Karen Mee, Collections Officer, reflects: whilst researching the student newspaper collection for the Leeds University Archive Google Arts and Culture exhibitions, I was struck by how beautiful the artwork was in editions of The Gryphon which ran from 1897 – 1961. Of particular interest was the cover of early editions and the illustrations, similar to woodcuts, dotted amongst the pages to signal a new section or to embellish a title page. I have chosen a few of my favourites for this blog.

‘The Gryphon’, Volume, 1 Issue 1, 1 Dec 1897. LUA-PUB-002-GRY-1 Image credit Leeds University Library.

My first choice is the cover of the very first edition of ‘The Gryphon’ published in 1897, a decade after The Yorkshire College entered Victoria University, and 8 years before it became the University of Leeds. See The University Has Come at Last online exhibition to learn more about the early history of the university. Professor Arthur J Grant, who was Professor of History at the University of Leeds, 1904-1927, launched, edited and wrote articles for the newspaper, but it was mostly written by students, for students. It is therefore possible that the artist’s signature at the bottom of the cover design, W Farley, was a student’s. The design contains heraldic imagery which you can learn more about in the exhibition The Sphinx and the Gryphon but what interests me about the cover is the Art Nouveau-style intricate floral and leaf design. Can you identify the type of flower depicted?

‘The Gryphon’, Volume 3, Issue 3, Feb 1900. LUA/PUB/002/GRY/13 Image credit Leeds University Library.

The woodcut-style illustrations did not appear until the February 1900 edition. A short article on the first page explains why; “ …after much promise and disappointment, we are able, by the munificence of a student who desires anonymity, to present our readers with three ornamental headlines…” These ornamental headlines appear in this and further editions. The first example is my favourite, an illustration of a studious scholar at their desk in front of a shelf of library books and a glimpse of a building through the leaded window, perhaps a university building. This headlines the Editorial Notes section.

The Gryphon, Volume 3, Issue 3, Feb 1900, LUA/PUB/002/GRY/13, Image credit Leeds University Library

The second illustration starts the Medical School News section and features a microscope, a human skull sat atop a pile of what are presumably medical books, and in the background some bottles containing an unknown substance. All are placed on top of a wooden desk.  

‘The Gryphon’, Volume 3, Issue 3, Feb 1900, LUA/PUB/002/GRY/13 Image credit Leeds University Library

The third of the new ornamental headlines accompanies the Correspondence section and features a seated figure sat at a writing table with papers and letters, a quill and bottle of ink.

‘The Gryphon’, Volume 3, Issue 4, Mar 1900, LUA/PUB/002/GRY/14 Image credit Leeds University Library

In the following month’s edition two new ornamental headlines appear. The first is a more elaborate title page drawing of a seated female figure holding a scroll of paper between two trees festooned with berries. The tree roots join together at the bottom to frame the picture and create a central heart shape. This is different to the earlier examples in that it is signed E. M. W. Could this be a student too and if so, were they a student of art, history or medical science?

‘The Gryphon’, Volume 3, Issue 4, Mar 1900, LUA/PUB/002/GRY/14 Image credit Leeds University Library

The drawing above is a design featuring The Great Hall and mythical creature of the Griffin, presumably an homage to the journal’s name.  This is signed M.S.B. and headlines the College Societies section.

There are many more illustrations within the pages of ‘The Gryphon’. I hope this blog inspires you to have a closer look. I leave you with the words of the article from the February 1900 edition “ we trust that the efforts of a few, to make ‘The Gryphon’ worthy of the college, will be appreciated and seconded by the many”