World Poetry Day (1): International Women’s Day

This month we are celebrating both International Women’s Day (8th March) and World Poetry Day (21st March). Therefore, we are showcasing material held in the Special Collections and Science Fiction Foundation collections which contains poetry written by women who personally or professionally impacted greatly on their respective field of literature.

Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773)

Poems on Various Subjects was authored by Phillis Wheatley. Phillis was purchased as a slave by John Wheatley, a Boston Merchant and Tailor, in 1761. She was tutored by John’s children in reading and writing, and wrote her first poem ‘To The University of Cambridge, New England’ at the age of 12. She was relieved of her domestic duties by the Wheatley family, and encouraged  to continue working on her literature. An illustration of Wheatley by Scipio Moorhead, another Boston slave, is provided in the frontispiece; the below extract is taken from a poem within the volume written by Wheatley in return. Our copy belonged to one of the William’s of the Rathbone family (by date most likely IV or V), as signed on the title page. 

SPEC Y77.3.255

To S.M. a young African Painter, on seeing his Works (p. 114).
When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live, 
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight?

Radclyffe Hall, Rhymes and Rhythms (1948)

Rhymes and Rhythms was published posthumously in an edition of only 500 numbered copies in Milan. Our copy from the Zania collection is numbered as “5”. The text is provided in both the original language of English as well as Italian. Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943) is best known for her work The Well of Lonliness, which when published in 1928 was subject to a trial for obscenity and banned in Great Britain. A self-described “invert”, she lived with two long-term female partners during her lifetime, hence the dedication page inscription “Dedicated to Our Three Selves”.


Those Who Have Eyes… (p.61)
As I took my way down a certain street,
I saw a shop with a corpse of meat,
And a horse that hadn’t enough to eat,
And a cur that limped on neglected feet,
And a cat that rubbed its sores on a wall,
And a lobster that crawled about a stall,
And an organ monkey coughing and small.
But the sight that filled me with deepest rage, 
Was a nightingale in a six inch cage.

Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay (and various others), Five Finger Piglets: Poems (1999)

Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay contributed to this anthology for children, Five Finger Piglets: Poems. Duffy was appointed poet laureate in 2009, and she is the first woman, first Scot, and first openly LGBT person to hold the position; Kay is the third Scottish Poet Laureate, appointed in 2016, and also identifies as LGBT. Our copy of the anthology is held in the SPEC Patten series, as Brian Patten also contributed to this volume. The poetry is understandably centered upon many themes that would be familiar to children (such as friendship disputes at school and losing a ball in the neighbours garden), but, nonetheless, the volume is a excellently fun read for adults, too.

SPEC Patten 108 © 1999 Macmillan Children’s Books, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay

Excerpt from Dracula (p. 36-7), by and © Jackie Kay
I crawled along the pine floor to my father’s bed.
It was empty. Just a white pillow and a headrest.
My dad gave a large guffaw from the balcony. 

Took off his black cape; threw back his head, 
said, ‘Got you there didn’t I?
Okay. The Joke’s over. Back to your bed.’

Can you believe that? All I am asking is:
who needs imagination, a fear or a dread, 
when what we’ve got is parent’s instead?

Charlotte Brooke, Reliques of Irish Poetry (1816)

Reliques of Irish Poetry was first published in the late eighteenth century. Brooke (c. 1740–1793) was passionate in the preservation of Irish culture and heritage through translating traditional poetry. Our beautiful gilt-tooled calf-bound copy of the 1816 reissue includes an extensive biography of Brooke’s life, as well as poetry and prose in both English and Irish. The text contains poetry of varied types, including quasi-epic style heroics, elegies to loves lost, and odes to wars.

SPEC Y81.3.426

Elergy III, exerpt (p. 260, attributed by Brooke to Edmond Ryan)
For thee all dangers would I brave,
Life with joy, with pride exposing, 
Breast for thee the stormy wave,
Winds and tides in vain opposing.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination (2004)

As one of the most influential female Science Fiction authors of all time, Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) is best known for her fiction, including The Left Hand of Darkness (1969; which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1970). However, in her 2004 collection of non-fiction essays The Wave in the Mind, she explores themes including the family, on being a woman, Tolkein, and writing. One particular interesting essay is her thoughts on stress rhythms in poetry and prose; she demonstrates, using various texts, the technique and necessity of reading with stress and rhythm in mind.

PX320.L34.W38 2004 © Ursula K. Le Guin

The observation of a pattern, even a arbitrary pattern, can give strength to words that otherwise would be bleating like lost lambs. (p. 78)

All the above can be consulted in the reading room. As usual, please do contact for more information.

2017 retrospect

2017 was another busy year in Special Collections and Archives. To celebrate Burns Night, we have curated some of the highlights: collections that were conserved, catalogued, acquired, and the people whom we have been thrilled to meet and work alongside this past year.

February – Peers Symposium attendees

  • March – always a busy month for teaching classes, including the popular Children’s Literature module (see below photo). We also welcomed several visitors with special links to our collections, including a relation of Grace Wilson, the long term partner and wife of John Wyndham.

    March – Dr Esme Miskimmin leading a seminar using SC&A material for ENGL573 Children’s Literature module. ®McCoy_Wynne

  • April – Cunard archivist Siân Wilks worked hard to ensure that the catalogues for the Chairman’s papers (an excellent resource for business and maritime history) are available online; we hosted a meeting of members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association; our reading room reference collection overhaul was completed, undertaken by our former Assistant Librarian Lucy Evans and Archives Cataloguer Josette Reeves; and Special Collections and Archives Manager Jenny Higham delivered the session ‘Using Primary Sources’ for the Researcher KnowHow programme.
  • May –  filming took place in the archive for the UKTV Yesterday channel documentary series “Nazi Victory: The Post War Plan“, using University Archive material to explore the university life of a German student who was suspected of being a spy during WWII; we also installed a new exhibition: ‘Thomas Rickman (1776-1841) Architect and Antiquary’. The exhibition was curated by University of Liverpool academic Dr Alex Buchanan as part of a larger AHRC funded project. On Light Night, our Science Fiction Librarian Andy Sawyer interviewed John Higgins on stage at the Victoria Gallery & Museum to coincide with the Beyond Dredd and Watchmen: The Art of John Higgins.

    May – Thomas Rickman Exhibition

    May – John Higgins (L) and Andy Sawyer (R) chatting about John Higgin’s work

  • June – the first undergraduate open day of the year, at which staff were thrilled to speak to so many prospective students; and a large amount of Science Fiction material was transported to the Barbican Centre in London for their Into the Unknown exhibition (Science Fiction was certainly well travelled throughout the year in general).
  • July – many boxes from the Liverpool Poets archive were transported to London for the Southbank Centre exhibition The Mersey Sound at 50our reading room was refreshed through the acquisition of a new microfilm system, new specialist book rests, and new professional photographs were hung on the walls, giving a behind-the-scenes look at our collections and activities.

    July – a photograph of some of the beautiful spines and tooling work in our collections! ®McCoy_Wynne

  • August – we showed off our feline collections and friends for International Cat Day. Thankfully, all the pet cats featured in the blog post are dealing with their new found fame in a very grounded manner. Our University Archivist, Jo Klett, also completed a data cleanse of records to prepare for the launch of a new archives catalogue in the future.

    August – International Cat Day featured Oldham 173, The Tale of Tom Kitten

  • September – aside from greeting students both returning and new for the start of the 2017-18 session, we welcomed our new Graduate Library Assistant Michaela Garland to the team, bade farewell to Beth Williams for the Master of Archives and Records Management course, and former Graduate Library Assistant Robyn Orr took up the new post of Library Assistant, with responsibility for the day-to-day reading room service. The Unsettling Scientific Stories researchers visited us to consult the Science Fiction archive; and we also opened a new exhibition, Roscoe’s University: Liverpool Royal Institution 1817 – 2017, to celebrate the bicentenary of the Liverpool Royal Institution.

    September – Roscoe’s University: Liverpool Royal Institution 1817-2017 exhibition

  • October – we fittingly marked the 50th anniversary of the last voyage of the Queen Mary by showing on our blog the exciting new accessions donated that month; we hosted our Library colleagues to view our some of our new acquisitions in a Staff Open Afternoon; more enthusiastic prospective undergraduates visited us on the second open day of the year; SC&A staff took part choosing our favourite books for the Libraries Week fun on the Library Instagram; and these events were a final hurrah for our Assistant Librarian Lucy Evans, who left us to join the British Library as Curator of Printed Heritage Collections. She leaves a great legacy in many research-enabling catalogue records and on social media, including her work with the ERC funded TIDE project.

    October – D1169/1/2, The Queen Mary puzzle

  • November – we kicked off this month with a bang through a blog post on bonfire night; we also welcomed Niamh Delaney to the team as the Assistant Librarian, who has been very busy cataloguing our Special Collections material and keeping up SCA’s profile on social media since her arrival; we were also pleased to welcome visitor Christopher Graham, Vice President of the Council of the University of Liverpool, to view material from his time as President of the Guild; further, after the event The Bicentenary of Liverpool Royal Institution: A Celebration, we hosted attendees to view our Liverpool Royal Institution exhibition.

    November – Attendees of the Bicentenary event viewing the Liverpool Royal Institution material in our exhibition area.

    November – an eager attendee viewing the Liverpool Royal Institution exhibition.

  • December – and finally, our festive season and winter themed material took centre stage on both the University Library twitter (#livunisca) and a board displayed at the entrance of the Sydney Jones Library; we launched our SC&A merchandise (available to purchase at our reception during opening hours); and our collections reached dizzying heights to celebrate International Mountains Day 2017.

    December – The merchandise table located in the SC&A reception area – available to purchase Monday to Friday, 9:30am – 4:45pm.

    December – SC&A Merchandise, including notebooks, pencils, erasers, magnets, bookmarks, and more!

December – one of our lovely Special Collections items (reference JUV.530) found on the #livunisca twitter advent

We wish our readers and visitors a happy new year and we look forward to welcoming  old and new faces in 2018. To arrange an appointment, please do email us on and our staff will be happy to assist.

New Accessions: Children’s Literature

In our final blog post sharing the bumper crop of new accessions to SC&A over the summer we turn our attention to three additions to the children’s literature collections.

SPEC 2017.a.011

The first is an 1800 copy of Robinson Crusoe, bearing a woodcut frontispiece plate. This copy is printed in Liverpool, and is one of only 7 copies recorded on the ESTC in the British Isles. The item has a contemporary calf binding and is signed in ink on the upper inside board “Alex:r Patton Junr. Sundragen Dec.b 30th 1807”, it also bears the bookmark of William Kidd of Armagh.

The second item is an 1847 copy of “An alphabet of emblems“, with the publisher issued red buckram binding with gilt tooling.

SPEC 2017.a.016

This rather pious set of poems was designed to improve the moral fibre of the juvenile reader via poetry with biblical themes. The devout tone is somewhat improved, for the modern reader, by the images throughout (see below). This work, written by the Church of England clergyman Thomas Boyles Murray, has only four reported copies according to COPAC.

The final item in this round up of new children’s literature is “The little grammarian“, an 1828 book printed by that well known children’s book publisher John Harris.

SPEC 2017.a.021

Another effort from a clergyman (where did they find the time?!), this beautifully illustrated effort by William Fletcher introduces a young audience to the basics of English grammar.

All of these items are now available for consultation in SC&A, you can check our new website for information on how to make an appointment.

New Accessions: Verse

SC&A was recently able to acquire some 22 items printed or published in Liverpool during the late eighteen or early nineteenth centuries, to add to its already extensive collections of local history, literature and publishing. Several items were displayed in Manuscripts and More on 17 August. Among the rest of the recent acquisitions are several in verse. 150 years before The Mersey Sound, Liverpool already had a busy community of poets such as Sarah Medley, whose book of Original poems: sacred and miscellaneous (1807; SPEC 2017.a.019) was printed here by James Smith; Robert Merdant, author of Country people; or, Pastoral poetry (1810), printed locally by Thomas Kaye (1810; SPEC 2017.a.008), and T. G. Lace, whose Ode on the present state of Europe was printed by M. Galway & Co in 1811, during the Napoleonic wars (SPEC 2016.PF1.14).

The vision for coquettes. An Arabian tale (SPEC 2017.c.006) a poem of unknown authorship, was printed by John M’Creery in 1804 and sold by, among others, the well-known Liverpool poet, abolitionist and bookseller Edward Rushton from his shop in Paradise Street.

An extract from The vision of coquettes

Several of the new items feature William Roscoe (1753-1851), the most prominent member of Liverpool’s intellectual community at this date and its most prolific author. These new items include several political pamphlets and one of his scientific works, A new arrangement of the plants of the monandrian class usually called scitamineae, published in London during Roscoe’s brief career as MP for Liverpool (1807; SPEC 2017.c.008).

SC&A also now hold one of the few copies in the UK of his anti-slavery campaign poem, The wrongs of Africa (in two parts: London 1787-8; SPEC 2017.b.011). Roscoe’s writing career had started with an Ode, printed in a few copies in 1774, which was then added to a meditative verse account of the area he was brought up in: Mount Pleasant: A descriptive poem which was printed at Warrington in 1777 (SPEC G11A(32.5)). The wrongs of Africa was his next poem, and marked a complete change of direction, inaugurating as it did the work of a circle of abolitionist poets living and working in Liverpool. These included Rushton, whose West-Indian eclogues appeared later in 1787 (in London); the Irish émigré engraver Hugh Mulligan, author of Poems chiefly on slavery and oppression (London, 1788), Peter Newby’s The wrongs of Almoona (printed by H. Hodgson in Liverpool, 1788), and Thomas Hall’s Achmet to Selim, or, The dying negro (printed in Liverpool by M’Creery in 1792). Part one of Roscoe’s poem was published in May 1787 and part two in February 1788; it was republished in Philadelphia later that year. More copies of the Liverpool printing survive in America than do in Britain; ours is one of eight copies known in UK libraries. It was formerly in Worcester Public Library.

Roscoe’s poem was published in an era when writing by slaves was, for obvious reasons, hardly known at all. Letters of the late Ignatius Sancho, an African, had appeared in 1782, and The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, one of the earliest formal autobiographies by a former slave, came out in 1789. Meanwhile abolition-minded writers in Liverpool and Bristol supplied the deficiency through the medium of poetic scenes and narratives in which slaves, normally denied a voice, were imagined to state their feelings to a sympathetic readership. The point was to engage public feeling by focusing on realities of life on the plantations and the suffering of the enslaved Africans. Roscoe complemented his verse tale with a soberly-argued prose account, A general view of the African slave-trade, demonstrating its injustice and impolicy: with hints towards a bill for its abolition (1788).

The poem is more psychological and emotive than economic or political in focus. According to the ‘Advertisement’ to the Part Two, it was originally planned in three parts, to focus sequentially on Africa, the passage to America, and the colonies, but only two parts were completed. Part One asks readers to transform the ‘sensibility’ they bring to the reading of sentimental fiction to active human sympathy in a pressingly real situation. It also addresses slave masters and the captains of slaving ships and a local ‘veteran trafficker’, in an attempt to provoke examination of the strange and twisted psychology involved in the enslavement of other human beings. It takes readers on an imaginary journey to Angola, portrays the peaceful life of the inhabitants before traders arrive, and blames the traders for corrupting local customs and covering the continent with fear. An inset story of two brothers, Arebo and Corymbo, caught up in a devastating raid, gives the narrative direct human appeal. Part Two imagines the passage to America from the perspective of the captured Africans. A planned revolt is bloodily thwarted. Its leader, Cymbello, an African prince educated in political principles similar to Roscoe’s own, and partly formed on the model of Aphra Behn’s seventeenth-century ‘royal slave’ Oroonoko, dies courageously with his lover in the carnage.  The last pages of the poem are devoted to a wide-ranging history of the concept of Freedom and a final address from Freedom herself, prophesying her final victory over the tyrants and enslavers of Europe and the world.

A year after Part Two was published, the French Revolution appeared to begin to dismantle the institutions of oppression (as they were perceived by Roscoe and his political allies). It would be another twenty years before the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act finally passed the House of Commons, and decades more before the practice itself was outlawed; but poems like Roscoe’s were an important initial element in the campaign, defiantly continued by Roscoe and his colleagues in Liverpool, Bristol and London, to bring the atrocities of the trade to public view and to stimulate human sympathy for an otherwise largely voiceless and invisible mass of people. It is fitting that this rare printed item should return to the place where it was written.

A guest blog post written by Paul Baines from the Department of English.

Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day this year, we’re highlighting five love-themed items in Special Collections & Archives…

John Wyndham’s poems for Grace Wilson

Science-fiction author John Wyndham is best known for his novels, including The Day of the Triffids (1951) and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), but he also dabbled in poetry. His archive features several verses, most of which he wrote for Grace Wilson. They married in 1963, though they had been partners for around 30 years by the time they tied the knot.

Wyndham 8/4/1: 1944 Valentine from Wyndham to Grace Wilson

Wyndham 8/4/1: 1944 Valentine from Wyndham to Grace Wilson

Wyndham 8/6/2: 1962 Valentine from Wyndham to Grace Wilson

Wyndham 8/6/2: 1962 Valentine from Wyndham to Grace Wilson


Love Letter from George James Boswell to Hannah Chason

Percy Boswell was Professor of Geology at the University of Liverpool, 1917-1930, and his archive collection mostly consists of his academic and professional papers, such as essays, notes and correspondence. However, this letter, from Boswell’s great-grandfather George James Boswell, has also survived. It is addressed to Hannah Chason and is an ardent expression of Boswell’s love. He describes how his sincere friendship has ‘ripened into an affection of a more tender nature,’ and reassures her of his ‘perfectly honourable’ intentions, before proposing marriage. And marry they did, in 1855.

D4/2/2 Love letter from George James Boswell to Hannah Chason

D4/2/2 Love letter from George James Boswell to Hannah Chason


The Quiver of Love: A Collection of Valentines Ancient and Modern

Published in 1876, The Quiver of Love comprises verses from the likes of Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Sir Philip Sidney, along with a host of others, collected together in a volume which could be given as a gift, ‘either as a token of esteem, or as an indication of deeper regard.’ It also includes beautiful colour illustrations by artists Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway.

JUV.569:9 The Quiver of Love

JUV.509:9 The Quiver of Love


Happy Homes and How to Make Them (or Counsels on Love, Courtship, and Marriage)

This volume by J. W. Kirton, published in the 1870s, is packed full of advice in areas such as ‘Courting and Popping the Question,’ ‘The Mutual Duties of Married Life’ and ‘The Public-House the Rival of Home.’ To young men seeking a wife, the author urges them to ‘select the daughter of a good mother,’ ‘see that she is of domestic habits’ and ‘seek one that knows the worth of money,’ but warns them to ‘never trifle with any young woman’s affections, for it is cruel and wicked in the extreme.’ Women are advised to choose a mate who is respectable, careful, honest and healthy and, once married, to dress neatly but not extravagantly, learn to submit, and not talk about their husbands’ failings abroad (‘for if you have married a fool, it is not wisdom to go and tell every one that you have done so’).

JUV.414:2 Frontispiece of Happy Homes, and How to Make Them

JUV.414:2 Frontispiece of Happy Homes, and How to Make Them


Emblems of Love, in four languages

Emblem books, which first emerged in Europe in the 16th century, comprised symbolic pictures accompanied by mottoes, verses or prose. This volume, by poet and translator Philip J. Ayres, features beautiful engravings alongside verses in Latin, English, Italian and French; it is thought to date from the late 17th-early 18th century.

H35.26 Emblems of Love

SPEC H35.26 Emblems of Love

New Exhibition: Local Literary Landscapes

This year sees the exciting launch of the inaugural Liverpool Literary Festival, running 2830 October 2016. To celebrate, a new exhibition at Special Collections & Archives is highlighting the work of those literary figures who have sought inspiration from Liverpool and the surrounding area, particularly local poet Matt Simpson. His newly-acquired archive provides the bedrock for the exhibition and reveals just how much his work was influenced by Liverpool; his verses are full of the city and its people.

Matt Simpson returns to his childhood street

Matt Simpson returns to his childhood street

Simpson (1936-2009) grew up in Bulwer Street, Bootle, where he attended the local grammar school.  He went on to study English at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and returned to Liverpool in the 1960s after his marriage to German actress Monika Weydert. He taught in various schools and colleges, including Christ’s College (now Liverpool Hope University). He published many collections of poetry, including some for children, as well as critical essays and monographs. He also undertook a poetry residence in Tasmania, which inspired his collection, Cutting the Clouds Towards (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1998). But it was the city where he grew up and lived most of his life which would be his most enduring inspiration.

SPEC Merseyside Poets I.S615.M23 : Matt Simpson, Making Arrangements (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1982)

SPEC Merseyside Poets I.S615.M23 :
Matt Simpson, Making Arrangements (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1982)

The exhibition also includes impressions of the city recorded in the poems, autobiographies and travel diaries of a host of others, from novelist Daniel Defoe to physicist Oliver Lodge, social reformer Josephine Butler to poet Donald Davie.

The exhibition will run until the end of the year. In 2017 we’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mersey Sound, the anthology of poems produced by the ‘Liverpool Poets’ Brian Patten, Roger McGough and Adrian Henri.

Pilots in the Port of Liverpool

We were very pleased to acquire and catalogue four pamphlets on pilots in the Port of Liverpool, a timely acquisition given the Maritime Museum’s current exhibition In Safe Hands: The story of the Liverpool Pilots.

An Act for the better regulation and encouragement of pilots for the conducting of ships and vessels in and out of the port of Liverpool.

An Act for the better regulation and encouragement of pilots for the conducting of ships and vessels in and out of the Port of Liverpool.


The exhibition celebrates 250 years of the Liverpool Pilotage Service and these pamphlets, thought to have been printed in Liverpool, detail the Act which sought to improve piloting in the Port of Liverpool. These four 18th century items were unrecorded by the English Short Title Catalogue and so are an exciting and rare acquisition for the Library.

"A petition signed by sixty-five licensed pilots, praying that, for reasons therein assigned, they might be permitted to form a joint stock of their earnings ..."

“A petition, signed by sixty-five licensed pilots, praying that, for reasons therein assigned, they might be permitted to form a joint stock of their earnings …”

The items also detail the local rules developed specifically for the port of Liverpool and the reaction of the pilots to the new legislation. The exhibition will be at the Maritime Museum until 4th June 2017 and these items are available for consultation in the reading room here at SCA.

Not those kind of aliens, although we have plenty of those in the SCA collections!

Not those kind of aliens, although we have plenty of those in the science fiction collections here at SCA!

Baking in the Archives: puds, pies and towers of sugar

We’re celebrating the welcome return of the Great British Bake Off by showcasing some of the lesser-known, baking-themed items from our collections!

SC&A houses thousands of children’s books, including a few featuring cakes, pies and puddings, such as this gem of a picture book: A Apple Pie (1886), by highly influential  illustrator Kate Greenaway.

The first spread from Kate Greenaway's A Apple Pie

The first spread from Kate Greenaway’s A Apple Pie

Her amazing artistic abilities complement this tale of various children trying to get their hands on a tasty apple pie, with each letter corresponding to a different activity, for example:

Oldham 791 A Apple Pie (F and M)

Beatrix Potter’s The Roly-Poly Pudding (1908) recounts the (rather terrifying) tale of a mischievous kitten who attempts to hide from his mother and ends up in the chimney. Here he bumps into some nefarious rats who roll him up into a pudding. Thankfully he’s saved before things take an even darker turn.

JUV.188.10 The Roly-Poly Pudding

Our collection of children’s books also contains guides for the aspiring cook and baker. The Little Girl’s Cooking Book (1923) exhorts grown-ups to ‘Let the Little Girl try her hand at Cooking, if she wants to do so. Knowledge gained in this direction will be of practical worth to her throughout her life, no matter what her calling or position.’ It’s full of useful information, such as how to lay the table, clear away the breakfast things (‘Do everything with as little noise as possible!’) and make lunch for mother. It also contains numerous recipes, including those shown here, deemed suitable for when friends come round for a birthday tea.

Oldham 495 Little Girl's Cooking Book (Lemon Dream Cake)

Oldham 495 Little Girl's Cooking Book (Cocoanut Buns and Chocolate Cakes)

The Liverpool School of Cookery Recipe Book (1911) compiled by E. E. Mann covers everything from broiling to larding and is packed with recipes, including this intriguingly-named offering.

JUV.1401.1.2 Liverpool School of Cookery Recipe Book

It’s just not cakes the Great British Bake-offers have to create, of course, but savoury pies too. Recipes for a multitude of sweet and savoury dishes can be found in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1755). Gibblet pie anyone?

Art of CookeryFrom the amateur, aspiring cooks and bakers, to the professionals. The following are just a few examples of the spectacular sugar work created by chefs aboard Cunard liners in the 1950s.

Cunard sugar work: the leaning tower of Pisa and a BBC camera!

Cunard sugar work: the leaning tower of Pisa and a BBC camera!




Are they sitting comfortably? Putting books on display

Special Collections & Archives was a contributor to the recent Knowledge is Power exhibition at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, lending several items from its collections.  Focusing on the development of two of Liverpool’s oldest surviving cultural institutions, the Athenaeum Club and the Liverpool Medical Institution, the exhibition showed how libraries shaped elite culture in the Liverpool, but also how the power of books was opened up to the wider population in the reforming decades of the early Victorian era.  The exhibition items loaned from Special Collections & Archives, chosen to reflect the long history of libraries in Liverpool, included a view of the Lyceum building (1 Bold St) painted onto the fore-edges of a printed catalogue.

A room from the Knowledge is Power Exhibition in the VG&M

A room from the Knowledge is Power Exhibition in the VG&M

What are the main factors which need to be considered when preparing books for display in an exhibition such as this?  Before any loan is agreed, the institution making the request must be able to guarantee appropriate environmental conditions and security.  The relevance of the item for the narrative context of the exhibition is also important.  How will it be displayed?  What is the opening required in the book? Will text, illustrations or bindings need to be shown?  Special Perspex cradles are constructed for each item based on the specific opening required; large, heavy books will need a cradle with a thick lower edge to prevent the text block moving; in the example of the Lyceum catalogue mentioned above, the mount needed to display the book at such an angle and with just the correct amount of light to allow the viewer to see the fore-edge painting without exposing it to damage.

Of course, there would be no question of considering mounts and cradles if the basic condition of an item meant it was too fragile to display at all, and perhaps the major factor influencing exhibition loans is the physical condition of the item itself.  At a basic level, the physical state of a document is influenced by the manner of its production and this, along with knowledge about the impact of environmental factors upon materials, informs how we look after collections and make them accessible.  Special Collections & Archives contains many different types of material: medieval and modern manuscripts; early and finely printed books; modern printed collections including newspapers, posters, photographs and ephemera; audio-visual and digital media.  These all present different preservation challenges.

It can be easy to assume that the older an item, the more at risk it is, but there are some important factors influencing physical condition which are not necessarily related to the age of the item. The technology of printing, binding and paper making remained more or less the same from the beginning of printing in the mid-15th century right up until the early 19th century.  Letters were set by a compositor, inked and pushed against a sheet of paper by a hand press machine operated usually by two men, one to apply the ink and one to operate the levers.  Paper was made of pounded linen rags, mixed with water and sieved, and then stabilised with animal gelatine. Books tended to be sold unbound, and though some remained in paper covers, if money allowed leather bindings were created and the text block was hand sewn with cords well secured to the boards.  These processes, though laborious, used natural materials which stayed strong.  However, in the 19th century the growth of a mass market and the concomitant increase in mechanisation meant linen rags couldn’t meet the demand.  It was replaced by wood pulp (which is chemically and mechanically weaker) and binding also became cheaper and more mechanised.  The effect of these changes can be easily seen when a flaky 19th century newspaper, discoloured by acidification, is compared with the thickness of laid (chain-lined) paper in a 16th century church Bible.

Examples of perspex book rests made for displays.

Examples of Perspex cradles made for displays.

It stands to reason that books couldn’t be exhibited at all if they weren’t cared for properly on a day to day basis.  To preserve material, we need to understand its physical composition.  In Special Collections & Archives our holdings date from the 1st century BC to the present day and include papyri, parchment (prepared animal skin), vellum (specifically calf skin- from the French veau), photographs, and audio-visual material and digital files.  Even in one single printed book there will be different types of paper, glue, ink and binding materials, which will decay at different rates. The chemical stability of parchment and vellum is good, but is very susceptible to the impact of moisture in the atmosphere, and as humidity fluctuates the material will crinkle (known as cockling).

Environmental guidelines are set down in Public Document 5454 – A guide for the storage and exhibition of archival materials. Light is of course the main cause of damage, explaining the low levels of light in exhibitions. Coupled with humidity and temperature, the stability and level of these environmental factors are key considerations the borrowing institution must agree to maintain. Light damage is cumulative and irreversible – cellulose weakens, paper bleaches and darkens, and ink in type and illustrations will fade. UV light is the most damaging, so it is important that no natural light enters storage areas and artificial light is only turned on when needed.  Protection can also be provided via storage in archival quality boxes. Items on long term loan in exhibitions will have the pages turned regularly.

Temperature and humidity are mutually dependent – a high humidity level will hasten chemical reactions and mould growth, whereas a low level dries out paper and parchment, making it brittle.  Fluctuations are the most dangerous as materials will expand and contract as they absorb and release moisture – as well as cockled paper, the finish on photographs may crack.  Photographic media benefits from very cold conditions and benefits from specialist storage, such as that available in the North West Film Archive. The ideal for a mixed media store is that conditions are controlled to achieve a temperature between 13 and 16 degrees Celsius and a Relative Humidity between 45 and 60%.

All this ongoing activity must be complemented by correct handling procedures.  Although white gloves often seem to function as media shorthand for precious material, their use is not general recommended by conservators, archivists and librarians. As there is a higher chance of gloves being dirtier and affording a less sensitive touch than clean, bare hands, their use is more liable to cause damage.  Archival quality plastic gloves are recommended for handling photographs.  Opening books without special supports strains spines, hence the use of book cushions, snakes and weights.  Familiarity with handling guidelines and use of such supports are an intrinsic part of using any special collections and archives reading room.  Rules forbidding use of pens and wearing of coats are not solely based around security – ink can easily be inadvertently transferred and coats bring moisture and dirt into what needs to be a controlled environment.

What is the difference between preservation and conservation? Preservation covers the type of environmental issues we’ve considered and is perhaps best seen as an ongoing management process.  Conservation is generally taken to mean a specific treatment involving intervention, which may be required in order to make an item suitable for display. Modern conservation ethics mean the historical integrity of the item is respected and professional conservators will understand both the history of an item, its production, physical characteristics and the scientific qualities of the materials it is composed of. Conservation work can include surface cleaning of pages, de-acidification, removal of old repairs, sewing, mending tears using Japanese papers, re-backing, rebinding and box making.  Conservation is not about trying to restore something to a perceived original state, or trying to make it look nice – it is primarily undertaken to ensure the unique history and provenance of an item is preserved for research and for posterity.

This blog post is based on a talk given by Jenny Higham, Special Collections & Archives Manager, at the Victoria Gallery & Museum in March 2016, as part of the associated programme of events accompanying the “Knowledge is Power” exhibition.

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is Power exhibition at the Victoria Gallery & Museum

The current exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery & Museum – Knowledge is Power -reflects on the Liverpool Athenaeum and Liverpool Medical Library (now Liverpool Medical Institution) as Liverpool’s oldest surviving cultural institutions. Items loaned from Special Collections & Archives, chosen to reflect the long history of libraries in Liverpool, include a view of the Lyceum building (1 Bold St) painted onto the fore-edges of a printed catalogue. A portrait of William Roscoe presides over the exhibition, watching benignly over important books and manuscripts from his own collection.

Knowledge is Power exhibition at the VGM

Knowledge is Power exhibition at the Victoria Gallery & Museum