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.