Tag Archives: bookplates

Guest post: The birthday book: tracing an absent presence

This guest post comes from Lauren O’Hagan, PhD candidate in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, who is researching early 20th century book inscriptions and reading practices in Great Britain.


 

Like most investigatory projects, it started with a serendipitous encounter. I was using the Janet Powney collection in Special Collections and Archives back in January 2016 as part of my PhD project on Edwardian book inscriptions, when I came across a real gem: a beautiful dark brown cloth pocket book published by Thomas Nelson and Sons in 1879 and entitled The Birthday Record – A Daily Remembrancer. As I opened the book, I came across page after page of fascinating inscriptions, through which the owner had documented key moments in his life, leaving a visible trace of an absent presence that echoes through to modern day.

The birthday book was a Victorian invention, which came about in the 1860s as a result of popular interest in graphology and a burgeoning culture of celebrity. It represented a shift in printed discourse towards a rhetoric of personalisation and intimacy. Seen as a status symbol for the increasingly literate population, the birthday book was used typically by middle-class young men and women or working-class ‘new readers’ that aspired to pure and elevated taste. As such, it was available in multiple formats to suit a range of budgets: from octodecimos with embossed cloth and gilt edges (1s 6d) to morocco-bound octavos with ivory rims and clasp (21s). The birthday book was advertised as the perfect gift for a loved one; thus, great attention was paid to its aesthetic appeal. Publishers masked their commercial motive through the use of content that was linked to the moral education and self-improvement promoted in advice manuals of the time. They targeted buyers who were seen as older guardians or mentors, such as parents or elder siblings. By 1899 over 270 types of birthday book had been published. While many were secular in nature and drew upon canonical figures, such as Tennyson, Shakespeare and Longfellow, religious publishers added culturally legitimating moral messages from sacred authorities to the popular autograph format.

 

The Birthday Record in Special Collections falls into the religious category. As its preface states:

“This little volume is intended, as the title shows, to be used as a daily scripture textbook; and also to contain a record, on the blank pages, of birthdays, or days on which friends  desire to be specially remembered and prayed for. The same pages may be employed to note down personal anniversaries, days of joys and sorrow, trials and deliverances. (…) The plan adopted by the editor had been to choose for each day a verse containing some precept or exhortation to duty, direct or implied, with others of corresponding prayer or pious resolution. This arrangement, it is believed, will offer profitable associations with special anniversaries, and also tests for self-examination on their annual return” (iii-iv).

The Birthday Record was given to Richard J. Keen by his sisters on January 14th 1881 for his 19th birthday. Sitting on the cusp between upper-working class and lower-middle class, Richard was the characteristic target of a birthday book at this time. Richard was born in 1862 in Pimlico, London, and lived with his mother and father (a coachman for Baron de Worms, a Conservative politician) and three sisters (Harriet, Alice and Caroline) in a two-bedroom house in Eaton Square. The inscriptions within the book show that Richard engaged with it actively throughout his entire life. Through the collection of signatures, the birthday book acted as a tool for social networking. In religious birthday books, this social function was particularly enhanced, as the combination of holy text and handwritten names reinforced the owner’s desire to pray for their family and friends. By combining secular trends for autograph-collecting with devotional practices, the religious birthday book became an integral part of Victorian faith.

However, in Richard’s book, this does not appear to be the case. All entries are written solely by the owner, suggesting that limited engagement took place between recording information and practising religion. Furthermore, the opposition of printed scriptural texts and contemporary autographs is respected, as pages with religious texts are kept clean and unannotated. This reflects an acceptance of the hierarchical division between the two aspects of the book, which bestows it with new introspective, subjective and solipsistic purposes. From the mere fact of simply containing the holy word, the religious birthday book required more respect and obedience from its users than its secular counterpart. This meant that there were restricted opportunities for self-expression, which can be seen in The Birthday Record, as most entries consist solely of a name and date. The handwriting in all examples is deliberate and self-consciously neat, and throughout the book, no examples of spelling mistakes or crossing-outs are present. On the few occasions when entries have been written in the wrong section, a very small and indiscreet mark is noted next to them rather than risk defacing the book. The book contains just two variations in format: newspaper clippings and a feather. Two newspaper clippings recording the death of Richard’s father in 1886 are glued onto December 3rd, while a white bird’s feather on which To Mrs Whitty is written is enclosed loosely within the leaves of the book.

 

When I first looked through The Birthday Record, I wrongly assumed that Richard was the sole proprietor. However, I was left with a mystery on my hands when census records revealed that Richard died a bachelor in 1904, yet the book continues to be used up until 1953. Piecing together the other entries, it became apparent that the book was passed down to his youngest sister, Caroline, who would continue to update it until her death in 1942. Caroline was born in 1864 and married Thomas James Whitty, a policeman, in 1888. They lived in Thorrington, Essex, and had four children together, of which only three survived – Violet, Henrietta Amy and Doris Evelyn. After Caroline’s death, the book is only updated twice more on November 2nd 1950 and 27th April 1953, marking the births of Colin Hayes and Nigel Hayes respectively. Although the third owner cannot be traced due to the fact that census records are only released after a one-hundred-year closure period, it is possible that the book was passed down to one of Caroline’s children upon her death.

The various entries in the book can be classified into nine distinct categories:

  • Birthday: 127 examples
  • Death: 26 examples
  • Marriage: 17 examples
  • Starting/ending a job: 8 examples
  • Outbreak/end of war: 6 examples
  • Funeral: 3 examples
  • Christening: 1 example
  • Wedding anniversary: 1 example
  • Coronation: 1 example

This indicates that while the book was still being used predominantly for its established function of recording birthdays, both Richard and Caroline appropriated it to record other information. Using the birthday book to memorialise the dead, commemorate marriages and mark important global events shows the owners’ awareness of a web of connection between themselves and the wider reading context, and the movement of the birthday book between public and private domains. By turning the book into a record of individual and familial identity, it offers a variation on the tradition of using Bible endpapers to record such information.

As censuses were only carried out every ten years, the birthday book is an essential resource for investigating the years in between. The Birthday Record, for example, can be used to trace Richard’s professional career. Despite not receiving the birthday book until 1881, on March 17th Richard writes, “Went to Montreal Oaks 1877.” Montreal Oaks was a stately home in Sevenoaks, Kent, owned by the Honourable Hugh Amherst. Richard’s first job at 15 years old was working there as a footman. We know from the birthday book that he left in April 1st 1881 and shortly after, moved to Belsay Castle in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne where he continued to work as a footman from May 27th 1881 to March 11th 1884 for Sir Arthur Edward Middleton, M.P., 7th Baronet. Just over a year later on May 9th 1885, Richard obtained a new job as a butler for Lady Dashwood of West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire, where he remained until April 1st 1886. On October 5th of the same year, he entered into the services of Robert Porter Wilson at Cumberland Terrace in St. Pancras. By the 1891 census, Richard is still working as a butler in Cumberland Terrace, but this time for the coal magnate John Lambert. Various entries in the birthday book suggest that Richard kept in touch with many of his previous employers. He marks Amherst’s wedding on January 2nd 1896, as well as the birthday (April 26th) and death (February 13th 1904) of Wilson – the latter being the last scribal act that Richard was to carry out before his own death later the same year. The fact that Richard’s father worked as a coachman for a Baron for twenty-six years may explain how Richard ended up working for so many noblemen and women across England.

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Throughout the book, Richard also marks a series of significant world events that take place during his lifetime. This is something that his sister, Caroline, continues to do once the book is passed down to her. Richard indicates the death of Queen Victoria on January 2nd 1901 and the proclamation of peace in South Africa on June 1st 1902. Caroline marks the date and time of the death of Edward VII (May 6th 11:45pm 1910), the proclamation of King George V (May 9th 1910), England’s declaration of war against Germany (August 4th 1914), the armistice (11:30am, November 11th 1918), the proclamation of peace (July 5th 1919), peace celebrations and victory march through London of allied troops (July 19th 1919), death (11.55pm, June 21st 1936) and burial (June 28th 1936) of King George V, and the declaration of war against Germany (September 3rd 1939). The entries also give a sense of Caroline’s feelings towards the monarchy, as she expresses affection through such entries as “our beloved King George.”

 

The recurrence of certain surnames throughout the book can also reveal information about Richard and Caroline’s social networks. For example, with 32 individual entries, Whitty is the surname that most frequently occurs throughout the book. While this is to be expected given that Caroline married into the Whitty family, census records indicate that their younger sister, Alice, also married a Whitty – George, the brother of Caroline’s husband, Thomas James. The frequency of entries and terms of endearment made relating to Alice and her four children (Gertrude Carrie Alice, Winifred Lottie, Ida Gwendoline and Reginald George Hedworth) suggest a close relationship between Richard and his elder sister. Other surnames to frequently occur throughout the book are Owen (12 entries), Keen (9 entries), Lord (8 entries) and Hall (4 entries). Census records show that Caroline’s daughter, Violet, married Wilfred Owen, whereas Richard’s eldest sister, Harriet, married Thomas Hall, whose cousins were Lords. There are 62 other surnames that occur just once or twice throughout the birthday book, which demonstrates the wide social circle of family, friends and acquaintances that both Richard and Caroline had.

This little birthday book is just one of the thousands of incredible resources in Special Collections. If you haven’t yet viewed the Janet Powney collection, I urge you all to take a look now. It is in the foyer in large glass cabinets, and boasts striking colourful spines characteristic of the prize books of the late 19th and early 20th century. Maybe serendipity will shine upon you too. As Qwerty states in Lemony Snicket’s When Did You See Her Last?, “With a library it is easier to hope for serendipity than to look for a precise answer.”

Edition fever: Charles Knight’s illustrated Shakespeare

Reading Andrew Prescott’s excellent blog post on 19th century Shakespeare editions, ‘Why every copy of a book is different’, inspired me to find out more about our extra-illustrated set of Charles Knight’s Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere (1839-43).

Special Collections' extra-illustrated set of Charles Knight's Pictorial Shakspere, enlarged from 7 to 15 volumes with the addition of almost 1,500 engravings.

Special Collections’ extra-illustrated set of Charles Knight’s Pictorial Shakspere, enlarged from 8 to 15 volumes with the addition of almost 1,500 engravings.

Knight’s edition was originally issued in 56 monthly parts between 1838-43, and simultaneously, as material became available, released in 8 bound volumes between 1839-43, (7 volumes of plays, with a biographical volume authored by Knight). This ambitious illustrated edition was a product of the Victorian cult of Shakespeare, prevalent among all social classes, as well as emerging technologies which made the mass-production of affordable, wood-engraved books possible for the first time.

Knight was acutely aware of the power of illustrated works to attract and educate new readers. His previous projects, the Penny Magazine (1832-45), and the 27-volume Penny Cyclopaedia (1833-44) contained hundreds of cheap woodcuts. He went on to produce ‘pictorial editions’ of the Bible, a history of England, and a Book of Common Prayer.

He rejected the approach made by Nicholas Rowe, in the first illustrated Shakespeare edition, Rowe’s works of Mr. William Shakespear (1709), in which copper engravings depict key scenes within their theatrical setting, complete with stage sets and contemporary costume.

Illustration from Nicholas Rowe's 1709 edition, showing a scene from Hamlet in its theatrical context (typically featuring a draped curtain, and actors in contemporary eighteenth century dress).

Illustration from Nicholas Rowe’s 1709 edition, showing a scene from Hamlet in its theatrical context (typically featuring a draped curtain, and actors in contemporary eighteenth century dress).

Instead, he desired to depict with historical accuracy:

‘the Realities upon which the imagination of the poet must have rested…the localities of the various scenes, whether English or foreign; the portraits of the real personages of the historical plays; the objects of natural history, so constantly occurring; accurate costume in all its rich variety,’ (Knight, 2:284).

Considering his background in encyclopedias and miscellanies, it is perhaps not surprising that he sought to surround the literary works with images of real locations, and real persons, ‘which imparted a character of truthfulness to many scenes, which upon the stage had in general been merely fanciful creations’.

Extract from Knight's 'introductory notices' to Romeo and Juliet, which places the play in its historic context.

Extract from Knight’s ‘introductory notices’ to Romeo and Juliet, which places the play in its historic context.

Compared to earlier editions by Nicholas Rowe and John Boydell, which featured expensive and laboriously-produced copper engravings, Knight capitalised on the economy of wood engraving, a quick and affordable technique perfected by Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), which allowed text and image to be printed simultaneously.

Knight’s printer, William Clowes and Sons, operated the largest printing works in the world at that time, and in 1843, owned 24 steam-driven printing presses, reducing mass-printing costs even further (Weedon, p. 158).

Steamprinting machine used by The Illustrated London News, 2 Dec 1843.

Steam-printing machine used by The Illustrated London News, 2 Dec 1843.

Boydell’s 1802 edition cost £42, compared to just £7 7s. for Knight’s some 40 years later. Knight’s edition was cheaper, but not yet within the reach of the working-class mass market. He continued to make edits and alterations, which saw a proliferation of new Shakespeare editions hit the market:

• Library edition (1842-4) in 12 volumes at £6
• Cabinet edition (1843-4) in 11 duodecimo volumes at £1 7s. 6d.
• A single volume edition of 1,084 pages (1845) at £1 1s.
• Standard edition (1846) in 7 volumes at £4
• National edition (1851-2) in 8 volumes at £3

These were followed by a Students’ edition (1857), and finally, dispensing with Knight’s extensive notes and essays, a single volume People’s edition (1864) for 2 shillings, or if bought as a serial, just:

‘two plays for one penny! … Sixty-four well-printed double-column pages containing Hamlet and Othello complete, for one penny, is really a wonder, even in this cheap-printing age… our greatest poet [is] thus brought within the reach of all, in a style fit for any home and illustrated with two woodcuts, but unencumbered with the ‘readings’ and ‘notes’, which only puzzle readers and too often interfere with the full enjoyment of Shakespeare’s immortal works’. (Birmingham Daily Post, 18 April 1864, p. 5).

A bibliographic tangle it may be, but the proliferation of editions is testament to the enduring popularity of the work, and the breadth of the potential market for illustrated Shakespeare.

Title page of Charles Knight's Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere.

Title page of Charles Knight’s Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere.

Special Collections and Archives’ set of Knight’s Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere has every appearance of being a first edition, though this is difficult to verify conclusively without comparison with others. New digital databases such as the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive have vast potential to aid researchers in comparing editions and tracing source texts. Our copy is undated, re-bound, and most remarkably, has been extended to almost twice its original length by the inclusion of 1,495 additional engraved plates, and 26 original drawings by William Harvey (1796-1866).

Nicholas Harvey's original sketch for the Comedy of Errors frontispiece, bound in opposite the final engraving.

Nicholas Harvey’s original sketch for the Comedy of Errors frontispiece, bound in opposite the final engraving.

A pupil of Thomas Bewick, Harvey was employed to create a series of frontispieces, ‘which, embodying the realities of costume and other accessaries [sic], would have enough of an imaginative character to render them pleasing,’ (Knight, 2:284). His original drawings in pencil and ink, with a brown wash to indicate desired areas of shading, have been bound into the work alongside his engraved frontispieces.

One of the 1,495 extra illustrations added to our Knight edition. The same Hamlet scene as depicted Rowe's edition, this rendering features the same Regency dress and set design that Knight rejected in favour of historical accuracy.

One of the 1,495 extra illustrations added to our Knight edition. The same Hamlet scene as depicted Rowe’s edition, this rendering features the same Regency dress and set design that Knight rejected in favour of historical accuracy.

The work now stretches to 15 volumes rather than the original 8, and to what would surely be Knight’s dismay, contains many of the ‘artistic’ theatrical scenes from 18th and early 19th century editions, of which he disapproved so strongly, as well as illustrations from rival mid-19th century wood-engraved Shakespeare editions.

In the first volume, a bookseller’s catalogue listing is pasted onto the front free endpaper, with the price given as £35.label

An inscription records, ‘I give this book to my dear son Trevor / 22 April 1889, John C. Bigham’.

Inscription from John Charles Bigham (1840-1929) to his son Trevor (1876-1954).

Inscription from John Charles Bigham (1840-1929) to his son Trevor (1876-1954).

The son of a merchant, John Charles Bigham (1840-1929) trained as a barrister and rose quickly through the ranks to join the Queen’s Bench. In 1912, he was appointed commissioner to inquire into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and was created the first Viscount Mersey in 1916. His third son, Trevor, to whom the book is inscribed, became Deputy Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (the second-in-command of London’s Metropolitan Police Service) in 1931.

Bookplate of John Charles Bigham (1840-1929)

Bookplate of John Charles Bigham (1840-1929)

Each Knight volume contains a bookplate belonging to John Charles Bigham, dated 1897. The pasted bookseller’s record suggests that neither Trevor Bigham nor his father were responsible for constructing this densely extra-illustrated work, and we may never know who was. Prescott writes ‘each copy of a book bears the imprint in different ways of its previous owners and can act as an archive of the owners’ interests, enthusiasms and preoccupations as much as their personal papers’. There could be few better examples of this than this handsome work, more scrapbook than book, and all the more fascinating for researchers as a result.

Further reading:

  • Knight, Charles, Passages of a working life during half a century, with a prelude of early reminiscences. London: Bradbury & Evans, 1864.
  • Weedon, Alexis, Victorian publishing: the economics of book production for a mass market, 1836-1916. Aldershot: Ashgate, c2003: 158.
  • Young, Alan R., ‘Charles Knight and the nineteenth-century market for Shakespeare’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 103, no. 1 (March 2009), pp. 19-41.

A Fairy Bookplate

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

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

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

 

JohnWilliamsbookplate

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

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

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

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

Ref.
(1) http://www.clan-davies.org/webtrees/individual.php?pid=I8529&ged=DFT2006c.ged
(2) http://ukcomics.wikia.com/wiki/Thomas_Maybank_%281869-1929%29

 

Rare Book School at the University of Virginia

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

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The University of Virginia’s Special Collections Library

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

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Capitol Building, Washington DC

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Hello Mr President!

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

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

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

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Rocking chairs on East Lawn

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

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Alderman Library

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

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

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

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Old Cabell Hall at the foot of the Lawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proctor

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:
Bowman, J.H. (ed.), A critical edition of the private diaries of Robert Proctor: The life of a librarian at the British Museum. Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston  Queenston  Lampeter, 2010.
Downes, Michael, People from the past: Robert Proctor (1868-1903), http://budleighbrewsterunited.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/robert-proctor.html, 2011

Henry B. Wheatley: Pepys, indexing and bookplates

One of the joys of cataloguing rare books is coming across bookplates and signatures of people now deceased, and tracking down who they were.  While working on the Restoration Drama collection I came across the following bookplate in three items; with the words Bibliotheca Pepysiana secunda H B W 1904 underneath the picture of Samuel Pepys.  The image of Pepys comes from the J. Hayls oil painting completed in 1666.

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H. B. W. turned out to be Henry Benjamin Wheatley (1838-1917), a prolific writer, editor and indexer.  To some he is known as “The father of British indexing” writing seminal texts on the art of indexing, and today his memory lives on with the annual awarding of the Wheatley medal – given for an outstanding index.

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Henry B. Wheatley

Along with his brother, Benjamin Robert Wheatley, he was one of the founders of the Library Association (now known as CILIP – the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) in 1877 and remained on its Council for many years.  He was interested in bibliographies and cataloguing, and wrote an article on cataloguing, published in the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society (1911-13; 12:25-37).

He was involved in numerious other societies over the years including the Early English Text Society, the New Shakespeare Society and the Samuel Pepys Club, which he was president of from 1903-1916.  He had a particular interest in Pepys, and was involved in editing and producing two editions of Pepys’ diary, as well as writing a life of Pepys, plus a host of articles and lectures on him.

WheatleycrestWheatley collected books, especially those with interesting or fine book bindings; thus, unsurprisingly, when he died in 1917  his library was sold off the following year by Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge.  Of the three  items we have containing Wheatley’s Pepys bookplate, one is an armorial binding in calf with a central gilt stamped coat of arms of an anchor with the initials “S P” [i.e. Samuel Pepys] and “H. B. W.” [i.e. Henry Benjamin Wheatley],the other two also have a crest on the upper cover of their bindings that incorporates the dolphin and anchor of Manutius.

 WheatleybookplateAccording to Lee (2002, 86) Wheatley’s bookplate, designed by John Philipps Emslie in 1899, showed the man himself sitting in his library in Bedford Square.  Fifteen years later it appears he had a new bookplate, depicting Pepys.  Was he attempting to replicate or rival Pepys’ library? Or just to pay homage to the man he had so much respect and admiration for?

Lee, J. D. (2002) The father of British indexing: Henry Benjamin Wheatley.  The Indexer 23.2: 86-91.

A true collector of the Kelmscott Press

As I was happily working away on some of our Kelmscott Press books, I discovered this wonderfully detailed bookplate in a copy of William Morris’s The roots of the mountains. Although we have yet to learn the identity of Robert Hall, the plate certainly suggests that he was an enthusiastic collector of Kelmscott publications.

On the library table are copies of several well-known Kelmscott works, including  William Morris’s The glittering plain and his 1895 translation of Beowulf. All the books are clearly bound in the distinctive Kelmscott full limp vellum tied with silk ribbons; The wood beyond the world is open to show a Morris-designed woodcut border and frontispiece.

Leaning against the bookcase is a copy of the 1896 edition of Chaucer, the most important publication from the Kelmscott Press and arguably the greatest of all the private press books. If this delightful bookplate provides us with an accurate glimpse into Robert Hall’s private library, then he was indeed a true collector of Kelmscott.