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.

The Grace Library – The Brilliant Booles

This is the third in a series of posts by 2nd year History student Eddie Meehan. Eddie is working on The Grace Library of the Department of Applied Mathematics, 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.

Particularly connected to the Grace Library collection are the Boole family, partly through Walter Stott, the husband of Alicia Boole. The most famous Boole is George Boole, known for Boolean logic, a key component of computer science and the philosophy of logic. Operators used on computers today such as ‘AND’, ‘OR’ and ‘NOT’ are known as Boolean operators.

George Boole (1814-1864)

George Boole taught briefly in Liverpool at Mr Marrat’s School , which would become part of the expanding Lime Street Station, at 4 Whitemill Street. This move was forced on Boole due to the collapse of his father’s shoe-making business. The school was run by William Marrat, who was, much like George Boole, self-taught in maths and science.

His wife, Mary Boole, specialised in the education of maths, writing various texts on education along with a variety of other topics including the occult. She was entirely self-taught, and was involved in the writing and editing of many of George Boole’s works. She was also the niece of Sir George Everest, after who Mount Everest was named.

In the collection, there is a bound collection of papers collated by Francis William Newman, one of which is written by and has a pencil inscription by George Boole. The collection also holds a bound group of papers written by him and owned by his daughter, Alicia Boole. Outside of the Grace library, the university library possesses a range of items relating to the Booles, including holdings from the transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, which George Boole contributed to.

Dedication from Boole to Newman.

Alicia Boole was also a mathematician, focusing mainly on four dimensional geometry, which she became interested in after receiving a set of small coloured wooden cubes from her mathematician brother-in-law, Charles Howard Hinton. She became a very well regarded mathematician, so much so that she was elected the president of the Liverpool Mathematics Society in 1914 and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Groningen.

Many of the volumes in the collection are linked to Alicia Boole through her husband, Walter Stott, who was a local actuary. Stott worked for the Worshipful Company of Actuaries in Liverpool, and was also elected president of LivMS. Much of the collection bears bookplates from the Walter Stott collection, and many bear inscriptions from him.

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

X is for χ

The X-like letter in the title of this post is actually the lowercase form of the Greek letter ‘chi’ (the uppercase is X). It earns a place in our A to Z of Books for its role in the collation of printed books: that is, recording all the leaves and gatherings (or quires) that make up the physical volume, as explained in our A is for Alphabet post.

You will see the note ‘Signatures’ in many of the newer catalogue records for our early printed books, for example this 18th century volume from the library of the Liverpool Royal Institution:

catalogue record for SPEC Y76.2.167

Signatures: *⁸ ²*² **⁸ A-I⁸ K¹² [chi]⁴ L-Ee⁸ ²A-B⁸.

For many books, the letters of the printer’s alphabet (excluding J, U and W as being easily confused with I and V) are sufficient to describe the book in hand, but sometimes it is not so straightforward, which is where Greek letters come in. It is common to find these spelled out, as in the example above, instead of using Greek characters which may not be accessible across all devices.

But what do they mean? It is common to find books in which not all the gatherings are signed (that is, marked with, for example, A, A2, A3… at the foot of the leaves in the folded sheet), but there isn’t an obvious gap for them in the alphabetic sequence. So, unsigned leaves at the start of the book, before gathering A, are indicated by the Greek letter π [pi] and unsigned leaves elsewhere are given the signature χ [chi].

And like all oddities in early printed books, looking at the physical volume may reveal what was actually going on as the book was printed and why these unsigned leaves are there.

References and further reading:

Karen Attar, “Collational formula” in Michael F. Suarez, S.J. and H.R. Woudhuysen eds., The Oxford Companion to the Book, 2010.

Erin Blake, Signature statements in book cataloging The Collation. Research and Exploration at the Folger (blog)

Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography, 1995.

Art in Menu Cards

Cunard Archive

The sweets of a delightful meal may become as the waters of Marah by a menu card that offends the eye


Queen Elizabeth, Luncheon Menu 15 Feb 1958.
Image shows King Charles’s Tower, Chester.

Menu cards within the Cunard Archive are enjoyed by archive users not only for the information within them, but also for their attractive cover designs.

An article published in Cunard News in 1922 describes how art printed on a menu card is carefully chosen to enhance the dining experience of guests.

Cunard News, 1922

Menu cards were popular mementos, kept by passengers to remind them of their experience on board a Cunard ship.

There are many menu cards within the Cunard Archive, and more are deposited regularly by members of the public.

An overview of the Cunard Archive is available here

The Grace Library – Trigonometrica Britannica

This is the second in a series of posts by 2nd year History student Eddie Meehan. Eddie is working on The Grace Library of the Department of Applied Mathematics, 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.

Another interesting item I came across in the Grace Library collection was the Trigonometrica Britannica, written by Henry Briggs (1561-1631) and published posthumously in 1633. The volume is notably rare, and is a table of trigonometric values that is noted for its high accuracy. Briggs prepared the tables while he was a professor of geometry at Oxford University, assisted by Gellibrand (1597-1637) who was a professor at Gresham College, London, and it was published in Gouda – at the time part of the Dutch Republic rebelling against Spanish rule.

Tables of logarithms were vital to mathematics prior to calculators, particularly for work on navigation, which Briggs was particularly interested in and spent much of his time working on. In navigation, multiplication of many digit numbers was necessary, which could be performed by the addition of their logarithms. Thus, Briggs worked to compile the first ever table of base 10 logarithms. This simplified laborious calculations for astronomers and navigators at the time, while also proving very significant for more modern mathematics (although Briggs did not have any understanding of powers as we know them today).

The work’s importance to navigation was particularly significant as Briggs also worked with the Virginia Company, who were a joint stock company created by King James I to create colonies in America. The improvement to navigation allowed greater European expansion into the Americas and also further European navigation of the ‘South Sea’, now known as the South Pacific. The work was also significant for astronomy, as prior to its publication many astronomers had feared that the difficulty of accurate calculations of logarithms would make many astronomical discoveries far more difficult.

The copy in the university library is an original Gouda publication, inscribed by what appears to be a ‘Johannus Derning’ and with notes throughout. The book was given to the university in memory of Samuel Forster Grace according to its university bookplate. He was one of the most brilliant mathematicians at Liverpool in the early 20th century and was known for his work on tidal theory, but sadly died in 1937 at just 43 as a result of wounds suffered in World War I. 

W is for Woodcut

Woodcut printing is a technique that pre-dates the printed book; used for printing playing cards and religious prints, for example, as well as for block books. To create a woodcut image, the artist either drew directly onto a wooden block, or onto paper which was then pasted to the block. This image would then be carved in relief – so that the area to be inked stood out, whilst the white spaces in the finished image were carved into the block.

Whilst the very earliest of books were largely printed without any illustration or decoration – perhaps leaving spaces on the printed page to allow for these to be added by hand – printers quickly realised that woodcut printing offered a simple means to add decorative features and illustrations to texts. Crucially, the fact that woodcut printing was, like movable type, a relief technique, meant that images and text could be set and printed together, on the same sheet of paper. By contrast, intaglio printing techniques – which involve an image being incised into a surface – required a different kind of press (a rolling press) in order to produce an image. As a result, if illustrations produced using intaglio techniques were to accompany text on the same page, the sheet would have to be printed twice – once for text and once for image. This was a timely and a costly process.

Woodcuts, then, were the preferred method of producing images for early printed books. Earlier in the series we introduced the most highly-illustrated book of the 15th century – the Nuremberg Chronicles – with its 1809 woodcut images, produced using 645 woodblocks. Since woodblocks were durable, it was not uncommon to reuse images – sometimes even in a different work entirely.

The Nuremberg Chronicle is an excellent example of the close marriage of text and image that woodcut printing enabled.

Whilst the earliest woodcut images in books were generally fairly simple, outline images, designed to allow for colouring by hand, by the end of the 15th century the art of woodcut illustration in books had advanced such that the most sophisticated productions displayed considerable artistry, including the use of chiaroscuro effects to produce tones. Still, in terms of the quality of the finished image, woodcut was not able to compete with intaglio methods of printing. It was for this reason that copperplate printing eventually overtook woodcut as the preferred method of illustrating books, by around the middle of the 16th century. Because of the difficulties in printing text alongside copperplate images, it became common for illustrations to take up entire pages, which were then inserted in place before binding. As a result, books generally contained fewer illustrations and decorations than they had during the golden age of the woodcut.

The use of woodcut printing was just one of the techniques revived by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press. The 87 wood-cut illustrations in this, the Kelscott Chaucer, are by William Harcourt Hooper, after drawings by Edward Burne-Jones.

References and further reading:

Hind, Arthur Mayger, An introduction to a history of woodcut, with a detailed survey of work done in the 15th century, 1935

MacLean, Robert, Book illustration: the woodcut2012

Suarez, Michael F. and H.R. Woudhuysen eds., The Oxford Companion to the Book, 2010.

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.

U is for Uncut or Unopened

U is for Uncut or Unopened

Unopened books or pamphlets are unreadable until the top and front edges of the folded and bound or unbound gatherings have been sliced through to separate the individual leaves (see our earlier post on format).

SCA has an example of a book which has remained unopened for over 300 years: SPEC J10.1(14). But fortunately the digitized copy from Eighteenth Century Collections Online gives access to the text.

SPEC J10.1. (14). Select epistles of Phalaris, the Tyrant of Agrigentum (1718).

Uncut may be used by the unwary cataloguer when the term unopened would be more accurate: uncut has the specific bibliographical meaning that the book has survived with the rough edges (deckle edges) of its pages untrimmed by bookbinders. This makes it easier to see many kinds of bibliographical evidence about the book’s production. Uncut or untrimmed pages are unusual, since books were issued unbound, or in a temporary binding for the purchaser to have bound up to the mid 19th-century development of the publisher’s binding.

A modern example of a book showing the edges of the handmade sheet of paper is SPEC Zaina E.73 no.5 – the difference from the trimmed copy at SPEC Zaina E.73 no.195 is clear when they are side-by-side.

SPEC Zaina E.73 showing deckle and trimmed edges.

Uncut copies of a book also have the virtue of retaining all of the text and any later annotations, which are often lost when the page edges are trimmed or cropped in the process of binding and rebinding, successively reducing the margins. Untrimmed copies may be described as ‘tall copies’, to differentiate them from copies printed on larger sheets of paper (large paper copies’). The difference in size can be seen by placing the trimmed copy of SPEC Zaina E.73 on top of the untrimmed copy.

SPEC Zaina E.73 trimmed copy no.195 on top of untrimmed copy no. 5.

Still unsure? The Folger Shakespeare Library blog, The Collation, recommends using untrimmed instead of uncut and explains why in their blog post Uncut, unopened, untrimmed, uh-oh