The Aldine Collection at University of Manchester

2015 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of the world’s most famous commercial printer, the Italian Aldus Manutius (1449-1515) who brought the Greek and Roman classics to the masses through the new technology of printing, introduced the world to italic type, and pioneered the pocket format book we now take for granted. Merchants of Print: from Venice to Manchester celebrates the legacy of Aldus as an innovative scholar-businessman who founded the Aldine Press in Venice at the end of the fifteenth century and sought to produce critical editions of the classical authors. It also examines how such a rich collection was amassed in a city more famous for its textiles than its texts, more associated with mills than libraries.

Old Aldine Room, The John Rylands Library

Old Aldine Room, The John Rylands Library

New storage, library extension 2007

New storage, library extension 2007

The John Rylands Library has held, since its inception, a discrete collection of Aldines once housed in an octagonal room in one of the towers at the front of the building. This collection arrived at the Rylands as part of the outstanding library of George John 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834), which was purchased from his grandson, the 5th Earl, by Mrs Rylands in 1892. After the construction of a new extension which opened in 2007, the Aldine collection – along with the incunabula and other significant collections, were moved into the modern store. Following a bequest in 2010, the library began a project to reorganise, rehouse and recatalogue the collection. This has included incorporating non Spencer copies, previously dispersed elsewhere in the collections, bringing the total to 2,000 volumes which represents about 1200 separate editions.

The collection has always been inclusive, going beyond editions printed by Aldus, his son Paolo and grandson Aldus to include other editions associated with the press (such as some by his in-laws, the Torresani) and also editions identified as counterfeits. It has been reorganised following the arrangement used by the published catalogue of the Ahmanson-Murphy Aldine Collection at UCLA.   At the end of the project each item has a detailed description on the library catalogue, following internationally recognised standards for rare books cataloguing, including information on editors, translators, inscriptions, annotations, previous owners, bindings and reference to the standard bibliographies (Renouard and Ahmanson-Murphy).

Thus, the exhibition is able to commemorate not only the 500th anniversary of Aldus’s death, but also celebrate the end of almost five years work on the collection. Attention in the past has mostly been focussed on the high spots, of which there are many. One example is the first Italian work published in the Aldine octavo series – ‘Le cose volgari’ by Petrarch in 1501. The collection includes two copies, one displays the arms of the editor, Pietro Bembo and also has a long trail of provenance – almost complete from publication to the present day. It moved from Venice to Vienna, Leiden, Rome, Naples, London, Northamptonshire and finally to Manchester. The second copy has the arms of the Barbarigo family, who had provided financial support for the press. Lord Spencer briefly owned another copy decorated by his wife Lavinia with a gem engraved by Nathaniel Marchant. He presented this to his fellow bibliophile Thomas Grenville in 1796. It is now in the British Library. All three are parchment copies.

Image of the arms of Pietro Bembo

Petrarca, Le cose volgari (1501). Arms of Pietro Bembo

Image of the arms of Barbarigo family

Petrarca, Le cose volgari (1501). Arms of Barbarigo family

The systematic recataloguing to include binding and provenance information for all copies has uncovered the great depths of the collection and especially in relation to the existence of multiple copies of editions. This particular strength provides a major resource for the study of the distribution and impact of a single press, and offers a microcosm for the history of collecting and book collectors over five centuries. The project has opened up possibilities for new research, for example on collectors, bindings, extremely rare editions such as a group published by Paolo Manuzio for the Accademia Veneziana. It provided impetus for our collaboration with the University of York on the identification of animal species of parchment, based on the outstanding examples printed in parchment in the collection. We see this as an ongoing process, with many questions and puzzles still unanswered.

The expansion of the collection beyond the core gathered together by Spencer has provided the opportunity to highlight other collectors and drawn attention to the literary and educational cultures of nineteenth century Manchester and individual figures such as Richard Copley Christie, Bishop James Prince Lee, Joseph Thompson, David Lloyd Roberts and Walter Bullock.

Image of Baldassare Castiglione, Il Libro Cortegiano (1541).

Baldassare Castiglione, Il Libro Cortegiano (1541). Annotations of Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton. Annotations of Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton

We will continue to add to the collection when we can, attempting to fill the gaps of missing editions and variant issues – a very difficult task, but mostly focussing on adding other interesting copies. This copy of the 1541 edition of Castiglione’s Courtier was purchased at the Kenneth Rapoport sale in October 2012. There are extensive annotations in this copy by Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton (1540-1614). From 1667 to 1873 it was in the library of the Royal Society and more recently the book was owned by the Oxford physician and bibliophile Bent Juel-Jensen.

Julianne Simpson
Rare Books and Maps Collections Manager,
Special Collections,
John Rylands Library

Explore Copac records for the Aldine collection at the University of Manchester

All images copyright the John Rylands Library and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

Celebrating 350 years of the Scientific Journal: The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society

The journal as a medium for communicating scientific knowledge is something we are all familiar with today. But just over 350 years ago this style of publication did not exist; those practicing science relied on monographs, pamphlets, and on personal correspondence with colleagues across the world.

Title page of Philosophical Transactions issue one, March 1665

Title page of Philosophical Transactions issue one, March 1665. Image copyright: the Royal Society

On the 6th March 2015 the Royal Society celebrates the 350th anniversary of its journal, the Philosophical Transactions, the earliest and longest-running scientific journal in the world. This blog briefly highlights episodes in the history of the Philosophical Transactions, from its beginnings in 1665 when the ‘journal’ was yet to be defined as a genre of scientific publishing, to its continued production in today’s electronic age.

Henry Oldenburg

Henry Oldenburg, secretary of the Royal Society and founder of the Philosophical Transactions, first published in 1665. Image copyright: the Royal Society

The history of the Philosophical Transactions is the focus of a project based at the University of St Andrews entitled ‘Publishing the Philosophical Transactions: the economic, social and cultural history of a learned journal, 1665-2015’. The early history of the Transactions is framed by the activities of Henry Oldenburg, polyglot and secretary to the Royal Society from 1663 to 1677, who spent a brief period in the Tower of London in 1667 for suspected treason, as a result of his receipt and translation of foreign correspondence during the Anglo-Dutch War. It was Oldenburg’s skill as translator, however, and his connections to men of science across Europe that provided the content for his nascent journal, the Transactions, in 1665, and created a form of print whose flexibility, diversity of content and speed of transmission immediately captured the imagination of seventeenth century ‘natural philosophers’ and sparked a revolution in science communication. The Transactions continued to be a prestigious publication into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and was particularly important as practitioners of science became increasingly eager in the nineteenth century to see their discoveries published rapidly and to secure the credit for their inventions.

The Review of the Works of the Royal Society’ by John Hill, a book-length satirical critique of the Philosophical Transactions, attacking its past papers

The Review of the Works of the Royal Society’ by John Hill, a book-length satirical critique of the Philosophical Transactions, attacking its past papers. Image copyright: the Royal Society

As well as the notable successes of the journal, the Transactions came up against a number of challenges: it survived in the face of criticism in the eighteenth century from a disenfranchised few outside the Society who believed the Society was not publishing the most scientific papers, and managed to ride out reform in the Royal Society in the nineteenth century due to unrest among the Fellowship. Interwoven with the social, political and cultural circumstances of the journal’s development are the stories of men and women of science who sought publication in the journal. Their experiences reveal how the editorial and reviewing processes evolved from Oldenburg’s sole editorial power, through decision-making by committee, to the use of written referee reports and discipline-based advisory editors.

Charles Darwin: long-winded geologist

Charles Darwin: long-winded geologist. Image copyright: the Royal Society

Even the naturalist Charles Darwin, for example, had to go through the reviewing process to get his paper published in the Transactions: Darwin faced criticism in 1839 from his referee, Adam Sedgwick, for the unnecessary wordiness in his paper on the parallel roads of Glen Roy. The paper was the only paper Darwin ever published in the Transactions (though he later acted as a referee on papers).

The financial history of the Transactions is also important, and up to the 1940s the journal ran at a loss. It was only after World War II that the journal’s income consistently exceeded expenditure. Today, the Society’s publishing section now hosts ten journals in total and has grown to include academic editors, commissioning editors and other professional members of a production team of twenty. The journal is delivered largely electronically and is distributed through institutional subscription rather than individual subscribers. The Royal Society and its publishing division, including Philosophical Transactions, continue to be at the forefront of debates about science publishing in an ongoing communication and information revolution.

George Gabriel Stokes, secretary and editor of the Transactions 1854-85

George Gabriel Stokes, secretary and editor of the Transactions 1854-85. Image copyright: the Royal Society

The Publish or Perish? Conference being held at the Royal Society from the 19th – 22nd March will address both the history of scientific publishing and its future through two public evening events

An exhibition on the Transactions is currently open at the Royal Society and runs until June 2015. The exhibition is open to all and you can download the brochure here

Dr Julie McDougall-Waters
Research Fellow, University of St. Andrews

Explore records for the Philosophical Translations of the Royal Society on Copac.

St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, Chapter Library

Dr Clare Rider, Archivist and Chapter Librarian, writes about the collections at the Chapter Library, St George’s Chapel.

The College of St George, comprising St George’s Chapel and surrounding buildings, occupies the lower ward of Windsor Castle.  Founded in 1348 by King Edward III as a collegiate religious institution, its purpose was to act as the spiritual counterpart of the Order of the Garter, the oldest and most prestigious order of chivalry in Britain. The library has been an integral part of the life of the College from its foundation, serving the Dean and Canons who make up the Windsor Chapter.

Grail roof boss, St George's Chapel Library

Roof boss in medieval library room

An introduction to the medieval library and a survey of the documentary sources for its study are the subject of a new St George’s Chapel monograph by Dr James Willoughby, published at the end of 2014.   Dr Willoughby describes how the first books were kept chained to desks in the Chapel. On the orders of Edward IV, who donated a number of books to the College, a separate library was built in the 1480s above the Dean’s Cloister to house the growing number of volumes. Despite the loss of seventy of its manuscript books in 1612, donated to Sir Thomas Bodley for his new library in Oxford where they continue to reside, the library’s holdings continued to expand.

Vicars’ Hall in use as Chapter Library

Vicars’ Hall in use as Chapter Library

In 1692 the books were removed to the Vicars’ Hall, where they remained for three centuries as a working library, augmented by later acquisitions until, in 1947, the newly formed Library Committee decided to convert the Chapter Library into a ‘museum–library’,  arranging for the sale of its post-1692 publications. A few eighteenth and nineteenth century volumes escaped the cull and a small number of additions have been made to the rare-book collection since then.  However, the vast majority of the library’s collection of approximately 6,000 rare-books, dates from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, forming a splendid sequence from the main English and

Illustration of a scholar at a lectern from Wynkyn de Worde’s The crafte to lyve well and to dye well (1505)

Illustration of a scholar at a lectern from Wynkyn de Worde’s The crafte to lyve well and to dye well (1505)

and European printing presses of the time. The volumes cover a wide range of subjects:  theology, ecclesiastical and political history, classics, geography, topography, navigation, bibliography, mathematics and medicine. The nine incunables in the collection include a fine edition of Caxton’s The mirrour of the world (1481), and a beautifully illustrated copy of The crafte to lyve well and to dye well printed by Wynkyn de Worde (1505).

Image of Typus Cosmographicus Universali

Typus Cosmographicus Universali by Sebastian Munster (left-side)

Amongst the most interesting of the non-theological holdings is the rich collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century topographical and navigational works and atlases including all four parts of Sir Robert Dudley’s Dell’arcano del mare (1606), a fine edition of John Speed’s The theatre of the empire of Great-Britain (1676), Mercator’s Atlas siue Cosmographicae (1606), Jan Blaeu’s Atlas maior (1662) and Moses Pitt’s The English atlas (1680-1683).  One of the earliest published world maps, Typus Cosmographicus Universali by Sebastian Munster (1488-1552), is included (in two parts) in the 1555 edition of Simon Grynaeus’ Nouus orbis regionum which also forms part of this collection. With its lively depictions of cannibals, winged serpents, elephants, and monsters, and its curious topographical interpretation of North America (labelled as the land of Cuba), it makes a fascinating study.

Image of page from volume of Papal scrutiny papers, 1676

Page from volume of Papal scrutiny papers, 1676

An intriguing eighteenth century addition to the Chapter Library was the donation by Canon Walter Harte of a bound volume entitled ‘The Scrutiny at the Conclave held at Rome in the year 1676, when Cardinal Odescalchi was chosen Pope (Innocent XI)’. The volume, which Canon Harte purchased in Italy, contains daily scrutiny papers (printed lists of cardinals with manuscript annotations recording number of votes for each on a daily basis) from the Papal Conclave held in the Vatican from 4 September to 21 September 1676, ending with an engraving of Odescalchi in his new role as Pope. The Apostolic Constitution governing papal elections requires all notes as well as ballot papers to be burnt in order to maintain secrecy. These papers, presumably smuggled out of the Vatican for the antiquarian market in Rome, offer a unique insight into an important moment in the Roman Catholic Church.

Photo of Vicars’ Hall with entrance to Undercroft

Vicars’ Hall with entrance to Undercroft

In 1999, the rare-books moved down into the Vicars’ Hall Undercroft, which had been converted into an archives and library repository with the assistance of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The library collections are open to the public for research without charge (by prior appointment) and the Archives and Chapter Library welcomes group visits, donations from which contribute to the library conservation fund. The introduction of a successful Adopt-a-Book scheme in 1998, together with charitable grants and donations, has enabled the professional restoration of over six hundred rare-books since 1998.  We are delighted that the library’s catalogue is now included in Copac which has assisted in opening up the collection to a wider audience.

You can see the full St George’s Chapel collection here on Copac. Search within the collection to view details of individual items.

For more information about the Archives and Chapter Library, please visit our website:

Published catalogues and guides to the Chapter Library

J. Callard, A Catalogue of Printed Books (Pre-1751) in the Library of St George’s Chapel Windsor Castle Historical Monographs relating to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle no.15 (Windsor, 1976)

J. Willoughby, The Medieval Library of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle: Documentary Sources, Historical Monographs relating to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle no.19 (Windsor, 2014)

All images St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.


Special Collections at York Minster Library and the University of York Library

Sarah Griffin, Special collections and York Minster Librarian, talks about
the Special collections at the Cathedral and the University.

I was appointed to the post of Special collections and York Minster Librarian in 2010 following a partnership agreement between the University of York and the Chapter of York Minster.  The university provides all library staff, and technological support through the cataloguing and circulation modules of the library management system. In return university users get free access to the Minster library collections, we run induction tours for students and we host seminars for groups using the books.

The Minster library is the largest cathedral library in England holding around 120,000 items. As well as a substantial collection of early printed books, including 130 incunabula, the library has a modern reference and lending collection. The bulk of the historic library is housed in a 13th-century building to the north of the Minster.Image of Upper Hall of the Old Palace

The Upper Hall of the Old Palace. Image courtesy of the Chapter of York.

Cathedrals libraries are known for their broad and diverse collections and York is no exception. Subjects include travel, botany, science, medicine and, of course, theology.  We attract students of medieval studies, church architecture especially stained glass, and church history. My favourite part has to be the Yorkshire collection which was donated in 1890.

It came from Edward Hailstone, a solicitor from Bradford, who thought public libraries were ‘spoilators of books’ and would not countenance leaving his collection to them. Luckily that meant they came to the Minster where they now occupy a large proportion of our special collections room. They include everything from playbills, to civil war tracts, to children’s books, to local printing; the list is endless. Choosing a favourite item is hard as I have a new favourite every week.  However here is a constant much loved item, a commemorative handbill produced by Thomas Gent who set up his printing press on the frozen river Ouse in 1740.

Image of Verses on the frozen River Ouse, 1740

Verses on the frozen River Ouse, 1740. Image courtesy of the Chapter of York

Thomas Gent was a York printer from 1724 until his death in 1778 with a great line in blarney. He wrote an autobiography which is still fantastic reading although best taken with a big pinch of salt. What he was very good at was writing histories of Yorkshire towns. His books on York, Ripon and Hull contain information not found elsewhere and appear to have been based on first hand research and observation. The Minster library has almost all of Gent’s publications and would like to complete the collection in the future.

At the Minster I battle against the same things as many rare book librarians, namely looking after a collection in a historic building with all the environmental issues that entails, and achieving objectives with limited resources. In fairness big stone buildings do actually control temperature and humidity fairly well but dust and pest control are on-going problems. We suffer every year from a plague of ladybirds that come into the building through poorly fitting windows and promptly drop dead. It can be very disconcerting for readers to find themselves in the middle of a sea of ladybird corpses!

So that’s my first hat dealt with, I am also responsible for the special collections at the university. In the main these are printed books as archives are housed in and curated by the Borthwick Institute for Archives situated on campus. It is a collection of collections, comprising of around 20,000 items. Highlights are the books of Hugo Dyson, one of the Inklings, a group that included JRR Tolkien and C S Lewis; the Raymond Burton Yorkshire Collection; two Yorkshire parish libraries; two provincial medical society collections and much much more. I have got a definite favourite here though. It’s a scrapbook from 1819 produced by Laura Hannam.

Image of Scrapbook 1819

Scrapbook by Laura Catherine Hannam 1819. Image courtesy of the University of York

It was donated to the university on its opening in 1963 but there is no more information than that. However looking at the pictures Laura has drawn it is possible to work out that she must have lived in East Kent, and probably on a farm. The pictures are quite crude but so charming. It sits with a small collection of printed children’s books illustrated by Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, and Randolph Caldecott among others.

The area I probably spend most time on is promotion of the collections within both institutions and also to the wider community in York and further afield. This is done through a combination of exhibitions, talks, tours and the use of social media.  At present I am working on producing a treasures booklet which will showcase the unique and distinctive collections at the Minster, the special collections and the Borthwick.  I am also working with a group of academics from English and History to create an exhibition and events celebrating the 600th anniversary of the Minster library.

I am lucky to work in an institution that places great value on its special collections and with the initiatives of bodies such as RLUK in this area I am looking forward to expanding the reach and scope of the collections I curate.

More information on the Minster collections can be found at

For more information on special collections see

Senate House Library, University of London treasures volume

Dr Karen Attar, Rare Books Librarian at Senate House Library and author of numerous articles about the Library and its holdings, talks about the Library’s recently published volume of treasures.

(see Senate House Library, University of London, ed. by Christopher Pressler and Karen Attar (London: Scala, 2012) View on Copac)

In November 2012 Senate House Library, University of London, produced a treasures volume featuring a brief history of the Library and sixty highlights from its special collections. The publication is a landmark. The treasures volume is by no means the first publication to appear about Senate House Library. Its first catalogue was published in 1876, the year before the Library opened. Numerous catalogues have followed, culminating in the five-volume short-title Catalogue of the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature (1970-1995), which has provided a standard for economic completeness (viz. “Not in Goldsmiths’” in booksellers’ catalogues). Articles about specific collections or groups of collections have appeared in various academic journals. But the treasures volume published by Scala is the first large-scale publication with lavish illustrations intended for a general audience.

Senate House Library opened as the University of London Library in 1877. Donations had dribbled in from 1838 onwards. The impetus for a University Library came with the acquisition of the University’s first purpose-built accommodation in Burlington Gardens, Piccadilly, in 1870, with a large ground-floor room to double as an examination hall and library. No sooner had the Chancellor appealed for books to fill its empty shelves than Samuel Loyd, Baron Overstone, purchased and gave the library of the recently deceased mathematician and mathematical historian Augustus De Morgan (1806-1871). This comprised over 3,500 titles, mainly to do with the various branches of mathematics (including astronomy) and its history: a collection which was praised at the time and which, over 120 years later in 1996, Adrian Rice called ‘one of the finest accumulations of books on the history of mathematics in the country’.

Obvious treasures included the first five printed editions of Euclid, first editions of Newton’s Principia and Opticks, and the first edition of Copernicus’s  De Revolutionibus, this last individualised by De Mogan’s annotations; also noteworthy were runs of popular textbooks, such as Cocker’s Arithmetic and Francis Walkingame’s The Tutor’s Assistant. De Morgan’s notes, often humorous and sometimes shedding light on the history of mathematics, enhanced a significant minority of the books: a feature noted as adding to their value even at the time of De Morgan’s death, and one which has gained significance in recent years with the general boom in the history of reading and provenance research. The collection was catalogued online, with help from the Vice-Chancellor’s Development Fund of the University of London, in 2004-6. The iconic 1482 editio princeps of Euclid’s Elements is by no means a rare book, with 41 copies recorded on the ISTC for the British Isles alone and many more across the world; and De Morgan’s copy of the first edition of Copernicus has received prominence elsewhere, as in David Pearson’s Books as History (2008). For the treasures volume, we therefore regarded these as out of bounds. De Morgan’s own extensive writings included an article ‘On the Earliest Printed Almanacs’ in The Companion to the Almanac for 1845 and a separate monograph The Book of Almanacs (1851), and we represented this area of his interest with the first of several early almanacs from his library, the Lunarium ab Anno 1491 ad Annum 1550 by Bernardus de Granollachs (ISTC ig00340700). An added attraction to featuring this work is that De Morgan’s is the only complete copy known.  We featured De Morgan’s copy of his Formal Logic(1847): interleaved and bound in two volumes, it is full of scribbled notes, newspaper articles and personal letters, with some unpublished diagrams which show his mind at work.

One of Augustus De Morgan’s insertions in his Formal Logic (1847)

One of Augustus De Morgan’s insertions in his Formal Logic (1847)

Arithmetic was a major focus of his collecting and there would have been numerous early printed books from which to choose. Ultimately we selected a late edition of John Bonnycastle’s The Scholar’s Guide to Arithmetic, edited by retired schoolmaster Edwin Colman Tyson (1828). This is a prime example of how small, common textbooks are prone to disappear: the Senate House Library copy is one of only two on Copac. De Morgan’s copy includes his note from 1857: “This book was sent to me by the publisher, meaning to call my attention to it as a class book. It convinced me that a work on demonstrative arithmetic was wanting – and was the book which suggested the existence of the deficiency to supply which I wrote my own arithmetic in 1830” – what a devastating verdict by an experienced and dismissive reviewer!

Classical historian and University of London Vice-Chancellor George Grote died on 18 June 1871, just four months after De Morgan. Grote bequeathed his books to the University. Unlike De Morgan, Grote had not been a conscious collector. But he had been a voracious reader, with money from 1830 onwards to satisfy his wide-ranging literary interests, and his library contained about five thousand titles. Director’s Choice, by Christopher Pressler – our Director’s selection of thirty favourite items from the collections –had come out a few months earlier and snaffled Grote’s collection of French Revolutionary pamphlets, comprising some items which were not only very rare (again, because they were ephemeral) but which epitomised an area of Grote’s interest: according to his 1962 biographer, Martin Lowther Clarke, he was thought to have read everything there was to read about the French Revolution. We made do with the French translation (rare in Britian; the only other copy on Copac is at the British Library) of Grote’s History of Greece and with the second-oldest item in his collection, Gregor Reisch’s Margarita Philosophica (1504), in a copy including some hand-colouring and in a contemporary blind-tooled calf binding.

G. Reisch, Margarita Philosophica (1504)

G. Reisch, Margarita Philosophica (1504)

It was the gift of the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature in 1903 – some 30,000 items – which doubled library holdings and transformed the University Library into a major academic institution. Director’s Choice had already claimed the Collection’s most outstanding item in terms of provenance, a copy of Das Kapital (1872) inscribed by Marx to Peter Imandt (1823-1897), a fellow political émigré and German teacher in Dundee who worked with Marx and Engels for many years after having arrived in London, via Switzerland, in 1852. In the treasures volume we highlighted the founding item of the Goldsmiths’ Library, Dionyius Lardner’s Railway Economy (1850), annotated by the founder of the library, Herbert Somerton Foxwell: “I bought this volume from a bookstall in Great Portland Street at Jevons’ suggestion, one afternoon as I was going to Hampstead with him, for 6d.!  He urged me to buy it, partly on account of the low price, partly because it was a book of great intrinsic value, from which had suggested to him the mathematical treatment of economic theory. [cf. ch xiii] This purchase was the first step in the formation of my economic collection.” In addition to buying Foxwell’s collection and presenting it to the University of London, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths financed the extension of the collection, such that it is now more than twice the size of the original gift. Our choice of other items from the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature honoured collection building, with the first printed work on economics (Franciscus de Platea, Opus Restitutionum Usurarum, Excommunicationum, 1472; ISTC ip00751000), and a professional diary of the energetic railway engineer John Urpeth Rastrick (1780-1856).

On the whole the treasures volume follows and acknowledges the receipt of other major special collections to the University, from the Durning-Lawrence Library based around Sir Francis Bacon and the Quick Memorial Library of works on education, both given in 1929, to the M.S. Anderson Collection of Writings on Russia Printed between 1525 and 1917 and editions of Walter de la Mare’s work (given in 2008 and 2009 respectively). But it is important to acknowledge that not all the noteworthy works in a library are held in named special collections, and the treasures volume does this, for example with single purchases or gifts. The most valuable item featured falls into both these categories. It is an illuminated manuscript produced around 1385 chronicling the exploits of Edward, the Black Prince, during the Hundred Years War. Purchased by the University to present to the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) in 1921, it was subsequently placed by him on permanent loan to the University Library. Occasionally the means of acquisition is unknown, as for the short-running journal of the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union Aglaia (recorded on Copac only for Senate House Library and the National Art Library).

Editing a treasures volume is not conducive to cherishing favourite items, as one’s energies are focused on searching for errors and inconsistencies in drafts. Yet certain items do stand out for particular features. For sheer beauty, my preferred item is a small (110 x 72 mm), apparently unique book of hours printed on vellum in Paris for Germain Hardouyn in about 1516: the book is rubricated and illuminated, with a half-page coloured illustration for each of the hours.

Heures a l’usaige de Rome tout au Long sans riens requerir (ca 1516)

Heures a l’usaige de Rome tout au Long sans riens requerir (ca 1516)

The book I am most curious to read is The Greatest Plague in Life or The Adventures of a Lady in Search of a Good Servant, by the brothers Henry and Augustus Mayhew (1847) – a book reprinted at least three times in the Victorian era, as copies on Copac testify, but which has since sunk into obscurity.The first edition of the book is by no means rare, with copies from twelve libraries on Copac, but Senate House Library is the only library to have recorded ownership of the six original parts, complete with advertisements for pens and ink, iron fenders, lingerie, wigs, and hair dye.

Henry and Augustus Mayhew, The Greatest Plague in Life, ot 3 (1847).

Henry and Augustus Mayhew, The Greatest Plague in Life, ot 3 (1847).

For us there is also a local interest, as the narrator is based in Guildford Street, Russell Square, whence she complains that she has been driven “through a pack of ungrateful, good-for-nothing things called servants, who really do not know when they are well off”. This book promises to rate highly for amusement value, although for the top position in that category it vies with Thomas Carlyle’s acerbic marginalia on the first edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh (for example, “don’t!” when the protagonist says it is “too easy to go mad”).


“What and where is the University of London?” is a query which vexed University officials before the central University moved from South Kensington to its current home in Bloomsbury in the 1930s.  “What and where is Senate House Library, University of London” albeit not asked so explicitly, has often been implicit. A document from 1946 claimed that the University of London Library was not as well known as it deserved to be, even within the University of London; and half a century later we still encounter researchers who are surprised by the richness of the Library’s holdings. We hope that the treasures volume will stop such a question from being asked at all.

All images copyright Senate House Library, University of London, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

The Royal College of Surgeons: Designated status recognises the remarkable collections

Thalia Knight, Director of Library and Surgical Information Services at The Royal College of Surgeons of England and Beth Astridge, Library, Museum and Archives Projects Manager highlight some of the remarkable library, archive and museum collections at The Royal College of Surgeons of England, which have recently been awarded Designated status.

Last month The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) was delighted to announce that our combined library, archives and museum collections had been awarded Designated status by Arts Council England. The Designation award based on their quality and significance, distinguishes the library, archive and Hunterian museum at the RCS as unique collections of national and international importance.

The Designation application process is, quite rightly, a rigorous and searching exercise to undertake – as anyone who has attempted it would confirm!  We learned a great deal more than we expected about the collections and their inter-relationships in the course of our journey. There is so much we could talk about – all we do here is give some highlights and hope our readers will be moved to visit the RCS website, perhaps come in person to see us and think about referring potential researchers to our collections.

With 4.2 million surgical operations carried out every year in England alone, there are few whose lives have not been touched in some way by surgery. There were more than 70,000 visitors to the Hunterian Museum in 2012, testifying to the enduring interest of the public in understanding the evolution of surgery right up to the present day.

In terms of holdings statistics, the museum collections contain c. 54,000 items including specimens, instruments and art works. The archive collections consist of 2,274 boxes of material plus 542 unboxed items across 445 linear metres of shelving. The library holds approximately 100,000 volumes of books, pamphlets, and periodicals across 4.7 linear kilometres of shelving. Since 2002 the library and archives have been fortunate to receive support from The Wellcome Trust’s Research Resources in Medical History grants scheme to enable cataloguing and conservation of our collections. Most of the 19th Century monographs have been catalogued online and we are currently working on the pre-1800 monographs. Our collection of 17th and 18th century journals including rare European and British periodicals are not yet catalogued online. Approximately 90% of the deposited archives have been catalogued online at collection level.

Where is the Royal College of Surgeons of England and how did it start?

The pleasant, green square of Lincoln’s Inn Fields near Holborn in central London has been home to the College since 1796. Famous as a legal quarter, the various Inns of Court are within walking distance, as is the Sir John Soane Museum across the Fields.

The origins of the College lie in two City livery companies, the Company of Barbers and Guild of Surgeons, which combined in 1540 establishing the Company of Barber-Surgeons by Royal Charter. The Barber-Surgeons apprenticed and examined surgical trainees within the city of London. In 1745, the two professions separated again and the Company of Surgeons was formed. The Company built a new hall near Newgate Gaol with an anatomy theatre to teach students and dissect the bodies of executed criminals.

Sketch of head from "Record of the Bodies of Murderers, delivered to the College for Dissection.”, by William Clift

Sketch of head from "Record of the Bodies of Murderers, delivered to the College for Dissection.”, by William Clift. Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

In the College‘s deposited archive collections there are many oddities but also some that provide great insights into the life of the College. William Clift, curator of the museum 1799-1842, left a varied collection of archives (ref. MS0007). Amongst his papers is a “Record of the Bodies of Murderers, delivered to the College for Dissection.” This manuscript volume by Clift lists bodies received by the college and describes the cases of executions and dissections from 1800-1820 (Ref. MS0007/1/6/1/1). He also made sketches of some of the heads to accompany his notes.

In 1799 the government purchased the collection of the eminent surgeon and anatomist John Hunter FRS (1728-1793) giving custody to the Company on condition it was open to medical professionals and students. In 1800 the Company received its first Royal Charter, becoming the Royal College of Surgeons in London. The Lincoln’s Inn property purchased in 1796 was prepared and the Hunterian Museum opened there in 1813.  In May this year we therefore celebrate the bicentenary of the opening of the Hunterian Museum.

When was the Library founded?

The first act of the College, beginning its new life in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, was to accept from the Government the charge of John Hunter’s Museum.  It was decided to form a library and books were bought for the use of the museum curators; from 1807 serious collecting on a large scale began.  There were many generous gifts of valuable books and manuscripts. The Library was publicly opened in 1828.  Library development was helped by early donations and purchases from important surgeons including the pathologist Matthew Baillie, surgeon and past Master of the College Sir Charles Blicke, and the surgeon Sir Anthony Carlisle.

What is in the library and archive collections?

As a result these significant donations, the library collections contain many rare editions, imprints and variants. There are 57 incunabula containing some rare items from the early printing presses of France, Germany and the Low Countries and some beautiful Italian books including Johannes de Ketham’s “Anatomy”, with its handsome woodcut illustrations printed at Venice in 1495. Of the 637 English books printed before 1701, 38 are unrecorded or variant editions, for example an unrecorded French translation of Aristotle’s Secreta Secretorum, possibly printed at Lyon in 1490. We hold a number of rare first editions including Celsus (1478), Galen’s Therpeuticorum libri xiv, Venetiis 1500, and Hippocrates Opera Omnia (Graece) Venetiis, 1526. We also have a scarce first edition of Aselli’s De lactibus, 1627 which includes four coloured woodcuts, known as the earliest anatomical coloured illustrations.  The collection of anatomical books is particularly significant and includes one of the finest known copies of Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica, a second edition printed at Basel in 1555 and bound in contemporary pigskin stamped with allegorical designs.

Items from the pre 1800 collections demonstrate developments in early anatomical and surgical studies including surgical procedures such as bloodletting, amputation and trepanation.

Claude-Nicolas Le Cat (1700-1768). Traité des sens. Rouen, 1740.

Claude-Nicolas Le Cat (1700-1768). Traité des sens. Rouen, 1740. Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

This plate (see above) shows a section of the head made into a detailed plate. The RCS Library copy of this work has a manuscript note in the preliminary leaves that indicates that it was a ‘Gift of the author, 1744’.

Anatomical progress before the eighteenth century is illustrated comprehensively by our collections of significant anatomical works by the pre-eminent authors of the period such as Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), Thomas Willis (1621-1675) and Govard Bidloo (1649-1713), who were actively challenging standard knowledge laid down by Galen.

During the eighteenth century John Hunter and his contemporaries were extending anatomical knowledge and advancing surgical practice. In addition to our collection of Hunter’s printed and manuscript works, we also have an especially comprehensive collection of the works of Bernhard Siegfried Albinus (1697-1770), and excellent coverage of William Cheselden’s work and research such as his work on lithotomy (cutting for the stone) including examples of his lithotomy knives and his signed 1723 treatise on the procedure.

A major medical advance of this period was the discovery of vaccination. Edward Jenner was a pupil of Hunter, who encouraged him to test his theories using Hunter’s scientific experimental approach. Jenner was inspired to test the protective properties of cowpox against smallpox. In the archives we hold Hunter’s letters to Jenner, other Jenner correspondence, a manuscript draft of the original cowpox vaccination publication, and a selection of his published works including a first edition of his cowpox treatise in 1798.

Claude Bernard and Charles Huette. A text book of operative surgery and surgical anatomy. Translated from the French and edited by Arthur Trehern Norton. London,1878.

Claude Bernard and Charles Huette. A text book of operative surgery and surgical anatomy. Translated from the French and edited by Arthur Trehern Norton. London,1878. Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Major surgical advances were to revolutionise surgical practice in the 19th century. The most fundamental of these discoveries were pain relief and antisepsis, both of which are clearly illustrated by our wide-ranging collections. The collections are outstanding in their coverage of Lord Lister’s research and work, containing Lister’s manuscript research papers, the majority of his published works (some of which are annotated and given to the library by Lister himself), a number of carbolic spray devices, his microscope, samples of catgut ligatures that he developed, and surgical instruments he owned and used.

The collection of Sir Astley Paston Cooper (1768-1841) include fascinating notes and drawings of his experiments and research, specimens of anatomy and pathology collected or prepared by him, as well as case notes of his treatment of patients.

We hold a rare first edition of one of the greatest anatomical textbooks, Henry Gray’s Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical (Parker, 1858), in its original binding, as well as the first proofs of the engravings by Butterworth and Heath, for which Henry Vandyke Carter did the beautiful illustrations. Gray’s Anatomy is now the longest running anatomical textbook in the world.

Henry Vandyke Carter (1831-1897). India Proofs for Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical  by Henry Gray (1858).

Henry Vandyke Carter (1831-1897). India Proofs for Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical by Henry Gray (1858). Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of London.


Henry Gray and Henry Vandyke Carter worked together at St George’s Hospital. They began to collaborate to create a practical and affordable textbook to aid anatomy students and trainee surgeons. As research for the textbook, Gray and Carter carried out many dissections together. Gray was responsible for describing the dissections for the text in the publication, and Carter was responsible for illustrating the textbook.

Throughout the 19th century College employed museum conservators who were experts in their respective fields. Examples include the palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892), the microscopist John Thomas Quekett (1815-1861), and the zoologist William Henry Flower (1831-1899). The work and research of these important scholars is reflected in the collections through the specimens they prepared, books they wrote, collections they catalogued, and archive papers of the research they carried out.

Conflict had a profound influence on developments in plastic surgery, demonstrated by our Harold Gillies (1882-1960) collection. Gillies developed new procedures to reconstruct the faces of soldiers injured during the First World War, including vastly improving the success of skin grafting procedures. The Gillies material includes extensive patient files with photographs detailing treatment and procedures, a wax teaching model and casts of life masks illustrating facial reconstructive surgical procedures, and surgical instruments owned or used by Gillies. Additionally we hold the Henry Tonks (1862-1937) collection of beautiful pastel portraits of soldiers treated by Gillies which are highly regarded and have been exhibited worldwide.

The College library and archive collections were developed to support the world-leading research into natural history and comparative anatomy that were being carried out in the museum. This can come as a surprise to those who assume that our collections are purely medical or surgical. Zoology, evolutionary theory and palaeontology are supported by works by Charles Darwin, Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), Gideon Mantell (1790-1852) and William Buckland (1784-1856). Research into comparative anatomy is supported by works by Edward Tyson (1650-1708), Georges Baron Cuvier (1769-1832) and Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895).

George Shaw and Frederick Polydor Nodder. Vivarium Naturae ... The Naturalist's Miscellany: or Coloured Figures of Natural Objects; drawn and described immediately from nature. London, 1789-c.1813.

George Shaw and Frederick Polydor Nodder. Vivarium Naturae ... The Naturalist's Miscellany: or Coloured Figures of Natural Objects; drawn and described immediately from nature. London, 1789-c.1813. Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

George Shaw and Frederick Polydor Nodder. Vivarium Naturae … The Naturalist’s Miscellany: or Coloured Figures of Natural Objects; drawn and described immediately from nature. London, 1789-c.1813.

The Naturalist’s Miscellany is a collaboration between author and draughtsman-engraver devoted to zoological subjects. Complete sets are rare, since the work was published in 287 monthly parts over some 24 years. In 1814 a sequel, The Zoological Miscellany, was begun by William Elford Leach, with Nodder continuing to do the plates. This was completed in 1817, and comprises three volumes. Of this work only 50 copies were printed, and it is one of the rarest known to the ornithologist. Before our rediscovery of a set in the Library there were only two copies believed to exist in England, one in the British Library, the other in a private collection.

Finally, there is also important material that provides insight in unexpected subject areas. John Hunter and his wife, the poet Anne Home Hunter, were friends with many of London’s artists and musicians and many important paintings arrived with his museum. In the 19th and 20th centuries the College continued to collect paintings and drawings of new species or unusual medical collections as well as portraits and sculptures commemorating distinguished members, fellows and benefactors of the College.

Our archive collections contain poetry and a libretto for Haydn’s “Creation”, by Anne Home Hunter; papers and correspondence of the poet and dramatist Joanna Baillie including letters exchanged with literary acquaintances such as Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, and Maria Edgeworth; a manuscript fragment of Mozart’s Rondo in A Major; two unpublished works by Rudyard Kipling and correspondence with Sir John and Lady Edith Bland-Sutton and his uncle Edward Burne-Jones with accompanying illustrations.  The drawing below is one of our favourites and is an apt note to end on!

Edward Burne-Jones (in letter to Kipling).

Edward Burne-Jones (in letter to Kipling). Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of England

The drawing was probably sent in 1897 when Kipling’s son, John, was born.  In the letter Burne-Jones explains that he is sending “a design intended to illustrate a poem I hear you are writing, on the subject of your cook dancing a jig of joy at the birth of your heir”.  [MS0019]


Images reproduced by kind permission of the President and Council of The Royal College of Surgeons of England.

See the Royal College of Surgeons of England’s holdings on Copac.

French culture in the heart of London: La Médiathèque

Books, media, social groups, and French culture – Ophélie Ramonatxo of La Médiathèque of the French Institute tells us about what they have to offer.

Where do you work? Tell us a bit about what you do.

I (Ophélie Ramonatxo) am the head-librarian of La Médiathèque of the French Institute in the United Kingdom. We are currently based in South Kensington, London.

My aim is to manage a team of 6 librarians, 3 part-time librarians and 3 interns of whom I work with to ensure the proper use of our budget and the quality of public reception, our library collection and services which we offer.

As the head-librarian, I convey our needs to the Directing board of the French Institute and I also try to negotiate public and private grants from external factors.

Our next big project for La Médiathèque will be a complete renovation of our premises in the next two years. Find out more about the project here:

What collections do you have? What does your library specialise in?

La Médiathèque specialises in all that is related to France. For instance, if you want to re-visit a classic piece of literature, we offer a wide selection of books. From Camus to Zola and poetry to contemporary fiction- it’s all wrapped up in our library with copies in French and English. Our wide selection of factual books ranges from cinema, to arts and history. For Kids and Adults we offer the largest selection of French comic books in London.

La Médiathèque

La Médiathèque

Those of you who are starting up with the French language, we offer an ‘Easy French’ section full of CDs, audiobooks and grammar books. Our media section provides you with the latest releases on DVD and CD; sometimes even before they hit the UK screens. Our ‘press’ section is for those who want to catch up with the latest news from Le Monde, Le Figaro and magazines such as Le Point or Elle, amongst many others. Last but not least, you can search for French recipes in our cooking section or hop over the Children’s library to entertain your kids. Our bi-lingual librarians are always on hand to help you choose the right document that you are looking for. For those of you who cannot make it all the way to London, we provide a free online library called culturetheque which offers videos, documentaries and eBooks galore: better yet, it’s all for FREE!

What’s your favourite item from the collections? Why? Tell us a bit about it.

Les mille et une nuits. Contes arabes, traduits en français par Monsieur Galland. Tome III

Les mille et une nuits. Contes arabes, traduits en français par Monsieur Galland. Tome III, as viewed on the Culturethèque platform

My favourite item is one of our most precious books from our archives, which unfortunately the general public has little opportunity to consult: the first French edition of the “Contes des Mille et Une nuits” (One Thousand and One Nights). This edition is very antique and is deeply tucked away archives of the French Institute. It cannot be generally consulted for reasons of conservation. Fortunately, the French Institute decided to digitalise most of our valuable documents and put them on our digital platform. Feel free to browse our collection here: This little piece of gold dust is now available to everyone! After all, what could be more French than a beautifully illustrated book which evokes love and seduction?

What’s new and exciting in your library? What have you got coming up?

Our library hosts events a plenty in our listed building full of French resistance history. For the bookworms, we hold a Reading Group in a relaxed setting with academic guests from prestigious universities. We invite French and English people alike to mull over the chosen book and contribute to an informal discussion. We have recently analysed the likes of Perec’s ‘Life: A User’s Manual’ and Bauby’s ‘Diving Bell and the Butterfly’.

People in la Médiathèque

Event in la Médiathèque

For Kids, we organise Baby and Kids tales with our professional storyteller. This is for all parents who wish to accustom their children to the French language in a fun and interactive way. We also offer a bi-lingual theatre show for children of all ages which magically entices the audience to learn French à la française! For the first time ever, this show will be held in our Ciné Lumière to enlarge the experience and watch out for the Christmas special with the help of Charles Dickens. Finally, our schools events invites teachers to bring along their students for a day at the Médiathèque. We will take care of your students with our themed tours, presentations, reading time and test their knowledge with a quiz at the end.

We hope to welcome you to our French library, à bientôt !Culturetheque logo

For more information, please check our website:
Or keep up to date with French culture with our Culturethèque Facebook page:

You can browse the holdings of the French Institute on Copac.

Cambridge University Library Incunabula Cataloguing Project

Ed Potten, Head of Rare Books at Cambridge University Library, tells us about their recent project to catalogue their internationally renowned incunabula collection.

Initial of cylindrical red crystal with joints of gold in foliate design, embracing a cameo with portraits of Augustus and Faustina, attributed to The Master of the London Pliny, from the opening leaf of Cambridge University Library’s copy of Pliny's Naturalis historia (Venice : Nicolas Jenson, 1476).  Inc.1.B.3.2[1360]

Initial of cylindrical red crystal with joints of gold in foliate design, embracing a cameo with portraits of Augustus and Faustina, attributed to The Master of the London Pliny, from the opening leaf of Cambridge University Library’s copy of Pliny's Naturalis historia (Venice : Nicolas Jenson, 1476). Inc.1.B.3.2{1360}

In October 2009 Cambridge University Library launched a cataloguing project which will make records for its collection of 4,650 incunabula available and searchable online for the first time. The incunabula collection is internationally renowned and includes 134 unique items. The project aims to create a specialist record for each incunable in the Library’s online catalogue, Newton, with special emphasis on copy-specific information such as anomalies, rubrication, decoration and illumination, annotations, binding, marks of ownership and provenance. This will enhance and update the short-title catalogue published by J.C.T. Oates in 1954, and will include the 276 items acquired by the Library since that date. The project has been generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for five years.

Between October 2009 and November 2012, the project team, comprising Dott. Laura Nuvoloni, and William Hale, has catalogued a remarkable 2604 incunabula. New discoveries continue to be made every week. Recent highlights include variants and corrections in the Cambridge University Library copy of the Aldine edition of De Aetna, now identified as in the hand of the author of the text, the learned Venetian humanist Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), and manuscript captions in the Library’s copy of Valturio’s De re militari librum by Felice Feliciano (1433-ca. 1480), the “antiquarius”, humanist, scribe, artist, binder, alchemist, goldsmith, and typographer from Verona, one of the most eccentric and inventive protagonists of the Italian Renaissance.

A siege-breaker, with caption by Felice Feliciano, from Sig. {s}5(r) of Cambridge University Library’s copy of Roberto Valturius’s De re militari (Verona: Giovanni da Verona, 1472).  SSS.4.14

A siege-breaker, with caption by Felice Feliciano, from Sig. {s}5(r) of Cambridge University Library’s copy of Roberto Valturius’s De re militari (Verona: Giovanni da Verona, 1472). SSS.4.14

The cataloguing project has been accompanied by a suite of events, seminars and new electronic resources, all of which increase access to the Library’s earliest printed holdings. News of recent discoveries can be read on the Incunabula Project Blog, which includes articles from the project staff alongside contributions from major scholars in the field. Alongside the blog sits a hyperlinked and illustrated version of the history of Cambridge University Library’s incunabula collection, originally published as the introduction to J.C.T. Oates’s monumental printed Catalogue of the fifteenth-century printed books in the University Library Cambridge(Cambridge, 1954), and now made freely available and searchable for the first time.

Ownership information amassed as part of the cataloguing project has been used to produce two on-line provenance indexes, detailing former owners of incunabula in the Library’s collections. The first lists personal ownership, the second institutional ownership. Owners are listed alphabetically, followed by brief details of the volumes associated with them. Clicking on the links will extract the full bibliographical record for each item from Newton, the Library’s on-line catalogue. The indexes will be updated daily throughout the project, and it is hoped that in the future it will prove possible to link in images of marks of ownership to aid identification elsewhere.

In March, members of the Project Team co-organised an extremely successful one-day conference with the Early Illustrated Books Research Initiative Project, Keio University, Japan. Incunabula on the move: the production, circulation and collection of early printed books featured papers on all things incunable, from the rubrication of Caxton’s early English books and the printing of Ulrich Zel, to the historic exchanges of incunabula between The British Museum and Cambridge University Library and the movement of copies of the Gutenberg Bible in England between 1789 and 1834. The proceedings are currently being edited for publication as a special issue of the Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society and further collaborative ventures are under discussion with Keio University.

The Library’s ongoing series of Incunabula Masterclasses continues to be extremely popular, with all sessions over-subscribed.  In November 2011 Professor David McKitterick led a session entitled ‘Mix and match: making up incunabula’, followed in February by a class by Peter Jones of King’s College, Cambridge on medical incunabula and their readers. Cristina Dondi of the University of Oxford lectured in May, on fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century prices found in Cambridge incunabula, placing these in context with other contemporary book prices, whilst Roger Gaskell gave sessions on the earliest illustrated printed books. Future sessions are scheduled with: William Sherman, Professor of Renaissance/Early Modern Studies and Director of the Centre for Renaissance & Early Modern Studies at York University, Lillian Armstrong, Professor of Art at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, David Pearson, Director of the Guildhall Library and Falk Eisermann, Director of the Incunabula Division at the Staatsbibliothek Berlin.

Finally, with the launch of the Cambridge Digital Library the University Library is able to supplement the detailed catalogue records being produced by the project with free access for all to high-quality, full-colour digital facsimiles of some of the most significant items from the incunabula collections, accompanied by interpretative text and navigational aids. The Library’s copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle, for example, amongst the most iconic of early illustrated books, is one of only a handful of copies bearing contemporary decoration. It has a fine pedigree, donated in 1574 with around 100 other early printed books and manuscripts by Matthew Parker (1504–1575), Archbishop of Canterbury under Elizabeth I. The Chronicle can now be viewed in all its glory through the Digital Library.


De opere quinte diei (The work of the fifth day) – “And God created … every winged fowl after his kind”, from fol. IIII(v) of Cambridge University Library’s copy of the Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, for Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, 12 July 1493).  Inc.0.A.7.2[888]

De opere quinte diei {The work of the fifth day}: “And God created … every winged fowl after his kind”, from fol. IIII(v) of Cambridge University Library’s copy of the Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, for Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, 12 July 1493). Inc.0.A.7.2{888}

The Cambridge Project is constantly unearthing hitherto unknown provenances, rare variants and editions and fine bindings and illuminations – to keep up with the latest discoveries follow the Incunabula Project Blog.


Ed Potten

Head of Rare Books

Cambridge University Library


A feast of provenance at Middle Temple Library

Second-hand books can have fascinating histories. Renae Satterley, Senior Librarian at The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple tells us about their rare and early printed books collections, and how they came to have such interesting and varied provenance.

On the 20th of September 2012, Middle Temple Library hosted the Historic Libraries Forum Workshop on Provenance in Special Collections. This workshop attracted a large and diverse group of people interested in conducting provenance research in their special collections. The first part of the workshop consisted of a ‘hands-on’ session with David Pearson, Director of Libraries, Archives and Guildhall Art Gallery. David led the session with a talk outlining the various types of provenance marks that are found in books, such as bookplates, mottos, armorial bindings, signatures and inscriptions among many others. This was followed by a handling session featuring books from the Middle Temple collection which highlighted twenty different types of provenance. These included books which showed ownership marks of Sir William Waad, John Donne, and The College of Advocates in Doctors’ Commons among others.

Delegates at the Historic Libraries Forum Workshop on Provenance in Special Collections

David Pearson discussing provenance research at HLF's workshop on provenance research in special collections

The second part of the workshop consisted of three talks: Jack Baldwin and Julie Gardham of Glasgow University Library on “Building a provenance database for your collection: Glasgow University Library’s incunabula project”; Philip Oldfield of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto on “Armorial bindings & developments in online bindings databases”; and Dr David Shaw of the Consortium of European Research Libraries on “Online resources for provenance research”. These talks highlighted the growing interest in the field of provenance research, and the large amount of free resources now available online.

The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court, the institutions which provide career development and education for their barrister members. There has been a library at Middle Temple since at least Tudor times, but because the doors were never locked, the books eventually all went missing. Thus in 1641 a member of the Inn, Robert Ashley (1565-1641), bequeathed his own personal library to the Inn in order to re-establish a library there. His library numbered over 4000 volumes at the time of his death, and included a wide range of books. Although Ashley was a lawyer, he was a better bibliophile, and collected books in all European languages, covering medicine, science, philosophy, geography, early exploration, theology as well as law. He was interested in the esoteric, and collected books in numerology and chiromancy, witchcraft and astrology. He also collected forty-five incunubules. As he bought many books second-hand, his collection is rich in provenance, and holds books once owned by Ben Jonson, Sir William Waad, John Donne and John Dee to name a few.  His collection is also notable for containing a large number of European imprints which are unique copies.

Jacques Olivier, Alphabet de l'imperfection et malice des femmes, Paris, 1619. Title page, showing the infamous depiction (engraved title vignette) of a woman with chicken feet

Jacques Olivier, Alphabet de l'imperfection et malice des femmes, Paris, 1619. Title page, showing the infamous depiction (engraved title vignette) of a woman with chicken feet. Reproduced with permission of the Benchers of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.

It is possible that it is Ashley who donated the greatest treasure of the Inn, the Molyneux Globes. Unfortunately no records of provenance have been found to prove this. The earliest note referring to the Globes in the Archives date from 1717, and refer to the cleaning and varnishing of the globes. The Middle Temple’s globes are the only known pair in existence of these, the earliest globes made in England. Other possible donors have been suggested in the past, including William Crashaw (preacher at Temple Church), Walter Raleigh (an honorary member of the Inn), William Shakespeare and even Elizabeth I.

The Inn continued to develop the library’s collections after Ashley’s death. As was in keeping with an institution serving members of the gentry, and whose aim was to educate in the manner of the ‘third university’ (i.e. after Cambridge and Oxford), the library developed along the lines of a ‘gentleman’s library’. Although law books were frequently bought, a large number of books on philosophy, history and topography were also acquired through the years. As the library has been fortunate to have retained the majority of these books through the centuries, despite fires and bomb attacks, we now have a collection that is very strong in eighteenth and nineteenth century topography and history. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the library started to concentrate its acquisitions policies, and built up a significant collection of law books through purchase and donations. Moreover, due to the close relationship that the Inn has always had with the United States, we have collected American law since the late nineteenth century and as such have one of the largest collections of American law outside of the United States.

Nonnio Marcello Saia, Di Nonio Marcello Saia da la Roccha gloriosa in Lucania, Ragionamenti sopra la celeste sfera, Paris, 1552. This is the vellum binding cover, which has come loose and detached from the textblock. It’s a good example of “binder’s waste” used to bind early printed books.

Nonnio Marcello Saia, Di Nonio Marcello Saia da la Roccha gloriosa in Lucania, Ragionamenti sopra la celeste sfera, Paris, 1552. This is the vellum binding cover, which has come loose and detached from the textblock. It’s a good example of “binder’s waste” used to bind early printed books. Reproduced with permission of the Benchers of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.

The Library itself is only open to members of the Inns of Court. Exceptions are made, of course, for those wishing to consult our rare book and manuscript collection, which currently numbers over 9000 items. As such, we had our early printed book cataloguing records added to Copac in 2012 in order to broaden access to these rich historical collections.


Special collections in the heart of the City: Bishopsgate Library

Edward Weech, Deputy Library Manager, Bishopsgate Library tells us about his favourite items, and some new and exciting developments and acquisitions.

Where do you work? Tell us a bit about what you do.

Bishopsgate Library is an independent library that holds specialist and reference collections, and is situated between the City of London and Spitalfields. The library is part of Bishopsgate Institute which opened in 1895 as an organisation dedicated to the service of culture and adult learning. From the beginning, the library served as the beating heart of the organisation.


Bishopsgate Library’s famous dome skylight, a distinctive feature of the main library reading room. Credit: Bishopsgate Institute.

Bishopsgate Library’s famous dome skylight, a distinctive feature of the main library reading room. Credit: Bishopsgate Institute.

For most of its existence, the library included a free lending library, but this service was gradually supplanted by local publicly-funded libraries. Today, we’re a non-lending library and we focus on our special collections. The library is freely open to anyone who wishes to use our collections, space or services. As Deputy Library Manager I am responsible for managing our public services, and also for the management and cataloguing of our printed collections.

What collections do you have? What does your library specialise in?

Charles Goss, who was librarian from 1897 to 1941, established our collecting strands of London history, labour history, and freethought and humanism. In more recent times, our special collections have expanded to include the co-operative movement and the history of protest and campaigning. We have material originating from the sixteenth century to the present day, and our Victorian-era collections are particularly strong.

Our specialist collections incorporate over 100,000 printed items and over 100 separate archive collections. Our printed collections include books, pamphlets, maps, serials, and ephemera, and we also have extensive collections of manuscripts, press cuttings, photographs and illustrations. At the moment we’re in the midst of a retrospective cataloguing project: our goal is to get all of our printed collections catalogued so that they are searchable alongside our archive holdings in our integrated online catalogue. Our collections have a great deal of potential value for the research community, so shining a light on what we have, for existing as well as potential users, is a major priority for us.


Book sale at market, ca. 1910. Image credit: Bishopsgate Institute/LAMAS.

Book sale at market, ca. 1910. Image credit: Bishopsgate Institute/LAMAS.

We are creating all our catalogue records from scratch and cataloguing ‘book-in-hand’, so it has been a monumental task! Fortunately we have had help from a number of excellent volunteer cataloguers along the way. We have made good progress and over half of our material is now electronically catalogued. We expect to have catalogued everything by 2015-2016.

What’s your favourite item from the collections? Why? 

As a librarian, it may be cheeky to pick an item from our archive rather than a printed book, but the minute book of Karl Marx’s International Working Men’s Association (otherwise known as the First International), from our George Howell archive, is a hugely inspirational and historic document. It was very controversial at times, particularly after the Russian Revolution: one of Bishopsgate’s governors was so concerned about what he regarded as a blueprint for revolution that he eventually had it banned from use and locked in a bank vault, where it remained until the Soviet Union insisted on it being released during World War Two.

With regards to printed matter: some of my favourite items are a variety of striking pamphlets we have that were published in the 1640s, during the English Civil Wars. Obviously London was in the thick of things during this period, as the capital of the parliamentary camp. But there were various forces contending within the parliamentary faction and the City of London itself, which for me is fascinating; especially because our location gives us the opportunity to observe the City of London up-close today.

What’s new and exciting at Bishopsgate Library? What have you got coming up?

The last few years here have been very exciting! We completed a £7 million development project in 2011, which was partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This development made possible a number of improvements in the ways our services are delivered, and how our collections are stored. In particular, we now have a dedicated space for researchers to consult our special collections, with a member of staff ever-ready to assist users and to supervise the use of material. We also have an expanded and much-improved archive strong-room, featuring environmental controls to ensure that the treasures in our collections are preserved. The number of people using our special collections has never been higher, so we’re happy with the way things are going!

We have made great progress with our cataloguing recently, and we were delighted to join Copac in early 2011. Adding our records to the Copac catalogue has been a huge boost to our research profile and has directed many new users towards our collections. Also, notwithstanding our small size, the Copac team has been extremely helpful and attentive to our needs throughout our involvement with Copac.

We have made a number of exciting acquisitions recently. As well as expanding our printed collections via a number of donations, we have taken in several important archives. These include the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia archive, featuring over 200,000 press cuttings; the archive of politician Bernie Grant; and the archive of political journalist and biographer Andrew Roth. We’re also working to digitise some of our historical collections, especially photographic collections. As with our retrospective cataloguing, we have a team of wonderful archive volunteers who help make this possible. We have thousands of stunning photographs which show the changing face of London over the last century, aspects of social struggle and conflict, the co-operative movement, etc.

Photograph of a protest against the death of Joy Gardner, ca. 1993. Image credit: Bernie Grant Archive/Bishopsgate Institute.

Photograph of a protest against the death of Joy Gardner, ca. 1993. Image credit: Bernie Grant Archive/Bishopsgate Institute.

We’re looking forward to continuing to make progress with all these strands of our work, and are excited about what the future holds. In particular, we’re delighted to be part of Copac, which we expect to continue to play a vital role in research and the development of knowledge in the British Isles for the foreseeable future.