New Acquisitions: August

A bumper month for new acquisitions here in SC&A. One of the main collecting areas for the department is items printed in, or about, Liverpool.

SPEC 2017.b.003 – Memoirs of mammoth

Memoirs of mammoth was printed in Liverpool in 1806 by G.F. Harris. The author, Thomas Ashe (1770-1835), travelled in America and sent the first mammoth bones back to Britain. The work details the discovery and composition of the mammoth bones which were held at the Liverpool Museum.

SPEC 2016.P2.07 – The geology of the hundred of Wirral

This pamphlet, by John Cunningham and printed in 1864 by J. Oliver in Birkenhead, details the geology of the Wirral with particular reference to the water supply. Items printed by J. Oliver are exceptionally rare with only four works reported to COPAC, this item is not among them making it the only known copy, particularly nice as it is dedicated to a Thomas Duncan by the author.


SPEC 2017.c.005 – An address to the merchants of Liverpool

SCA has a wealth of material relating to the maritime history of Liverpool and this 1806 stab-sewn pamphlet is an excellent addition to the collections. Willis Earle, a local timber merchant, was elected to investigate the financial accounts of the Liverpool Dock Estate, it includes a recent history of the docks and the effect of recent Parliamentary Acts on the workings of the port.

SPEC 2017.b.010 – A form of prayer, and a new collection of Psalms

This 1763 volume is one of only 11 copies reported to the ESTC and is beautifully bound in gilt tooled black morocco. The text is a first edition of the experimental non-conformist liturgy at the Octagon Chapel in Liverpool which was developed by Philip Holland and Richard Godwin.

SPEC 2017.b.010 – provenance

The volume bears the names of Robert Pilkington, Joseph Pilkington and Esther Holland. A pencil note explains: “Given by Esther Holland who was the daughter of Robert Pilkington, to her cousin Joseph Pilkington”.

SPEC 2017.a.010 – The stereotype ready reckoner

The final item in this collection of Liverpool related items is an 1814 ready reckoner, owned by an officer of excise. A ready reckoner is a table listing standard calculations such as weights and measures and rates of interest.

These items are available to consult in our reading room, you can find out how to make an appointment on our new website.


Thomas Rickman (1776-1841) Architect and Antiquary

The first staging post of the travelling Thomas Rickman exhibition to commemorate the bicentenary of the 1817 printing in Liverpool of Thomas Rickman’s epoch-making book An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture.

 Special Collections and Archives, Sydney Jones Library and Harold Cohen Library. 

In 1817 Rickman, a Quaker accountant in a Liverpool insurance firm, wrote An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture, the first accurate history of English gothic architecture, which became a nineteenth-century bestseller. Rickman’s Attempt was a scholarly milestone which resulted in greater understanding and appreciation for medieval architecture; its clear schematic illustrations of the varied styles of Norman and gothic architecture enabled architects to employ the styles more knowledgeably in their executed buildings. In 1818 the second Church Building Act was passed by Parliament, creating demand for his services as a recognised expert in gothic architecture with a strong financial background. Thanks to the Church Commissioners, Rickman went on to have a large and varied architectural practice.

 Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • An original first edition of Rickman’s An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture (1817) and copies of every subsequent edition
  • The handwritten text of Rickman’s lecture on modern church architecture delivered to the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Institute
  • A manuscript letter from Thomas Rickman to Matthew Gregson
  • The copy of Rickman’s book owned an annotated by his friend William Whewell, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge
  • William Roscoe’s proprietor’s ticket for the Liverpool Royal Institution
  • Etchings of churches by John Sell Cotman (1782-1842).


Discover more about Thomas Rickman 


New Acquisitions: March

Three notable acquisitions in Special Collections and Archives in March, alongside “The horses’s levee” mentioned in the blog post of last week.

The old cobbler of the cottage: to which is added The idler” are two stories by female authors, Isabelle de Montolieu and Mary Martha Sherwood for children. The item is an excellent addition to our children’s literature collections and also to the number of Sherwood items already available within the collections.

SPEC 2017.a.002

The item is bound in a publisher issued embossed cloth binding with a paper label to the upper board, it also bears the provenance marks of Adriana Lacy and her Aunt, Sarah Lacy.

The embossed cloth binding.

Signed by the Lacy family.

The second item new to SCA this month is “The history of the Fairchild Family” by the ubiquitous Mrs Sherwood. This 1818 volume, bound in tree calf, was in print for nearly a century in numerous editions. It uses the format of the novel to explain the concept of original sin to a juvenile audience.

An introduction to original sin for young children, not recommended for the small people in your life!

The final new acquisition is “The trial of Harry Hardheart: for ingratitude and cruelty to certain individuals of the brute creation”. This item, dated approximately 1820, seeks to caution young people about the dangers of cruelty to animals.

The trial of Harry Hardheart

The item, which is in the original publisher issued blue paper covered boards, is recorded in only 8 locations worldwide.

Remember: be kind to elephants.

As ever, these items are now available for consultation in SCA, for information on how to make an appointment please see our webpages.

A butterfly, a grasshopper and a horse’s levee: William Roscoe in SCA collections

A new acquisition to Special Collections and Archives highlights the importance of William Roscoe to the social and cultural history of Liverpool. Roscoe, known as a leading abolitionist and historian, is perhaps as well known for his poem “The butterfly’s ball and the grasshopper’s feast” which was written for his children and published in 1807. Here in SCA we hold a copy of the 1808 edition. “Butterfly’s ball” was unusual for this period of juvenile literature as instead of seeking to contribute to the moral education of children it sought only to entertain and amuse.


In yellow paper wrappers, a common feature of this publisher, John Harris.

A hand coloured plate from the Butterfly’s Ball.

SPEC G8.15

As well as “Butterfly’s ball” SCA includes several items with Roscoe provenance including a 1683 volume bearing his signature and a 1551 Dante thought to have belonged to him.

SPEC H23.26

The new addition to the collections is “The horse’s levee, or, The court of Pegasus“. The title-page states that this rare edition (only 10 copies are recorded) is a companion to “The butterfly’s ball” rather than directly authored by Roscoe, but this perhaps highlights his influence on juvenile literature in this period.

SPEC 2016.t1.03

The yellow wrappers of the publisher John Harris.

“The horse’s levee” is an early astronomy primer for children, the plates show animals with their astronomical parallels and the verses instruct and amuse.

A party we would all like to be at.


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:

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.

New Acquisition: February

February saw “The Garland, or Thirteen extracts with colored vignettes for rewards” added to the collections in Special Collections and Archives. 

This item, dated approximately 1820, has 14 leaves printed on the recto which are hand coloured throughout. Each leaf bears an illustration and a poem to reward a child for good behaviour. Some may have been more enjoyable than others for the juvenile reader …

The item also bears an interesting provenance, the book is signed on the first free endleaf recto “Ellen Claye Manchester November 1st 1822” and a blind stamp for a bookseller appears on the final free endleaf for “Claye, Printer and Stationer, Stockport”. Perhaps a gift from the bookseller for a young family member?

This item is now available for consultation in SCA so please do feel free to make an appointment.

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 Acquisitions: November

The Special Collections and Archives department has welcomed three notable accessions written by women to their collections in November.

Mont Blanc, and other poems by Mary Ann Browne, who is the sister of the more well know Liverpool poet Felicia Hemans, has been catalogued and added to the SCA collections. As SCA had acquired a portion of Hemans’ correspondence and archive previously, this new item makes an excellent accompaniment to this collection.

Mont Blanc, and other poems. SPEC 2016.b.024

Mont Blanc, and other poems. SPEC 2016.b.024

As well as containing the poems of fifteen-year-old Mary, the item has an interesting provenance history including a poem tipped into the beginning of the volume which begins “I know, my love, thou art false to me …”, a manuscript copy of the poem which appears on page 119. The book also bears the inscription of Mary Hiles, which has been cut away from the title-page, and a cut-out and handcoloured floral image pasted to the upper paste-down.

SPEC 2016.b.024 paste-down

Paste-down. SPEC 2016.b.024

"I know, my love, thou art false to me ..." SPEC 2016.b.024

“I know, my love, thou art false to me …” SPEC 2016.b.024

Poems by one of the authors of “Poems for youth, by a family circle” is written by Jane Roscoe (later Hornblower), the daughter of Liverpool luminary William Roscoe, who wrote “Butterfly’s Ball” for his family.

SPEC 2016.a.019(2)

SPEC 2016.a.019(2)

This handsome 1821 volume is bound in blind stamped pink calfskin and is one of only four reported copies in the UK. The Liverpool connection makes this edition a fine complement to the collections here which already boasts many items by or related to the Roscoe family.

Blind stamped pink calfskin. SPEC 2016 a.019

Blind stamped pink calfskin. SPEC 2016 a.019

Fabulous histories by the Suffolk author and educationalist Sarah Trimmer (1741-1810) uses stories from the animal kingdom to further children’s moral education and to teach about cruelty to animals. This 1786 copy is bound in 18th century sheepskin and is one of only 8 reported copies in the world. Many other works authored by the prolific Mrs Trimmer can be found in our children’s book collection, making this volume an excellent addition to the collections.

Fabulous histories. SPEC 2016.a.020

Fabulous histories. SPEC 2016.a.020

As ever, these items are available for consultation in the reading room here at SCA.

Spooky Collections and Arrrgh-chives!


Halloween is thought to originate from a Gaelic festival called Samhain that marked the end of the harvest season and the start of a new year. On this day, that stood on the verge between summer and winter,  it was believed that the boundaries between our world and the other-world would blur.

Today, Halloween is a great excuse to eat sweets, douse yourself in fake blood, and indulge in a bit of self-inflicted, adrenaline inducing, fear.

We are, it seems, and always have been, obsessed with the spine chilling and mysterious. We’ve picked some spooky books to wet your Halloween appetite. Prepare for a scare.


We have a plethora of anatomy books (SPEC Anatomy) in Special Collections and Archives that were once part of the Medical School Library and used for teaching.

We couldn’t resist including these chilling images, taken from John Gordon’s Engravings of the Skeleton of the Human Body published in 1818.

‘This Plate exhibits a front and lateral view of the dried Skull of a Man, of a medium stature, aged thirty-one years […] the length of the line a, b, b, a on the Skull, was exactly four inches and three quarters.’

‘This Plate exhibits a front and lateral view of the dried Skull of a Man, of a medium stature, aged thirty-one years […] the length of the line a, b, b, a on the Skull, was exactly four inches and three quarters.’ [SPEC P.2.12 ] John Gordon, Engravings of the Skeleton of the Human Body, (London: T. & G. Underwood, 1870).

p. 8

View an online version here

Vikram and the Vampire is a collection of ancient Indian folk tales that were translated by the accomplished explorer and all-round fascinating Victorian gentleman, Richard Francis Burton. Richard F. Burton was a founding member of the Gypsy Lore Society, started in 1888 by scholars interested in the songs, stories and language of the Romany Gypsies. You can explore the Gypsy Lore Society Collections at Special Collections and Archives.

Published in 1870, Vikram and the Vampire tells the story of a clever and scheming vampire/evil spirit that animates dead bodies.This spooky first edition is complete with Ernest Griset’s grotesque illustrations.

Viram and the Vampire by Richard F. Burton (SPEC Y87.3.1916)

Viram and the Vampire by Richard F. Burton, Illustrated by Ernest Griset (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1870) [SPEC Y87.3.1916]

p. 64

View an online version here 

Halloween isn’t just for the adults – spooky tales for children also surface in our collection of  more than 7000 pre-First World War children’s books. Four Ghost Stories by Mrs Molesworth contains four tales of encounters with ghosts, set in the nineteenth century. Mrs Molesworth, or Mary Louisa Molesworth, was a late Victorian children’s author. Nightmare inducing ghost stories for children…Mrs Molesworth has a lot to answer for. We hold a number of works by Mrs Molesworth at Special Collections.

Mrs Molesworth, Four Ghost Stories, (London: Macmillan and Co., 1888).



You can view any of the items here at Special Collections and Archives, Sydney Jones Library, Liverpool University.


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.