Report on Cambrian CRECS, 17 Feb 2015

Alison Harvey:

A report on the latest Cardiff Romanticism and Eighteenth Century Seminar (CRECS) hosted in Special Collections and Archives. Focusing on the position of Wales within Romantic Studies, it drew heavily on our extensive Welsh special collections.

The next seminar, titled ‘How to Keep Your (Georgian) Man)’ will held in Special Collections and Archives on 17 March 2015 – all are welcome!

Originally posted on CRECS//:

by Jamie Castell and Alison Harvey

cambrian crecsCambrian CRECS: Nation, Region, Place in the Long 18th Century was the second event hosted by the Cardiff Romanticism and Eighteenth Century Seminar, and as Six Nations fever gripped the country, we sought to consider the position of Wales within Romantic Studies. After a hugely successful launch event with Fight Club, the CRECS organisers were keen to maintain the momentum of the series. How better than to showcase the literature and history of Wales and the amazing resources available in our very own library at Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR)? We were tightly packed once more into a venue with standing room only: several members of academic staff were forced to balance themselves between bottles of wine and bowls of pretzels! So, the atmosphere was appropriately warm as four speakers offered four fresh perspectives on constructions of Welsh identity, landscape and art in the…

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Circle Press Artists’ Books by Ron King: an exhibition

posterRon King was born in Brazil in 1932. He entered the Chelsea School of Art in London in 1951. He launched his Circle Press in 1967 with his work, ‘The Prologue’ from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. An innovative artist, he was also an innovative entrepreneur, and made many trips to North America where there was a ready market for his artist books. After many international exhibitions, and working with over one hundred artists and writers in the intervening years, and producing well over one hundred pieces of work, Ron King retired from publishing in 2009. He kindly donated his personal collection of artists’ books to Cardiff University in 2014.

Ron King & Roy Fisher, Anansi Company. Circle Press, 1992.

Ron King & Roy Fisher, Anansi Company. Circle Press, 1992.


Ron King, Alphabeta concertina. Circle Press, 1983. (Two editions of 1,000 copies)

Ron King, Alphabeta concertina. Circle Press, 1983. (Two editions of 1,000 copies)

“The idea for my first book came from a visit to the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum. There, for the first time, I viewed the French beaux livres, Matisse’s ‘Jazz’, Miro’s ‘A Tout Epreuve’, and Derain’s illustrations for a book by Rabelais”.

— Book, Art, Object 2, Codex Foundation, 2013. (p. 77). Eds. D. Jury and P. Koch.

Ron King, The Song of Solomon (King James Bible text). Circle Press, 1968.

Ron King, The Song of Solomon (King James Bible text). Circle Press, 1968.

“In New York on a trip in the early seventies I bought a pop-up version of ‘Pinocchio’, published by Random House, ostensibly for my children. It was to set me off in an entirely new direction as far as the concept of the book was concerned”.

— Book, Art, Object 2, Codex Foundation, 2013. (p. 79). Eds. D. Jury and P. Koch.

Ron King & Roy Fisher, Left-handed Punch. Circle Press, 1986.

Ron King & Roy Fisher, Left-handed Punch. Circle Press, 1986.

“The [Circle] Press has been highly productive for over forty years and has had a profound effect, directly and indirectly, on other artists working with books, for it has provided a continuity and a context against which such activity can be measured”.

Circle Press website.

Ron King and Roy Fisher, Bluebeard’s castle (based on Bartok’s opera). Circle Press, 1972.

Ron King and Roy Fisher, Bluebeard’s castle (based on Bartok’s opera). Circle Press, 1972.

“Ron King is a maker. He is not just an artist – though that is his primary identity – he is a craftsman capable of turning his hand to the ready solution of practical problems … It is in this quality of inspired fabrication that his real genius resides”.

— Andrew Lambirth, Introduction, p. 13, Cooking the Books: Ron King and the Circle Press. Yale Centre for British Art, 2002.

Ron King, Hick, Hack, Hock (Scissors, paper, stone). Circle Press, 1996/97.

Ron King, Hick, Hack, Hock (Scissors, paper, stone). Circle Press, 1996/97.

“An artist’s book is a book produced under the direction of an artist. The word ‘artist’ is used broadly: the artist may be a visual artist or a text-based conceptual artist; he or she may normally work with other media or they may be an artist solely on the basis of their work as a ‘book artist’. An artist’s book may be produced by a fine press but also as easily by the artist or by an associated studio, gallery or collective”.

— British Library, ‘Fine Presses, Artists’ Books, and Book Arts’.

Ron King, Hollow log (log books). 1996.

Ron King, Hollow log (log books). 1996.

Cardiff is the only UK university to receive a donation of nearly all of the Circle Press works – Ron King’s other main collection is at Yale University in the USA, in the Yale Centre for British Arts. Cardiff University is also a leading UK centre for research in illustration studies for 19th century printing, and it is home to one of the largest arts and crafts Private Press book collections in the UK.

Ron King, Turn over darling. Circle Press, 1990.

Ron King, Turn over darling. Circle Press, 1990.

To order copies of Circle Press books please visit their website for further contact, availability, and ordering information.

Some methods used in image or illustration production in artists’ books –

  • Screen printing: pressing ink through a mesh, using stencils to block off unprinted areas.
  • Embossing: to shape an object which is pressed into paper to create raised areas.
  • Linocut: cutting into lino to create raised ‘relief’ images, which are either inked and pressed onto paper, or embossed into paper.
  • Engraving: the incision of a design or image into metal, using tools or acid. Ink is pushed into the incisions, and the surface of the metal is cleaned before pressing it onto paper.
  • Aquatint: applying a fine dust of particles to an indented metal plate prior to engraving, which gives texture to the metal and creates tonal effects in the final print.


Items displayed in the exhibition include:

  • Ron King, The Song of Solomon (King James Bible text). Circle Press, 1968.
  • Ron King, The prologue – prints edition. Circle Press, 1978. (King, Crozier, Fisher, Please, Power).
  • Ron King & Richard Price, Gift horse. Circle Press, 1999.
  • Ron King, Echo book. Circle Press, 1994.
  • Ron King, Turn over darling. Circle Press, 1990.
  • Ron King & Roy Fisher, Left-handed Punch. Circle Press, 1986.
  • Ron King & Roy Fisher, Anansi Company. Circle Press, 1992.
  • Ron King and Roy Fisher, Bluebeard’s castle (based on Bartok’s opera). Circle Press, 1972.
  • Ron King, Hick, Hack, Hock (Scissors, paper, stone). Circle Press, 1996/97.
  • Ron King, Hollow log (log books). 1996.
  • Ron King, Alphabeta concertina. Circle Press, 1983. (Two editions of 1,000 copies)
  • Ron King, White alphabet. Circle Press, 1984. (150 signed copies).
  • Norman Ackroyd and Jeremy Hooker, Itchen water, Circle Press, 1982.
  • Ron King and George Szirtes, The burning of the books. Circle Press, 2008.
  • Willow Legge, An African folktale. Circle Press, 1979. (With blind and intaglio screen prints).

Special Collections and Archives wish to thank the Art and Design undergraduates from Cardiff Metropolitan University who helped create the Circle Press artist book exhibition, for their work in selecting, prioritising, and organising the works which were displayed; namely – Miriam Davies, Adam Wright, Daisy Burrell, Emma Harry, Sarah Thomas, Jemma Schiebe, Molly Lewis, Maya Holthuis, Naomi Morgan, Ruby Fox, and Beth Morris. Beth has written an excellent account of the experience on her blog.

Cardiff Rare Books Lecture Series – Professor David McKitterick.

On Thursday evening, February 12th, the SCOLAR Reading Room was full, with an audience keen to hear our guest lecture from Cambridge University  Professor, David McKitterick, whose talk, “What shall we do with all these old books”, explored themes from his new book – ‘Old Books, New Technologies: the Representation, Conservation, and Transformation of Books since 1700′.

Professor David McKitterick

Professor David McKitterick

Ranging from the poor state of royal libraries in the 17th century, to the massive output of books in the 19th century, the lecture explored our present relationship with historical book collections today, especially concerning the ongoing digitisation of many older printed works. In a wide ranging talk, raising many questions from the audience afterwards, a key theme was the large amount of information we can still only obtain from the various historical printed book collections which survive today, and the many threats which these face, in public, academic and related libraries.

Before giving his lecture Professor McKitterick had a chance to browse through SCOLAR’s stacks, especially the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, saved from being dispersed by its purchase by Cardiff University in 2010. Having been one of the University supporters in its successful attempt to save the collection, he was extremely pleased that such a rich historical collection had been preserved for current and future researchers, as he noted:

“Each of those mobile stacks that you opened seemed to open up new possibilities, and all kinds of unknown discoveries”.


Report on CRECS Fight Club, 3 Feb 2015

Originally posted on CRECS//:

by Alison Harvey

Tuesday night saw the launch of the Cardiff Romanticism and Eighteenth Century Seminar series, which kicked off in style with Fight Club: a no-holds-barred, trash-talking, dirty-fighting academic debate between six of English Literature’s finest. There was standing room only in Special Collections and Archives, with a superb turnout of over 60 undergraduates, postgraduates and staff. Each speaker had just 5 minutes to convince the audience that their chosen author was a true Romantic Genius. 

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A Fairy Bookplate

A delightful bookplate depicting a gathering of fairies listening to a story has been discovered on two items in our collection.  One on a copy of the 1622 edition of the Poly-Olbion by Michael Drayton (a topographical poem describing England and Wales celebrating antiquities, bards and King Arthur; and which contains a half-title: ‘The Faerie-Land’), and one on the 1806 edition of Camden’s Britannia.

The books came from the library of John E. Williams of Llandaff; we have a number of other items containing signatures of (presumably) the same individual, with dates from the 1890s – a variety of plays from the ‘French’s acting edition’ series.  Some of these contain pencil markings and underlinings indicating that they were being used for play rehearsals.  We have little information about who he was, but it is likely he was born in March 1863 in Bedwas, Monmouthshire, attended St Peter’s School Marlborough, and by his late twenties was a solicitor living in Llandaff, Cardiff. (1)

The bookplate contains a number of small armorial shields tucked within the picture; one of these has ‘Marl Coll’ written on it and depicts the arms of Marlborough College, another has a Latin motto “Dominus illuminatio mea” (The Lord is my Light) and is the motto and arms of the University of Oxford; it would perhaps imply that Williams attended Oxford as well.  A third depicts a boar’s head with a Welsh banner “Bydd cyfiawn a phaid ofni” (Be righteous and fear not).



The bookplate itself was designed by H. Thomas Maybank (1869-1929), and is dated 1903.

Hector Thomas Maybank Webb was born in Kent; he injured his hip when thrown from a horse at the age of 8, and as an adult became a surveyor for the Borough of Camden before becoming a full time artist in 1902.(2)

As an artist and illustrator he was known for his depictions of fairies and pixies and magical landscapes which were used on Underground advertising posters, prints, and children’s books.  He contributed to Punch and The Daily Sketch, and was the first artist to illustrate the Uncle Oojah comic strip.

We would welcome any more information on the armorial shields in the design.



South, West and Wales AHRC Doctoral Training Partnerships open day

Special Collections and Archives recently attended a recruitment event for students intending to apply for a South, West and Wales AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) studentship. These grants fund PhD theses which are  supervised by two Higher Education institutions within the partnership. This consortium approach allows students to draw on the academic expertise and unique and distinctive research collections of two Universities, widening possibilities for interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaboration and discovery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAcademics and research support staff from all partner institutions (Aberystwyth, Bath, Bath Spa, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Reading and Southampton) gathered at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff to meet with prospective students and discuss their requirements.

Our Special Collections and Archives stand was very busy, as applicants sought information on research collections covering a broad range of subjects. We received enquiries on Anglo-Welsh writers; folklore; the history of sport; Jane Austen; Restoration drama, archaeology; literary archives; Indian history; the history of genetics; male witches; interwar women’s history; medical history; Catholicism and martyrdom; philosophy; King Arthur; superstition and the occult; Gothic serialised literature; William Caxton; and 20th century charities.

Best of luck to all applicants – we look forward to working with you!

The John Ashburner collection

Earlier this year we completed the cataloguing of the Drama Collection; material within it ranges from 1598 to 1927, and out of the 900 items there are about 400 which can be considered Restoration drama.  Within this collection 53 are known to have formerly belonged to John Ashburner, a 19th century physician and spiritualist.

The fifty three items from the Ashburner collection range in date from 1713 to 1784, a range of about seventy years, although about half of the books date from either 1735 (15 items) or 1736 (10 items).  The authors represented in this collection are typical of the period, as reprints of earlier Restoration playwrights, with examples from John Banks (1650-1706), Colley Cibber (1671-1757), George Farquhar (1677-1707), Nathaniel Lee (1653-1692), Thomas Otway (1652-1685), Thomas Shadwell (1642-1692) and John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), amongst others.

Ashburner books 008The Ashburner books are identifiable by his bookplate which is a nineteenth century armorial bookplate; the design harkens back to previous centuries rather than the more plain examples common for this period.  At the top of the design is an Ash tree on a wreath of twisted cloth – this is the Ashburner crest; on the plain shield we find the family coat of arms, which includes 3 crescents and 3 mullets on one side, and a lion rampant with three hands on the other.  Above the shield is a knight’s helmet, and the shield has foliage above it.  Also included on a scroll at the bottom is the family motto: Quicquid crescit, in cinere perit which means Whatever grows, perishes in ashes.

Ashburner books 009Of the 53 volumes containing the bookplate there are only seven items which bear any other provenance information, aside from the later Public Library bookplate.  The signatures on these books include the names Mary Wright (Jan 18 1764), Frances Salmon, Catherine Cotton, Ann Harris, and [?]Roger 175[?].

Ashburner books 014c

It is possible to make the assumption, at least with the two cases that bear dates, or partial dates, that these signatures belong to owners prior to John Ashburner.  Two names appear twice, those of Frances Salmon and Catherine Cotton; it has not been possible to discover any information about any of these individuals named.

The signature of Frances Salmon also appears on two other volumes in the Restoration Drama collection which don’t contain the Ashburner bookplate. However, these volumes match the other items in the Ashburner collection in size and in style of binding – half bound in leather with marbled paper covered boards.  They are both on plays by George Farquhar, The beaux stratagem (1733) and The constant couple (1735), and the leather on the binding matches the colour used for other Farquhar volumes which do bear the Ashburner bookplate.  It is reasonable to assume that there are a number of other volumes in the Drama collection which although not bearing the Ashburner bookplate did belong to his collection.

Ashburner books 024a

John Archibald Ashburner was born in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1793, where his father was a member of the Supreme Court, under the Privy Council of India. He was educated in England, and studied medicine at Dublin, Glasgow and Edinburgh, where he graduated as a doctor of medicine in 1816.

At some point he married Elizabeth Grey-Farquhar and they had a child in 1818; this was the same year that he was appointed as physician to the Small-pox hospital in London.  He held this position until 1824 when he left for duties in India.  When he returned to Britain he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and a physician to Queen Charlotte’s Lying In Hospital, London and a lecturer of Midwifery and the Diseases of Women and Children at St. Thomas’ Hospital.[1]

He died in London in 1878 at the age of 85, and his wife died the following year.

Ashburner was a physician and physicist, but also an author and a spiritualist who was acquainted with Madame Helena Blavatsky and Mrs Hayden.[2] He wrote Notes and studies in the philosophy of animal magnetism and spiritualism (1867) and was the translator of K. L. von Reichenbach’s Physico-physiological researches in the dynamics of magnetism, electricity, heat, light, crystallization and chemism in their relation to vital force (1853). He also contributed to a variety of spiritualist publications such as the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph, was a member of the Charing Cross Spirit Power Circle, and was on the committee of the Mesmeric Infirmary.[3]

As an intelligent and educated man, it is not surprising he had such a collection of dramatic works, although they appear not to directly correspond to the interests he was known for.

The Ashburner collection comprises approximately 5% of the Drama Collection, and is somewhat larger than the bookplates give evidence for.  It is an interesting snap-shot of drama from the mid 18th century, although it was acquired about a century after it was published by Ashburner.  All the volumes are bound in a distinctive style to bring a cohesive look in the owner’s library.  The majority are single plays, although there are some multi-work items; and in some cases items which had previously been bound together have been separated and rebound individually (either by Ashburner himself, or a previous owner).

Although there is relatively little information available about John Ashburner, he was a prominent enough figure within medicine and spiritualism in the nineteenth century to be traceable as an individual; through both internet sources and printed books on the spiritualist movement.

To date it has not been possible to trace how his collection came to Cardiff, as this is not a location he is known to have resided in or have connections with; it can only be presumed that his collection was sold at auction after his death and was acquired at this point by Cardiff Public Library who were looking to build a drama collection.

Ashburner books 023

[1] See p. 16:  Harvey, A., Keelan, P., Pierce, K., & Price-Saunders, H. (2010) Cardiff Public Library sale collections: provenance report: A report produced for CyMAL by Cardiff University Library, January 2010. Cardiff: Cardiff University [unpublished].

[2] For Ashburner’s involvement in the Spiritualist movement see for example Owen (1989, 21): “In London, a loose grouping of middle-class intellectuals and professionals became the early propagators of a particular brand of spiritualism. These individuals included Dr. Ashburner, a Royal Physician and advocate of mesmerism…

[3] See post by Demarest (2013)

Cardiff Rare Books and Music Lecture Series 2014-15

This year, Special Collections and Archives will host a number of talks by internationally-renowned academics as part of the Cardiff Rare Books and Music Lecture Series. All events are free, and open to all. Please contact to book a place for each lecture.

All lectures will be held in Special Collections and Archives at 5.15pm, with the exception of the 12 December lecture, which will be held in the Law Building at the slightly earlier time of 5pm. Please contact to book a place for this lecture.

Posters in English and Welsh are provided below for download and distribution.

Download a pdf copy of this poster

Download a pdf copy of this poster

Rare Special Collections now digitised online

Digitised versions of some of Cardiff University’s rare books and archives have been made available online through the institution’s new DigitalSearch web resource. DigitalSearch was launched during a special event in Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR); during the launch event, colleagues from SCOLAR discussed the importance of DigitalSearch and the use and relevance of such online, website, and digitised resources to researchers and libraries alike.


Janet Peters, University Librarian, presenting DigitalSearch

Janet Peters, University Librarian, presenting DigitalSearch

DigitalSearch makes the text, images, photographs, audio, and video, of some of the University’s rare and specialist research library resources available to search and view online. Over 7,500 pages and images from items in three main collections (History of Medicine, Architecture, and Welsh Literature) have been digitised by the University’s Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR) team and made available in DigitalSearch, and plans are in place to extend the range of these online resources. See DigitalSearch here –

Ranging from 19th century medical reports with statistics on outbreaks of disease in Cardiff, to modern architectural visions that were never completed, as well as Welsh literary ballad texts, along with the musical version being sung by a ballads singer – DigitalSearch supports a wide range of teaching and research fields in the University.

Pestle and Mortar from the 17th century.

Pestle and Mortar from the 17th century.

Janet Peters, Director of Cardiff University Libraries, said: “By making these rare and valuable resources available to the world via DigitalSearch, we hope to help inform future research. The unique images give an example of how digitised rare works can   add to their research value, often providing an unparalleled view into the past and richly illustrating how these works and images were used, and can now be re-used again!”.




Llenyddiaeth Plant / Children’s Literature: SCOLAR and CUROP (Re-Blog)

Mae Dr Siwan Rosser, a’i myfyriwr Catrin, o Ysgol y Gymraeg, yn trafod manylion prosiect CUROP dros yr haf, a oedd yn seiliedig ar gasgliadau SCOLAR o lenyddiaeth plant dros y ddau gan mlynedd diwethaf…
“Diben y prosiect cylchgronau oedd creu cofnod manwl o sampl o gylchgronau plant cynnar a gwella’n gwybodaeth o gynnwys ac ansawdd y cylchgronau hyn”.

Dwy Ganrif o Lenyddiaeth Plant

Dr Siwan Rosser and her student, Catrin, from the School of Welsh, discuss the details of their CUROP project over the summer, which was based on the SCOLAR collections of children’s literature over the last two centuries…
“The aim of the project was to create a detailed record of a sample early journals for children, and improve our knowledge of the contents and quality of these journals”.

Athraw i Blentyn,  1837

Athraw i Blentyn, 1837