Category Archives: Christine Megowan

Ligatus Summer School 2017

I have been fascinated by books as physical objects ever since I was a student in the MLIS programme at UCLA, where I somehow got a job making archival boxes and doing simple book repairs in the Library Conservation Center. It was in the conservation lab that I encountered my first 400-year-old book, and it is largely because of that experience that I decided to specialise in rare books librarianship. For several years, I have wanted to enrol in Professor Nicholas Pickwoad‘s course on European Bookbindings, 1450-1830, which he offers every year through various different programmes including Rare Book School at the University of Virginia and London Rare Books School. Earlier this month, I finally had the opportunity to enrol in his course through Ligatus Summer School, and it was every bit as exciting (and exhausting) as I’d hoped.

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The library at Norwich Cathedral.

This year’s summer school was hosted by the Norwich Cathedral Library, and consisted of lectures in the mornings, followed by hands-on sessions looking at examples of different binding structures in the afternoons. Two of the afternoons were spent in the cathedral library itself, and during the rest of the week we visited the libraries of Blickling Estate, Holkham Estate, and Felbrigg Hall. It was a real treat to be able to go behind the scenes of these historic properties and examine portions of their book collections in detail.

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Sir Richard Ellys (1682-1742) moved his library from London to Blickling Hall in Norwich in the 1740s.

The first day of the course included the usual round of introductions: who we are, where we come from, and why we’re on the course. Out of twelve students on the course, I was surprised to learn that I was one of just two librarians; all of the other students were book and paper conservators. While I enjoyed the chance to meet people from different backgrounds, I was somewhat disappointed that my own profession was not better represented. Because rare book stacks are not generally open for browsing, the library catalogue (or sometimes a particularly knowledgeable librarian) is the only avenue for researchers to find items that are relevant to their research. Unless cataloguers are able to describe bindings and other types of material evidence with the same level of accuracy and detail that we devote to bibliography, we are failing to provide researchers with an important means of accessing our collections. As it becomes possible for anyone with an internet connection to view a digitised version of the British Library or Bayerische Staatsbibliothek‘s copy of a particular text or edition, it is the unique characteristics (like bindings) of individual copies of books that will attract researchers into special collections reading rooms.

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Damaged books can reveal structural details that would not otherwise be visible.

Until quite recently, most of the literature on the history of bookbinding has focussed almost exclusively on decorative features such as tooling, exotic leathers, and colourful onlays rather than on the underlying structures. In other words, bindings are analysed as works of art rather than archaeological artifacts. Professor Pickwoad, on the other hand, emphasises the importance of identifying and cataloguing binding structures as evidence of when and where a book was bound, by whom, and for what purpose.

We looked at quite a lot of very beautiful books, but in many ways it was the ugly, battered ones that were the most interesting. It was the books whose endpapers were peeling and whose leather covers were torn that allowed us to see what materials the binder had chosen for the sewing supports and spine linings, and where he (or she) had cut corners to save time and money.

The purpose of a binding is to hold a book’s pages together and protect them against wear. During the Middle Ages, books were tremendously expensive luxury items, and binders took great pains to ensure that such a significant investment was well protected. With the advent of the printing press, books were produced in much larger numbers and at a fraction of the cost, and binders found numerous inventive ways to keep up with the demand for large numbers of reasonably-priced books, usually at the expense of structural integrity.

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These books look similar from the outside, but each one’s structure is slightly different.

Over the course of the week, we looked at each of the steps in binding a book, from assembling the endleaves, to sewing the bookblock, rounding and backing, sewing the endbands, attaching the boards, trimming the edges, covering the book, and finally finishing. With each step, we looked at how the techniques and materials used varied across regions, time periods, and price points. It was fascinating to see how books that looked almost identical on the surface revealed a multitude of different structures underneath, which could be traced to different times and places.

Prior to the industrial age, it was not uncommon for books to be sold without bindings or in cheap, temporary bindings, and for customers to have them rebound according to their taste and budget. Because bindings were often selected by the purchaser rather than the bookseller, they can tell us whether the reader was wealthy or poor, ostentatious or subdued, local or foreign. Over a book’s lifetime, it may be rebound because the old binding was worn or damaged, or because the owner wanted to dress it up a little. Some wealthy book collectors had their entire libraries rebound and decorated in a uniform style. By looking at a book’s underlying structure as well as its decorations, it is sometimes possible to find elements of earlier bindings which can tell us when and where the book was being read, and by whom.

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Nicholas Pickwoad shows the class an Early Modern book that remains an unbound pile of hastily folded sheets.

Professor Pickwoad gives his students an enormous amount of information to absorb (for example, the leather preferred by Oxford bookbinders was often especially dark in colour, and they often tooled patterns of cross-hatching on their board edges near the spine; French binders often attached their boards by lacing the sewing slips through three holes instead of two; German binders often put especially sharp creases on the fore-edge extensions of their parchment bindings), but after a week of looking at dozens of examples, it was all beginning to sink in. As a rare materials cataloguer, I have always tried to include at least a brief description of each book’s binding–if nothing else, knowing what a book looks like makes it easier for library staff to find it on the shelf. Now, this course has given me the knowledge and vocabulary to describe not only what a book looks like, but how it was made. More importantly though, it has given me a new appreciation for the importance of bindings as artifacts that can help us to understand the movement of goods, people, and ideas throughout history. My hope is that by including better descriptions of bindings in the library’s catalogue, I can help to open up new avenues of research rooted in the archaeology of the book.

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One of my classmates takes advantage of a tea break to record details of some of the books at Holkham Estate.

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CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference, day 3

The third and final day of the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections group conference looked at Sale and Disposal: the unfortunate reality that libraries and collectors must sometimes part with their treasured collections, and how to make the best of an unpleasant situation.

Anastasia Tennant, a policy advisor for Collections and Cultural Property with Arts Council England, started the day with a presentation on Export controls on, and tax incentives available for the acquisition of, manuscripts, archives, and books. Since the 1910s, the United Kingdom has allowed the heirs of wealthy estates to offset a portion of their inheritance taxes by transferring cultural assets of significant value into public ownership. This tax exemption was originally intended for buildings and paintings, but from the 1950s onward, it could also be applied to literary archives, books, and manuscripts. In the 1960s, the regulations were revised to allow cultural assets to be allocated to regional museums, leading to a gradual increase in the proportion of archives that have been donated in recent years. More recently, the Cultural Gifts Scheme has allowed significant donations to offset other types of taxes as well. Because many libraries, archives, and museums rely heavily on donations to build their collections, tax incentives like these can encourage potential donors to give to local institutions instead of selling items of cultural value to raise capital to pay taxes.

By alleviating the financial burden of passing on valuable works of art, the exemption has prevented the loss of significant pieces of cultural heritage to overseas buyers. Since WWII, the United Kingdom has also had export controls designed to prevent capital from leaving the country. These procedures state that the directors of national institutions have the right to refuse an export license for works of art over a certain monetary value. In cases where an export license is refused, the owner must be presented with an offer to buy the item at a fair market price. If no institution is able to raise the funds to make an offer, it is possible that the item may still end up being sold overseas, but the hope is that a larger percentage of significant cultural artifacts will remain within the UK’s borders.

The second presentation by Alixe Bovey of the Courtauld Institute was a harrowing tale of the Law Society’s decision in 2012 to sell off the Mendham Collection. The Mendham Collection was formed in the early 19th century by Joseph Mendham, a clergyman who spent the later years of his life as a prolific controversialist and polemicist. In response to the Catholic Emancipation acts of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he used his personal fortune to assemble a library (which he annotated heavily) of manuscripts, incunabula, and printed books in support of his anti-Catholic  arguments. Ironically, in the process he built up a library that was particularly rich in both Protestant and Catholic history and theology.

In 1869, Sophia Mendham gave the bulk of her father-in-law’s collection to the Law Society, expressing a wish that the books be kept together as the “Mendham Collection”. A century later, the collection was placed on deposit with Canterbury Cathedral library where it was much used by students and faculty across two local universities. In the 1990s, the British Library awarded a grant to have the collection catalogued on the condition that no material would be dispersed at a later date. Although it was Canterbury Cathedral who assented to the terms of the grant, the Law Society seemed very proud of the achievement, and a print catalogue of the collection was published in 1994.

In April 2012, however, the library became aware that the Law Society planned to withdraw certain items with the longer-term goal of selling them. After unsuccessful attempts to communicate directly with the Law Society to prevent the sale, a campaign was launched and a task force assembled to preserve the collection. They gathered letters of support, set up an online petition, attracted media coverage, sought legal advice, and even offered to buy the collection from the Law Society, but in June 2013, the collection was split into 142 different lots and sold at auction by Sotheby’s. Another sale of 338 lots took place at Bloomsbury’s the following year.

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Alixe Bovey points to a timeline of the Law Society’s decision to break up and sell the Mendham Collection.

Bovey speculated that the Law Society’s eagerness to sell may have been motivated by a significant downturn in the society’s finances in 2011. The society’s Annual Report for that year show a net deficit of £65.7m, compared with a £56.9m surplus the previous year. In the end, the actual revenue generated by the sale was approximately £1.6m.

Although still pained by the breaking up of the collection despite the best efforts of the library and its supporters, Bovey reflected on the bibliophile community’s willingness to come together in support of the collection, and the effectiveness of social media and other forms of publicity in preventing other bibliographic disasters like the proposed sale of Shakespeare folios from the Senate House Library in London. She also stressed the importance of cataloguing, noting that the 1994 print catalogue is now the sole surviving monument of the collection as a whole.

The final speaker of the conference was Margaret Lane Ford, speaking both as a representative of Christie’s auction house and as a member of the Bibliographical Society to offer a bookseller’s perspective on the dispersal of library collections. The Bibliographical Society recognises that weeding and disposal are necessary and appropriate parts of a responsible collection management policy, but that the decision to dispose of a collection should be made in an open and transparent manner, following careful thought and consultation.

To that end, the Bibliographical Society has a Libraries at Risk policy and subcommittee to help libraries who are faced with the prospect of selling a collection. The subcommittee can offer advice on whether it is possible or desirable to save the collection, raise the profile of the collection at risk, campaign to save the collection, or, failing that, help to find a new home for it.

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Margaret Lane Ford presents some practical advice on dispersal from the book trade.

Collections may be sold in various ways, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. En bloc sales keep collections intact, but often make it difficult to find a buyer. Individual items may be offered for private sale, which can be discreet and move quickly, but can be perceived as secretive or underhanded, resulting in damage to the institution’s reputation. Collections may be sold at auction where there is the potential for items to sell above the estimated price, but also the risk that they will sell for less.

Booksellers can offer advice on how to achieve the best possible outcome from the sale and on handling publicity, an area in which few librarians have experience or expertise. Following the painful history of the Mendham Collection, Ford was eager to remind  conference delegates that booksellers are the mechanism, not the catalyst for dispersal, and that they only become involved after the decision to sell has already been made. If a collection must be sold, library staff should not be afraid to make use of the knowledge and experience of members of the antiquarian book trade.

Following Ford’s presentation, there were a few announcements, a round of thanks to the speakers and the conference organisers, and then all that remained was to say goodbye to my colleagues and make the journey back home to Cardiff. Although this year’s conference presentations were filled with as many cautionary tales as success stories, I came away with lots of ideas for how to improve preservation and security for the collections in my care.

CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference, day 2

Picking up from last week’s post, here’s what happened on day 2 of the CILIP RBSCG Annual Study Conference.

The theme for day 2 of the conference was Theft and Vandalism. The first presentation of the day by Barbara McCormack, Special Collections Librarian at Maynooth University, described the process of relocating the Otway-Maurice Collection from its original home in St Canice’s cathedral in Kilkenny to Maynooth University library in Dublin.

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St Canice’s Cathedral, where the Otway-Maurice collection was housed prior to 2011.

The collection was founded in 1683 with a bequest from Bishop Thomas Otway, and significantly expanded in the 18th century with another bequest from Bishop Edward Maurice. The collection consists of more than 3000 volumes, including 4 incunabula and 300 pre-1600 titles. Since its inception, the collection had been housed in the 14th century cathedral in Kilkenny, on open shelves in a room which was frequently used for parish events. An initial assessment of the collection revealed that the relative humidity in the room reached as high as 75%, encouraging mould growth and an infestation of silverfish.

In 2001, the Representative Body of the Church of Ireland approached Maynooth University in Dublin about taking over custodianship of the collection due to growing concerns over the physical deterioration and security risks to the collection. In exchange for a long-term loan of the books, Maynooth university agreed to pay for the transportation, conservation, cataloguing, and general custodianship of the books, while the cathedral would retain legal ownership.

Before the books could be moved, they were fully inventoried, frozen (to kill the silverfish), cleaned, and in some cases, repaired. The collection was then catalogued to a basic level, with more detailed cataloguing taking place as resources become available. The collection’s new storage area is maintained at 17 degrees and 45% relative humidity, and there are security systems in place. Although this was a very expensive process, the university felt that it was a worthwhile investment in order to gain ready access to the collection for its students and faculty. Since moving to its new home, the collection has been heavily used for teaching, research, and exhibitions.

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Dr Anke Timmerman speaks about how booksellers and libraries can work together to prevent theft.

The second presentation by Anke Timmerman, Library Liaison from the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA). Dr Timmermann’s addressed the issue of theft more directly by describing the the ways that antiquarian booksellers can work with libraries to prevent or respond to theft and vandalism.

Researching provenance (or ownership history) is an important part of the antiquarian book trade. The ability to trace a particular copy of a book to a particular owner has the potential to greatly enhance its value, but it can also reveal that an item may not have been obtained legally. For this reason, the ABA has created guidelines which are designed to make theft (especially from libraries) and the sale of stolen books more difficult.

According to these guidelines, ABA members are expected to do due diligence in researching the provenance of high-value items, confirming that the seller acquired the item legally, and that it was imported or exported legally. If material is suspected to have been stolen, booksellers must conduct research into the book’s provenance, contact the book’s legitimate owner, and cooperate fully with law enforcement to return the stolen material and apprehend those responsible.

Conversely, libraries are expected to do their part to protect their collections against theft and vandalism by establishing and following procedures which minimise opportunities for theft by staff and users, ensuring that rare materials are used under supervision, cataloguing and recording unique identifying features, applying unique and indelible marks of ownership to collections materials, and indelibly cancelling those markings if an item is deaccessioned. Libraries are expected to keep a record of all disposals, and to retain sufficient information to enable subsequent identification of their particular copy of the book.

In the event that a book is stolen, it is important to report the theft as soon as possible. Historically, cultural institutions have been reluctant to admit when items have been stolen for fear that it would damage their reputations and drive away prospective donors, but many cultural heritage professionals now recognise that remaining silent about theft only makes it easier to sell the stolen property. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) maintains a register of stolen books, and the Art Loss Register includes books, manuscripts, and fragments thereof valued at £300 or more.

The third speaker, Adrian Edwards, Head of Printed Heritage Collections at the British Library, picked up where Dr. Timmerman’s presentation left off, describing some of the security measures in place at the British Library and describing how three particular book thieves were caught and convicted. Conference delegates were asked not to share the details of these investigations on social media, but all three examples held chilling similiarities. In every case, the thief was a frequent visitor to the library, well known to library staff and trusted by them. None of the thieves had any prior criminal convictions, and yet all of them did irreparable damage to unique historical artifacts.

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A few of the British Library’s procedures to detect loss, damage, and theft.

As a government body, the British Library views investigating and prosecuting theft as part of its obligation to use public funds responsibly. They always prosecute where the evidence allows, and they always pursue staff disciplinary action where applicable. Collection security appears in their Strategic Risk Register, and there are a number of policies in place both to minimise the risk of theft or loss by members of the public and their own staff.

Although some of the British Library’s security measures are beyond the reach of smaller institutions due to insufficient equipment or staffing, there are certain principles that can be applied by libraries of any size: taking a pro-active approach to security by performing regular collection audits, tracking the movement of items, and identifying high-risk items enables libraries to identify and investigate missing items quickly. Consistent and uniform application of security procedures for staff and readers alike reduces the opportunities for theft, and clear ownership markings ensure that stolen items can be easily identified and returned to their rightful owners.

The final speaker of the day, Giles Mandelbrote, Librarian and Archivist at Lambeth Palace Library, told the story of a major theft of around 1400 early printed items in 1974, nearly all of which were returned in 2011. The story involved an unusual stipulation in the thief’s will, some particularly inspired detective work involving an old, long-since superseded print catalogue of the library’s collection, and the discovery of a locked trapdoor into a hidden loft. The story is welldocumented elsewhere, but the take-away lessons for conference delegates focused on the importance of retaining print catalogues as historical snapshots of the collection, and the need to work with the media to ensure that coverage focused on the restoration of the books rather than poor security and the subsequent cover-up of the loss.

One point which particularly struck me was the fact that the actions of one opportunistic thief were able to change our perception of the historical record. The thief had targeted items which he believed to have the highest resale value. Given the interests of book collectors today, these were primarily on secular topics. In removing those items, the thief drastically changed the overall character of the collection by obscuring the personal interests of the previous archbishops who had bequeathed their personal collections to the library. The idea that a single opportunistic thief could have such a significant impact on our understanding of the past was a sobering thought.

Following a break for lunch, conference delegates split into groups for visits to three different libraries around Brighton. I visited the Keep, a facility shared by the East Sussex Record Office, the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections, and the University of Sussex Special Collections. Built between 2011 and 2013, this facility is divided into a Repository Block which provides more than six miles of shelving in purpose-built, climate-controlled storage. The Repository Block occupies three floors, and each floor’s temperature and humidity is adjusted to the optimal conditions for the type of materials stored there.

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The conservation lab at the Keep, with UV-filtered windows overlooking an area of green roof.

The People Block is organised so that all of the public areas are on the ground floor and wheelchair accessible. These areas include a small exhibition space, reading rooms with computer terminal access, microform readers, and a selection of print reference books, meeting rooms, a group research area, an oral history room with recording facilities, and three multifunction rooms which can be used for school classes, student groups, workshops, receptions, and other events. The upper floor of the People Block houses the staff offices, conservation lab, digitisation studio, and additional space for volunteers, students, and community groups to assist with the Keep’s preservation work. As the icing on the cake, the entire facility is designed to be as sustainable as possible, with green roofs, rainwater catchments, low-energy light fittings, thick walls, super-insulation, and passive solar design for thermal efficiency, and a biomass plant in a nearby (but not adjoining) building to reduce fire risk.

At the end of our tour, we were treated to a display of materials from the different collections housed at the Keep, including the Mass Observation Archive and the personal papers of Lord Richard Attenborough, Rudyard Kipling, and Leonard Woolf.

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The Royal Pavilion, built for George IV as a seaside pleasure palace.

After our site visits, the last outing for the day was a tour and drinks reception at the Royal Pavilion, built as a seaside getaway for King George IV. A delightfully odd mashup of English, Indian, and Chinese architectural styles, the exterior of the building is covered with spires and onion domes reminiscent of the Taj Mahal, and the interior was designed in imitation of a Chinese palace. Of course, none of the architects, interior decorators, or tradesmen who worked on the pavilion had ever actually been to India or China, so the rooms are filled with oddities like murals of flowering bamboo with vine-like curving stalks, or decorative columns topped by ornately carved dragons with the wings and head of a Welsh dragon, and the curling, serpent-like body of a Chinese dragon.

After the reception, it was back to the University of Sussex for dinner and a bit more socialising before the third and final day of the conference.

CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference, day 1

Last week, I attended the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) RBSCG (Rare Books and Special Collections Group) Annual Study Conference hosted by the University of Sussex. The theme of this year’s conference was “Collections at Risk,” with each day of the conference focusing on Preservation and Conservation, Theft and Vandalism, or Sale and Disposal. I enjoy conferences in general since they give me the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues from across the country, but this year’s conference was especially practical. There was so much useful information, in fact, that I’ve had to divide my conference notes between three blog posts. For this post, I’m going to focus on day 1: Preservation and Conservation.

The first speaker was Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan, Consultant Archivist on the UNESCO Memory of the World programme. Her presentation, entitled Using the UNESCO brand to protect collections, gave a brief overview of UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme, which seeks to facilitate preservation, access, and awareness of documentary heritage. This programme centres around the belief that documentary heritage is key to our national (or international) identity; that documentary heritage belongs to all, and should therefore be accessible to all. A key element of the programme is the Register for items or collections of outstanding national or international significance.

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Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan offers some tips on getting managers and donors to engage with preservation strategy.

She spoke briefly about the application procedure and criteria for selection, and in more detail about the benefits of having collection items recognised on the UNESCO Register. Acceptance onto the register does not carry any monetary reward, but it does offer an external validation of the significance of an institution’s collections. Thanks to UNESCO’s name recognition with the general public (including managers, accountants, donors, and other non-librarians), it can lend support to funding applications and bring added footfall to exhibitions and events.

Even for those institutions whose collections might not meet the criteria for “outstanding significance,” the Memory of the World project also issues recommendations and guidelines for preserving documentary heritage. Building these guidelines into project plans can also strengthen funding applications.

The second and fourth speakers, Stacey Anderson, Media Archivist at Plymouth City Council, and Will Prentice, Head of Technical Services for Sound & Vision at the British Library, both discussed ongoing projects to preserve and digitise audiovisual media in their collections, and to encourage other institutions and private individuals to do the same. Stacey Anderson described the unique challenges of preserving audiovisual media: not only do the materials themselves deteriorate rapidly, the technology (analogue or digital) to play them rapidly becomes obsolete and therefore difficult to find and maintain. Each different format has slightly different storage requirements in terms of optimal temperature and relative humidity, so it is important for curators to understand and identify each of the formats in their collections.

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Ten regional hubs will provide training on digitisation and preservation.

Will Prentice described the British Library’s Save Our Sounds project, which originated from a survey of cultural heritage professionals which revealed that while roughly 50% of us have audiovisual media in our collections, more than 70% of us responded that we had no formal training on audiovisual materials, and did not feel confident in our capacity to care for audio collections. To remedy this situation, the Save Our Sounds project aims to set up ten regional hubs which will offer training to cultural heritage professionals and the general public on digitisation and preservation. Each of these hubs will contribute digital copies of 5,000 sound recordings for posting on the British Library’s website. By making these recordings freely available to the public, the project hopes to demonstrate both the value and the fragility of sound archives.

The third speaker of the day was Emma Dodson, the Divisional Manager at Harwell Document Restoration Services. Rather than listen passively to her presentatioin, conference delegates were asked to imagine that a water leak (the most common type of disaster in UK libraries) had been found in their department, and to discuss the order in which they would perform a set of tasks including isolating the electrical supply, consulting the library’s disaster plan, evacuating reading room areas, setting up a salvage area for drying books, and removing or otherwise protecting books in areas adjacent to the leak. We were given tools for calculating the volume of damage materials we could salvage on our own, and for deciding when to call in professional help. We all hoped that we would never need to make use of this knowledge, but exercises like this one are designed to reduce the amount of time that it takes us to go from panicked flailing to useful, directed action.

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Environmental monitoring and control is vital to preserving documents.

The final speaker was Sarah Bashir, Preservation Manager at Lambeth Palace Library. Sarah’s presentation, aptly titled Preventive Conservation: what to do when you have no money, gave an excellent overview of the chief causes of damage to library collections (temperature, relative humidity, light, pests, dust and pollutants, and poor handling), with suggestions for easy, low-cost ways of monitoring conditions and mitigating threats.

By the end of the day, I was filled with new ideas for extending the useful lifespan of our collections. After a pleasant dinner catching up with colleagues whom I hadn’t seen since last year’s conference, I was ready to get some sleep and do it all again tomorrow.

Tracking the Leviathan

In 1651, Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan, which outlines his theory of moral and political philosophy. The book’s title comes from a metaphor of the state as a giant made up of individuals in the way that an individual is made up of molecules: “For by Art is created that great Leviathan called a Commonwealth, or State, (in latine Civitas) which is but an Artificiall Man; though of greater stature and strength than the Naturall, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which, the Soveraignty is an Artificiall soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body.”

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Detail from the engraved title page of Leviathan (London: Andrew Crooke, 1651) showing the sovereign as the head of a Leviathan composed of citizens of the commonwealth.

In Leviathan, Hobbes hypothesized that in their natural state, without government or societal bonds, people are motivated predominantly by self-interest, especially self-preservation. In such a state, every individual would be in competition with every other, and life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Human reason, which pursues our long-term self-interest rather than immediate desires, suggests that peace is desirable for our self-preservation, but is impossible while every individual is the sole arbiter of his or her own behaviour. Therefore, it is in our collective best interest to join together to form a commonwealth in which individuals hand over certain natural rights to a sovereign in exchange for protection from violence. The sovereign wields absolute power for the purpose of maintaining peace, but the sovereign’s right to rule extends only as far as his ability to  protect his people. 

This theory rejects the divine right of kings, and replaces it with the idea that sovereignty comes from a social contract between a ruler and his subjects. Published at the end of the Civil War in England, these arguments made Hobbes many enemies on both sides of the political conflict, as well as in the church. Parliamentarians took offense at his support of absolute monarchy, while royalists rejected Hobbes’ claim that because the king could not protect his people in England, their self-preservation was best served by accepting the authority of the new regime. Meanwhile, the church was outraged at his assertion that because supreme authority derives from the consent of the governed and not from God, the authority of the church must be subordinate to that of the state.

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Pamphlets like this one criticizing Hobbes’ philosophy appeared soon after Leviathan‘s publication.

Almost immediately after the publication of Leviathan, critics began to publish scathing attacks on Hobbes’ arguments. The Catholic Church placed Leviathan on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, and Oxford dismissed faculty who were sympathetic to Hobbes’ arguments. In spite of, or perhaps because of this notoriety, Leviathan enjoyed tremendous popularity—a fact which is can be seen in its early publication history.

After the appearance of the first edition in 1651, any further printing of Leviathan in the vernacular was prohibited. Nevertheless, the book remained in high demand. Consequently, 17th century publishers were reluctant to put their own name to the publication, but were even more reluctant to miss out on an opportunity for profit.

According to Hugh Macdonald and Mary Hargreaves’ bibliography of the works of Thomas Hobbes, “there are three editions of Leviathan each bearing the imprint ‘Printed for Andrew Crooke at the Green Dragon in St. Paul’s Church-yard’ and the date 1651,” but only one of these imprints is true. The three editions are commonly referred to by the woodcut ornaments on the printed title page: a head with scrolls and tassels, a bear with foliage, and five rows of fleuron ornaments. The Cardiff Rare Books collection includes two copies of Leviathan, both from the “head” edition.

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Three editions exist with the same imprint, but different ornaments on their title pages. The “head” edition shown here comes from the Cardiff Rare Books collection; the other two are from Early English Books Online.

Using evidence taken from the errataengraved title page, typefaces, and watermarks in the paper, it is possible to determine roughly where and when the three editions were produced. In the “head” edition, all of the mistakes identified in the errata are still present in the text, and the plate from which the engraved title page was printed appears to have been in good condition at the time. The evidence suggests that this is the true first edition published by Andrew Crooke in 1651.

In the “bear” edition, the errata list is identical to that of the “head” edition, but some of the mistakes have been corrected in the text, and the engraved title page shows signs of wear to the plate. The Italic typeface used in the “bear” edition is unlikely to have been used in England before the end of the 17th century. Macdonald and Hargreaves traced the use of the bear ornament in other publications, revealing that it was used only in books printed in Holland between 1617 and 1670, suggesting that this edition was most likely printed in Holland not long after 1651.

In the “ornaments” edition, there is a new misprint in the errata list itself, and more of the mistakes have been corrected than in the “bear” edition. The engraved title page shows signs that the plate has been retouched; much of the detail on the tiny figures within the leviathan has been lost. The typeface and paper can be identified as having been in use much later than 1651. More specifically, Anthony Wood’s Athenae Oxonienses mentions an edition of Leviathan “Reprinted there again with its old date, an. 1680.” This statement would place the “ornaments” edition the year after Hobbes’ death, a time when Hobbes’ writings are known to have been much discussed in the coffee-houses around London.

The existence of these two concealed editions provides an intriguing glimpse of a time when the public’s appetite for philosophical writing was great enough to motivate publishers to defy church and government censorship. It’s also a good reminder for cataloguers and researchers alike that books are not always what they claim to be!

 

Second best, or Second and Best?

In Latin, the word “secundus” can mean both “second” and “favourable.” Today, many book collectors focus on first editions, but our modern fixation with firsts is a relatively recent phenomenon. The entry on “The Chronological Obsession” in John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors states that “the average 19th-century collector was as much interested in the finest looking or best-edited edition as in the first.” Second and subsequent editions often incorporate new information and new insights that make them textually superior to their predecessors. In this week’s blog post, we’ll examine some of the reasons you may want to look favourably on the second edition of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

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The second edition of Lyrical Ballads (London: T. N. Longman and O. Rees, 1800) from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection.

Lyrical ballads was originally published in 1798. It consisted chiefly of poems by Wordsworth with four contributions by Coleridge, although neither poet’s name appeared anywhere in the volume. A five-page “Advertisement” in the first edition asserted that many of the poems were “to be considered as experiments… written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.” Going sharply against the contemporary fashion for highly sophisticated verse, Wordsworth and Coleridge eschewed the “gaudy and inane phraseology of many modern writers” in favor of “a natural delineation of human passions, human characters, and human incidents.” 

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The opening of “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey,” in Lyrical Ballads (London: T.N. Longman and O. Rees, 1800)

The collection began with Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancyent Mariner” and ended with “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,” works which are now hailed as the beginning of a new literary epoch. At the time, however, critical reception of the volume was cool, particularly in response to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Reviewers complained about its use of antiquated spelling, archaic vocabulary, inverted word order, and general inaccessibility. In 1799, Wordsworth wrote that he believed that Coleridge’s poem had been harmful to the Lyrical Ballads, and considered omitting it from the second edition.

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Illustration by Willy Pogány for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1910).

In 1800, Wordsworth and Coleridge began working towards the publication of a second edition. The process turned out to be a long and difficult one, with the volume finally leaving the press in January 1801 (although the title page bears the date 1800). This edition would add a second volume of new poems, including “Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known,” “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways,” and “Lucy Gray.” This time, the title page bore Wordsworth’s name, although the preface acknowledges the poetical contributions of “a Friend” which have been included “for the sake of variety.” “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was moved near the end of the first volume and heavily edited by Coleridge, who removed some of the elements which had so offended critics in the first edition. He modernised around 40 spellings and terms, deleted 46 lines and added seven new ones.

It was originally planned that Coleridge would contribute a lengthy poem, “Christabel,” as the final piece in the second volume. Wordsworth anticipated that it would serve as a capstone for the collection in much the same way that “Tintern Abbey” had in the first, but an unfortunate combination of writer’s block, dwindling finances, and a newborn son in poor health prevented Coleridge from completing the poem. With the printing of the second edition already running behind schedule, it was decided that “Christabel” would be omitted from the publication. Wordsworth composed “Michael, a Pastoral” in its place, while Coleridge took on a more fiscally rewarding commitment to write a daily column for the Morning Post

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The Preface to Lyrical Ballads appears for the first time in the second edition.

In preparing the second edition for the press, Coleridge proposed to write a preface which would expand on the brief “Advertisement” which appeared in the first edition, but when he failed to deliver the promised preface before the publication deadline, Wordsworth again picked up the slack. Wordsworth’s preface, spanning 42 pages, outlined his and Coleridge’s poetic aims in composing the lyrical ballads, becoming a kind of manifesto for English Romanticism and earning it a place on the reading list of essentially every literature course covering the Romantic period. Wordsworth further revised and expanded the preface in the 1802 third edition of Lyrical Ballads, but for some collectors and many scholars, the preface’s first appearance in 1800 makes the second edition the preferred one.

Shelvocke’s Voyage and Coleridge’s Albatross

pogany_verseIn late September of 1719, the British privateer ship Speedwell was cruising near Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America. The ship faced weeks of foul weather. Thick fog prevented her crew from using the sun to calculate their position, and driving winds threatened to wreck the ship on icebergs or rocky coastlines. The intense cold claimed the life of a crewman named William Camell, who fell into the water and drowned when his hands and fingers became too numb to hold onto the rigging. In gloomy spirits, the crew remarked that it had been more than a week since they had seen any living thing besides themselves, apart from:

“… a disconsolate black Albitross, who accompanied us for several days, hovering about us as if he had lost himself, till Hatley, (my second Captain) observing, in one of his melancholy fits, that this bird was always hovering near us, imagin’d from his colour, that it might be some ill omen. That which, I suppose, induced him the more to encourage his superstition, was the continued series of contrary tempestuous winds, which had oppress’d us ever since we had got into this sea. But be that as it would, he, after some fruitless attempts, at length, shot the Albitross, not doubting (perhaps) that we should have a fair wind after it.”

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Title page of the first edition of Shelvocke’s Voyage (London: J. Senex, 1726)

In 1726, George Shelvocke, captain of the Speedwell, published his account of the Voyage round the world by way of the great South Sea, including this evocative scene. In the autumn of 1797, this passage caught the attention of  William Wordsworth, who pointed it out to his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge who was at that time contemplating a poem incorporating gothic imagery and metaphysical overtones.

The poem required that the central character commit some crime which would bring down upon his head a spectral persecution, and Wordsworth suggested that the killing of an albatross might serve that purpose. The next year, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was published as the first poem in Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems by Wordsworth and Coleridge that is now hailed as the beginning of the Romantic movement in literature.

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Detail from an illustration by Willy Pogány for “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” (London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1911)

While the shooting of the albatross is now the most famous moment in Shelvocke’s 468-page monograph, it is far from the only noteworthy episode. On 25 May 1720, the Speedwell was wrecked and the crew marooned for five months on an uninhabited island. Some years earlier, Alexander Selkirk had achieved fame for surviving four years in solitude on an island in the south seas, one of the sources of inspiration for Defoe’s The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Shelvocke’s description of the wreck of the Speedwell and the subsequent construction of a new 20 ton boat out of its remains captured the public imagination. The book also contains one of the earliest depictions of the natives of Baja California, and mentions the discovery of gold in California and the abundance and economic potential of guano in Peru more than a hundred years before their rediscovery and exploitation in the 19th century.

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Shelvocke’s Voyage included an early depiction of “Two Californian Women, the one in a Birds Skin, the other in that of a Deer.”

Not included in Shelvocke’s book is the legal battle that followed his return to England in 1722, which portrays him in a less flattering light. The Speedwell was originally intended to accompany a larger ship, the Success, under the command of John Clipperton (who had served under Captain Dampier). Early on in the voyage, the Speedwell became separated from the Success, and instead of travelling to an agreed-upon rendezvous, Shelvocke struck out on his own, attacking a Portuguese ship along the way. On arriving in back in England, Shelvocke was immediately charged by the ship’s owners with piracy and embezzlement for having withheld large quantities of plunder from the privateering expedition. In his preface to the Voyage, Shelvocke acknowledges that “the unavoidable misfortunes I encounter’d with, gave room for some to censure my conduct in my share of the Expedition; from whence several scandalous and unjust aspersions have been thrown upon me,” and that his design in publishing his account of the voyage was partially to clear his own name.

Much of the evidence against Shelvocke came from William Betagh, a member of the crew of the Speedwell who published his own account, entitled Voyage Round the World, in 1728. Betagh depicts Shelvocke as a Machiavellian villain who conspired to defraud the ship’s owners of the bulk of their profit, cause the death or capture of those who opposed him, and lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of his victims. Betagh himself was captured by the Spanish early in the voyage, however, and consequently much of his testimony is hearsay.

In 1757, George Shelvocke’s son released a second edition of the Voyage round the world by way of the great South Sea. He made extensive corrections to the text in an attempt to vindicate his father from the charges of embezzlement and piracy, and this editions is now considered by some to be textually superior to the first. Cardiff University holds copies of both editions: the 1726 first edition in the Salisbury Collection, and the 1757 second edition in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection.

Multiple Versions Found

On this blog, we spend a lot of time talking about editions—first editions, modern fine press editions—but what do we really mean by an edition, and why is it important? Bibliographically speaking, an edition is all the copies of a book printed from substantially the same setting of type. It reflects a financial decision on the part of the publisher, influenced by social factors, and manifested in typographical differences between editions.

By using these typographical differences to sort books into editions, we can make educated guesses about the social and economic factors that led to their production. For example, if a book was printed in a large format with wide margins and plenty of illustrations, it was probably an upmarket edition, whereas the same text printed in pocket size would have been aimed at less wealthy customers. If a book went through multiple editions, it must have been popular enough to justify investing in another print run. We can trace minor editorial changes in the text over time, signalling the influence of the author, the censor, or the tastes of the reading public (or possibly all three).  If an edition survives in hundreds of copies, we might guess that its publishers were confident enough in its success to produce a very large print run, whereas a niche publication may only survive in a single exemplar or as a reference in another text.

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Cardiff University’s LibrarySearch collapses multiple editions into a single search result, so it’s worth clicking through to see everything we hold.

Many researchers who come to special collections do so because they are looking for a specific edition of a text. Most of the time, the difference between editions is obvious, like a different date or the phrase “A new edition” on the title page. Other times, it can be almost impossible to distinguish between two editions without comparing them side by side.

One of ways that rare book cataloguers tease apart similar editions is by consulting published bibliographies, and citing a unique identifier for the edition in our catalogue records. At Cardiff University, we’ve been concentrating on cataloguing our early British books, so the resource that we use most often is the English Short Title Catalogue, or as it’s commonly called, the ESTC.

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These two editions are nearly, but not quite identical. Can you spot the differences between our copy on the left and the microfilmed copy from EEBO on the right? (Hint: the answer is in the catalogue record.)

If you’re not already familiar with it, the ESTC is a database which seeks to record every book, pamphlet, serial, and broadside printed before 1801, either in the British Isles, Colonial America, United States of America, Canada, or territories governed by England or Britain before 1801; or wholly or partly in English or other British vernaculars; or with false imprints claiming publication in Britain or its territories. Each record includes a list of libraries that own a physical copy of the item, as well as links to digitised copies in Google Books, Early English Books Online (EEBO), and Eigtheenth Century Collections Online (ECCO).

It currently has records for more than 480,000 separate editions held by more than 2000 libraries worldwide, but it’s still far from complete. Many works have been lost through the centuries, possibly because they are relevant only for a limited period of time (like almanacs and news bulletins), because they were used and re-used until they fell apart (like textbooks), or because they were produced in such small print runs that none of them have survived (that we know of). As libraries continue the never-ending struggle to catalogue their backlogs, however, “new” editions resurface. In 2016, Cardiff University cataloguers submitted 27 new records to the ESTC—not bad, considering that these books have avoided detection for at least two centuries!

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re rediscovering long-lost plays by Shakespeare or scientific treatises by Isaac Newton. For the most part, we’re filling in gaps in the publication history of known works. Many of the records that we contribute to the ESTC are for books that we were reasonably sure must have existed, but hadn’t ever been catalogued before. For example, if the ESTC has records for the first, fifth, and seventh edition of a particular work, it’s relatively safe to assume that the second, third, fourth, and sixth editions must exist somewhere. Sometimes, what we discover is a slight variation of another edition. (That said, new first editions of well-known works do sometimes crop up).

Here are just a couple of the new editions that we’ve reported to the ESTC this year:

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Our 1664 edition of Homeri Ilias (left) and another version published by Joannes Field the same year (ESTC R27415).

The ESTC had previously recorded a 1664 edition of Ομηρου Ιλιαδοσ: Homeri Ilias published in Cambridge by Joannes Field, calling itself “editio postrema” (latest edition).  Our copy, however, omits the Greek version of the title and calls itself “editio novissima” (newest edition). Once you look past the title page, however, the two editions are awfully similar. In fact, they’re identical. Both versions have dozens of pages numbered incorrectly in exactly the same way, suggesting that Mr. Field simply sold the same printed sheets with two different title pages.

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Our copy says it was sold by J. Robinson, but other versions of this edition have Richard Wilkin and J. Wyat’s names on their title pages.

Three slightly different versions of this edition of A discourse concerning the authority, stile, and perfection of the books of the Old and New Testament were published simultaneously in 1693. Two versions, bearing the names of Richard Wilkin and J. Wyat, were already recorded in the ESTC, but our version, with “J. Robinson” in the imprint had never been documented before.Each of these variants has a different name in the imprint, showing the business relationship between three different booksellers around London. Two versions, bearing the names of Richard Wilkin and J. Wyat, were already recorded in the ESTC, but our version, with “J. Robinson”, adds another name to the partnership. Even though J. Robinson’s name appears on the title page, the last page of the book advertises “books sold by Richard Wilkin”.

Whenever we find an edition that hasn’t yet been documented, we share our catalogue records with the ESTC and Worldcat so that researchers and cataloguers around the world can find it. Regardless of what the book is, it’s always exciting to be able to add another piece to the jigsaw puzzle of book history.

Robinson Crusoe in 36 Pages

Daniel Defoe was an extremely prolific author, producing more than 500 books, pamphlets, and journals during his lifetime. Perhaps the best-known of his works is Robinson Crusoe, whose title character is shipwrecked on a remote tropical island for thirty years, and must feed, shelter, clothe, and defend himself.  The first edition appeared in 1719, and ran to more than 360 pages.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened this slim little volume—just 36 pages—and saw the rather impressive title: The surprising life, voyages and adventures of Robinson Crusoe, a seaman of York: who, after suffering many hardships by Sea and land, was shipwrecked on the coast of America, and cast ashore on an uninhabited island, where he lived twenty-eight years, without any one to assist him, or converse with, but an American savage, whose life he saved. With his wonderful discovery and deliverance, by an English captain.

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A chapbook edition of Robinson Crusoe, published by Dean & Munday sometime between 1808 and 1816.

Intrigued by this rather aggressive abridgment, I soon learned that Robinson Crusoe has a long history of truncation. The earliest abridgments appeared the very same year as the first edition, shortening the text by more than 100 pages. During the remainder of the 18th century, the original text of Robinson Crusoe was republished in an impressive 57 editions, but the number of abridged editions outnumbered Defoe’s original text more than three-to-one. Not only did the shorter versions sell for a fraction of the price of the original, many contemporary readers actually viewed these abridgments as an improvement, retaining all of the best bits while trimming away excess verbiage. In “Eighteenth-Century Abridgements of Robinson Crusoe”, Jordan Howell argues that Robinson Crusoe achieved its place in the literary canon as much due to the popularity of the story as told through abridgments, as to Defoe’s literary style. 

Most of these abridgments, however, retained much of the action and character of the original, sitting comfortably at 200+ pages. The little copy I had found belonged to a different genre entirely: the chapbook.

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At 68 words, the title is longer than some of the pivotal scenes in this 36-page abridgment.

Intended for sale by itinerant merchants among the poorer (but increasingly literate) classes, chapbooks are generally printed on a single sheet of paper, folded to 24 pages (although they sometimes reached as high as 36 pages) and illustrated with woodcuts. Chapbooks covered a staggering array of subjects, including folk tales, nursery rhymes, almanacs, histories, and religious instruction. Contemporary novels were not often squeezed into chapbook format, but works by Defoe, Bunyan, and Swift were noteworthy exceptions. According to Andrew O’Malley’s “Poaching on Crusoe’s Island: Popular Reading and Chapbook Editions of Robinson Crusoe“, during the 18th century, the novel went through no less than 151 chapbook editions.

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The frontispiece, the book’s only illustration, depicts a scene which is barely mentioned in the text.

Different chapbook editions emphasized different aspects of the story, moulding them to conform to the generic conventions that were familiar to working-class readers. O’Malley writes that, “By rejecting certain key elements of Defoe’s work while amplifying others to the point of distortion, these chapbooks shed light on how the laboring classes interacted with the dominant cultural and ideological formations of the period.” For example, some versions linger over Crusoe’s capture by mutineers and enslavement by Moors, in keeping with lower-class readers’ expectations for a seafaring tale. Others might skip over the details of Crusoe’s means of survival on the island or his religious awakening. These omissions cast Crusoe in the role of a traditional folk hero like Jack the Giant Killer, whose good fortune is the product of luck rather than hard work and spiritual devotion—a narrative which might resonate with a working-class audience with few opportunities for social or economic advancement. 

Our chapbook edition is a relative latecomer to the scene. The title page is undated, but it was most likely published between 1808 and 1816 (based on the years that the publishers, Dean & Munday, based their business at the address given on the title page). The paper is cheap, flecked all over with dark brown fibres, and the type has been very unevenly inked, evidence of its downmarket price point. The narrative does not linger over any one episode, but describes all the most noteworthy events with equal (and impressive) economy. Gone, however, are any meditations of a spiritual nature. At 36 pages, it is voluminous for a chapbook, but unlike most 18th century chapbooks, it contains only one illustration. If you fancy a more substantial read, however, we also hold three 19th century editions of Robinson Crusoe in Welsh (84, 90, and 118 pages), one in French (3 volumes) published 1720, and an illustrated edition in English(363 pages), published in 1847.

The stars align to reveal an Old Prophet in the stacks!

It was a dark and stormy afternoon in Special Collections & Archives. I was sitting in my office, cataloguing a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, when Lisa, our Assistant Librarian, tapped at my office door. ‘I think maybe there’s an error in the catalogue,’ she said.

When the Cardiff Rare Books collection came to Cardiff University in 2010, we’d drawn up a bare-bones inventory, knowing that it would be several years before the collection could be fully catalogued. Lisa had been looking through the collection inventory to look for uncatalogued books that might be useful for a resource guide on Witchcraft. ‘The inventory says this book was published in 1681, but the catalogue record says 1685,’ she observed as she showed me the two conflicting records.

Being a cataloguer and somewhat inclined to obsessive-compulsive behaviour, I couldn’t allow such an egregious error to remain in our records, so I went to the stacks to investigate. Stretching to reach the top-most shelf, I spotted the title in question: William Lilly’s Merlini Anglici ephemeris: or, Astrological judgments for the year 1685… with the 1681 issue, uncatalogued, sitting next to it on the shelf—both records had been correct, but incomplete! Alongside these almanacs I noticed several other volumes of William Lilly’s astrological writings. Thinking they might be useful for the resource guide, I brought the lot of them back to my office for cataloguing.

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A selection of astrological books by William Lilly, from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection.

A contemporary of John Dee and Nicholas Culpeper, William Lilly began his life as the son of a yeoman farmer in Leicestershire. He worked for seven years as a servant in London before marrying his former master’s widow when he was just 25 years old. Now a man of leisure, he spent his time studying astrology. From 1647 to 1682, he published a series of astrological almanacs which brought him both popularity and scandal. By 1649, sales of his almanacs had reached nearly 30,000 copies and by the 1650s, they were being translated into Dutch, German, Swedish, and Danish. At he same time, however, he made many enemies by predicting on astrological grounds the downfall of the Stuart monarchy, while also criticizing both parliament and the Presbyterians.

Among the volumes I’d picked up for cataloguing was a first edition of Christian astrology modestly treated of in three books (London, 1647), Lilly’s most comprehensive work. An amalgamation of 228 earlier texts, Christian astrology contains 832 pages of instruction on reading the stars and planets and their influence on everything from the physical characteristics and likely fortunes of unborn children, to international politics. The work is significant because it was the first astrological instruction book to be published in English rather than Latin, making it accessible to a middle-class audience.

After carefully transcribing the book’s bibliographical details, I began to describe the unique attributes our particular copy: binding and marginalia. I spotted inscriptions in at least four different hands, ranging across three centuries. I deciphered and recorded them in the catalogue record as best I could, and then brought the volume over to Lisa, thinking she might find them interesting.

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Inscriptions, dating between the 17th and 19th centuries, on the front endpaper of William Lilly’s Christian astrology (London, 1647)

*     *     *

‘Is that the “Old Prophet’s” signature?’ I exclaimed, at which point, the lights in the office flickered. I had a sixth-sense (those of us who work with special collections often get this!) that this was the signature of the Welsh Independent Minister and author, Edmund Jones (1702-1793).

An intriguing figure in eighteenth-century Wales, he was a passionate Calvinist connected with the vicinity of Pontypool and Monmouthshire, where he regularly preached during the 1730s. Sympathetic to the growing Methodist movement, characterized by a more heartfelt, experiential form of religion, it was Jones who encouraged Howell Harris to preach in Monmouthshire for the first time in 1738.

Certainly, his diaries record a dedicated schedule where he travelled and preached extensively, delivering 104 sermons in the year 1731. Almost fifty years later, in 1778, he took a ‘tour through Monmouth [and] Wales … to Caerphilly’. Although not traditionally educated, his autobiography reveals how he was a ‘great lover of books, buying and borrowing as much as he could’. One such book it seemed, appeared to be our copy of Lilly’s Christian astrology.

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Edmund Jones’ signature on the front endpaper of Christian astrology (London,  1647).

 

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Edmund Jones’ signature on A geographical, historical, and religious account of the parish of Aberystruth (Trevecka, 1779), held by the National Library of Wales.

In order to confirm my suspicions, we needed to compare this signature with some known examples of Jones’s handwriting. Fortunately, the National Library of Wales holds Jones’s diaries, saved from the final destination of being used as wrapping paper in a Pontypool shop. Thanks to the help of their Manuscript Librarian, these journals not only reveal a script eerily similar to our sample, they also include a list of books that Jones acquired …

And yes! No need to consult the stars on this one, for Lily’s Astrology is clearly recorded at the bottom of the page.

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A page from Edmund Jones’ diary for the year 1768, listing the books that Jones acquired that year. Held by the National Library of Wales (NLW MS 7025A).

So not only does Special Collections hold Edmund Jones’s personal, annotated copy of Lilly’s Astrology, but this discovery reveals Jones’s more mystical side.

Known as the ‘Old Prophet’ due to his apparent gift of prophecy and ability to foretell future events, he was also a firm believer in witchcraft and the supernatural. His interest in books was not confined to collecting, for he published a number of works, including A Relation of Apparitions of Spirits which comprised a collection of supernatural experiences and spiritual encounters designed to ‘prevent a kind of infidelity … the denial of the being of Spirits and Apparitions, which hath a tendency to irreligion’.

As the seventeenth century drew to a close, a slight change of attitude towards the beliefs in apparitions and witchcraft, is evident. Atheism now posed a greater threat than popery (Roman Catholicism), and works composed around this time were directed at countering this new danger.

Joseph Glanvill’s Sadducisimus Triumphatus, for example, provides ‘full and plain evidence concerning witches and apparitions’. To deny the existence of the spirit, he argues, ‘is quite to destroy the credit of all human testimony’. Bovet’s Pandaemonium, or the devil’s cloyster, is aimed at ‘proving the existence of witches and spirits’, for ‘there can be no apprehensions … from the attacks of the … Sadducees’. For Richard Baxter, a belief in spirits was a means to salvation since through faith in the world of spirits, the ‘saving’ knowledge of God could be obtained.

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Illustration detail from Glanvill’s Saducismus Triumphatus (London, 1700)

It is in this context that Jones collected Relations of Apparitions which include fairy encounters and apparitions such as corpse candles and phantom funerals. For example, a ‘Mr. E. W.’ confirmed in a letter to Jones that saw the fairies as a company of dancers in the middle of the field, while an innkeeper from Llangynwyd Fawr saw them with speckled clothes of white and red, as they tried to entice him a while he lay in bed. Another gentleman also told Jones how ‘the resemblance of a young child … and also of a big man’ appeared to him. As he looked on, ‘the child seemed to vanish into nothing’. Not long after the encounter, Jones notes, the child of the man who witnessed the apparition sickened and died, as did he not long after his daughter was buried.

The phantom funeral or Toili, could manifest itself as a mournful sound, the cyhyraeth. Noises associated with the funeral procession or service, or the dismal cries of the Cŵn Annwn (Hell Hounds), inevitably signalled death. Thomas Phillips heard the cries of these spiritual dogs prior to the death of a woman in his parish of Trelech. In Ystradgynlais, two women heard someone singing psalms. The voice was that of John Williams, who sang the psalms at a later Dissenting meeting and was indeed ‘buried’ a few days after. Faced with such great sums of truth, Jones challenges, ‘who … can deny the reality of Apparitions of Spirits?’

Indeed, and here at Special Collections we are well aware of the ghosts of owners past that we sometimes encounter amongst the aged pages of our rare books. Like Jones’s unique accounts of the supernatural experiences of ordinary Welsh men and women, these rare books occasionally reveal the spectre of a bygone reader and their occult interests. So the moral of this post is to beware! For you can never predict what you’ll find between the pages of a rare book, even one on predictions.