Italian provenance and the LRI Library: Benjamin Gibson’s books

At the heart of the Liverpool Royal Institution’s library was a collection of books bequeathed by the sculptor and antiquary Benjamin Gibson (1811?-1851). Indeed, at around 170 volumes in total, Gibson’s donation represented almost half of the total collection.

A selection of Gibson’s books, many of which are bound in vellum.

Benjamin Gibson was born in Conwy, Wales, and grew up in Liverpool. His early sculptures were displayed at various locations around the city, including at the Academy of the Liverpool Royal Institution. In 1836, after the death of his mother, Gibson moved from Liverpool to join his older brother – John Gibson (1790-1866) – in Rome. John had been forging a successful career there for nearly 20 years already. Having studied under the master Italian Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Cannova (1757-1822), he went on to run a bustling studio in the Via della Fontanella.

In Rome, Benjamin assisted his brother, as well as continuing to create his own works (many of which were commissioned by members of the LRI, and sent back to Liverpool). He also devoted a considerable part of his energies to buying books. Indeed, such was his bibliomania, on his death in 1851 John Gibson is said to have described Benjamin as more of a book collector than a sculptor.

Gibson signed each of his books.

An expert on Greek and Latin literature, Benjamin Gibson amassed a formidable collection Classical texts. Whilst particularly strong in Latin and Greek language and literature and in antiquities, Gibson’s books covered a great wide range of subject areas – from history to maths, through mythology and military science:

Flavius Vegetius Renatus,, “De re militari” (SPEC Y60.3.6), a treatise on Roman warfare and military principles.

The vast majority of Gibson’s books date from before 1800, with nearly half of them printed during the 17th century. Gibson also owned 30 books printed in the 16th century – the earliest work in his collection being a 1532 printing of Giovanni Boccaccio’s (1313-1375) Peri genealogias deorvm (SPEC EP.D11).

A number of Gibson’s books have evidence of prior Roman owners. For example, three of his books bear the stamp “Biblioth: Corsinia vetus”. Founded by Pope Clement XII (1652-1740) – born Lorenzo Corsini – the Corsiniana family library was donated to Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, a science academy in Rome, by his descendant Tommaso Corsini (1835-1919) in 1883. The result of this merger, the Biblioteca dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana, is still housed in the rather magnificent Palazzo Corsini.

Ownership marks of the Biblioteca Corsiniana

Another three books are stamped “Libraria Colonna”, having belonged to the Colonna family, another papal noble family of Rome:

Indeed, Gibson’s books are rich in provenance, with previous owners from all over Europe. Other names associated with the collection include Spanish clergyman and intellectual, Jose Sáenz de Aguirre (1630-1699), Italian bishop and biologist Anton Felice Marsili (1651-1710) and French lawyer and journalist Jean-Jacques Lenoir-Laroche (1749-1825).

References:

Roscoe, Ingrid, Emma Hardy and M.G. Sullivan. A biographical dictionary of sculptors in Britain: 1660-1851. Available at: http://liberty.henry-moore.org/henrymoore/index.php (accessed 31/07/2019).

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.

References:

(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 Lancelyn Green Pamphlets

This post was written by 2nd year History student Aneurin Evans, reflecting on his work on the Lancelyn Green pamphlets for the HIST200 module.

As an undergraduate history student at the University of Liverpool, I was given the opportunity to work in the Special Collections and Archives of the University library. This was through my module History in Practice which was focused on practical applications of a history degree in employment. I worked on a collection of pamphlets donated by Roger Lancelyn-Green (1918-1987) of the prominent Wirral and Cheshire based family. The pamphlets were mostly collected by Thomas Green (d.1747), and as such most were printed in the years surrounding his lifetime between 1680 and 1740, though there are some outliers as early as the 1620s and as late as the mid 1800s. In total I went through around one thousand pamphlets, sorting them by size while noting their other physical characteristics such as inscriptions, damage, stitching and binding.

The pamphlets are almost universally of a religious nature: printed sermons, essays and back and forth arguments on theology. They sometimes comment on political events such as the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, through a religious perspective, and there is general discussion of liberties and the rights of men. However, most comment on more down to earth issues such as day-to-day morals and religious practice, offering insight into the cultural and religious life of the time. It must be noted that the writings come from a very specific and homogenous section of society and contribute mostly top-down perspectives. However, they certainly are still useful sources. The prominence of the authors positions and the sheer number of them make this collection really valuable, especially for anyone studying the history of religion, politics or the printing and consumption of writings in this period. The focus of the pamphlets is an advantage in this sense as it can provide a historian with deep and specific detail. As part of my cataloguing I noted how many copies of each pamphlet were available at other British universities and institutions, using the ESTC (English Short-Title Catalogue) database. A considerable number of pamphlets in the Lancelyn Green collection were one of five or fewer , and in some cases the only copy.

Much of the value of this collection lies in the attributes I was recording such as the size, format, stitching and binding. The collection is particularly useful for historians wanting to research these material aspects of written sources as the pamphlets have almost all been kept unbound as they were originally issued. The intact and well preserved nature of the collection gives an insight into the way that pamphlets were collected and read, as well as a good idea of the kind of literature a man like Thomas Green would have had access to and been reading. The pamphlets were more visually interesting and varied than one might expect. Though most were of a simple black and white design with only text, many others had printed ornaments or other illustrations on the cover pages that I am sure would be of interest to researchers but also serves to make browsing the collection more engaging. One element of design that stood out to me were the numerous multi-coloured and marbled covers on pamphlets throughout the collection, something I did not expect of widely circulated publications from the period.

Personally the work gave me an opportunity to experience a level of history I had not experienced before. By that I not only mean direct contact with physical primary sources but also the more practical side of research and preservation. Up to this point I had been more focused on secondary sources or reprinted primary sources. I knew relatively little about how high-level academic historical works were researched, compared to my undergraduate essays, and the ways in which primary sources are located and used by historians. In conclusion I would recommend that anyone interested in relevant historical research consults the Lancelyn Green pamphlet collection.

References:

Digitized copies of the texts (mostly from copies in other libraries) of the Lancelyn Green pamphlets can be consulted online (with institutional login) in the following databases:

  • EEBO Early English Books Online
  • ECCO Eighteenth Century Collections Online
  • Roger Lancelyn Green, the donor of the collection, wrote about the pamphlets as they were originally kept in the Library at the family home on the Wirral in: Poulton Lancelyn. The Story of an Ancestral Home (Oxford, 1948)

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.

Nightingales in Abercromby Square

During the University’s Wellbeing Week Abercromby Square has hosted bird life great and small, from the eagles, owls and falcons of Cheshire Falconry, to postcard-sized ‘Nightingales.‘ A flock of six were released to celebrate the bicentenary of the composition of John Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale, in the form of six poems newly-commissioned for Pavilion Poetry.

The poems were also available in support of the RSPB at a talk by the English Department’s Bethan Roberts on Nightingales in poetry and science in the age of Keats. Bethan’s talk, accompanied by recordings of the Nightingale’s song and a display of books from Special Collections & Archives, brought an audience of nearly 50 birdlovers to the School of the Arts Library comprising University staff and students and members of the public from across the Liverpool City Region.

The nine books on display covered Ornithology, Poetry, and the unlikely topic of Nightingales in Liverpool…

  1. Thomas Bewick, 1753-1828 History of British birds. The figures engraved on wood by T. Bewick (Newcastle, 1797-1804). Two volumes. SPEC L45.19-20 (vol. 1 Land Birds, 1797 has woodcut of Nightingale).
    Thomas Bewick, wood engraver, revitalised the art of woodcuts with his detailed natural history illustrations: he was driven to improve on the crude illustrations in the books he knew as a child. His work impressed Matthew Gregson of the Liverpool Print Society, who gave it “the highest Encomiums of Praise”, and commissioned his tradecard from Bewick. The hugely successful  History of British Birds (mentioned in Jane Eyre) illustrates each major British bird species, and has lively ‘tail-pieces’ providing pictorial ironic comment.
  2. Charlotte Smith, 1749-1806 A Natural History of Birds, intended for young persons (London, 1807). JUV.A429.
    Charlotte Smith, poet and novelist, was praised by her contemporaries, including Wordsworth and Walter Scott, for her descriptions of nature. Her works for children were a successful new venture towards the end of her career, including the posthumously published Natural History of Birds, a mixture of description, mythology and fables about birds of Britain and Europe.
  3. Francis Orpen Morris, 1810-1893 A history of British birds (London, 1870). Six volumes. SPEC Ryl.P.3.11-16 (vol. 10 has hand-coloured lithograph of Nightingale).
    Francis Orpen Morris, clergyman and naturalist, collected birds and insects as a child and his writings on natural history were the best-known of his wide-ranging publications. Morris campaigned for the protection of wild birds and co-founded the Plumage League to oppose the extravagant use of bird’s feathers in fashion. The engravings in A History of British Birds are by the renowned woodblock colour printer Benjamin Fawcett.

Some other early ornithological books in Special Collections include:

  • William Yarrell, 1784-1856 A history of British birds illustrated by wood engravings (London, 1837-1845). Three volumes with supplement. SPEC Noble D.20.12 -14
  • Thomas Pennant, 1726-1798 British zoology (London, 1776-1777). Four volumes. SPEC L16.37-40 (vol. 2 has illustration of Nightingale).
  • Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, 1707-1788, The natural history of birds, illustrated with engravings. Nine volumes. SPEC L24.51 (vol. 5 has engraving of Nightingale).
  1. John Keats, 1795-1821 Lamia, Isabella, The eve of St Agnes, and other poems (London, 1820). SPEC J22.28.
    One of the other poems in this book is Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale.’ This Liverpool volume (presented to the University by Mr S. Samuels in 1947) has a pencil drawing inserted as frontispiece, inscribed on the back ‘John Keats from a Sketch by [Joseph] Severn presented to his kind friend Thos. Pickering by Charles Cowden Clarke’. Correspondence from 1943, when the book was sent to the National Portrait Gallery in London, suggests that Samuels bought the book from the bookseller Elkin Matthews.
  2. John Keats, 1795-1821 Odes, Sonnets and Lyrics (Oxford, 1895). SPEC Noble A.15.29.
    Twenty-five poems by Keats selected by the poet Robert Bridges (1844-1930) and printed at the ‘Arts and Craft’ Daniel Press in Oxford. C.H.O. Daniel (1836-1919), Fellow and later Provost of Worcester College, produced limited editions of high quality on a printing press set up in a cottage in his garden at the college. This volume (no. 27 of the 250 copies printed) was bought by William Noble (1838-1912) who bequeathed his fine collection of private press books to the University and endowed the William Noble Fellowship.
  3. A watch of nightingales: [an anthology of poems on the song of the nightingale] edited by Geoffrey Keynes, Kt., and Peter Davidson. (London, 1981). SPEC S/Z239.2.S885.K41.
    This modern private press book was printed in an edition of 400 copies at the Stourton Press, and uses as its title the collective noun for nightingales. The collection of nearly 50 poems and fragments on nightingales stems from Keynes’s attempts to identify his 1784 etching of a poem ‘To A Nightingale’ as the work of William Blake.

Some other Nightingale poetry in Special Collections:

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘The Nightingale: A Conversation Poem’ in Lyrical Ballads (London, 1798). SPEC Fraser 390 (1890 reprint).
  • John Clare Poems descriptive of rural life and scenery (London, 1821).
    SPEC Fraser 1601 (4th edition)
  • William Blake, ‘Spring’ in Songs of Innocence; Milton ( Many editions in the William Blake collection).
  • Special Collections also holds editions of John Milton’s ‘Il Penseroso’, Paradise Lost, and nightingale sonnet and works by Ovid including the myth of Philomela.
  1. The poetry of birds: selected from various authors; / with coloured illustrations by a lady. (Liverpool, 1833). SPEC J24.59.
    This anonymous work is a compilation of poems about birds, with corresponding hand-coloured illustrations, and additional coloured illustrations of birds pasted in. The text and drawings are the work of poet, editor, artist and writer Hannah Mary Rathbone, née Reynolds (1798-1878), a member of Liverpool’s renowned Rathbone family. The book was printed and published in Liverpool by George Smith at Tithebarn Street, and survives in very few copies.
  2. Liverpool Royal Institution Museum: entries for Nightingale and Blackcap in Catalogue of birds (1836). Liverpool Royal Institution Archive LRI 2/2/1/4.
    The Liverpool Royal Institution was founded in 1814 by a group of Liverpool merchants and professional men, associates of the Liverpool philanthropist William Roscoe (1753–1831). The grade II Liverpool Royal Institution building, which still stands on Colquitt Street, was built in 1799 as a house and warehouse for the merchant and slave-trader Thomas Parr, and adapted to house the LRI’s collections and activities, including the natural history museum. Most of the collections were acquired by gift or deposit, including the nightingale and blackcap (‘the Northern Nightingale’) specimens listed in this catalogue (51 and 52 on the page displayed). The surviving Library and Archive of the LRI are housed in Special Collections. The American naturalist and artist John James Audubon (1785-1851) exhibited seven  paintings at the LRI’s 1827 exhibition: two of these, ‘An Otter Caught in a Trap’ and ‘A Pounce on Partridges’, are on display in the VGM’s Audubon Gallery.
  3. John Gould, 1804-1881 A monograph of the Trochilidae or family of humming birds (London: published by the Author, 1849-61). Issued in 25 separate parts; with a 5-part supplement completed by Richard Bowdler Sharpe, 1880-87. SPEC 300.1.
    John Gould was described by Sacheverell Sitwell as ‘model and prototype for the Victorian bearded man,’ and his home in Bloomsbury as ‘a taxidermist’s paradise’. Sitwell also commented that Gould’s illustrations were chiefly drawn by his wife, by Edward Lear, and William Hart. These illustrations (418 in this work alone) were then lithographed and hand-coloured.  The shimmering effect of the birds’ plumage is replicated in the illustrations by the inclusion of gold leaf under a transparent layer of oil paints and varnish (note from catalogue of the Royal Collections Trust). Many of Gould’s works were acquired for the Library of the Liverpool Royal Institution, which is now part of Special Collections.       

U is for Uncut or Unopened

U is for Uncut or Unopened

Unopened books or pamphlets are unreadable until the top and front edges of the folded and bound or unbound gatherings have been sliced through to separate the individual leaves (see our earlier post on format).

SCA has an example of a book which has remained unopened for over 300 years: SPEC J10.1(14). But fortunately the digitized copy from Eighteenth Century Collections Online gives access to the text.

SPEC J10.1. (14). Select epistles of Phalaris, the Tyrant of Agrigentum (1718).

Uncut may be used by the unwary cataloguer when the term unopened would be more accurate: uncut has the specific bibliographical meaning that the book has survived with the rough edges (deckle edges) of its pages untrimmed by bookbinders. This makes it easier to see many kinds of bibliographical evidence about the book’s production. Uncut or untrimmed pages are unusual, since books were issued unbound, or in a temporary binding for the purchaser to have bound up to the mid 19th-century development of the publisher’s binding.

A modern example of a book showing the edges of the handmade sheet of paper is SPEC Zaina E.73 no.5 – the difference from the trimmed copy at SPEC Zaina E.73 no.195 is clear when they are side-by-side.

SPEC Zaina E.73 showing deckle and trimmed edges.

Uncut copies of a book also have the virtue of retaining all of the text and any later annotations, which are often lost when the page edges are trimmed or cropped in the process of binding and rebinding, successively reducing the margins. Untrimmed copies may be described as ‘tall copies’, to differentiate them from copies printed on larger sheets of paper (large paper copies’). The difference in size can be seen by placing the trimmed copy of SPEC Zaina E.73 on top of the untrimmed copy.

SPEC Zaina E.73 trimmed copy no.195 on top of untrimmed copy no. 5.

Still unsure? The Folger Shakespeare Library blog, The Collation, recommends using untrimmed instead of uncut and explains why in their blog post Uncut, unopened, untrimmed, uh-oh

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

S is for Subscription

From the 17th to the early 19th century, and occasionally since then, books might be issued ‘on subscription,’ to solicit orders in advance of publication from subscribers attracted by a preliminary proposal. A printed list of subscribers’ names would often appear in the published work. The first known subscription list is that for the second edition (1625) of John Minsheu’s Guide into Tongues (SPEC Knowsley 349/oversize but without the list of subscribers).

Books whose publication was financed by subscription typically included particularly expensive books (for example highly illustrated books), specialist works (for example scientific and musical works), privately printed books, or special copies (for example, ‘large paper’ copies printed on a larger size of paper) making up part of an edition. The response to the subscription helped gauge the market for the work prior to publication and acted as a guarantee for the bookseller’s outlay on publication costs.

Subscription proposal for Milton’s Works (1757). SPEC Knows. pamph. 264
Receipt for the Countess of Derby’s first payment for Milton’s Poetical Works. Signed by Thomas Houlston.

The lists of subscribers in the published work were often arranged hierarchically, giving the most eminent names first, and might include addresses and occupations. William Enfield’s 1773 Essay towards the history of Leverpool included views and a plan separately so subscribers could choose which parts of the work they wanted.

References and further reading:

  • Michael F. Suarez and H. R. Woudhuysen (eds), The Oxford Companion to the Book (Oxford, 2010)
  • John Carter and Nicholas Barker, ABC for Book Collectors. Eighth edition (Oak Knoll and British Library, 2006)
  • P. J. Wallis, Book Subscription Lists: Extended Supplement to the Revised Guide (1996) and ‘Book Subscription Lists,’ Library 5/29 (1974)

R is for Rags

Making paper by hand.

During the hand-press era, the raw material for the production of paper for books was cloth rags – most often linen. Rags were bought in bulk by paper-makers, often sold to them by itinerant rag collectors; rag-and-bone men. The paper-making process began with washing the linen, which was left it in a damp heap to rot. After four or five days, the rotten rags were cut into smaller pieces, and then pounded down to form a pulp, using water-powered hammers. This pounding process was repeated two or three times; with pauses in between to allow for further rotting. By the 18th century the hammers had been replaced by a rotary machine which macerated the rags using knives – a much more efficient method. Invented in Holland, the machine was known as a Hollander.

Once the process of breaking-up and rotting down the rags was complete the pulp that remained was put into a vat and watered down to form a concoction resembling a watery porridge. Further stretching the porridge analogy – this mixture was kept warm and stirred occasionally using a paddle.

A close-meshed sieve made of metal wire (the mould) was then dipped into the mixture, before being lifted out with exactly the right amount of pulp in, laid flat, and skillfully manipulated to form a uniform ‘sheet’ of pulp across the mould. The mould was then expertly shaken, first forward and backward, and then side to side, to ensure the fibres crossed in each direction, which helped to strengthen the paper. The sheets were then removed from the mould and sandwiched between layers of felt. The resultant piles of paper interleaved with felt were put under a heavy press to squeeze out excess water before being hung up to dry.

The quality of the paper produced using this method was primarily determined by the quality of the rags used to make it. The best paper was produced from pure white linen; poorer quality paper from materials such as canvas, rope and wool. Linen rags were not readily available in England, where people wore wool rather than linen. This fact, combined with a lack of skilled workmen, meant that most paper used in the English book trade, up until around the middle of the 18th century, was imported from France or Holland.

By the 19th century, the demand for rags to make paper with was outstripping supply, and prices reflected this. This intensified the search for an alternative; which eventually resulted in the majority of paper being made using wood-pulp – and increasingly using machines, rather than by hand – from the middle of the century.

As it happens, a conference, ‘The Paper Trade in Early Modern Europe: Practices, Materials, Networks’ took place in Erlangen, Germany, on the 26th and 27th February. You can read about current research in paper, as presented at the conference, by searching for the Twitter handle #EMpapertrade.

References and further reading:

Gaskell, Philip. A new introduction to bibliography, 1972

Burke, James. From rags to paper, 2013

University of Ilowa. Paper through time: nondestructive analysis of 14th-through-19th century papers (project website).

O is for Ornament

Headpiece on a sermon of 1717: SPEC LGP 425. ESTC T45992.

Printer’s ornaments are small decorative woodcuts or metal cuts used in letterpress printing as fillers on title-pages, and to demarcate the beginning and end of chapters or other sections.

Factotum containing initial T. SPEC LGP 425.

They may be described as head-pieces (at the head or top of the page) or tail-pieces (at the end or foot of the page); larger images may be described as vignettes. Ornaments include the large initials used to mark the opening section of text, and factotums, which form a decorative border into which any letter can be inserted in printing. Fleurons are flowers or other small pieces of ornamental typography.

Fleurons on the half-title of SPEC LGP 425.

Woodcut ornaments in particular show the wear and tear of repeated use, and can be used in dating and localizing publications, although in practice type may have been loaned or sold between printers. A change of ornament can also be used to identify a variant printing. In rare cases where the ledgers of a printing business survive, such as those for the firm of William Bowyer, ornaments provide rich supplementary evidence to identify anonymous printing by comparison with known imprints.

Ornament used to identify a false imprint on The monosyllable If! A satire. SPEC G12A.19. ESTC T170098

Although ornaments are generally decorative and are not used to illustrate a specific accompanying text, they may be pictorial in themselves, and are a charmingly various source for design history.

References

Tailpiece on SPEC LGP 425.