Tag Archives: manicules

The Cardiff Rare Books Project: historical highlights and favourite finds

IMG_9828The Cardiff Rare Books Collection, acquired by Cardiff University in 2010, includes 14,000 rare and early printed books and pamphlets dating from the 15th to the 20th century. Before arriving here, the collection had been in storage for decades and had never been comprehensively catalogued. The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation kindly agreed to fund a specialist rare books cataloguer to work on the collection over a three year period and I happily took up the role in June 2011. The Cardiff Rare Books Project began with the aim of cataloguing as much of the collection as possible, uncovering hidden treasures and making them accessible to scholars and the general public alike.

Cardiff’s incunabula (books printed before 1501)

During the course of the project, almost five and a half thousand records have been added to the library catalogue and numerous exciting discoveries have ???????????????????????????????been made. The library’s cataloguing team and I have been able to provide access to one of the finest collections of private press books in the UK, as well as a remarkable collection of annotated Restoration dramas which are already attracting considerable interest from researchers. Our 178 incunabula, some of them printed as early as 1470, have been fully described and accurately recorded for the first time.

With so many wonderful discoveries made during the project (many of which I have been able to blog about here), it is hard to pick favourites but a few very special items do come to mind.

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Pietro Duodo’s copy of “Amadis de Gaula” (1582), bound in the olive-brown leather for literary works

I love the story behind the beautiful Duodo bindings I found very early on in the project. These two little volumes were intended to be part of a gentleman’s travelling library for Pietro Duodo (1554-1611), Venetian ambassador to Paris in the late 16th century. The books were sent to a Parisian bindery to be luxuriously bound in gilt-tooled morocco leather, colour-coded by subject and incorporating Duodo’s arms and motto (“She whom I await with longing will not elude me”), but the ambassador never returned to collect his library; suddenly and unexpectedly recalled to Venice, Duodo was forced to leave his beloved books behind.

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You never know what you might find when you pull a book of the shelf in the rare books stack and on a few occasions I was delighted to discover paintings on the fore-edges of books I retrieved for cataloguing. We are lucky to have two examples of the fore-edge paintings produced by John T. Beer, a successful businessman and  book collector who turned to fore-edge painting after his retirement. Beer selected books from his own collection to be decorated and, as with our examples, he often took inspiration from texts themselves.

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Our “Newton book” certainly deserves its place on any list of favourite finds. On opening a copy of John Browne’s Myographia Nova (1698) I discovered two unidentified bookplates together with other evidence of former owners. With a little detective work, I was able to trace all the previous owners and follow the book back into the library of the renowned scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, whose books were dispersed and lost after his death. The discovery of this volume led to an unprecedented level of media interest for Cardiff Special Collections and our rare books. Articles and photographs appeared in national newspapers and I was rushed off to be interviewed live on BBC Radio Wales, an unusual experience indeed for a rare books cataloguer!

A woodcut of me, hard at work on the collection – a cataloguer’s work is never done!

IMG_9467Last but not least, I have had enormous fun rummaging through the collection trying to track down as many manicules as humanly possible. I find these little pointing fingers, created by or for readers to mark noteworthy passages, endlessly fascinating and I have always been delighted to discover new and surprising variations in our early books. I am sure there are many, many more out there.

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I will shortly be moving on to work with an even larger and hopefully equally Smileyinteresting collection at Lambeth Palace Library, as the new cataloguer of the Sion College Collection. The SCOLAR blog will keep going strong as library staff continue to work with the Cardiff Rare Books Collection and share their exciting discoveries. We can be certain there is much more to be revealed about these fascinating books.

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More manicule mania!

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

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

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

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Pointing the finger, or, A handy guide to manicules

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

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

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

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

A large engraved woodblock manicule for printing signage and posters

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

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