Spooky Collections and Arrrgh-chives!

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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.

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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).

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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]

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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.

Charlotte Bronte: 170 and 200 years of celebration

Charlotte BronteSchool of the Arts student, Catherine Tully, celebrates the life of one of the world’s greatest writers.

“This year marks the Bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë – the first of the famous Brontë sisters to celebrate her 200th birthday.

Despite her tragically short life Charlotte Brontë made a lasting and notable impression on the English literary canon. She published four full-length novels:  Shirley, Villette, The Professor and her most celebrated masterpiece, Jane Eyre.

Determined to write at a time when female authors were not received as favourably as men, Charlotte along with her sisters Anne and Emily published her works under a pseudonym – Currer Bell. Her newfound anonymity meant she could use her writing to bravely contradict society, continue to create intelligent and genuine heroines and create a voice for oppressed women. Charlotte is often considered the first modern woman of her time.

200 years after Charlotte’s birth her novels are still widely read and studied globally. Jane Eyre in particular receives enormous critical acclaim.

Social underdog

Dr Lisa Regan, from the University of Liverpool’s Department of English, shared her thoughts on the success of Charlotte’s novels and their relevance for current society: “Jane Eyre is the triumph of the social underdog, and its fairytale ending continues to resonate powerfully with readers today.

“Jane represents the socially isolated individual looking for a way to defy oppression, overcome barriers and discover her path to self-realisation and belonging.

“The Jane and Rochester romance is compelling and, as feminist critics on the romance novel have argued, a foundational text for women’s romance. We’ve only to look at the many film adaptations of this novel to see how that romance can be endlessly reinvented for subsequent generations.”

“It always puzzles me why we lack films of Villette and Shirley. Perhaps it’s because they both, in their own way, deny readers a straightforward happy ending. In fact, Brontë invites readers to take up their spectacles and find the happy ending for themselves.

“They make demands on readers to understand the conflicts between the individual and society, between tradition and modernity. Villette, in particular, anticipates the conflicted, alienated interiority we later find in modernist writers. Lucy Snowe is curiously uncanny to modern readers because of this, and I think this is why she remains one of the most captivating characters in British literature.”

The Parsonage

The Brontë sisters are remembered at their family home, The Parsonage, now a museum, which plans to hold events over the next five years to celebrate Bronte200, which marks the 200th Anniversaries of Charlotte this year; Branwell in 2017; Emily in 2018; and Anne in 2020.

Dr Melissa Raines, from the University’s Department of English, said: “The relevance and the impact of Charlotte Brontë’s novels come, I think, from the fact that there is something incredibly human about them.

“Jane’s intense frustration with the restrictions placed upon her by her class and gender, is period-specific in its severity, but sadly not irrelevant in our world. I must admit that what draws me to the novel in particular though, and to Charlotte’s other works as well, is jealousy. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen passionate jealousy done so well as it is in Jane Eyre.

“I absolutely love it (the Parsonage Museum) and have even, half in jest but half in seriousness, talked about it as a pilgrimage of sorts. I suppose that at the most basic level, I go because I want to feel connected to the Brontës themselves.  It’s a natural impulse, I think.

“Of course, we can never know definitively what an author is/was thinking, and the value of that information is of debatable importance anyway. We learn to temper that impulse with theoretical perspective as we study. But at the same time, the desire to feel that we understand something about a writer who wrote something that touched us is a vital part of why we read.”

For students of English at the University, in a year that boasts so many literary anniversaries, it is important to remember an author and poet of such talent.  Editions of the Brontë Sisters’ works under their original pseudonyms can be viewed by appointment at the University’s Special Collections in the Sydney Jones Library.”

Reposted from University of Liverpool, Viewpoint

May2016 bronte collageRecently recatalogued, and celebrating its 170th birthday this month is the University of Liverpool copy of one of a handful of copies known of the 1846 first edition of Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.