Forming a picture of the past: recording provenance in the Gregson Memorial Institute collection.

This post was written by 2nd year History Lessia Mbala. Lessia is currently undertaking a placement in Special Collections and Archives, recording provenance in The Gregson Memorial Institute Library.

The second semester of second year is often seen as entering the second half of one’s degree; with the end of the degree looming came the panic of what to do after graduation, as well as academic expectation and performance. The History in Practice module, to me, encompassed all of this — a basis in academia with a focus on transferable skills, such as time management, organisation, and the all-important knowledge of how to use Microsoft Excel.

The Gregson Institute is my assigned project. Named after Matthew Gregson, an antiquary with contemporarily peculiar focus on his local and native Liverpool, the Gregson Memorial Institute was created to be a museum, gallery, and place for lectures. His collections, both the ones featured in the Gregson Memorial Institute and his private one, were later donated to the University, his artwork finding a home in the Victoria Gallery and Museum and his books in the Special Collections and Archives. The aim then, in the Special Collections and Archives, is to use the provenance of these books to paint a picture of Late Victorian Liverpool.

With most, if not all, of my previous experience of history being essay writing, date memorising and argument creating, this task was daunting. However, the more I filtered through the collection, the more patterns I recognised and the more familiar the names became. Amongst Gregson’s collection was a copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. The title, and its author, Mary Wollstonecraft, was instantly recognisable. Published in 1792, Vindication was initially a rebuttal against Edmund Burke’s argument for the failure of the French Revolution, and is seen to be the first book to argue for total equality of rights between the genders. With its focus on education, Vindication is also seen to be an important piece when studying the Enlightenment as it carries key themes and ideas.

The fact that the book was still being read in late Victorian period only corroborates what is already known about Wollstonecraft: she is a figure in feminist history whose reputation has lasted, and Vindication is a timeless piece of feminist philosophy. However, the provenance of the book gives us information about Wollstonecraft’s interaction with the period.

First, the book, according to the written script within the first few pages, had two owners: I. Leigh Gregson and W.W. Richmond. The gender of these individuals are not immediately obvious from their initials, and their identity is something I am still piecing together as I go through the collection. Their surname, however, provides information about their family and their position in society: the maternal Leigh family was one of gentry and the Gregson, the paternal, were esteemed. This follows historical trends in education: it came to those who could afford it. Priority often went to boys. In fact women were expected to remain uneducated as it was unnecessary to their role as a mother/caregiver. This included governesses, whose education was only officially formalised in 1848 with the formation of Queen’s College. Furthermore, the Victorian era provided many dominant women, such as mathematician Ada Lovelace and nurse Florence Nightingale, who have come to be celebrated as pioneers in their field. Notably, however, these women came from families ranging from fairly wealthy middle class to the aristocratic. It is unknown as of this moment who W.W. Richmond was and his relationship with the Gregson family.

Second, within the book (p. 318) is a highlighted passage on female modesty and purity, and education’s contribution to this. Here, Wollstonecraft argues that, with education, a woman would know and understand the reason for such strict social restrictions, which would result in a more virtuous woman. The context as to why this passage was highlighted is unknown — who, why, under what circumstances? What is clear, however, is that female modesty was indeed being considered. I found this to be the most interesting. The feminist movement, at least by today’s definition, has been synonymous with sexual freedom and lack of judgement. This passage, however, argues in line with sexual constraint. It could be that Vindication, at its core, is an argument and so Wollstonecraft is adopting the social view of women at the time to push her point of view forward. However, it seems to me that sexual freedom wasn’t being discussed when there were more pressing issues in regards to female equality that needed to be addressed. Victorian England — and so Liverpool — is noted for its taboo-isation of the female figure; this passage being highlighted, then, is suggestive of society’s advancement (in that women were becoming individuals rather than property, an Enlightened thought) and its limitations. Moreover, female chastity was pursued more so in the upper classes than in the lower.

Spotting Wollstonecraft had made me aware of many things when cataloguing a collection; most importantly, however, it had shown me just how much a personal item contributes to forming a picture of the past.

Italian provenance and the LRI Library: Benjamin Gibson’s books

At the heart of the Liverpool Royal Institution’s library was a collection of books bequeathed by the sculptor and antiquary Benjamin Gibson (1811?-1851). Indeed, at around 170 volumes in total, Gibson’s donation represented almost half of the total collection.

A selection of Gibson’s books, many of which are bound in vellum.

Benjamin Gibson was born in Conwy, Wales, and grew up in Liverpool. His early sculptures were displayed at various locations around the city, including at the Academy of the Liverpool Royal Institution. In 1836, after the death of his mother, Gibson moved from Liverpool to join his older brother – John Gibson (1790-1866) – in Rome. John had been forging a successful career there for nearly 20 years already. Having studied under the master Italian Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Cannova (1757-1822), he went on to run a bustling studio in the Via della Fontanella.

In Rome, Benjamin assisted his brother, as well as continuing to create his own works (many of which were commissioned by members of the LRI, and sent back to Liverpool). He also devoted a considerable part of his energies to buying books. Indeed, such was his bibliomania, on his death in 1851 John Gibson is said to have described Benjamin as more of a book collector than a sculptor.

Gibson signed each of his books.

An expert on Greek and Latin literature, Benjamin Gibson amassed a formidable collection Classical texts. Whilst particularly strong in Latin and Greek language and literature and in antiquities, Gibson’s books covered a great wide range of subject areas – from history to maths, through mythology and military science:

Flavius Vegetius Renatus,, “De re militari” (SPEC Y60.3.6), a treatise on Roman warfare and military principles.

The vast majority of Gibson’s books date from before 1800, with nearly half of them printed during the 17th century. Gibson also owned 30 books printed in the 16th century – the earliest work in his collection being a 1532 printing of Giovanni Boccaccio’s (1313-1375) Peri genealogias deorvm (SPEC EP.D11).

A number of Gibson’s books have evidence of prior Roman owners. For example, three of his books bear the stamp “Biblioth: Corsinia vetus”. Founded by Pope Clement XII (1652-1740) – born Lorenzo Corsini – the Corsiniana family library was donated to Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, a science academy in Rome, by his descendant Tommaso Corsini (1835-1919) in 1883. The result of this merger, the Biblioteca dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana, is still housed in the rather magnificent Palazzo Corsini.

Ownership marks of the Biblioteca Corsiniana

Another three books are stamped “Libraria Colonna”, having belonged to the Colonna family, another papal noble family of Rome:

Indeed, Gibson’s books are rich in provenance, with previous owners from all over Europe. Other names associated with the collection include Spanish clergyman and intellectual, Jose Sáenz de Aguirre (1630-1699), Italian bishop and biologist Anton Felice Marsili (1651-1710) and French lawyer and journalist Jean-Jacques Lenoir-Laroche (1749-1825).

References:

Roscoe, Ingrid, Emma Hardy and M.G. Sullivan. A biographical dictionary of sculptors in Britain: 1660-1851. Available at: http://liberty.henry-moore.org/henrymoore/index.php (accessed 31/07/2019).

P is for Paste-down

‘Endleaves’, or ‘endpapers’ are the first blank leaves of paper you come across when opening the book, and the final blank pages at the end. Found between the front or rear of the main textblock and the front and rear covers of the book, then, they are intended to protect the first leaves of text. The ‘paste-down’ is the half of the first sheet of endpapers which has been  adhered to the inside of the boards or cover of the book (literally, pasted down). Endleaves that are not pasted-down to the cover or boards are usually described as being ‘free’.

This image shows the rear paste-down, and rear free endpaper. An ownership inscription can be seen on the paste-down, which also contains a booksellers price label, and further markings in pencil.

Paste-down is a useful term to know because it appears regularly in catalogue records. This is primarily because the paste-downs of a book are often where we find a number of interesting features – such as ownership inscriptions, bookplates, bookseller’s labels, previous classmarks – which have been added after publication and help to tell the unique history of that particular book (to use another ‘p’ term, we call this the book’s provenance).

All of the hundreds of bound volumes of pamphlets from the Knowsley Hall Library collection contain precise details of their location within the library on the front paste-down.
Bookseller’s label on a colourful paste-down.

Another reason paste-downs may be of particular interest is that they can sometimes feature coloured or patterned paper:

In this image the endpaper is comprised of a colourful patterned endleaf, and contains the bookplate of the Bebington Free Library, reflecting the history of the book.

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.