The Baer Collection

Tony Baer was an avid collector of “Cricketana”, obtaining thousands of items and objects featuring representations of cricket. It was the donation of this ready-made exhibition that led to the development of the Melbourne Cricket Club Museum. 

Baer's unique collection

Anthony Baer (1938-2005) was a devotee of cricket, spending many years assembling a vast collection of artworks, ceramics, ornaments, trophies and souvenirs that referenced the game. When his London house was overflowing with 'cricketana' in the late 1960s, Baer kindly offered his collection to the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC).

This ready-made exhibition contained over 1200 pieces which profiled the history and development of cricket, and included some of the rarest books and annuals to reference the sport.

It was his generous donation that led to the establishment of the Melbourne Cricket Club Museum in 1968.

These are some Baer Collection highlights which have helped to trace the journey of the game.

A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues - frontispiece (1611) by Randle CotgraveMelbourne Cricket Ground

"A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues" by Randle Cotgrave

Among Baer's treasures was a copy of a dictionary from 1611 containing the first published definitions of cricket. Compiled by Randle Cotgrave this extraordinary relic contains several early references to the game.

Published in the same year as the King James Bible and the premiere of Shakespeare's The Tempest, Cotgrave's A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues contains a very early usage in print of the word “cricket”.

Page from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611) by Randle GotgraveMelbourne Cricket Ground

In his dictionarie, the meaning of the French verb “Crosser” is given as “to play at cricket”, while the entry for the feminine noun “Crosse” refers to “A Crosier or Bishops staffe; also, a Cricket-staffe; or, the crooked staffe wherewith boyes play at cricket.”

Cotgrave’s view that cricket was a boy’s game was probably correct when he was carrying out his research, yet by the time his dictionairie was published, the game was attracting adult participation.

Print of an engraving by C L Benoist, after a painting by Francis Hayman, "Cricket" (1743)Melbourne Cricket Club

"Cricket" by C.L. Benoist

Simply titled "Cricket", this black and white print of an engraving by C.L. Benoist from the eighteenth century depicts a scene painted by Francis Hayman around 1743.

The engraving captures the early game of cricket which has notable differences to the modern game. The curved bats, underarm bowling technique, and a wicket made up of two stumps were features of the early game.

The figure seated on the foreground is the scorer, whose role was to keep the count by cutting a notch into a stick every time a run was made.

At the bottom of the engraving is printed an "Ode to Cricket".

A Cricket Match on the Heath (1874) by John LinnellMelbourne Cricket Club

"A Cricket Match on the Heath" by John Linell

In his painting, English artist John Linell present a game of cricket in a rural area. Painted in 1874, it shows the evolution of the game with wickets made up of three-stumps and straight, broad-faced bats. John Linnell himself was an important English landscapist whose works captured scenes of ordinary English life. He was a contemporary of and sometimes rival to John Constable.

The Rev J Chandler as a boy (1780) by Arthur DevisMelbourne Cricket Club

"The Rev J. Chandler as a Boy" by Arthur Devis

By the latter half of the 18th Century, cricket had become a respectable pastime enjoyed by all sectors of the aristocracy, including the clergy, as demonstrated in Devis' work "The Rev J. Chandler as a Boy". The clergyman clearly had no problem being associated with playing cricket, unlike sober-minded puritans of the 17th century who prosecuted men for choosing cricket over church.

A question still exists over the attribution of this painting to Arthur Devis, one of a family of well-known painters of the 17th and 18th Centuries.

There is no mention of the painting in the only catalogue of the family's work and although the general style of the painting resembles the works of Devis, the central figure is painted with little of the skill for which Devis is known.

Painting, "The Godson Brothers at Eton" by Sir Martin Archer Shee (1841) by Sir Martin Archer SheeMelbourne Cricket Club

"The Godson Brothers at Eton" by Sir Martin Archer Shee

This large painting forms the centrepiece of the artworks displayed in the MCC Museum. Painted in 1841 by Sir Martin Archer Shee, it depicts the three sons of Richard Godson MP QC posing as young cricketers - William Henry (b.1828), Arthur Richard (b.1830) and George St Alban (b.1832).

Sir Martin Archer Shee was a social portraitist in the early 19th Century whose richly-coloured canvasses were very popular with the upper classes and nobility. He painted the likenesses of two Queens, Adelaide and Victoria, and he was president of the Royal Academy.

The Cricketer (1885) by James HayllarMelbourne Cricket Club

"The Cricketer" by James Hayllar

"The Cricketer" by James Hayllar is another example of 19th Century cricket-themed portraiture. James Hayllar (1829–1920) was a portrait and landscape painter who was popular throughout the 19th Century. Four of his daughters became noted artists who exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Village Cricket Match (1884) by George Goodwin KilburneMelbourne Cricket Club

"Village Cricket Match" by George Goodwin Kilburne

The painting "Village Cricket Match" by George Goodwin Kilburne shows the role of cricket in English life towards the end of the 19th Century. Kilburne captured the bowler’s roundarm technique and the different coloured hats and sashes worn to differentiate the bowling and batting teams.

Artist George Goodwin Kilburne specialised in showing the pursuits of the aristocracy and upper classes, and portrayals of Victorian and Edwardian life. His works were popularised by through prints.

A Game of Cricket - Youth and Age (1865) by Alexander BurrMelbourne Cricket Club

"A Game of Cricket - Youth and Age" by Alexander Burr

Painted in 1865, Alexander Burr's artwork captures a rustic scene with an old man playing cricket with young children. The old man is bent over, bowling underarm to a smiling young boy - who wields an example of a modern bat.

Portrait of James Dean, The Well-Known Sussex Bowler (1857) by William BromleyMelbourne Cricket Club

"Portrait of James Dean" by William Bromley

The subject of this painting, James "Jemmy" Dean, was a professional cricketer and round-arm fast bowler in the 19th Century. At this time, professional cricketers were seen as semi-independent artisans, akin to mobile craftsmen. Dean was painted by William Bromley, who produced portraits of other notable cricketers including John Wisden, George Parr, and Alfred Mynn, which hang in the Long Room at Lord’s.

Lid for sugar bowl, image of eighteenth century cricket gamesMelbourne Cricket Club

Sugar Bowl and Lid, Ceramic, 18th Century

Baer had a vast collection of ceramics. This white porcelain sugar bowl and lid dates from 1745-60 and is the rarest and most valuable ceramic in the MCC Museum collection. It is an example of 'A'-marked English porcelain, among the first known examples of porcelains manufactured in England.

Lid for sugar bowl, image of eighteenth century cricket gamesMelbourne Cricket Club

The sugar bowl and lid is decorated with multi-coloured hand-painted vignettes of 18th Century children's games set within iron-red scrollwork. The lid depicts a game of cricket in which only two stumps are being used, with a short and curved cricket bat in use.

The illustrations are based on a series of engravings published in London in 1739 and 1740 by J Cole and probably based upon the work of Hubert de Bourguignion, also known as Gravelot. Gravelot is given much credit for introducing French art and the rococo style to England.

Patch box, "A Present from Sevenoaks" (1780)Melbourne Cricket Club

"Present from Sevenoaks Vine" Ceramic Patchbox

Dating from around 1780, this patchbox is labelled “Sevenoaks Vine”, with Sevenoaks in Kent being one of England’s oldest cricket venues. However, the image depicted on the lid is highly reminiscent of Hayman’s “Cricket in Marylebone Fields”. Originally the patchbox would have held ladies beauty spots or ‘patches’, which were fashionable cosmetic items of the era. This box is one of the first examples of a commercial cricketing souvenir.

Platter, image of cricket match at Windsor CastleMelbourne Cricket Club

Staffordshire Pottery, Cricket Game at Windsor Castle

This blue and white platter and accompanying platter drainer are examples of 19th Century Staffordshire pottery, manufactured by Goodwin and Harris around 1820 as part of their “Metropolitan Scenery” cricket series. The cricket is being played in a field with Windsor Castle in the background.

Figurine, W G Grace (1885)Melbourne Cricket Club

Figurine of G.W. Grace, by Edwin Roscoe Mullins

W.G. Grace was an important figure in English cricket and Baer collected many items associated with him, bearing his striking image. Grace was considered the “most famous man in England” in his day and he did much to popularise the game at the end of the 19th Century. This figurine of Grace was crafted from a design by the English sculptor, Edwin Roscoe Mullins, and manufactured by the Watcombe Pottery Company in South Devon.

The artworks and items that were amassed by Tony Baer over his lifetime form one of the most extensive and high-quality collections of cricket-related material in the world.

The Melbourne Cricket Club Museum has been able to make for the Baer Collection to ensure it can be enjoyed by people from all over the world.

Credits: Story

Glorious Innings: Treasures from the Melbourne Cricket Club Collection, Richard Bouwman, Hutchison Australia, 1987
The Yorker, Issue 43, Summer 2010-11
The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery 1780-1880 p. 404

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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