Forming a picture of the past: recording provenance in the Gregson Memorial Institute collection.

This post was written by 2nd year History Lessia Mbala. Lessia is currently undertaking a placement in Special Collections and Archives, recording provenance in The Gregson Memorial Institute Library.

The second semester of second year is often seen as entering the second half of one’s degree; with the end of the degree looming came the panic of what to do after graduation, as well as academic expectation and performance. The History in Practice module, to me, encompassed all of this — a basis in academia with a focus on transferable skills, such as time management, organisation, and the all-important knowledge of how to use Microsoft Excel.

The Gregson Institute is my assigned project. Named after Matthew Gregson, an antiquary with contemporarily peculiar focus on his local and native Liverpool, the Gregson Memorial Institute was created to be a museum, gallery, and place for lectures. His collections, both the ones featured in the Gregson Memorial Institute and his private one, were later donated to the University, his artwork finding a home in the Victoria Gallery and Museum and his books in the Special Collections and Archives. The aim then, in the Special Collections and Archives, is to use the provenance of these books to paint a picture of Late Victorian Liverpool.

With most, if not all, of my previous experience of history being essay writing, date memorising and argument creating, this task was daunting. However, the more I filtered through the collection, the more patterns I recognised and the more familiar the names became. Amongst Gregson’s collection was a copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. The title, and its author, Mary Wollstonecraft, was instantly recognisable. Published in 1792, Vindication was initially a rebuttal against Edmund Burke’s argument for the failure of the French Revolution, and is seen to be the first book to argue for total equality of rights between the genders. With its focus on education, Vindication is also seen to be an important piece when studying the Enlightenment as it carries key themes and ideas.

The fact that the book was still being read in late Victorian period only corroborates what is already known about Wollstonecraft: she is a figure in feminist history whose reputation has lasted, and Vindication is a timeless piece of feminist philosophy. However, the provenance of the book gives us information about Wollstonecraft’s interaction with the period.

First, the book, according to the written script within the first few pages, had two owners: I. Leigh Gregson and W.W. Richmond. The gender of these individuals are not immediately obvious from their initials, and their identity is something I am still piecing together as I go through the collection. Their surname, however, provides information about their family and their position in society: the maternal Leigh family was one of gentry and the Gregson, the paternal, were esteemed. This follows historical trends in education: it came to those who could afford it. Priority often went to boys. In fact women were expected to remain uneducated as it was unnecessary to their role as a mother/caregiver. This included governesses, whose education was only officially formalised in 1848 with the formation of Queen’s College. Furthermore, the Victorian era provided many dominant women, such as mathematician Ada Lovelace and nurse Florence Nightingale, who have come to be celebrated as pioneers in their field. Notably, however, these women came from families ranging from fairly wealthy middle class to the aristocratic. It is unknown as of this moment who W.W. Richmond was and his relationship with the Gregson family.

Second, within the book (p. 318) is a highlighted passage on female modesty and purity, and education’s contribution to this. Here, Wollstonecraft argues that, with education, a woman would know and understand the reason for such strict social restrictions, which would result in a more virtuous woman. The context as to why this passage was highlighted is unknown — who, why, under what circumstances? What is clear, however, is that female modesty was indeed being considered. I found this to be the most interesting. The feminist movement, at least by today’s definition, has been synonymous with sexual freedom and lack of judgement. This passage, however, argues in line with sexual constraint. It could be that Vindication, at its core, is an argument and so Wollstonecraft is adopting the social view of women at the time to push her point of view forward. However, it seems to me that sexual freedom wasn’t being discussed when there were more pressing issues in regards to female equality that needed to be addressed. Victorian England — and so Liverpool — is noted for its taboo-isation of the female figure; this passage being highlighted, then, is suggestive of society’s advancement (in that women were becoming individuals rather than property, an Enlightened thought) and its limitations. Moreover, female chastity was pursued more so in the upper classes than in the lower.

Spotting Wollstonecraft had made me aware of many things when cataloguing a collection; most importantly, however, it had shown me just how much a personal item contributes to forming a picture of the past.

New exhibition: Binned, banned, bombed: selection and survival in Special Collections & Archives

Have you ever wondered why there is what there is in Special Collections & Archives?

Our collections are a fascinating mixture of what survives physical degradation, individual actions, historical events and official censure. But just because something has survived for a long time doesn’t automatically mean it has a place in Special Collections & Archives.

The survival of printed books and archival collections usually contains an element of serendipity; a modicum of good fortune which means they have been able to transcend neglect, wilful destruction, environmental dangers and the censure of authority. But there is also the hand of the librarian and archivist in evidence, selecting and preserving through careful management to ensure the items are kept secure and made available for years to come in a way that is appropriate to both the resources available and the intellectual content of the broader collections.

Our new exhibition displays a range of items from the collections to provide an insight into some of the issues we deal with whilst working to ensure our collections are cared for and made available to facilitate your research and requests. 

For more information on the exhibition, please see our website here.

Visit us anytime between 9:30am-4:45pm Monday – Friday at the Ground Floor Grove Wing of the Sydney Jones Library to view the display, no appointment is needed. Also, keep an eye on our twitter for information on special events focused around the material used in the exhibition.

Charles Sydney Jones: Incunabula and Early Printed Books

We have now entered the assessment period at the University of Liverpool, and the Sydney Jones Library is filling up fast. But how many of the students currently passing long hours within the walls of the library have taken a moment of procrastination to consider the man for whom the library is named? As detailed in a previous post on this blog – Sir Charles Sydney Jones (1872-1947) was a successful politician and businessman who took an active interest in education in Liverpool. He was member, Treasurer (1918–1930), and then President, of the Council of the University (1930–1936); and served as University Pro-Chancellor from 1936–1942. Motivated by a staunch belief in the transformational importance of education, Jones was also one of the most important benefactors in the history of the University. Amongst his generous gifts he donated both books and the funds to buy books, and so it is fitting that the Library bears his name. In this post, I hope to look a little more closely at some of those books. In particular, I am interested to uncover the important role Jones played in the formation of University of Liverpool’s impressive collection of incunabula (books printed before 1501) and early printed books (in this case, books printed between 1501 and 1540).

The oldest complete printed book in the University of Liverpool’s collection, Cicero’s “De officiis”, printed – on vellum – by Fust and Schoeffer in 1465. This beautiful copy was purchased by the University of Liverpool in 1954 using funds given by Sir Charles Sydney Jones. Previous owners include Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843), and the book was rebound by Sydney Cockerell in October 1977 (SPEC Inc.CSJ.F10).

Most of the books which Jones donated to the University were not from his personal collection. Rather, acquisitions records and letters in the archive make it clear that Jones was a willing and generous provider of funds to buy books old and new. Indeed, he often took a pro-active role in this respect – personally identifying and purchasing books he deemed befitting of a University, in order that they might enrich the education of the many. In particular, Jones bought books for the University as part of his grand plan to create a leading centre for educational research and teacher training in Liverpool. To this end, he purchased, adapted, and furnished numbers 20 and 21 Abercromby square, before gifting them to the University in the early 1920s. He was clear that this gift must include a “panelled and fitted Library to contain about 9000 volumes and a reading room adjoining”, writing that a “well-equipped Library will enable Liverpool to become an important centre of Educational Research” (University of Liverpool archives: D728/4/1). For those familiar with the University, the library Jones created is now the School of the Arts Library, though the books he filled it with are now primarily housed in Special Collections.

As his activities on behalf of the University suggest, Jones had considerable knowledge of the rare books market. Indeed, as well as buying books destined specifically to adorn the shelves of the Department of Education Library, he also bought rare books intended – at least in the first instance – to line his own bookcases. His impressive personal collection included a Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), as well as works printed by Nicolaus Jenson, Aldus Manutius, Johann Mentelin, Wynken de Worde and Richard Pynson, to name but a few. Mostly purchased during the 1910s and 20s, Jones’s personal library was eventually also gifted to the University, in the mid-1940s.

A heavily annotated copy of Higden’s Polychronicon, translated into English by John Trevisa, and printed by William Caxton, 1482 (SPEC Inc.CSJ.D03). This book came from Jones’s personal collection.

In all, we can thank Jones for around 150 books printed between 1501 and 1540, as well as for 46 incunables (the earliest complete work dating from 1465). These books were purchased from a range of booksellers, including Goldschmidt and Dobell in London, Gregory in Bath and Henry Young in Liverpool. The collection boasts the work of a wide range of early printers, and includes some landmark editions in the history of printing, as well as a number of especially rare early printed books.

SPEC EP.CSJ.A24 – the device of Wynkyn de Worde, in Incipiunt opera super co[n]stitutiones prouinciales & othonis (1517). The book contains annotations in more than one hand, including multiple inscriptions by “Arthuri Purde”. It is boxed with a letter from the Liverpool bookseller Henry Young, dated 30th December, 1912, describing this item, giving a price of £75, and suggesting that Sydney Jones may be interested to take a look at it.

A particular strength of the collection consists in the large number of books printed at the Aldine Press that it contains. As well as donating a number of Aldines from his own personal collection, Jones funded the acquisition of 100 formerly owned by the Rev. Mr. Charles Daniel (1836-1919), late Provost of Worcester College, Oxford, and founder of the Daniel Press. In a letter to his friend and collaborator, Professor Ernest Campagnac, he expresses his “delight” at this acquisition, and his desire to see the books for himself, particularly the “’Politiani’: I shall be interested to compare it with my copy for which I paid £15” (University of Liverpool archives: A192/5/2). The total sum paid for the Daniel collection was just £396. 

Jones’s books are rich in provenance, providing ample evidence of centuries of ownership. Many still contain marks of very early owners – in their early bindings, illuminations and inscriptions. Moreover, a number of the books have spent some part of their lives in the collections of important figures in the history of rare books collecting, including George Dunn, Michael Wodhull, Maffeo Pinelli, Richard Heber, Lord Spencer and Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex.

Catalogue records for all of the books donated by Charles Sydney Jones and printed before 1540 have now been updated, and his incunabula have been added to the Material Evidence in Incunabula project.

Natural history in the LRI Library

Beyond the books donated to the Liverpool Royal Institution by Benjamin Gibson, the LRI’s library collection was dominated by material printed in the 19th century, with a particular strength in the natural sciences – the library having been developed primarily as a resource to support the Institution’s Museum of Natural History. The Museum was the jewel in the crown of the Institution’s activities. The first catalogue, drawn up in 1826, boasted 2467 specimens of rocks and minerals, 99 mammals and 826 birds – most of which were obtained through gift or deposit.

From “Index testaceologicus; or A catalogue of shells British and foreign, arranged according to the Linnean system”, by William Wood (SPEC Y82.3.18). The LRI Museum had one of the best collection of shells in the country.

Natural history books in the collection included works by some of the most important figures in the running of the Museum, including:

William Swainson (1789-1855), naturalist and artist, played an important role in organising the collections, as well as providing advice on their preservation. Swainson was best known for his illustrations, and the LRI library held a number of works illustrated by him:

Images from “Zoological illustrations, or, Original figures and descriptions of new, rare or interesting animals, chiefly selected from the classes of ornithology, entomology, and conchology, and arranged on the principles of Cuvier and other modern zoologists” by William Swainson (SPEC Y82.3.503-505).

Thomas Stewart Traill (1781-1862), was a physician and expert in medical jurisprudence. He nurtured a wide range of interests however, as evidenced in his being editor of the eighth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Traill became Keeper of the Museum in 1822, and was responsible for the creation of the first catalogue of its holdings (SPEC R.5.24/B). 

A second Liverpool physician, Joseph Dickinson (d. 1865) made a number of important gifts of botanical specimens to the Museum. Dickinson was also a lecturer in medicine and botany at the Liverpool Medical School, and wrote a work entitled The Flora of Liverpool (SPEC R.5.52/B).

And finally, one of William Roscoe’s many interests was botany. As well as being a key figure in the founding of the LRI, he was also instrumental in the creation of Liverpool Botanic Garden (later Wavertree Botanic Garden). In 1828 he wrote Monandrian Plants of the Order Scitamineae: Chiefly Drawn from Living Specimens in the Botanical Gardens at Liverpool:

References: H.A. Ormerod. The Liverpool Royal Institution: a Record and Retrospect. Liverpool University Press, 1953.

The Liverpool Royal Institution Library

Introducing our latest newly catalogued collection – the books of the Liverpool Royal Institution (LRI). This is a substantial collection of over 300 titles, published between 1516 and 1887. The LRI books relate chiefly to the Institution’s natural history and art collections, but they are also rich in classical texts, and works of history and politics.

The library and archives, partly destroyed in the bombing of Liverpool in 1941, were transferred to University College, Liverpool in 1894. A “Hand List of Books and Pamphlets of the Liverpool Royal Institution kept at the Tate Library, University College, Liverpool” (Liverpool, 1894) records books transferred to the University, including Gould’s Birds of Australia and Benjamin Gibson’s 1851 bequest of 171 volumes (more on this in our next post). The 1894 transfer was commemorated by a bookplate designed by Robert Anning Bell. A surviving borrowers’ register shows loans made 1859-1893.

Robert Anning Bell bookplate marking the 1894 transfer.

Liverpool Royal Institution was the brainchild of William Roscoe and friends, who published their detailed plan for its activities in 1814. Roscoe was the Chairman of its General Committee in 1814, its first President in 1822, and delivered the 80-page inaugural address at its opening, 25 November 1817.

Liverpool Royal Institution drew on the cultural impetus Roscoe and his circle gave Liverpool during  the late 18th century – founding the town’s Athenaeum, Literary and Philosophical Society, Lyceum (with the Liverpool Library), Liverpool Academy and Botanic Garden – and put it to the service of “promoting the increase and diffusion of Literature, Science and the Arts” (1). The 1814 plan provided for a School, Public Lectures, accommodation for Societies, Collections of Books, Art, and Natural History, a Laboratory and other Apparatus, and meeting rooms for the Proprietors, its financial backers.

19th century watercolour drawing of the Liverpool Royal Institution building on Colquitt Street. Image by courtesy of the Liverpool Records Office.

Writing the LRI’s history in 1953, Henry Ormerod was struck by “how much of the intellectual life of nineteenth century Liverpool was centred in the Royal Institution, and how many of our modern institutions originated either as the direct creation of the Institution itself, or as guests within its walls” (2).

By the end of the 19th century as the LRI’s natural successors, particularly the Public Library and Museum and University College Liverpool, were founded and thriving, the LRI collections were dispersed and its activities curtailed. You can still find its legacy today in the Walker Art Gallery (paintings), Liverpool Museum (natural history), the Victoria Gallery & Museum (minerals), and in the University of Liverpool.

And the LRI archive and Library are both available via Special Collections and Archives, and include lists of subscribers and proprietors; committee minutes; correspondence; legal records; catalogues of the collections; records of gifts; visitors’ books; and financial records.


(1) Detailed plan of Liverpool Institution, as determined upon by the committee – 18. Aug. 1814. Ref: GR.1.2(3) B/8

(2) H.A. Ormerod. The Liverpool Royal Institution: a Record and Retrospect. Liverpool University Press, 1953.

The Grace Library – Sir Isaac Newton: beyond the maths.

This is the third in a series of posts by 2nd year History student Eddie Meehan. Eddie is working on The Grace Library of the Department of Applied Mathematics, a collection of 17th to 19th century mathematics texts, centred around the collections of Walter and Alicia Stott and Duncan C Fraser, and named after Samuel Forster Grace. The collection is rooted firmly in the city and University of Liverpool, and particularly in the Liverpool Mathematics Society and the Worshipful Company of Actuaries.

The Grace Library collection contains a wide range of volumes relating to Sir Isaac Newton, including many that were written by him. Newton is world famous for his work on physics, particularly Newtonian mechanics, but there are a range of other volumes written about and by him that are significantly less well known in the Grace Library collection. Newton’s works make up a significant part of the Grace Library collection, with 11 volumes written by Newton himself and a number of others written by others regarding Newton’s work.

The collection contains a work written by Newton named The chronology of ancient kingdoms, published in 1728, in which Newton detailed the history of various kingdoms located principally in the Near East. This involved linking various figures of Greek and Roman mythology to Biblical and historical events, and ultimately sought to prove that Solomon’s kingdom and temple were the earliest in human history. In doing this, he deviated massively from what is now accepted as Mesopotamian and Egyptian history and from the contemporary chronology of the Near East. The volume itself is part of the collection bequeathed by Duncan Fraser and named after Walter Stott, who were both Liverpool actuaries. However unfortunately it bares no other identifying provenance marks.

Another volume written by Newton is the Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, published in 1733. This volume is a work of theology, another departure from Newton’s more well-known works of physics and maths. The work is a collection of various notes written by Newton and published after his death by his half-nephew, Benjamin Smith, and as such is divided into two parts. This particular volume has a far clearer provenance history to it, bearing bookplates of ownership of a Rob Taylor and a John Baker, along with also being part of the Walter Stott collection.

The collection also contains many of Newton’s more well-known works, such as Opticks and Principia, along with French translations of the latter that were possessed by University College London and given out as examination prizes. Opticks bears a bookplate of Sir Ralph Milbanke. He was one of a line of baronets that formed part of the family of Ada Lovelace, a mathematician known for her work on Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, an early predecessor to the modern computer.

Various volumes also appear that were not written by Newton, but were written about Newton. Among these are volumes that seek to analyse his work, such as Henry Brougham’s Analytical view of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia. Brougham was a significant Whig politician of the early 19th century, who supported free trade and an end to the slave trade, but also was a well-regarded lawyer and scholar who was one of the founders of University College London in 1826. Once again, this volume was part of the Walter Stott collection donated by Duncan Fraser to the University.

X is for χ

The X-like letter in the title of this post is actually the lowercase form of the Greek letter ‘chi’ (the uppercase is X). It earns a place in our A to Z of Books for its role in the collation of printed books: that is, recording all the leaves and gatherings (or quires) that make up the physical volume, as explained in our A is for Alphabet post.

You will see the note ‘Signatures’ in many of the newer catalogue records for our early printed books, for example this 18th century volume from the library of the Liverpool Royal Institution:

catalogue record for SPEC Y76.2.167

Signatures: *⁸ ²*² **⁸ A-I⁸ K¹² [chi]⁴ L-Ee⁸ ²A-B⁸.

For many books, the letters of the printer’s alphabet (excluding J, U and W as being easily confused with I and V) are sufficient to describe the book in hand, but sometimes it is not so straightforward, which is where Greek letters come in. It is common to find these spelled out, as in the example above, instead of using Greek characters which may not be accessible across all devices.

But what do they mean? It is common to find books in which not all the gatherings are signed (that is, marked with, for example, A, A2, A3… at the foot of the leaves in the folded sheet), but there isn’t an obvious gap for them in the alphabetic sequence. So, unsigned leaves at the start of the book, before gathering A, are indicated by the Greek letter π [pi] and unsigned leaves elsewhere are given the signature χ [chi].

And like all oddities in early printed books, looking at the physical volume may reveal what was actually going on as the book was printed and why these unsigned leaves are there.

References and further reading:

Karen Attar, “Collational formula” in Michael F. Suarez, S.J. and H.R. Woudhuysen eds., The Oxford Companion to the Book, 2010.

Erin Blake, Signature statements in book cataloging The Collation. Research and Exploration at the Folger (blog)

Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography, 1995.

The Grace Library – Trigonometrica Britannica

This is the second in a series of posts by 2nd year History student Eddie Meehan. Eddie is working on The Grace Library of the Department of Applied Mathematics, a collection of 17th to 19th century mathematics texts, centred around the collections of Walter and Alicia Stott and Duncan C Fraser, and named after Samuel Forster Grace. The collection is rooted firmly in the city and University of Liverpool, and particularly in the Liverpool Mathematics Society and the Worshipful Company of Actuaries.

Another interesting item I came across in the Grace Library collection was the Trigonometrica Britannica, written by Henry Briggs (1561-1631) and published posthumously in 1633. The volume is notably rare, and is a table of trigonometric values that is noted for its high accuracy. Briggs prepared the tables while he was a professor of geometry at Oxford University, assisted by Gellibrand (1597-1637) who was a professor at Gresham College, London, and it was published in Gouda – at the time part of the Dutch Republic rebelling against Spanish rule.

Tables of logarithms were vital to mathematics prior to calculators, particularly for work on navigation, which Briggs was particularly interested in and spent much of his time working on. In navigation, multiplication of many digit numbers was necessary, which could be performed by the addition of their logarithms. Thus, Briggs worked to compile the first ever table of base 10 logarithms. This simplified laborious calculations for astronomers and navigators at the time, while also proving very significant for more modern mathematics (although Briggs did not have any understanding of powers as we know them today).

The work’s importance to navigation was particularly significant as Briggs also worked with the Virginia Company, who were a joint stock company created by King James I to create colonies in America. The improvement to navigation allowed greater European expansion into the Americas and also further European navigation of the ‘South Sea’, now known as the South Pacific. The work was also significant for astronomy, as prior to its publication many astronomers had feared that the difficulty of accurate calculations of logarithms would make many astronomical discoveries far more difficult.

The copy in the university library is an original Gouda publication, inscribed by what appears to be a ‘Johannus Derning’ and with notes throughout. The book was given to the university in memory of Samuel Forster Grace according to its university bookplate. He was one of the most brilliant mathematicians at Liverpool in the early 20th century and was known for his work on tidal theory, but sadly died in 1937 at just 43 as a result of wounds suffered in World War I. 

W is for Woodcut

Woodcut printing is a technique that pre-dates the printed book; used for printing playing cards and religious prints, for example, as well as for block books. To create a woodcut image, the artist either drew directly onto a wooden block, or onto paper which was then pasted to the block. This image would then be carved in relief – so that the area to be inked stood out, whilst the white spaces in the finished image were carved into the block.

Whilst the very earliest of books were largely printed without any illustration or decoration – perhaps leaving spaces on the printed page to allow for these to be added by hand – printers quickly realised that woodcut printing offered a simple means to add decorative features and illustrations to texts. Crucially, the fact that woodcut printing was, like movable type, a relief technique, meant that images and text could be set and printed together, on the same sheet of paper. By contrast, intaglio printing techniques – which involve an image being incised into a surface – required a different kind of press (a rolling press) in order to produce an image. As a result, if illustrations produced using intaglio techniques were to accompany text on the same page, the sheet would have to be printed twice – once for text and once for image. This was a timely and a costly process.

Woodcuts, then, were the preferred method of producing images for early printed books. Earlier in the series we introduced the most highly-illustrated book of the 15th century – the Nuremberg Chronicles – with its 1809 woodcut images, produced using 645 woodblocks. Since woodblocks were durable, it was not uncommon to reuse images – sometimes even in a different work entirely.

The Nuremberg Chronicle is an excellent example of the close marriage of text and image that woodcut printing enabled.

Whilst the earliest woodcut images in books were generally fairly simple, outline images, designed to allow for colouring by hand, by the end of the 15th century the art of woodcut illustration in books had advanced such that the most sophisticated productions displayed considerable artistry, including the use of chiaroscuro effects to produce tones. Still, in terms of the quality of the finished image, woodcut was not able to compete with intaglio methods of printing. It was for this reason that copperplate printing eventually overtook woodcut as the preferred method of illustrating books, by around the middle of the 16th century. Because of the difficulties in printing text alongside copperplate images, it became common for illustrations to take up entire pages, which were then inserted in place before binding. As a result, books generally contained fewer illustrations and decorations than they had during the golden age of the woodcut.

The use of woodcut printing was just one of the techniques revived by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press. The 87 wood-cut illustrations in this, the Kelscott Chaucer, are by William Harcourt Hooper, after drawings by Edward Burne-Jones.

References and further reading:

Hind, Arthur Mayger, An introduction to a history of woodcut, with a detailed survey of work done in the 15th century, 1935

MacLean, Robert, Book illustration: the woodcut2012

Suarez, Michael F. and H.R. Woudhuysen eds., The Oxford Companion to the Book, 2010.

T is for Title-page

Like so many elements of book design (bindings, bookplates, typography), the appearance of the title-page has been subject to fashions, and the amount of information offered on a title-page has varied over time accordingly. For example, whilst the earliest title-pages were relatively simple, in the 17th century it became standard practice to cram as much information as possible onto the title-page – with extensive sub-titles and detailed author and publisher information, often in multiple types, and within decorative frames. This trend died off in the 18th century, as a tendency for more simply set-out title-pages (often accompanied by half titles) took its place. This pattern repeated; the 19th century saw a return to more elaborate title-pages, whereas the emergence of modernism accompanied a more stripped-back approach in the 20th century.

As engraving came to be used more widely in book illustration from the late 16th century, engraved title-pages emerged. Occasionally books contained additional engraved title-pages alongside a letterpress title-page, as in the example below.

The earliest of printed books do not contain title-pages at all however; nor do most medieval manuscripts. Instead, these texts are generally identified by the “incipit” and “explicit” – the opening and closing words of the text, from the Latin verb incipere (‘to begin’) and explicitus, meaning ‘unrolled’.

An example of an incipit from a work printed in 1481.

Early printed books often closed with a “colophon” – a closing statement, providing, for example, the name of those involved in the book’s production (scribe, printer, publisher), and place and date of publication.

Earlier in this series we met the half-title page: here it is worth noting that the history of the half-title page, as outlined in this earlier post, also helps to reveal how it was that the title-page came to be – “printers would produce the pages of a text – the text-block – which they sold unbound”; a “blank sheet originally intended for protection came to be marked with a short-title in order to help differentiate one text-block from another, and it was this that then developed into the full title-page, with publication details as well as author and title.”

References and further reading:

Smith, Margaret M. “Title-page” in Michael F. Suarez, S.J. and H.R. Woudhuysen eds., The Oxford Companion to the Book, 2010.

Smith, Margaret M. The title-page: its early development 1460-1510, 2000.

British Library, Catalogue of illuminated manuscripts, 2018