Author Archives: siskg1

The Drummer of Tedworth: a Halloween tale of witchcraft, demons and an extremely noisy ghost

Joseph Glanvill was an Oxford-educated philosopher and clergyman, best known for his 1681 treatise on the supernatural, Saducismus Triumphatus: or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions.


The devil and the drum, from the frontispiece to the third edition of “Saducismus Triumphatus” (1700)

20131031_150420Among its numerous tales of 17th century ghosts, witchcraft and demons, the book includes the spooky tale of ‘The Drummer of Tedworth’, thought to be one of the earliest reports of poltergeist activity. In Glanvill’s version of the story, John Mompesson, a landowner in the town of Tedworth, brought a lawsuit for extortion against a local drummer. After he had won the suit and confiscated the drummer’s instrument, Mompesson’s house was plagued by inexplicable drumming and thumping noises, strange lights, scratching, and unpleasant smells. These disturbances continued for many months, escalating until the children’s bedsteads would shake and levitate into the air by themselves, and objects were thrown violently around the room by unseen hands.


An illustration of child levitation from “Sadducismus Triumphatus”

20131031_140845Mompesson’s plight quickly gained notoriety and many people came to visit the house and witness these strange occurrences for themselves. For most of this period, the drummer had been locked up in Gloucester jail and could not have been responsible without recourse to the supernatural, so it was assumed that he must have used witchcraft to summon a mischievous spirit, or poltergeist, to haunt the landowner’s home.

In the tale of the phantom drummer, we can see the prototype for many aspects of the modern poltergeist story, from banging doors and scratching nails to levitating beds. Glanvill’s book itself was a major influence on Cotton Mather’s Wonders of the Invisible World, written in 1693 to justify the Salem witch trials.

For an in-depth study of contemporary sources for the tale, see:
Hunter, Michael (2005) New light on the ‘Drummer of Tedworth’: conflicting narratives of witchcraft in Restoration England. London: Birkbeck ePrints. Available at:

More manicule mania!

IMG_9467As cataloguing of our early printed books continues, I have been discovering more and more manicules in the margins. These wonderful little pointy hands, so useful for early readers to draw attention to important text, have been turning up in books from the 1470s right up to the 1700s, in ever-more varied forms.


IMG_9443Our copy of Gilbert Burnet’s An exposition of the Thirty-nine articles of the Church of England, published in 1700, possibly holds the record for the most manicules added to a single book, with hundreds of pointy fingers dotted around the margins by an eager reader!


Hopefully there are many more manicules still waiting to be discovered in the rest of the Cardiff Rare Books Collection. I will be keeping my (pointy) fingers crossed!


Cardiff incunabula cataloguing update

???????????????????????????????I am pleased to report that the first 100 incunabula (books printed before 1501) from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection have now been now been added to Cardiff University’s online library catalogue as part of the ongoing rare books project. We are lucky to hold nearly 200 of these books dating from the first 50 years of printing and each one is being fully catalogued, recording all the copy-specific details which turn each of these earliest books into a unique historical artefact.

Detail from our copy of “Facsiculus temporum” by Werner Rolevinck (1474), with hand-colouring and illuminated initials

Cataloguing the incunabula is a long and meticulous task, but one which is already revealing new information about these fascinating items. Out of the books catalogued so far, we have found that eight are the only recorded copies in the UK and another 30 are only held by one or two more libraries. Through studying the bookplates, stamps and inscriptions, we are also able to uncover who donated the books to the library and occasionally even identify the original owner.

Ars moriendi (1478), with an ornamental border of acorns and leaves by Erhard Ratdolt

Ars moriendi (1478), with an ornamental border of acorns and leaves by Erhard Ratdolt

Unusually for books as old as these, many of the incunabula in the Cardiff collection are still in their contemporary vellum, calf or pigskin bindings and, even in poor condition, the structure and style of these bindings can tell us much about the early history of each book.


The missing spine on this 1475 edition of Albertus Magnus provides a rare view of the intricate sewing structure holding the book together

Highlights recently added to the library catalogue include:

  • Boccaccio, Giovanni. Filocolo [Venice: Philipo di Petri, 1481].
  • Macer, Floridus. De viribus herbarum [Geneva: Jean Belot, between 1495-1500]. (A rare herbal with hand-coloured woodcuts)
  • Petrarca, Francesco. Trionfi [Venice: Peregrinus de Pasqualibus Bononiensis, 1486].
  • Rolevinck, Werner. Fasciculus temporum [Cologne: Arnold ter Hoernen, 1474] (A beautifully coloured and annotated copy of this famous history of the world)
  • Watton, Johannes. Speculum christianorum [Paris: Pierre Le Dru and Etienne Jehannot, 1495]


Rare Book School at the University of Virginia

This summer I had the exciting opportunity to study at the prestigious Rare Book School (RBS) at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Each year RBSRBS runs a wide range of courses on antiquarian books, manuscripts and special collections, offering  librarians, rare book dealers and conservators the chance to be taught by some of the world’s leading experts in the history of the book. Courses are intensive and last for five days with students attending from 8:30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Library tours, bookstore visits, evening lectures and other bookish events also take place throughout the week.


The University of Virginia’s Special Collections Library

Founded at Columbia University in 1983, Rare Book School is now based in the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library. RBS classes are kept small, usually just 10-12 students, to ensure that everyone can get their hands on the books, and entry to courses is highly competitive. This year there were more than 700 applications for around 380 places, so I was very pleased to receive my acceptance letter to the course, Provenance: Tracing Owners and Collections, to be taught by David Pearson, Director of Culture, Heritage and Libraries at the City of London Corporation, and an expert on provenance in historic collections.


Capitol Building, Washington DC


Hello Mr President!

I arrived in Washington DC on Friday afternoon, just in time to enjoy a Nationals baseball game and get a welcome from President Obama, then set off for Charlottesville on Saturday morning with a 3 hour bus journey that took us through the lush Virginia countryside and some well-preserved Civil War battlefields. After finally arriving in C’Ville, as it is known to locals, I made my way up to the 1003918_10151816334500590_542352754_nUniversity and excitedly checked into my room before heading out to explore the campus. Rare Book School offers students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stay in a room on the famous Lawn, designed by the University of Virginia’s founder, Thomas Jefferson . The Lawn forms the centre of Jefferson’s “Academical Village”, a large grassy court around which the original university buildings stand. Facing the Lawn in rows of colonnades are 54 student rooms and ten Pavilions, which provide both classrooms and housing for faculty members.


The Rotunda at the heart of Thomas Jefferson’s “Academical Village”

Being chosen to live in a room on the Lawn is one of the University’s highest honours. Final-year students submit an application and personal statement to be 20130801_234157reviewed by the residency committee and the award of a Lawn room is considered very prestigious, despite the absence of air conditioning and en-suite facilities! Stories abound of “Lawnies” in fluffy dressing gowns and snow boots braving the elements to reach the bathrooms. Each Lawn room comes complete with a rocking chair and it is a tradition for residents to pull their chairs out to the porch on warm evenings and watch the world go by.


Rocking chairs on East Lawn

At the head of the Lawn sits the magnificent Rotunda, a half-scale replica of the Pantheon in Rome and the original home of the University’s library; the collections have now moved to the impressive Alderman Library, where Rare Book School is based.


Alderman Library

The RBS week began on the Sunday evening with a wine reception for all the students and staff, and a warm welcome from the School’s director, Michael Suarez. I introduced myself to some fellow provenance students and we went out Cornerfor dinner on The Corner, a popular area near the University crowded with restaurants and bars. The social aspect of RBS was great fun, providing lots of opportunities for networking and getting to know other students between classes, over lunch or at evening events. Charlottesville is famed for its abundance of antiquarian and second-hand bookshops and on Booksellers’ Night many of them stayed open late, offering wine, cheese and other nibbles to visitors from Rare Book School. Evening lectures are also a big part of the Rare Book School experience and we had the chance to attend a fascinating talk about the 15th century printer, Aldus Manutius, and his influence on the history of the book.


Pavilion X on East Lawn, home to a member of the UVA faculty

In my provenance class were students from California, Boston, Philadelphia, Maine, Texas and London, including rare book dealers, postgraduate students, special collections librarians, curators and cataloguers. Each day, our excellent tutor, David 20130731_165922Pearson, guided us through a different aspect of provenance in historic collections and we looked at examples from the Rare Book School collections. We studied palaeography, working hard to decode 16th and 17th century handwriting. We discovered the fascinating history of bookplates and how to date them from the design of the plate. We had a wonderful day learning all about heraldry and how to “blazon” (describe) coats of arms in the arcane language of medieval heraldic terms. Our final day was spent in the University’s Special Collections Library, putting our new skills into practice to decipher and record signs of provenance in a selection of rare books drawn from the library’s extensive collections.


Old Cabell Hall at the foot of the Lawn


A well-deserved night out in C’Ville for the provenance class of 2013

Many thanks are due to CILIP Cymru’s Kathleen Cooks Fund, the Cardiff University Staff Development Fund and the Sir Herbert Duthie Prize for Staff Development for making it possible for me to attend Rare Book School. I had a wonderful week in Virginia and made some great new friends on my course. The skills I have gained are already being put into practice in my work with the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, and I would thoroughly recommend a course at RBS to anyone who works with or has an interest in rare books and manuscripts. The Rare Book School experience is unparalleled as a professional development opportunity, and it is also a lot of fun!


A view of the Rotunda; the statue of Jefferson stands on a replica of the Liberty Bell and the symbol below is the sign of the Seven Society, a philanthropic group and one of three ‘secret’ societies at UVA.

Eagle or dodo? A guide to identification

Possibly very few people in history have ever spotted a large bird of prey soaring majestically above the treetops and thought to themselves, “Is that an eagle or a dodo?”. However, for anyone who has difficulty telling these two magnificent birds apart we can now point to this helpful engraving from our copy of Buffon’s System of natural history (1791). Problem solved!


Illustrating the exotic: John Gould and Edward Lear’s Family of Toucans


These magnificent images are from our copy of John Gould’s Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans, published in 1834. As you can see, the book contains some of Gould’s most remarkable illustrations, featuring 52 life-sized lithographed images of these exotic birds reproduced in vivid and vibrant colour.



Gould’s inspiration for Family of Toucans came while he was doing research for Birds of Europe and was invited to view a friend’s collection of toucan skins. The volume took several years to complete and many of the stunning lithographs in this first edition were drawn by Edward Lear, a young artist whom Gould discovered sketching in the Parrot House at London Zoo.



In total, Lear contributed illustrations to six of Gould’s works including Birds of Australia and Birds of Europe, but their professional partnership was neither a happy nor an equal one. As a ‘paid employee’, Lear’s exceptional work on the publications was rarely acknowledged by Gould, who even went so far as to remove Lear’s signatures from the second edition of Toucans.



Although John Gould may not have painted the final illustrations for which he took credit, they certainly could not have happened without him: he collected, sketched and described all the specimens, as well as acting as the agent, publisher and the distributor of the completed volumes. Family of Toucans was one of the earliest of Gould’s 18 monographs on ornithology and as with his later work on hummingbirds, Gould’s experience of these exotic creatures was based entirely on specimens in museums, with an occasional trip to aviaries around Europe – he never saw toucans in the wild.


Edward Lear continued to paint birds and landscapes throughout his life but is better known today for his nonsense poetry. Lear’s A book of nonsense, first published in 1846, helped popularise the limerick, and Nonsense songs (1871) introduced the world to his most famous work, The owl and the pussycat.



Boccaccio and the humanist tradition in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

Commemorating the 700th anniversary of the birth of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), the new exhibition in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives features a selection of works by Boccaccio and his fellow humanists, Dante and Petrarch. The Cardiff Rare Books Collection is particularly rich in Italian literature of the late medieval and early Renaissance period, with all three authors amply represented, and we hold more than forty 15th and 16th century editions of Boccaccio’s works alone.


Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375): engraved frontispiece to “The novels and tales of the renowned John Boccacio, the first refiner of Italian prose” (London, 1684)

20130705_150346Boccaccio is considered one of the three great humanist writers from Italy, along with Dante Alighieri (c. 1265-1321) and Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374).  They were responsible for laying the foundations for a new humanist revival in re-examining the classical Roman and Greek works, and achieving a new literary style and standard that lasted for centuries – both Chaucer and Shakespeare were later influenced by Boccaccio, particularly his Decameron, the collection of 100 comic and tragic tales for which he is perhaps best known.


Illustration from Boccaccio’s “Amorous Fiametta” (London: Mandrake Press, 1929), a reprint of the first English translation of 1587

20130705_144103Boccaccio was a student of Petrarch, and later became his good friend. Both were leaders in the use of the Italian language for many of their works, in contrast to Latin which was the main language across much of Europe for literary and official purposes. Boccaccio himself was influenced by the works of Dante and was a great admirer, composing his Trattatello in laude di Dante (“Treatise in praise of Dante”) between 1350 and 1355.


“Genealogiae Ioannis Boccatii”, published in Venice, 1494/95, includes detailed family trees for the classical gods

Our exhibition has been set up to coincide with the major international conference, Locating Boccaccio in 2013, being held at the University of Manchester on 10-12 July 2013, and with the accompanying exhibition of Boccaccio works at the John Rylands Library. For more information about Boccaccio anniversary events, see


“Ameto, ouer, Comedia delle nimphe fiorentine” (Venice, 1524). This copy of Boccaccio’s work on the civilising nature of love comes from the collection of W. P. Lindsay Jones, which was purchased for the Cardiff Public Library in 1902 by a group of prominent citizens.

The pointy stick proliferation, or, How to explore the antiquities of Britain as an 18th century gentleman

Pointy stickIn the late 1700s, an interest in the study of British history and other antiquarian pursuits was the mark of a gentleman and a patriot, and many topographical books of the day reflect the increasing public interest in ancient remains. These illustrations all come from Francis Grose’s The antiquities of England and Wales, published between 1772 and 1776 and aimed at the popular market of interested readers who perhaps had neither the means nor the inclination to visit the sites in person.

O horor


Grose’s topographical engravings are notable not just for the ancient ruins they depict in skillful detail but also for their “staffage”, the little figures invariably included for scale or atmosphere who are shown exploring the site or simply going about their daily business – men fishing in the rivers, scholars chatting by the chapel, and tiny milkmaids chased by angry livestock! But by far the most common figures to be found in these prints are the gentlemen dandies with their ever-present pointy sticks…

Proliferation of pointy sticks

Got milk?

By the end of the 18th century, a rigid cane had replaced the sword as an essential part of the discerning gentleman’s wardrobe. Walking sticks became an ???????????????????????????????important indicator of social status and a way for a gentleman to display his wealth; usually made from rattan, sticks were elaborately and expensively crafted with silver, ivory or jeweled handles. As the highways of the late 1700s still held some dangers for the lone traveller, walking sticks often retained the sword’s function as a defensive weapon, and canes with blades or even pistols hidden in the shaft were common. As these pictures show, however, the most important use of a gentleman’s walking stick was to point out matters of interest to a friend, a lady companion, or even the occasional dog!

One man and a dog

Francis Grose (1731-1791) himself was an interesting character. A soldier by ???????????????????????????????trade, he was far more inclined to his work as an antiquary and spent his summers sketching medieval ruins around the country. The first part of The antiquities of England and Wales was published in 1772 and was followed by three more volumes and a supplement with illustrations by other artists. While touring Scotland to begin work on The antiquities of Scotland, Captain Grose became close friends with Robert Burns and the poet composed Tam O’Shanter to accompany Grose’s drawing of Alloway Kirk when the book was published in 1791.



Robert Proctor, William Morris and the mysterious death of ‘the great bibliographer’

Exploring our large collection of books by the Kelmscott Press, I was intrigued to discover a set of proofs from The golden legend, printed by William Morris in 1892 and featuring manuscript corrections by Morris himself. This unique volume also includes the personal bookplate of a former owner, a man named Proctor, and the following note: “Given by Mrs. Proctor in memory of William Morris & of her son Robert Proctor”.


Robert George Collier Proctor (1868-1903) was a bibliographer and book collector who is primarily remembered for two very different reasons: firstly, for his revolutionary rearrangement of the incunabula in the British Museum, based on the way in which printing technology spread through Europe in the 15th century; and secondly, for the unsolved mystery which surrounds his disappearance in September 1903.


Proctor’s method, now referred to as ‘Proctor order’, arranges incunabula (books printed before 1501) by country and city, and then by printer and edition. His development of this scheme for the British Museum and Bodleian Library collections radically advanced the study of early printing, earning Proctor the title of ‘the great bibliographer’.

IMG_1381Proctor was a fanatical follower of William Morris, who he first met in 1894, and an avid collector of books and ephemera from the Kelmscott Press, established by Morris in 1891 with the aim of showing that the high standards of medieval book production could be reproduced by skilled craftsmen in the present. Books produced by the Kelmscott Press were modelled on the incunabula of the 15th century, which perhaps accounts for Proctor’s great interest in Morris.

Throughout his life, Proctor had enjoyed taking long walking holidays, often with his mother who accompanied him until well into her seventies. IMG_1386However, on 29 August 1903 Proctor left London without her for a solitary tour of the Austrian Alps. The trip was scheduled to last three weeks and he wrote to his mother each day until 5 September, when Proctor told her not to expect another letter for some time. He was never seen again. Weeks later, Mrs Proctor, worried that she had not heard from her son, tried to arrange a search of the area but it was too late. No body was ever recovered and it was presumed that Proctor had perished in the mountains after losing his footing and falling down a crevasse.

Some people, including his friend and fellow collector Sydney Cockerell, believed that Proctor had committed suicide. Proctor’s diaries suggest that he was suffering depression due to failing eyesight and impending blindness. The day before Proctor left for the mountains, he wrote out a list of ‘wishes and bequests’, possibly the clearest indication that he did not plan to return.


A handwritten letter from Cockerell accompanies another of our unique Kelmscott items, a volume of cancelled pages from The sundering flood: “… Mrs Proctor, the mother of Robert Proctor of the British Museum who was lost in the Tirol last September, asks me to send you these two books for the Library of the City of Cardiff”. The ‘great bibliographer’ was just 35 years old when he died, but he achieved much in his short life and his ‘Proctor order’ is still followed today in the major collections of the world.

Bowman, J.H. (ed.), A critical edition of the private diaries of Robert Proctor: The life of a librarian at the British Museum. Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston  Queenston  Lampeter, 2010.
Downes, Michael, People from the past: Robert Proctor (1868-1903),, 2011

Pointing the finger, or, A handy guide to manicules

IMG_0789A manicule, from the Latin maniculum or ‘little hand’, is a punctuation mark created by or for readers to assist in marking noteworthy passages or finding a section of text. Medieval and Renaissance scholars commonly used the symbol, consisting of a hand with an extended index finger, to direct attention to important text alongside other punctuation marks such as the trefoil (a three-leaved plant) and the asterisk.


IMG_0806The manicule, also known by numerous other names such as pointing hand, index and bishop’s fist, was in common usage between the 12th and 18th centuries, until its complex design appears to have made it too slow for handwriting and readers stopped taking the time to draw their little pointing hands.


Many of the earliest books in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, including the incunabula currently being catalogued, have margins full of wonderful examples 20130515_140743of hand-drawn and printed manicules which vary widely in size, shape and quality, ranging from a simple sketched outline to a detailed pointing hand complete with ornate sleeve and ruffled cuffs. William Sherman, who has traced the history of the manicule all the way back to Spanish medieval manuscripts, describes the hands used in fourteenth- and fifteen-century Italy, for example, as “shockingly fanciful and delightfully stylized”. Early printers, concerned with replicating the medieval traditions and aesthetics of book production as closely as possible, were careful to incorporate the pointing hand into their new typefaces.

???????????????????????????????Although now rarely used by readers, the manicule survives as a visual symbol in signage and printed advertisements and has made it into the digital world as a cursor on your computer screen. Even in this new digital environment, the little pointing hand is still performing the original purpose of the manicule, acting as an interface between the reader and the text.

A large engraved woodblock manicule for printing signage and posters

IMG_0802For more about the manicule, see: Sherman, William H. “Toward a History of the Manicule,” Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 2008)