Tag Archives: cataloguing

Archives and accountability

This was the central theme of the UK and Ireland annual conference of the Archives and Records Association (the professional body for archivists) which met in Cardiff this autumn, with over 200 delegates.

The conference explored the authenticity and reliability of archival records. Talks ranged from their role in the Hillsborough Panel report, including  allegations of doctored records of the football disaster, to the role of archives as a ‘trusted repository’ in areas of conflict, such as Northern Ireland and the American black civil rights movement, both in recent memory. ARA_breakoutAs well as the main talks, there was an opportunity to participate in small break-out groups, which discussed issues affecting the profession – including workforce diversity, professional membership, collecting policies, and archival descriptive standards.

The first keynote speech was from Sarah Tyacke, previously Chief Executive of the National Archives at Kew in London, and member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. The second was from Dr Jones Lukose Ongalo, Head of Archives at the International Criminal Court, The Hague. ARA_LukoseHe described the many precautions taken to ensure the security and authenticity of its war crimes’ evidence, given that the ICC is the world’s first wholly digital archive. They were joined by a wide range of speakers from organisations based all over the world.

Talks on conservation took place alongside those on archives, with both conservators and archivists encouraged to attend one another’s sessions. Conservation speakers included Jane Henderson from Cardiff University (School of History, Archaeology and Religion), Sarah Paul from CyMAL, (the National Assembly’s agency for archives, museums and libraries in Wales) and Emma Dadson, Director of Harwell Restoration.

Relating the theme of authenticity and accountability back to our own work context was not too difficult. We use examples from our archives in workshops with our students, to question and challenge the idea of ‘evidence’ (how it is preserved, and how reliably), and to highlight the difference between responsibly curated archival documents, and the potential transiency and unreliability of sources found online.

For more information, please visit the Archives and Record Association conference page.

Incunabula: cataloguing the earliest printed texts in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

Work has now started on the cataloguing of our important collection of nearly 200 incunabula, the earliest printed books held in Cardiff University Library’s Special Collections and Archives. Incunabula, from the Latin for ‘cradle’ or ‘swaddling clothes’, are defined as books printed before 1501, in the infancy of Western printing. Our collection includes books from the first major centres of printing in Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland and our earliest volumes date from around 1472, just 20 years after Johann Gutenberg printed his famous Bible, the first book printed in Europe with movable type.


Salvator Mundi from Rolevinck’s “Fasciculus temporum” (1474), with manuscript annotations.

IMG_0535The cataloguing project will create an individual record for each incunabulum in the library’s online catalogue with special emphasis on copy-specific information such as rubrication, hand-coloured decoration and illumination, binding, annotation and other provenance. Many of our incunabula show extensive evidence of former ownership in the form of bookplates, signatures, stamps and marginalia and these will be recorded in each record as an aid to research.

Our copy of Johannes de Bromyard’s “Opus trivium” (Lyon, 1500) is bound in a leaf of early music on vellum

The first printed books were typeset copies of manuscripts, often lacking title pages and even basic bibliographic information such as the author’s name or the date of publication. Sometimes details about the creation of an early work may be found in a colophon at the very end of the text, but as many as one-third of the surviving editions contain no information as to when, where or by whom they were printed. All of this makes the cataloguing of incunabula a highly complex and time-consuming process, but one which could potentially reveal new and fascinating information about the items we hold.

“Facsiculus temporum” by Werner Rolevinck, printed in Germany in 1474 with hand-colouring and illuminated initial letters.

I have already identified several books in our collection that are unique to the UK and some of these may even be the only extant copies in the world. For example, our copy of a 1500 Venetian edition of Guarino’s Regulae Grammaticales is the only complete copy listed in the British Library’s database of 15th century printing, the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC). As the oldest and often most valuable books held in libraries around the world, most major collections of incunabula have already been fully catalogued and documented. To be the first cataloguer to properly examine and describe some of these earliest printed books is a very rare and welcome opportunity and it will be very exciting to see what the project uncovers as it progresses.

Full cataloguing of Cardiff’s private presses collection now complete

We are very happy to report that cataloguing of SCOLAR’s extensive collection of private press books has now been completed and that all 1,300 items are available to view on Cardiff University’s Library Catalogue. We hold books by all the major presses of the Arts and Crafts movement, including near-complete runs of publications from the Golden Cockerel Press, Cuala Press and William Morris’s Kelmscott Press.

The beautiful embroidered binding on Cardiff’s copy of “The Floure and the Leafe” published by the Kelmscott Press

These have been wonderful books for us to work on, with many delightful illustrations and beautiful bindings to enjoy, and there have been some great surprises along the way. We’ve discovered books signed by A.A. Milne, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost and W.B. Yeats, unique proof copies with comments by William Morris, Elizabeth Yeats and Lucien Pissaro, and works finely bound by some of the leading craftsmen of the day.

Illustration from “La belle au bois dormant” by Charles Perrault, printed at the Eragny Press in 1899

With cataloguing finished on the private presses, we are now moving on to SCOLAR’s unique collection of Restoration dramas, many of which are heavily annotated. I will also be continuing to work on our English early printed books, the first 1,000 of which have been added to the catalogue over the first year of the project.

“Samson and Delilah”, printed at the Golden Cockerel Press and bound by Sybil Pye in red morocco with Art Deco inlays

A 17th century defence of red hair

While cataloguing some of our early English books, I came across an interesting volume by one Obidiah Walker, Periamma epidemion, or, Vulgar errours in practice censured, published in 1659. The work includes a curious chapter entitled, “A censure of the epidemicall practise of reproaching red-hair’d men.”

“Each man disparageth his fellow-creature,” says Walker, “and gratifies his haughty humour in the derision of his brother. And this is often done upon such trivial grounds, that a due perpension would cause an abashment in the face of the practiser. My present instance shall be in a common yet causeless calumniation: viz. the vilifying of red-hair’d men, the putting of disesteem upon persons, merely because of the native colour of the excrement of the head.”

On reading further, I was intrigued to learn that throughout history redheads have often been singled out for persecution. During the height of the witch trials in Europe, for example, red hair was considered evidence of witchcraft. Judas Iscariot was often depicted with red hair in Renaissance art and the Spanish Inquisition even suspected that redheads had been marked by the fires of Hell itself!

Walker makes it his duty to put an end to these prejudices: “It is then manifest, that they that laugh at red hair are tickled by the Devill: that they commit a greater outrage against the head then the Scythians did, who converted into drinking-cups the skulls of their more irefull enemies.”

He offers a spirited defence of red hair, which, we are assured, is neither a disease of the body nor a sign of the Devil. He lists some famous redheads and points out that red was considered by the Spartans to be the manliest colour, while Roman women enhanced their beauty by dying their hair ginger. Walker’s final thoughts are as apt today as they were in his time: “I could wish that the minds of men were of a more serene and dovelike constitution: that what the ingenious Des Cartes abhors in Philosophy, might not take place in Morality, to wit, that men would not hoodwink themselves with their own prejudice.”

Edward Thomas biography wins literary award

Matthew Hollis, author of Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas, has won the Costa (formerly Whitbread) prize for best biography. The judges called it “dramatic and engrossing. A brilliant biography that moved us all.”

The biography gives an account of the last five years of Thomas’ life, in particular his friendship with poet Robert Frost, his struggles with depression, the late discovery and rapid blossoming of his talent for poetry, cut short by his decision to voluntarily fight in WWI, which culminated in his death at Arras on Easter Monday, 1917.

It was a surprise win for the debut biographer, as Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens had been a strong favourite. Matthew Hollis is now 2-1 favourite to win the overall award, Costa’s Book of the Year, announced on 24 January.

During his research for the biography, Hollis drew heavily on Edward Thomas’ letters, photographs and poetry manuscripts, held at Special Collections and Archives, Cardiff University. We hope this award will raise the profile of Edward Thomas’ poetry, and his substantial archives at Cardiff.

The Edward Thomas collection is fully catalogued and will shortly be available to search online. It contains around 4000 letters to and from friends and family, 2000 reviews, 500 photographs and 300 poetry manuscripts, as well as notebooks, diaries and other personal effects. It is available for consultation on appointment. Please contact the Archivist, Alison Harvey, for more information: HarveyAE@cardiff.ac.uk.

A Cardiff Christmas Carol

Our beautiful and unusual copy of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale was published by J. M. Dent & Co. in 1907 and is a superb example of a ‘vellucent’ binding by Chivers of Bath. Cedric Chivers (1853-1929) perfected the technique of using hand-coloured illustrations with transparent vellum and patented his method in 1903 under the name ‘vellucent’, or ‘vellum made translucent’, binding. Vellucent binding was promoted as a method for preserving old leather bindings and also as a new style of cover decoration. In this type of binding the painting is on paper, rather than on the underside of the vellum itself; the paper is attached to the boards of the binding, then covered and protected by a very thin layer of vellum.

On A Christmas Carol the vellucent technique has been combined with the more traditional discipline of gilt tooling and an inlaid mother-of-pearl border, which is also protected by the vellum. Cedric Chivers exhibited vellucent binding in London and Paris and at the 1904 St Louis World Fair, where his invention took the gold medal.

The first 1,000 books of the Cardiff Rare Books Collection have now been catalogued to full rare books standard and can be found on Cardiff University Library’s Voyager catalogue.

Merry Christmas from the SCOLAR team!

Addition to Darwin centenary books

In July we noted that we had added two books to the Human Genetics Historical Library collection that commemorated the centenary of the birth of Darwin.  An additional item has now been added which complements the other two.  As with the others, this copy was originally presented to the University by Miss P. J. Parker.

Published also in 1909 by Cambridge University Press, this is  the Order of the proceedings at the Darwin Celebration, held at Cambridge June 22-June 24, 1909: with a sketch of Darwin’s life.  According to the preface, the Senate contributed £500 towards the celebrations, and another £500 was received from an anonymous benefactor.  The commemoration had a programme of events which included a reception at the Fitzwilliam Museum, a banquet in the New Examination Hall, several garden parties and exhibitions.  The events had specified dress codes, and even at the garden parties Morning dress and Academic robes were de rigeur, whilst members of the senate were instructed to wear “Hoods and Bands and Doctors will wear Scarlet.”

Charles Darwin and his sister Catherine

“The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career.”

The Sketch of Darwin’s life follows along the lines of the Epitome in Darwin and Modern Science, and assistance was given by Francis Darwin in its preparation.  Detailing the milestones of Darwin’s life it includes quotes from his autobiography and his letters, and several photographs and prints.

Genetics, heredity, evolution and ethics

Cardiff University are currently undergoing a weed and restructure of their Research Reserve.  As part of this weed a number of books on genetics were passed to us to be included in the Human Genetics Historical Library.  Many of these items are old editions of textbooks, useful for the HGHL but not especially interesting in themselves.  So, it was with delight that the following three books were found to be included in the latest batch, helping to populate the evolution and early genetics sections of the library.




On the genesis of species by St. George Mivart (1871) is the oldest book so far to be added to the collection which mainly comprises 20th century texts.  It takes the premise that Darwin’s theory of natural selection is insufficient to explain all the phenomena connected to the origin of species, and attempts to offer an alternative view of ‘natural laws’.  Rebound at some point in its history by University College Cardiff, it contains a large number of black and white illustrations of a variety of species.

The germ-plasm: a theory of heredity by August Weismann (1893) was translated from the German by W. Newton Parker who was a professor at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire at the time (an early incarnation of Cardiff University).  This copy was donated to the college library  in 1939 by Dr A. H. Trow from the Botany department.  The work presents a theoretical explanation of heredity.

Evolution & ethics and other essays by Thomas H. Huxley (1901) was originally printed in 1894 as part of the Eversley Series published by Macmillan.  The title piece was a lecture delivered at the University of Oxford, the second of the annual lectures founded by Mr Romanes.  Huxley was renowned as a biologist, an anatomist and for being an advocate of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  This item was presented to the college library in 1943 by a W. Tattersall who had acquired the book as a prize for mathematics at Bootle Technical School.

Cataloguing the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

A project to catalogue the Cardiff Rare Books Collection commenced in June 2011 with the aim of producing detailed catalogue records for all 14,000 items over the next three years. This important historical collection, recently acquired by Cardiff University Library, includes 175 incunabula from the earliest days of printing, 500 rare Bibles, a comprehensive range of Restoration drama volumes, a rare set of early Shakespeare works and over 2,000 books from 19th and 20th century British private presses.

The cataloguing project will provide much greater access for students, staff and researchers to this unique resource. This blog will follow the progress of the project, highlighting some of the oldest and rarest items and featuring posts about exciting or unusual finds from the collection as its hidden treasures are revealed.