The Rathbone family library

Our current exhibition – “A gift from Greenbank”: reconstructing the Rathbone library – is the result of a project to trace and record books donated to the University of Liverpool by the Rathbones: a Liverpool family of non-conformist merchants and ship-owners, philanthropists, politicians and social reformers, artists and patrons of the arts. Today, the family name is perhaps best known in association with the remarkable suffragist, politician and social reformer, Eleanor Rathbone; who currently has an exhibition dedicated to her at the Victoria Gallery and Museum.

The exhibition space in Special Collections and Archives focuses on two significant donations of books to the University from Greenbank: which was the Rathbone family home from 1787 until 1944. These donations were made towards the end of the Rathbones’ time at Greenbank, and include books that belonged to several generations of the family. Each book has a story to tell, offering a glimpse into the lives of its owners, revealing a family with wide intellectual and artistic interests and varied reading habits, and with strong connections to the wider Liverpool literary and intellectual scene.

An image from the Rathbone family copy of “Cornelis de Bruins Reizen over Moskovie, door Persie en Indie” (1714), which contains c.260 engravings.

Currently on display in the Harold Cohen Library, this image is from “Les liliacées”, a magnificent work by Pierre Joseph Redouté, who was the most celebrated botanical illustrators of his day. The copy contains the ownership inscription of Benson Rathbone (1826-1892).

Highlights of the exhibition include a family Bible containing a list of family births, deaths, marriages and christenings; a copy of Tennyson’s In Memoriam with hand-drawn illustrations added on every page – which is accompanied by a pressed leaf taken from Tennyson’s garden; and a self-published book of Verses for Valentines written anonymously by Richard Rathbone for his wife, Hannah, who herself is responsible for another anonymous work on display: a compilation of poems about birds, with corresponding hand-painted, coloured illustrations:

The exhibition runs until late January 2019, in the Grove Wing of the Sydney Jones Library. We welcome any comments and enquiries to scastaff@liverpool.ac.uk.

B is for Bookplate

For almost as long as there have been printed books, there has existed a practice of marking ownership of those books through the use of an engraved or printed paper label. Bookplates typically contain an engraved or etched armorial or pictorial design, with the owner’s name or initials and perhaps a motto, address, occupation or degree. The term ‘book label’ has tended to be used for smaller and simpler labels, with a characteristic design comprised of an owner’s name within a relatively plain decorative border.

Liverpool Library bookplate

Liverpool Library bookplate.

 

Book label of Hannah Mary Reynolds.

It is not uncommon to find more than one bookplate or book label within a book, helping to build a picture of the life of an object by revealing the various individuals that have come into contact with it, and the various locations to which it has travelled. Often a later owner may have pasted a bookplate over the top of a previous owner’s bookplate, or made some attempt to erase a previous bookplate, presumably to ensure the avoidance of doubt as to who is the righful owner of the book now!

The name of the owner of this bookplate has been removed by a later owner of the book.

 

Here, Thomas Glazebrook Rylands has inserted his bookplate beneath the armorial bookplate of the book’s previous owner, John Lee. Both bookplates are from the 19th cnetury.

The design of bookplates has been subject to different fashions over time, and it is often possible to date a bookplate according to a recognisable trend in style. Some great artists – including Hans Holbein, Albrecht Durer, Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane – have designed bookplates. They offer interest not just to those concerned with the history of books and book ownership, then, but also from an art-historical viewpoint.

Bookplate of John. T. Beer.

On the front paste-down, the bookplate of antiquary Richard Duncan Radcliffe (1844-1925). On the first free endpaper, the bookplate of the physician Sir Robert Alexander Chermside (1792-1860).

Bookplate of the 10th Earl of Derby.

Bookplate of the 10th Earl of Derby.

If you are interested in learning more about the history and study of bookplates and book labels, a good place to start is with David Pearson’s Provenance research in book history: a handbook which is available to consult in the Special Collections and Archives reading room.