Why choose a specialist picture library?

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Luci Gosling, Head of Sales and Research at historical image specialist Mary Evans Picture Library argues the case for the smaller, specialist agency in an industry that is becoming increasingly dominated by a handful of major players.

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© Illustrated London News Ltd / Mary Evans Picture Library

Founded in 1964, Mary Evans Picture Library was borne out of Mary’s, and her husband Hilary’s shared love of antiquarian books. Avid collectors of all types of ephemeral images, the archive of books, prints, periodicals, postcards and photographs they collected together forms the bedrock of our unique library which is housed in our office, a former parish hall in Blackheath village. We’re fiercely independent, proud of our specialism and pride ourselves on providing a personal and knowledgeable service. As larger agencies have increasingly begun to dominate the image buying landscape, it feels more important than ever to highlight some of the perks and quash some of the misconceptions about buying images from a specialist agency like ourselves.

Knowledge & Experience

It may seem obvious, but depth of knowledge is one of our key USPs. Three members of the sales & research team have been here over a decade. Jessica, our Deputy Picture Research Manager will be celebrating 20 years at Mary Evans next year. We’ve all got history or history of art degrees and two of us have had books published on various historical subjects, drawing on the library’s vast content for inspiration.

Long service at Mary Evans means we know where to look and what might be in the archive, we can suggest alternative ideas or look up any extra information required. Basically, we know our stuff. Whether it’s obscure European royalty, Mesopotamian archaeology or First World War tanks, somebody here will have a pretty good idea of what you’re on about and what you’re after. And it’s all part of the service.

More than meets the eye

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© Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans

There is the common misconception that specialist means ‘limited’ but our breadth and depth of material is extensive and continually expanding. Unlike most large, general image sources, we have a large, physical off-line archive. If we can’t find what we’re looking for online, we frequently consult the archive to see what we can find. As a specialist in history, we’re not going to have contemporary lifestyle images, stock food images or celebrity red carpet, but we aim to provide a really comprehensive coverage of all areas of history.

This is augmented by our representation of over 350 different contributor collections and archives ranging from large national institutions such as the Natural History Museum or National Archives, art & illustration sources such as the Medici Society and niche specialists like the Maurice Collins Gadget collection or the Peter Higginbotham’s images of orphanages, workhouses and asylums. Recently, we’ve expanded into film with almost one million images of movie stills, actor portraits and film posters available for editorial use.  We also offer an advice service for clients to guide them through the tricky maze of film content licensing.

More expensive? Not necessarily

It’s the elephant in the room but people often assume specialist picture libraries will be too expensive for them. The cost of making historical content available is considerable – whether that’s scanning delicate material, housing a substantial archive or spending time hunting out images in the archive – but we also aim to be flexible on price. Talk to us. We think we represent good value, but we also want our images to be used. We’re very happy to negotiate depending on your project and your budget.

Unique imagery unavailable anywhere else

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© Roger Mayne Archive / Mary Evans Picture Library

Besides the thousands of ‘core history’ subjects we cover, there are many unique collections that are unavailable to licence anywhere else. The work of 1legendary street photographers Roger Mayne and Shirley Baker is exclusive to us, as is the collection of British pin-up artist David Wright and archive of fashion designer Hardy Amies. We are sole representatives of the Grenville Collins Postcard collection, an incredible repository of images on subjects beyond topographical and bordering on the bizarre!

All licensing for the prestigious Medici Society, a collection of some of the 20th century’s finest artists and illustrators is handled at Mary Evans, and the incomparable archive of The Illustrated London News, comprised of full runs of nine important weekly magazines, is housed and managed at the library. Add to this many rare and unusual books and periodicals owned by us and there is plenty to set us apart. The same will apply to many other specialist libraries who work hard to ensure they are the best at what they do.

It’s personal

Finally, we pride ourselves on offering an efficient, personal service. That may sound obvious, but our staff know existing clients well and make new ones feel welcome. We are keen to help and enthusiastic about sharing our knowledge and the library’s treasures. Unlike many archive and picture collections at museums and art galleries, we are set up to provide a swift service. If you call us up, the phone will be answered within one ring. If you email us, we’re back to you straight away and scans generally take less than an hour to be processed and emailed out.

Equally, if you prefer a bit of self-sufficiency, direct download of hi-res images is available to those registered on our website, and we’re constantly developing our online search facilities to improve results and the customer experience. We get excited about new collections, but also, we are always amazed when we continue to find undiscovered pictures in the archive.  If we find something we know a client was looking for a fortnight ago, we’ll call to let them know, just in case. And we love to show people around. Visitors to the library invariably leave feeling inspired by the collection and charmed by our thoroughly vintage office space.

Publishers and image suppliers are both facing the difficult challenges brought about by consolidation and price competition, but specialist agencies have adapted to this and have a lot to offer the time-poor, cash-strapped image researcher, art editor or author of today.  If you think using a specialist agency isn’t for you, think again. You may just find the perfect picture, and the perfect picture supplier.

To find out more about Mary Evans Picture Library, visit www.maryevans.com or you can email Luci directly at luci.gosling@maryevans.com. Websites such as www.photoarchivenews.com, www.stockindexonline.com and www.bapla.org are excellent sources for discovering more specialist picture libraries. And the Fotofringe event, held at King’s Place every April, is a networking event that connects picture buyers with hundreds of image suppliers – www.fotofringelondon.com

Luci Gosling studied history at Liverpool University and has worked in the picture library industry since 1993.  She was manager of the Illustrated London News Picture Library before moving to historical specialist Mary Evans Picture Library where she is Head of Sales & Research. Luci has written ten books inspired by and illustrated with content from the Mary Evans archive, has contributed to Tatler, History Today,  Majesty, Illustration & BBC News online.  She is also a regular public speaker on subjects ranging from 1920s nightlife to Great War knitting.   

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