Category Archives: Ken Gibb

Engravers of the Lost Ark

IMG_0362I have been fascinated by tales of the Ark of the Covenant from the first time Indiana Jones strapped on his bullwhip and picked up his fedora for Raiders of the Lost Ark (never go on an adventure without your hat!), so I was thrilled to discover an 18th century depiction of the Ark in a book I was cataloguing from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection. Intrigued to see how other engravers depicted this fabled lost artefact, I set out on a quest to unearth some more illustrations from the early printed books in our extensive collections.

An unusual depiction of the Ark from a 1708 edition of Josephus’ “Jewish history” showing the cherubim supporting the mercy seat or “footstool” which appears in some later descriptions. Also surprising to note that the angels here are depicted with hooves.

Copper engraving by Bleyswyk showing Aaron’s rod and a vessel of manna said to be deposited with the Ark

According to the biblical account from the Book of Exodus, the Ark of the Covenant was built at the command of God as a coffer for storing the original stone tablets given to Moses on Mount Sinai.  Exodus provides detailed instructions on how the Ark was to be constructed: it was to be made of shittim (acacia) wood, 2.5 cubits long, 1.5 wide and 1.5 high, and plated entirely in gold with a ring attached to each foot so that it could be carried aloft on wooden poles. A cover of solid gold adorned with two golden cherubim with their wings outstretched was to be placed over the top.

The Ark, veiled with blue cloth and skins, at the head of the Israelite army, from Augustin Calmet’s “Historical, critical, geographical, chronological, and etymological dictionary of the Holy Bible” (1732)

The Ark was carried by the Israelites during their 40 years in the desert and many of their victories are attributed to its supernatural power, from parting the waters of the Jordan to bringing down the walls of Jericho. Priests carried the Ark, usually veiled in cloth and animal skins, in the vanguard of the army and when the host was encamped it had its own sacred tent, known as the Tabernacle. During the construction of King Solomon’s massive temple complex in Jerusalem, a special inner courtroom, called the Holy of Holies, was designed to house the Ark, where it stood as a throne for God’s rule on Earth.


The consecration of the Hebrew commonwealth with the Ark unveiled at the centre, from Calmet

The Ark is believed to have disappeared from Jerusalem after the Babylonians invaded and sacked the city in the sixth century A.D., but since then it  has continued to capture the imaginations of engravers, writers, film-makers, and even the occasional whip-wielding archaeologist!

Depiction of the Ark in the Holy of Holies and an inset showing the cloud between the two cherubim which was said to reveal God's presence

Depiction of the Ark in the Holy of Holies and an inset showing the cloud between the two cherubim which was said to reveal God’s presence

Fore-edge paintings by John T. Beer in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

IMG_0314 edit2I was delighted to discover this week that the Cardiff Rare Books Collection includes two books with fore-edge paintings by the artist John T. Beer. Fore-edge paintings are watercolour illustrations applied to the outside edges of a book’s pages; the technique dates back to before the invention of printing, possibly as early as the 10th century.


A painting of George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, arriving in Wales to a hostile reception appears on Cardiff’s copy of the third edition of Fox’s journals, published in 1765 (Weber-Beer 105).

John T. Beer was a successful Merseyside clothier and an avid book collector, who turned to fore-edge painting after his retirement and produced hundreds of works between 1884 and 1900. As he was not a professional painter working on commission, Beer was able to select books from his own collection, including several incunabula, and decorate them to his own taste. As our examples show, he often took inspiration from the contents of the book.

IMG_0296 edit

“John preaching in the Wilderness”: Beer’s illustration on an early 16th century Latin Bible, printed at Lyon by Jacob Mareschal in 1514 (Weber-Beer 15).

IMG_0299 editIn the 1600s, some bookbinders even discovered they could paint just inside the fore-edges of a book then cover the outer edges with gilt to create a hidden illustration that was undetectable when the book was closed and visible only when the pages were fanned. Beer did not gild the fore-edges, but he did fan the pages before adding his illustration. Thus, the closed book shows a slightly squashed version of the scene, with the correct proportions only appearing with the pages are fanned open.

IMG_0314 edit

The “open” scene on Fox’s journal. The artist would have fanned the pages and gripped them in a vice before applying the watercolour.

Beer did not sell any of his works in his lifetime and left more than 200 fore-edge paintings and painted bindings when he died. His entire collection was sold by Sotheby’s auction house in November, 1903, when these two volumes were apparently purchased for Cardiff Library.


Fanning the pages of the Biblia Sacra to show the more “open” illustration.

Weber, Jeff, The fore-edge painting of John T. Beer. Los Angeles, 2005.

Biblia Ectypa: Christoph Weigel’s remarkable engraved pictorial Bible (1695)

P1160530There are several hundred early printed Bibles in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, but I was excited to find this very unusual edition as I was exploring our Early Continental works. The Biblia Ectypa is a fully engraved pictorial Bible, produced by the German artist Christoph Weigel and published in Augsburg in 1695. Instead of being an illustrated Bible (i.e. text embellished by illustrations), the Biblia Ectypa tells the whole Bible story entirely in beautifully-executed copper engravings.


More than 830 highly detailed engravings are employed to tell hundreds of Biblical tales, with authentic costumes, architecture and social customs all skillfully captured. Each illustration is also accompanied by a short caption in Latin and an engraved quotation from the German Bible.



P1160542Engraved Bibles attained wide circulation and great popularity in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and southern Germany became a hub of copper engraving and Bible illustration. The Biblia Ectypa was a critical and commercial success for Weigel, who enjoyed a long career in Augsburg and Nuremburg as a map and print engraver and illustrator, and as publisher of at least seventy books.





Beard-haters, face-painters and eyebrow-abusers: the dangerous fashions of “Man transform’d, or, The artificial changeling” (1653)

P1190836Those of us who have been left bemused by the sudden rise of high-street botox booths, tanning shops, nail salons and eyebrow bars can take some comfort from this curious work by John Bulwer which suggests that, even as far back in 1653, people have always been astonished at the lengths to which some would go to transform their bodies in the name of fashion.  

P1190832In Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or The Artificial Changeling, Bulwer’s aim, according to the full title, is to expose the “mad and cruel gallantry, foolish bravery, ridiculous beauty, filthy fineness, and loathsome loveliness of most nations, fashioning & altering their bodies from the mould intended by nature”.  Bulwer describes in detail how people around the world artificially modify their appearance, noting that every nation has a “particular whimzey as touching corporall fashions of their own invention.”


Painter-stainers and auricular bravery

The book is divided into 23 sections covering all types of body modification and decoration, including tattooing, lip-piercing, binding, scarring, cosmetics, ear-piercing, and eyebrow shaping. Sections are accompanied by numerous woodcut illustrations contrasting ancient with modern or Old World with New.


“Eye-brows abus’d contrary to nature.”

In an appendix, The pedigree of the English gallant, the author looks more P1190822closely at how fashions in England have been influenced by practices in  remote parts of the world. Although containing a strong element of social commentary, Bulwer’s work can also be considered one of the first studies in comparative cultural anthropology. He is rarely directly critical of primitive peoples; rather, Bulwer uses the universal nature of body modification to demonstate similar behaviours of humans everywhere (Anthropometamorphosis literally meaning “humanity-changing”). Bulwer may view some practices of remote tribes as laughable or barbaric, but no more laughable or barbaric than those of the ‘civilised’ world.


Beard-haters of the world


The influence of indigenous peoples on Tudor cod-piece fashion?

Man Transform’d was Bulwer’s final book. A physician by trade, he chose to return to his calling as a pioneer of communication with the deaf, having previously published the first treatise on sign language, Chirologia: or The naturall language of the hand.


“Among those whoe corrupt and deforme the face some account musicians that play upon wind instruments.”


“Was it not the same conceit that the Macrones of Pontus … once had, among whom they were esteemed the best gentlemen who had the highest head?”

The hammer of witches: Montague Summers and the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

In our rare book collections we have a number of curious works by Montague Summers (1880-1948), an eccentric Catholic clergyman, occultist and authority on English Restoration drama. Summers read theology at Oxford University and worked as a teacher of English and Latin before turning to writing, producing well-received scholarly works on 17th century theatre and publishing new editions of neglected plays by William Congreve, John Dryden and others.


After drama, Summers’ other great interest was in the occult. During his unusual career as a priest he assumed the persona of a modern-day Catholic witch-hunter and produced meticulous studies of witchcraft, vampires, and werewolves, all of which he professed to believe in. In 1928, he was responsible for the first English translation of Heinrich Kramer’s and James Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum (“The Hammer of Witches”), a notorious Latin treatise on witch-hunting, first published in Germany in 1487.


The stated purpose of the original text was to educate courts on the procedures for identifying and convicting witches, to refute arguments that witchcraft does P1200725not exist and to discredit those who expressed disbelief. Assisted by the rise of the printing press, the Malleus spread throughout Europe to become a major influence on the witch crazes of the 16th and 17th centuries. As many as 30 editions of the book were published between 1487 and 1669, even though the Catholic Church condemned the Malleus as false just three years after its first appearance and even the Spanish Inquisition dismissed the work as pagan superstition.

P1200734In contrast to the scepticism of modern Catholicism, Montague Summers insisted that the reality of witchcraft is still an essential part of Catholic doctrine, and declared the Malleus Maleficarum to be an accurate account of witchcraft and the methods needed to combat it. His History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926) begins, “In the following pages, I have endeavoured to show the witch as she really was – an evil liver: a social pest and parasite: the devotee of a loathly and obscene creed: an adept at poisoning, blackmail, and other creeping crimes.”

Summers’ own volumes on witches and vampires brought him considerable renown and critics admired the obvious depth of his learning, while not necessarily sharing his credulity. As a notable eccentric who walked the streets of London in the  sweeping robes and buckled shoes of an 18th century cleric and was an acquaintance of Aleister Crowley, a self-proclaimed witch,  Montague Summers has inspired numerous legends, both malevolent and benign, which only add to his curious character.



Cardiff’s copy of Covent Garden Drollery, edited and signed by Montague Summers

In the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, we hold numbered copies of both Summers’ translation of the Malleus Maleficarum and his 1930 edition of Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. They all feature in our current Special Collections and Archives exhibition on Shakespeare, magic and witchcraft.

The Poly-Olbion: an epic poem of England and Wales

IMG_0101 The Poly-Olbion is a vast poem by Michael Drayton (1563-1631) describing the topography, history and legends of England and Wales. The text is accompanied by a series of wonderfully unique maps engraved by William Hole on which towns, rivers and other topographical features are all depicted anthropomorphically.


Cities appear as maidens crowned with cathedrals, caves come complete with hermits and forests are shown as huntresses armed with bows. A bearded shepherd holding a staff sits on every hill and each river has its very own nymph!


Constructed as a tour of the kingdom, the poem consists of almost 15,000 lines IMG_0099of iambic hexameter verse divided into 30 songs, each describing one or more counties of England and Wales. The 1612 edition contains the first 18 songs with commentary by the renowned polymath, John Selden; our edition was reprinted in 1622 with the remaining songs added. Drayton originally intended to compose a third part covering Scotland, but this was sadly never completed.


A prolific poet and playwright and a contemporary of Ben Johnson and William Shakespeare, Drayton is now best remembered for his sonnet Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part. The Poly-Olbion, this unique and ambitious work of national description, has largely been forgotten.


In the footsteps of Dante

In 1302 the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, was permanently banished from his beloved Florence, the city of his birth. Forced to spend the rest of his life in political exile, Dante travelled throughout Italy wandering from city to city, and was eventually inspired to write about his journeys in the largely autobiographical Commedia.


Any scholar hoping to follow in Dante’s footsteps would do well to studyP1200500 these beautiful hand-coloured maps, produced in 1892 by the English artist Mary Hensman and now held in our Private Presses collection. They include all the places supposedly visited by Dante in his exile or named in his works. The first map shows the whole of Italy in the time of Dante, “Onorate L’Altissimo Poeta”, surrounded by an elaborate border made up of Guild emblems, while the other highlights Tuscany and central Italy.


The maps were produced in London by Charles Robert Ashbee’s Guild ofP1200502 Handicraft as coloured photolithographs, printed on a single large linen-backed sheet and folded into a maroon buckram case with Hensman’s preface and gazeteer mounted on the front pastedown. The hand-colouring was apparently completed by Hensman herself with Ashbee’s assistance.

“To many tower’d Camelot”: introducing our illuminated manuscript of Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’

One of my favourite discoveries so far from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection is this lovely little illuminated manuscript of The Lady of Shalott, the famous ballad by the Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, loosely based on the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat.

Probably created in the 1910s, the book is written on vellum and signed simply “Gilbert Pownall me fecit” (“Gilbert Pownall made me”). Pownall was an artist who exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and also designed the mosaics for the Lady Chapel in Westminster Cathedral.

We have yet to learn how this unique manuscript came to Cardiff – it was perhaps purchased new at the same time as our private press books – but it is a treasure we are delighted to have.

The Lady of Shalott was one of many items from our rare books collections selected by Dr Juliette Wood for her recent lecture, “Illustrating the Arthurian Legend”, part of the Cardiff Rare Books and Music Lecture Series  hosted here in Special Collections and Archives.

Discovery of a long-lost book from the library of Sir Isaac Newton in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

When I set out to learn more about the provenance of one of our rare books, I could not have predicted the twists and turns that would lead directly to the library of one of the world’s greatest scientists. Our copy of John Browne’s Myographia nova, or A graphical description of all the muscles in humane body was published in London in 1698. When it appeared on my desk for cataloguing I expected to find some interesting (and gory) anatomical engravings and not much else. I opened the book to reveal an unusual bookplate bearing only a Latin motto, “Philosophemur”, with no indication of the previous owner’s name. On closer examination it was apparent that this bookplate had been pasted directly over an earlier, smaller bookplate, obscuring it completely. There were two handwritten shelfmarks, one at the top left of the page, “732_24”, and one at the foot of the bookplate which reads “Case V. E.7. Barnsley.”

The “Philosophemur” bookplate with the Barnsley Park shelfmark

Intrigued by this mysterious provenance, I set out to do some detective work in the hope of identifying some of these previous owners. After a little searching I was able to determine that the “Philosophemur” bookplate originally belonged to a Dr. James Musgrave, Rector of Chinnor, near Thame in Oxfordshire. On his death, he left his library to his son, the eighth baronet Musgrave and owner of Barnsley Park, Gloucestershire, and the books were removed to the library there in 1778. Baronet Musgrave evidently did not feel the need to affix his own bookplates, but the books were recatalogued on arrival and the Barnsley shelfmark added to each volume.

The text of the Huggins bookplate is just visible through the Musgrave plate

More detective work revealed that James Musgrave originally purchased his library from his predecessor at Chinnor, a man called Charles Huggins, and it is his bookplate which is just visible beneath Musgrave’s. Although the plate is covered, the words “… in Com. Oxon” can be made out and Charles Huggins is known to have used a bookplate displaying the Huggins coat of arms with “Revd. Carols. Huggins, Rector Chinner in Com. Oxon” beneath. Huggins received his books from his father, John Huggins, Warden of the Fleet Prison, who in turn purchased the library from the estate of his neighbour, Sir Isaac Newton.

Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of Isaac Newton in 1689

Apparently when Sir Isaac Newton died in 1727, he neglected to leave a will behind and his house and all his possessions, including his extensive library, were put up for auction. John Huggins purchased the books for £300 and a list was made referring to 969 books by name, with others grouped together under miscellaneous headings (an inventory of Newton’s house recorded a total of 1,896 volumes in the library). The Musgrave library was catalogued in 1760 and our book makes an appearance as “Browne’s On the Muscles, with Cutts, 1698”. Presence on the Huggins list is commonly taken as proof that a book belonged to Newton. The Musgrave catalogue is considered less reliable as it also includes later books added by the family, however the existence of both the Huggins and Musgrave bookplates and the two shelfmarks can, according to John Harrison’s (1976) advice on identification, be taken as strong evidence that our book once stood on Newton’s shelves.

Front pastedown of the book with the bookplates and shelfmarks

The later history of Newton’s library is an extraordinary one.  As late as 1775 it was known that Musgrave owned Newton’s books, as visitors wrote about travelling to view the library, but after 1778, when Musgrave died and the books were transferred to Barnsley Park, the connection to the scientist appears to have been lost. Until 1920 it was thought that Newton’s library had simply vanished. In that year the Musgrave family decided to sell their house at Thame Park, and the “Philosophemur” books were sent over from Barnsley Park to be included in the sale. Newton’s books were sold in bundles with no indication of their importance and for a fraction of their true worth. It has long been believed that many of these books ended up in the United States, though it was feared that many more were sent to the mills for pulping, and many are still unaccounted for.

Newton in later life, by James Thornhill

Happily, not all of Newton’s books were scattered and lost in 1920. After the auction a further 858 volumes from the great scientist’s library were discovered at Barnsley Park, secreted throughout the house in cupboards and closets. This time the provenance was firmly established by Richard de Villamil and in 1943 the remaining books were purchased for the Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge, where Newton did so much of his remarkable work.

De Villamil, R. “The tragedy of Sir Isaac Newton’s library,” The Bookman, March, 1927, 303-304
Harrison, John. “Newton’s library: Identifying the books,” Harvard Library Bulletin, Volume XXIV, October, 1976. No. 4, 395-406

“The Discoverie of Witchcraft”: a sceptical treatise on superstition and magic in 1584

As it’s Halloween I went hunting for our copies of The discoverie of witchcraft, wherein the lewde dealing of witches and witchmongers is notablie detected, written by Reginald Scot and first published in 1584. Unlike the majority of 16th century works on the subject of witches and witchcraft, Scot’s Discoverie takes a predominantly sceptical view and reveals how the superstitious public were often fooled by charlatans and frauds.

The title page of the 1665 edition of The discovery of witchcraft

Scot believed that the prosecution and torture of those accused of witchcraft, most often the elderly or simple-minded, was un-Christian and irrational. He set out to prove that belief in magic and witchcraft could not be justified by religion or observation, and that many reported experiences of the supernatural were either wilful attempts to defraud or  illusions caused by mental disturbance.  The book includes chapters on contemporary beliefs about witchcraft, magic, alchemy, ghosts, devils and other spirits, and was a heavy influence on later works about the occult, including Shakespeare’s portrayal of witches for Macbeth.

The aspects of the planets and the characters of angels

Publication of the book caused great controversy, with many clergymen writing in defence of  their concerns about witches. Scot in fact placed most of the blame for these superstitions on the Roman Catholic Church, but King James I, an enthusiastic witch hunter, ordered all copies of the first edition of the Discoverie to be burnt. Among the sceptical minority however, Scot’s work remained authoritative. In 1593 Gabriel Harvey wrote that “Scotte’s discoovery of Witchcraft dismasketh sundry egregious impostures, and in certaine principall chapters, and speciall passages, hitteth the nayle on the head.”

Scot’s Discoverie includes one of the first studies of magic tricks and sleight-of-hand ever published, with detailed explanations of tricks still performed today