Christmas in SCA

If you have visited Special Collections and Archives since the start of December, and have seen our Christmas tree adorned with 2B pencils, latex glove baubles, and tinsel made from paper clips and unbleached cotton tape, then you will know that SCA is fully into the swing of Christmas.

Our latest Christmas-themed treasures event will take place Thursday 5th December 5pm – 6pm, and will look back at how Christmas has developed into the holiday that we know it as today.

As we approach the Christmas break here at the University of Liverpool, we wanted to share some of our festive favourites that will be shown at the event.


Newton, A. Edwards, The Christmas spirit, privately printed (1930) – SPEC K11.9(30)

This facsimile of the first ever Christmas card produced in 1843, shows a family celebrating together in the center, surrounded by images of charitable giving. This is a theme that became ever more popular in the Victorian-era, and other Christmas souvenirs were quick to follow in promoting concepts of charity and togetherness.

The idea for the card came from Henry Cole (1808 – 1882), in response to the growing number of unanswered letters he had received containing Christmas well-wishes. Looking for a way to reply to these letters quickly, Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley (1817 – 1903) to design a Christmas card.

Cole had more of these cards printed, and sold them at a shilling a piece. This was considered a lot of money for the period, and initially the idea didn’t cotton on. It wasn’t until a few years later that the idea of the Christmas card grew in popularity.

Dickens, C., A Christmas Carol: In Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, (London: Chapman & Hall, 1843) – SPEC Y84.3.65  

This second edition of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, from 1843, includes beautiful illustrations by John Leech.

In the century before its publication, as a result of industrialisation and social changes, Christmas traditions had fallen into decline. However the Victorian era marked the revival of old traditions such as Christmas carols, as well as the introduction of new ones, such as the Christmas card and the decorating of Christmas trees, which was popularised by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria.

‘A Christmas Carol’ was fundamental in re-popularising Christmas. Dickens (1812 – 1870) wrote the text in response to the growing problem of child poverty he had witnessed during his lifetime. He had hoped that the text would remind readers of the need to address wealth inequalities between the poor and rich, and that by encouraging Christmas traditions he would be able to promote ‘carol philosophy’, a term coined by Dickens to mean charity, generosity, and merriment.

The first print of six thousand copies had sold out by Christmas Eve, and since then the book has never fallen out of print.


Christmas Book (1930-1938) – RP XVB.4.7

This notebook from the papers of Sybil and Reynolds Rathbone shows just how much the concept of gift-giving and sending Christmas cards has grown since the Victorian era. The notebook includes pages of names of intended recipients for cards, calendars and presents.

The book records giving gifts such as chocolates and bath salts- not too different to today it would seem.

Also at the event there will be a selection of books from the Sci-Fi collection, which show the extent to which these modern concepts of Christmas have fed into popular culture since Dickens.

Tolkien, J. R. R., Letters from Father Christmas, (London: Harper Collins, 1999) – PR6039.O32.L47 1999 O/S  

This book contains letters written by J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973) to his children, pretending to be Father Christmas, sharing stories of life in the North Pole and discussing the gifts they have asked for from Santa.

If you would like to see all these treasures and more then come along to tonight’s event, held in Special Collections and Archives from 5pm to 6pm.

Don’t forget to keep an eye out on our social media for details of the next Treasures event in the new year!

Written by Eleanor Mckenzie, Graduate Trainee.

William Blake and Liverpool

The recently opened exhibition at Tate Britain: William Blake: Artist includes Liverpool’s copy of the Meditaciones poéticas by José Joaquin de Mora (1783-1864), the only copy known in a UK library of this work, designed for the South American market.

This 1826 publication was inspired by one of the most famous poems of the 18th century, Robert Blair’s The Grave, and has plates based on illustrations by William Blake originally designed for a extensively promoted subscription edition (1808). Our loan features in the Independence and Despair section of the Tate exhibition, focused on Blake’s illustrations to ‘The Grave’ which came to define his reputation. The book, in the Tate curator’s words, is “a remarkable and unique demonstration of Blake’s penetration of the non-English world.”

Design by William Blake in José Joaquin de Mora, Meditaciones poéticas, 1826. SPEC H9.13

Liverpool’s copy (SPEC H9.13) has the University College Liverpool 1881 bookplate, with a presentation note: bequeathed by the Rev. John Hamilton Thom. The work is listed in the 1895 catalogue of Thom’s bequest: In memoriam John Hamilton Thom. List of books bequeathed by the late John Hamilton Thom to the Tate Library of University College, Liverpool with separate index of the books once belonging to the late Rev. Joseph Blanco White.

Thom (1808-1894), a prominent Unitarian minister in Liverpool, was also the executor of Joseph Blanco White (1775-1841). White and Mora were fellow Spanish emigrés, and both worked for the publisher Rudolph Ackermann: the connection probably explains the presence of Mora’s work in Special Collections.

Liverpool University Library was collecting works by William Blake (1757-1827) even before Thom’s bequest of the Meditaciones poéeticas: in 1892 the Liverpool solicitor and MP, A. F. Warr, gave his “delightful and almost complete series of reproductions of William Blake’s works” and the Library purchased the 1826 edition of Blake’s Job.

It is no coincidence that 1892 was also the year John Sampson (1862-1931) became the first full-time librarian at University College (later the University of Liverpool). Sampson was a renowned Blake scholar and in 1906 the Liverpool Courier, reviewing his then definitive critical edition of Blake’s Poetical Works, described the “broadening of public taste” in relation to Blake and of “the prominence of the part Liverpool has played in this essentially modern movement”.

Sampson’s scholarship was complemented by a more light-hearted approach to Blake’s poetry; in addition to a popular edition of a selection of Blake’s poems (1906) he also wrote Blake parodies (SP9/4/1/3), such as ‘Songs of Idiocy and Insanity’ and ‘The Girl’.

John Sampson’s parodies of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.
Sampson archive SP9/4/1/3
John Sampson William Blake parody ‘The Girl’. Sampson archive SP9/4/1/3

Liverpool University Press published a posthumous collection of Sampson’s work, In Lighter Moments: a book of occasional verse and prose (1934) and the Sampson archive holds drafts for the volume including unpublished work such as “After William Blake but before the new racing regulations.” (SP9/4/2/22).

The William Blake collections continue to be notable for facsimile editions of Blake’s work, including the important Trianon Press series, contemporary editions of works with engravings by Blake, and works on the critical reception of Blake as poet and artist, dating from Alexander Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake (1863), described in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as, “arguably the most important work ever published on Blake”.

Sampson’s scholarly contribution to William Blake studies is described by Angus Fraser in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography  as, “the restoration of the text of William Blake’s lyrics, long overlaid and ‘improved’ by editors. In the Poetical Works (1905) he established the definitive text, with much critical and bibliographical apparatus, and in the edition of 1913 included ‘The French Revolution’, never before published, and long selections from the ‘prophetic books’. Partly for his work on Blake, but more for his linguistic studies, he was awarded an honorary DLitt at Oxford in 1909”.

John Sampson’s editions of Blake from 1905 (centre), 1913 (right) and 1947 reprint (left)

Natural history in the LRI Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Liverpool Royal Institution Library

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

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

Robert Anning Bell bookplate marking the 1894 transfer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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.       

Z is for Zaehnsdorf

In the final post in our A-Z of Books, we look at bindings by the famous English firm of Zaehnsdorf, founded by Joseph Zaehnsdorf from Hungary and continued by the same family from 1843 to 1947. The Zaehnsdorf name is now incorporated in the firm Shepherds Sangorski & Sutcliffe.

The British Library Database of Bookbinings, which can be searched by binder, has images of a range of Zaehnsdorf bindings.

The collections in Special Collections hold Zaehnsdorf bindings dating from the 1880s to 1953 (the latter after a design by Fazakerley of Liverpool).

Two examples: SPEC Y88.3.324 (volume 5) and SPEC J24.39 show all aspects of their fine binding work. The first volume was owned by Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton (1844-1916), a pioneering experimental pharmocologist renowned for his work on the treatment of angina. The second volume is no. 17 of a limited edition of 500 copies of George Chandler’s William Roscoe of Liverpool (1953), sponsored by Liverpool City Council.

SPEC Y88.3.324 v.5 in signed Zaehnsdorf binding.
SPEC Y88.3.324 v.5 page edges.
SPEC Y88.3.324 v.5 Zaehnsdorf name on verso of marbled endpaper.
SPEC J24.39. Bound by Zaehnsdorf Ltd., after a design by Fazakerley of Liverpool.
SPEC J24.39: doublures and turn-ins.

Y is for Yellowback

‘Yellowbacks’ were an innovative and distinctive publishing format developed in the middle of the 19th century. These small format books were covered with glazed (usually yellow) paper covered boards, which was block printed with eye-catching imagery.

Designed to appeal to a growing market of readers, emerging in part as a result of the spread of education, the development of the ‘yellowback’ was also closely linked to the emergence of the first railway bookstalls. The format was designed to grab the attention of travellers in a hurry, and to capitalise on a spirit of adventure. Yellowbacks were small, light, and cheap to buy – part subsidised by the use of advertisements.

Inside these striking covers yellowbacks typically contained sensation novels, crime fiction and adventure stories – usually stereotyped reprints of earlier print editions of popular texts by well-known authors.

References and Further Reading:

UCLA Yellowback Cover Art Gallery

James, Elizabeth. “Aspects of the Victorian Book: Yellowbacks”.

Shilton, Tom. “The Yellowback: Sensational Stories on the Railways.” 2017

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.

The Grace Library – Ramchundra

This post was written by 2nd year History student Eddie Meehan.

The Grace Library of the Department of Applied Mathematics is 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. I’m working on the collection as part of History in Practice, a work experience module available for second year history students at the university.

One item I catalogued in the Grace Library collection was A treatise on problems of maxima and minima, solved by algebra, written by the Indian mathematician Ramchundra in 1850. Ramchundra was born in 1821 in Panipat into a family of the Kayastha caste – a Hindu caste of bureaucrats – to a father who worked in the Indian revenue service. His father died in 1831, which forced Ramchundra into marriage in 1832 at just eleven years old, almost certainly for the financial support the dowry would provide. Ramchundra was able to pursue some education at the English Government School in Delhi and later at Delhi College, where he was later appointed to a teaching role. Here, he pursued his own work; the most significant of which was the Treatise that is in the Grace collection in Liverpool.

Noted mathematician Augustus de Morgan published the work in 1859 in London to try and bring it to a wider audience outside of India, despite poor reviews from other British mathematicians working in India. During this period, there was an increasing belief in Britain that the colonial subjects of the British Empire should be ‘educated’ in European ways. This atmosphere may have stimulated de Morgan’s interest in the work, but it also hindered its acceptance. Despite being published in London, the book received little interest from scholars in Britain and Europe. Ramchundra is not particularly well known even to this day in mathematics – books have been written on topics covered by him that do not even mention his work.

The Grace collection contains two copies of the work – one published in Calcutta and thus the original, and a copy of the London published version with de Morgan’s foreword. The London version was presented by the Secretary of State for India to a Reverend Dr. Bland, suggesting that it was at least recognised by the governing authorities in India. It isn’t clear how the original came into the possession of Walter Stott and Alicia Boole and then Duncan Fraser, who bequeathed the book to the University as part of the Walter Stott collection.