Case studies

History revealed by an illuminated address

Illuminated addresses are hand-illustrated manuscripts presented to a person to mark an event or to celebrate a person’s achievements. Typically contained in a leather-bound gold-embossed folder faced with red silk, they contain hand-written text surrounded by a wide decorative border, illustrations, a statement of appreciation and signatures of the presenters. The term ‘illuminated’ derives from the use of gilt, but many addresses use gold or bronze paint rather than gilt. Illuminated addresses were popular in Britain and Australia from the 1850s to the 1930s, with a peak in popularity in the 1880s and 1890s.

General consensus appears to be that illuminated addresses were derived from illuminated books and manuscripts in medieval Europe. Australian examples commonly contain native flora and fauna – a trend which was also evident in art and buildings at that time.

Illuminated addresses were presented in a ceremony and were often accompanied by a purse of sovereigns and an announcement in the local newspapers. They had an important symbolic role, creating and reinforcing social links, and generating expectations of reciprocity.

Bean addressThis illuminated address is in the collections of the Society of Australian Genealogists. It was presented to Dr J. W. B. Bean Esq. M. D. of South Kensington by members of the Medical Magazine Club in Waverley New South Wales on 14 May 1914.