch this one!"
OUR EASTER EGG. (1938, April 14). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), p. 6. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article39735281

As the second world war continued, more and more egg cartoons were produced. Here’s one from 1941:

A bandaged world, battered and covered in plasters, is balanced on a finger. A label is stuck in it by a pin, reading "Chins up and keep smiling!" A large bandage reads "The war-torn, old world!"
1941 Easter Egg. (1941, April 10). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), p. 4. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44902479

As the war turns in favour of the allies, this from April 1944:

A large rooster, chest thrust out, leaps in the air. The rooster is labelled "Allied Nations" and is over an egg labelled "All round improvement in war". A man with a basket exclaims "Not a victory egg yet, but much better!"
Our Easter Egg. (1944, April 6). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42034346

About a month before Hitler’s death, this prescient effort was published in the Courier Mail.

An egg in caricature of Hitler sits on a wall above a swastika, with writing above reading "Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall–". In next panel the egg tumbles from the wall, "– Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall." The egg is now labelled "Easter 1945".
EASTER EGG. (1945, March 31). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48943288

Finally, conclusive proof the Queenslanders were knocking we West Australians off when they caricatured their premier as a chicken. We did it in 1929! Here is an effort casting aspersions on a seat redistribution under Premier Collier;

A chicken in caricature of Premier Collier sits on an egg amongst a farmyard scene. The egg is labelled "Redistribution of Seats", and is watched by a farmer. Labelling beneath cartoon: PREMIER COLLIER (on the egg): I'm sure this is a very good Easter Egg.
The Easter Egg. (1929, April 4). Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954), p. 7. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article38881273

That’s all – but do go have a look in Trove if you want more. A simple search for “Easter Egg” found all of these! I hope you all have a good holiday. Comments with suggestions for future themes would be greatly appreciated!

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