V is for Vellum

Vellum is a type of high quality parchment made from calf skin – parchment being prepared animal skin (usually calf, sheep, or goat) used for writing, printing and binding manuscripts and books. The British Library’s Making Manuscripts site has a short video illustrating vellum.

Vellum and parchment are most familiar as the material used for medieval manuscripts, but books have been printed on parchment from the start of printing in the mid-15th century onwards. SPEC Inc.CSJ.F10, the first printed edition of a classical author (Cicero) was printed on vellum in 1465. SCA also holds several early 16th-century Books of Hours printed on vellum and decorated in just the same way as their manuscript companions. Fragments of parchment repurposed from manuscripts also appear in the collection as bindings, spine labels, endleaves, and page dividers.

SPEC Inc.CSJ.F10 Cicero (Mainz 1465) printed on vellum

Books printed on vellum would be the exception, sometimes specially commissioned, and more highly valued than the larger run of paper copies. A few copies printed on vellum are a common feature of limited editions and particularly of the output of private presses, including the Kelmscott Press

A prime example of a prized book printed on vellum is the 1888 Roxburghe Club edition (SPEC H91.36) which was, appropriately, the first printing of a 15th-century manuscript.

The fine collection of private press books bequeathed by William Noble includes (SPEC Noble A.22.18) one of the 10 copies printed on vellum (out of an edition of 210 copies in all) of the Eragny Press edition of Keats La belle dame sans merci (1896).

SPEC Noble A.22.18. One of 10 copies printed on vellum.

Noble’s bequest also contains many copies printed on ‘Japon (Japanese) vellum’ – not in fact parchment of any kind, but a particularly durable paper prepared to resemble vellum.

‘Limp vellum’ or limp parchment is a term used to describe bindings common in the 16th and 17th centuries, which might be simple undecorated wrappers or ornately decorated, for example the 1595 works of Tacitus at SPEC Y59.T4.2. Later books are also commonly half- or quarter-bound in parchment.

SPEC Y59.T4.2. vellum binding, with tape added to secure by wrapping around the volume.

I is for Incunable

Incunables are books printed with moveable type before 1501. Incunable comes from the Latin incunabula – a fake plural Latin noun derived from in cunabulis (in the swaddling clothes). According to S. H. Steinberg’s Five hundred years of printing, the term incunabula was first used in the context of printing at the celebrations of the second centenary of Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable metal type printing press. A tract printed in Cologne in 1639 described the later fifteenth century – from Gutenberg to 1500 – as ‘prima typographiae incunabula’, the time when typography was in its swaddling clothes.

SPEC Inc CSJ.D12.OS: Pliny, Historia naturale (Venice: Nicolas Jenson, 1476)

Incunables have many features in common with manuscript books of the same period, and even more with the books printed in the first half of the sixteenth century, but owning incunables retains a particular cachet and many libraries have separately catalogued collections of incunables.

The British Library’s Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) is an international database of European fifteenth century printing listing more than 30,500 editions and library catalogues of incunables will often cite the ISTC number.

SPEC Inc CSJ.D14.OS: Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) ISTC is00307000 ; Bod-inc. S-108

Other major online catalogues include Germany’s Bavarian State Library Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Inkunabelkatalog and Oxford’s Bodleian Library Bod-Inc Online. The ongoing Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI) project links ISTC records with details of individual copies to uncover the journeys they have made over the centuries.

Liverpool University Library has more than 250 incunable volumes, thanks chiefly to the fortunate coincidence of a revived interest in the medieval period in the late nineteenth century, when the University of Liverpool was founded with the support of many Liverpool benefactors.

Incunables given to the University of Liverpool by Sir Charles Sydney Jones

Further reading: S. H. Steinberg, Five hundred years of printing first edition 1955, 1996 British Library.

Using Primary Sources: new open access e-textbook launched

Special Collections & Archives has been a key contributor in “Using Primary Sources”, a newly launched Open Access teaching and study resource that combines archival and early printed source materials with high quality peer-reviewed chapters by leading academics.

Edited by Dr Jonathan Hogg, Senior Lecturer in Twentieth Century History at the University of Liverpool, with over 30 academics contributing, this project is a collaboration between Liverpool University Press, the University of Liverpool Library and JISC, and is available for free on the BiblioBoard platform.

Special Collections & Archives has provided images for several chapters across the Medieval, Early Modern and Modern anthologies. Dr Martin Heale’s chapter on Popular Religion features high resolution images from some of SC&A’s illuminated medieval manuscript treasures, including the Dance of Death scene in MS.F.2.14, a French Book of Hours from the late 15th century.  Death is represented as a rotting corpse, followed by a procession of a pope, an emperor and a cardinal. The depiction is intended to have a moral message: a reminder the end is the same for all, regardless of their wealth or status. The accompanying chapter provides the context for the interpretation of such primary sources, so as to better understand attitudes to popular religion during this period.

Dance of Death, Book of Hours (Use of Chalons), LUL MS F.2.14 f82r

Both the Cunard archive and the Rathbone papers feature in Dr Graeme Milne’s chapter on Business History, whilst items from our children’s literature collections have been selected for Dr Chris Pearson’s chapter on the Environment. Some of these items are also used in teaching classes, where students have the opportunity to see and interpret the volumes for themselves.

A. Johnston, Animals of the Countryside, 1941. Oldham 485

Title page of A. White, The instructive picture book, 1866 JUV.550.2

From the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament ephemera collected by Science Fiction author John Brunner to a 14th century English Book of Hours, “Using Primary Sources” is both a valuable showcase for SC&A’s collections, and an important open access resource for students.

The textbook can be accessed via the Library catalogue, or directly from: https://library.biblioboard.com/module/usingprimarysources.

You can read more about the project on the Liverpool University Press website, as well as an interview with editor Dr Jon Hogg.

Follow “Using Primary Sources” on Twitter @LivUniSources to find out when new themes are added to the e-textbook. Forthcoming chapters for launch in 2017 include Science & Medicine, Gender and Political Culture.

Epiphany visitors

The visit of the Magi from LUL MS.F.2.19

The visit of the Magi from LUL MS.F.2.19

Having reached the After of our Advent series ‘Advent and After’, and survived the Twelve Days of Christmas, January 6 brings us to Epiphany and the familiar visitors of the Magi, or Three Kings. They are depicted here in a medieval manuscript with a distinctive series of illuminated pictures, surrounded by exuberant beasts and acrobatic figures. LUL MS.F.2.19 is a mid-15th century Flemish manuscript donated by the wealthy Liverpool shipowner John W. Hughes in 1903.

Today also brings a very welcome and more permanent visitor from the (South-)East, with a deep knowledge of the stars: Jennifer Higham, former Librarian and Archivist of the Royal Astronomical Society in London, who joins the University Library as Special Collections & Archives Manager.


Advent and After: 6. St Nicholas

Saint Nicholas, the 4th century Greek Bishop of Myra is celebrated on December 6th, (his name is picked out in blue in the calendar of this 15th century French Book of Hours, shown in the post for December 1).

In a later section of this manuscript, the suffrages or memorials of the saints, St Nicholas is shown with the three pickled boys from the traditional story associated with his name, and dressed in his bishop’s robes and mitre, holding his episcopal staff. St Nicholas is also associated with the tradition of secret gift-giving, and is therefore the model for the figure of Santa Claus.

The suffrage is a prayer of intercession to the saint, with an antiphon, a versicle and a response, arranged according to a hierarchy beginning with the Trinity and ending with female saints.

St Nicholas depicted in a medieval Book of Hours

St Nicholas depicted in a medieval Book of Hours, LUL MS.F.2.8

The saints included in this section of a Book of Hours will  depend upon the regional and personal preferences of the person who  commissioned the manuscript. In this manuscript, St Nicholas is followed by  Saint Anne, teaching the infant Virgin Mary to read, Mary Magdalene, Saint  Katherine and Saint Barbara.

Advent and after: 1. Advent Sunday


Image of Calendar for December from LUL MS F.2.8
Calendar for December from Book of Hours LUL MS F.2.8















Advent (from the Latin adventus, ‘coming’), is the period of preparation leading up to Christmas. This year the whole of Advent,  including four Advent Sundays, falls within December so our posts this month explore Advent associations in Special Collections & Archives, linked to the Advent calendar on our website: www.liv.ac.uk/library/sca.

The first Sunday in Advent (the nearest Sunday to St  Andrew’s Day, 30 November) is the beginning of the Christian church year.

In the 5th century, Advent began on St Martin’s Day – November 11 – shown in blue in this calendar from a Medieval Book of Hours. The date is not given as the 11th but in a version of the Roman system of Kalens (1st), Nones, and Ides  – so as November 15 (Ides) minus four days.

Calendar from LUL MS F.2.8

Calendar from Book of Hours showing St Martin's Day, 11 November

The Joseph Mayer Book Collection

Joseph Mayer was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire in 1803, he became a jeweller and goldsmith and moved to Liverpool when he was 20 years old.  In the mid 1830s Mayer went into partnership with his brother-in-law, James Wordley, and they set up their business at 62, Lord Street, Liverpool.  As his sister’s family grew he lived briefly in Queen Street, Edge Hill, before moving to Clarence Terrace, Everton Road.

Portrait of Joseph Mayer

Joseph Mayer became a passionate collector of antiquities, drawings, jewellery, metalwork, and books; he travelled abroad for the first time in 1828, picking up many treasures to add to his collections.  As Mayer’s business became very successful in the 1850s, he was able to devote himself more fully to his collection and to the promotion of learning.

His collections consisted of a wide range of different exhibits, ranging from drawings and engravings, jewellery, gems and ivories, to enamels, miniatures and metalwork.  He also founded his own museum located in Colquitt Street, Liverpool in 1852, which included Egyptian and Anglo-Saxon antiquities (including the Faussett Collection of Anglo-Saxon antiquities, The Fejervary Collection of ivories and prehistoric metalwork, The Hertz Collection of gems and W.H. Rolfe’s Collection of Anglo-Saxon antiquities).

Joseph Mayer printed a number of books at his own expense, for example, Anglo Saxon and Old English vocabularies, edited by Thomas Wright (SPEC MAYER 229).  He was deceived into purchasing spurious papyri of the Gospel of Matthew and other scriptures by the impostor Konstantinos Simonides, who encouraged him to publish them, they were known as Codex Mayerianus (SPEC MAYER 360).  He became a founder member of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire in 1848, and was responsible for publishing many of their works, and this led to his involvement with collectors in London, and his subsequent election as Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1850.

Mayer moved to the Wirral in 1850, and briefly lived in Dacre House in Rock Ferry, then moved to Pennant House, Bebington.  He was responsible for bringing gas and water to the village, and he also founded a number of clubs for sports and recreational activities, and rasied funds for a village hospital and horticultural society.  He devoted himself to the volunteer movement and in 1864 became Captain of the Liverpool Borough Guard (4th Cheshire Rifles).

The Mayer/Bebington Free Library

Bebington Free Library bookplate

Joseph Mayer created a Free Library for the villagers of Bebington which originally consisted of many works from his own personal collection; it was founded in 1866 with 20,000 volumes.  He initially established the library in Thomas Francis’s old house which he had bought, however, the demand for these facilities soon outgrew the original library premises.  In 1869, Mayer decided to buy five acres of land and a farmhouse and barn adjoining his own house; he converted and extended the farmhouse into the new Free Library, and the farmland became public parkland.  The library was officially opened in 1870, and was used by all Bebington residents from poor labourers to wealthy business people.

SPEC Mayer 226

Mayer was responsible for the upkeep of both the library and the parkland, however, in 1878 he decided to create the Mayer Trust to manage these duties.  The Trust was originally made up of Mayer himself and four friends, and he chaired the Trust until his death in 1886.  He died unmarried, and his estate was divided between his remaining living relatives and the Mayer Trust.  His bequest to the Trust, however, was insufficient to meet its running costs, and in 1894 the local council took on some of the cost of the Free library.  In 1930 they eventually took over the full running of the library, hall, museum and parkland.  The Free Library became Bebington Public Library, and was transferred to a new building in the civic centre in the 1970s and the remains of Mayer’s original collection were kept in storage.  The original Mayer Library building is now used as offices for Voluntary and Community Action Wirral, and the parkland is ‘Mayer Park’.

Joseph Mayer's signature

Special Collections and Archives at the University of Liverpool were privileged to receive the remaining 371 volumes from Joseph Mayer’s original Free Library from Bebington Public Libraries.  The collection has been fully catalogued and is available for research, alongside the major part of the Mayer manuscript collection, on deposit from National Museums Liverpool.

Open Days open doors

Special Collections & Archives opened its doors to welcome visitors to the University of Liverpool’s recent Open Days with an array of notable books from the collections on view in the reading room. We included the Trianon Press facsimile of William Blake’s watercolours for the poems of Thomas Gray:

Treasures from our Special Collections on show in the Sydney Jones Library: William Blake watercolour #livopenday pic.twitter.com/xrYMgS3aIX

— LiverpoolUniLibrary (@LivUniLibrary) June 22, 2013

and Walter Crane’s Flower Wedding:

Tuesday Library Treasure: Walter Crane’s Flower Wedding pic.twitter.com/KtfVX6nNC8

— LiverpoolUniLibrary (@LivUniLibrary) June 25, 2013

Visitors clearly enjoyed their day – although we did risk turning the Trianon Press facsimile into a literal watercolour!

RT @daisgoodman: the Sydney Jones library at Liverpool uni has the most beautiful collection of old books I want to cry #livopenday

— Uni of Liverpool (@livuni) June 22, 2013

Prospective students had a packed programme, so we designed a set of postcards to give a flavour of Special Collections & Archives to those who might not have time to visit. The images were drawn from the Collection Pathways posters also used to advertise the collections within departments. Shown below are:

The Annunciation scene from a medieval manuscript book of hours: Liverpool University Library MS.F.2.8; the world map from a 1482 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia; the Sankey viaduct from Thomas Bury’s Coloured Views of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway (1831); and the timeline from Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker, as featured recently on BBC Radio 4 (see SC&A’s blog).

Dragons for St George’s Day

Liverpool University Library MS.F.2.8

The earliest dragons from our collections are both found in late fifiteenth-century works.

In the French Book of Hours (Liverpool University Library MS.F.2.8, 135v) illustration above, the sword-wielding saint is not St George but St Michael the Archangel, whose iconography depicts him repelling the dragon Satan from Heaven. The painted picture is one of eleven depicting various saints in the Memorials section of the liturgy.

marginal drawing in SPEC EP.I.C345.1

This scaly dragon has been drawn in the margin of one of the earliest printed books in the collection: the Historia ecclesiastica tripartita (1478) by Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus (SPEC EP.I.C345.1). The volume has copious marginal annotations in a contemporary hand (15th or early 16th century). The dragon illustration is drawn by a passage in the text mentioning dragons.

Topsell's dragon SPEC H49.23

Later printed illustrations of dragons include the Winged Dragon from The history of four-footed beasts and serpents, by Edward Topsell, 1658 (SPEC H49.23), which gives a detailed account of the history and habits of many types of dragon. The wings and scaly body of the Winged type bear a remarkable resemblance to the Cassiodorus dragon. Topsell explains that dragons cannot eat apples, which make them sick, but are that they are fond of wild lettuce and fennel.

The children’s book collections include fine examples of dragons, from the oriental Dragons of Kinabalu (OLDHAM 831) and Pekin (JUV A209.1) to St George’s foe himself, in Heroic Legends by Agnes Grozier Herbertson, with Helen Stratton’s depiction of St George and the vanquished dragon safely captured.


A new Pope – and an old one

The day that Pope Francis I was elected was an appropriate day for Special Collections & Archives to discover that a Liverpool University Library manuscript of the writings of a previous Pope – Gregory I – is actually the oldest book in our collections.

Previously dated to the mid 13th century, LUL MS.F.3.13 contains the text of Gregory I’s De Cura Pastorali in a contemporary medieval binding, and it has now been redated by visiting scholar Erik Kwakkel to the mid 12th century.

Pope Gregory I (also known as Gregory the Great) was widely admired by adherents of both Catholic and Protestant churches (John Calvin declared him ‘the last good Pope’) and is appropriately known as the patron saint of students.


Eric Kwakkel examining Liverpool University Library MS.F.3.13

See more information in news from the University of Liverpool.