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.


Tailpiece on SPEC LGP 425.

A is for Alphabet

Early printed books – from the start of printing in the fifteenth century up to the early nineteenth century – were produced very differently from modern, machine-printed books. They were printed by hand on large sheets of paper, with several pages on each side, as shown by this sermon preached to the House of Commons in 1707.

Unfolded sheet of printing: SPEC LGP 167 1st copy

The sheets were folded into gatherings – quires – and sewn together by the binder to make the book ready for binding, as in our second copy of the same sermon in the form of a stitched pamphlet.

SPEC LGP 167 2nd copy showing stitching








Before being folded into quires, as the individual sheets were being printed, the first page on each sheet was marked (‘signed’) with a letter of the alphabet. That way, when the quires came to be sewn together to make up the full book, the binder had a guide to help him retain the correct order – putting quire A, before B and so on.

A register of all the letters used by the printers was often included, as shown in an edition of Euclid printed in Paris in 1516.  Only 23 letters were used – leaving out I or J, U or V, and W. This printer’s alphabet – like many aspects of the earliest printed books – used the system developed by manuscript scribes, in this case to avoid confusion between similar looking letterforms in the Latin alphabet.

Remember, remember, the 5th of November: Guy Fawkes and gunpowder in the collections, from 1679 to 1990

This weekend sees the British tradition of Bonfire Night (or, Guy Fawkes Night) taking place across the country, marking 407 years since the plot to destroy Parliament and assassinate James I was foiled. Although the plot was concocted by 13 members, the name synonymous with the event is Guy Fawkes (or Guido Fawkes); most likely as he was the individual discovered by authorities guarding the gunpowder. The event holds much traditional cultural interest to this day – for instance, The Houses of Parliament are still ceremoniously searched by the Yeomen of the Guard for before the State Opening. To celebrate, we have selected some of the best BANGing works from the collections here at Liverpool University relating to Fawkes and Fireworks.

The Gunpowder-treason … its discovery; and … the proceedings against those horrid conspirators… (1679)

Parliament declared the 5th of November as a day of commemoration and thanksgiving (this was enforced until 1859). For many years to come pamphlets were published on the anniversary date of the event, to remind readers of the consequences of disloyalty to the king and parliament. This pamphlet (SPEC Knowsley 118), published in 1679, printed the confessions of the conspirators and the speech of James I.

The art of making fireworks… (c. 1810)

Although bonfires were a common sight, fireworks were not a popular mode of celebration on the 5th of November until the 1650s onward. This locally printed pamphlet (SPEC G35.14(3)) from the early nineteenth century demonstrated how to make fireworks using gun powder and various other household objects with detailed instructions and colour diagrams (a health and safety nightmare by modern standards).

Guy Fawkes; or, The fifth of November (c. 1840)

This small Protestant chapbook (SPEC Oldham 157(17)) produced in the mid nineteenth century was aimed at retelling the story of Guy Fawkes for children. Chapbooks became a popular method to disseminate tales with a moral meaning to children. The main characters in this particular publication build a guy for a bonfire, and the narrator uses the opportunity to provide a religiously-driven message – the conspirators of 5th of November are presented as Catholic sinners, who acted against the authority of the King.

V for Vendetta (1990)

Skipping forward around 150 years: although still synonymous with celebration, fireworks displays, and bonfires, the anti-establishment sentiments of the 5th of November hold much cultural weight in modern literature and media. V for Vendetta is a DC Comics series by Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd (also developed into a 2006 movie). The series follows V, an Guy Fawkes mask wearing anarchist, who rebels against the dystopian United Kingdom setting of the fascist dictatorship Norsefire. In the Science Fiction Foundation Collections held here, we have a 1990 copy, the first edition printed in the U.K. (PN6737.M66.V46 1990).

As usual, the items featured in this post are available to consult in the reading room here at Special Collections and Archives. Please email scastaff@liverpool.ac.uk for more information. However, our reading room is silent study; please leave all fireworks at home.

This Week’s War: 138


“The delegates are of the opinion that the British are to-day treating their prisoners as if they were to be their friends in the more or less near future. The care lavished upon their welfare… conforms with the principles of humanity and civilisation and does honour to the British race.”

Reports on British Prison-Camps in India and Burma, visited by the International Red Cross Committee in February, March, and April 1917 (London: T. Fisher Unwin Ltd, 1917), p. 17 [SPEC S/D525 (P.C. 205)].

This week’s war: 83


I really don’t know what is to happen if things don’t improve. We shall have a famine I’m afraid. Already there are no coal, no meat, no sugar, no soap, no butter, no potatoes, no eggs, except at absolutely prohibitive prices, often not even at these. I live on bread and jam and tobacco, which last article curiously enough has not risen in price.

From Brussels, 21st January, 1916. Letter intercepted from Belgium, reported in Daily Extracts from the Foreign Press. Tuesday, 29th February, 1916 [POV X 44.11.8(25)]. This week’s war: 83.

This week’s war: 80


Britain’s domination at sea is still not absolute enough to be able to prevent poaching raids by German torpedo-boats in the North Sea under the smoke of the British Fleet. Is the supposition too venturesome that the British Navy has been much too busy lately with the holding up of neutral mails to be able to occupy itself with the war fleet of the enemy?

10th February 1916. Remarks from Dutch newspaper Vaderland, reported in Daily Extracts from the Foreign Press. Thursday, 10th February, 1916 [POV X 44.11.8(9)]. This week’s war: 80.

This week’s war: 75


Our assertion that we are fighting for the freedom of a little State will appear tragic-comic in the light of history. […] History will acknowledge that might was on the side of the Allies, and that the consciousness of fighting against heavy odds belonged to Germany.

4th January 1916. Labour MP R D Denman, writing in pamphlet ‘Manchester and London’, published by the National Labour Press. In Daily Extracts from the Foreign Press. Tuesday, 4th January, 1916 [POV X 44.11.7(3)]. This week’s war: 75.

This week’s war: 70.


Not one of our enemies has laid down his arms. Not one is discouraged, no one doubts the final victory, and they are all determined to make every effort to obtain it. It will, therefore, be a war of exhaustion of which no human eye can see the end. All Germans must be made to understand this.

1st December 1915. Extract from Le Petit Parisien, 28th November 1915,quoting Maximilian Harden’s war commentary printed in the German publication Zukunft. In Daily Extracts from the Foreign Press [POV X 44.11.6(1)]. This week’s war: 70.

This week’s war: 61


How has the German nation borne itself during these first fourteen months of war? … The measures of the Government have been constantly met by evasion and subterfuge of every description…. Pervading the industrial classes and represented by all the popular newspapers, there is the bitterest feeling of animosity and suspicion towards all kinds of producers or dealers in food.

October 1915. Extract from Germany’s Food Supply by Prof. W. J. Ashley, reprinted from the Quarterly Review, October 1915. [Special Collections SPEC S/D525 (P.C.31)]. This week’s war: 61.


This week’s war: 58


Even after more than a year of war there are still visible symptoms, which seem to indicate that some sections of the community are not as yet fully alive to the importance of all the issues at stake in the present contest. Nevertheless, broadly speaking, it may be said that the British public have at last woken up from the deep lethargy in which they were steeped before the war. However slow the mass of the people of this country may be to grasp any new general idea with which they are unfamiliar, they experienced no difficulty in understanding what “militarism” meant, or what was the significance of “frightfulness.”

September 1915. Extract from Pan-Germanism by the Earl of Cromer, reprinted from the Spectator, September 1915. [Special Collections SPEC S/D525 (P.C.121)]