Charles Sydney Jones: Incunabula and Early Printed Books

We have now entered the assessment period at the University of Liverpool, and the Sydney Jones Library is filling up fast. But how many of the students currently passing long hours within the walls of the library have taken a moment of procrastination to consider the man for whom the library is named? As detailed in a previous post on this blog – Sir Charles Sydney Jones (1872-1947) was a successful politician and businessman who took an active interest in education in Liverpool. He was member, Treasurer (1918–1930), and then President, of the Council of the University (1930–1936); and served as University Pro-Chancellor from 1936–1942. Motivated by a staunch belief in the transformational importance of education, Jones was also one of the most important benefactors in the history of the University. Amongst his generous gifts he donated both books and the funds to buy books, and so it is fitting that the Library bears his name. In this post, I hope to look a little more closely at some of those books. In particular, I am interested to uncover the important role Jones played in the formation of University of Liverpool’s impressive collection of incunabula (books printed before 1501) and early printed books (in this case, books printed between 1501 and 1540).

The oldest complete printed book in the University of Liverpool’s collection, Cicero’s “De officiis”, printed – on vellum – by Fust and Schoeffer in 1465. This beautiful copy was purchased by the University of Liverpool in 1954 using funds given by Sir Charles Sydney Jones. Previous owners include Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843), and the book was rebound by Sydney Cockerell in October 1977 (SPEC Inc.CSJ.F10).

Most of the books which Jones donated to the University were not from his personal collection. Rather, acquisitions records and letters in the archive make it clear that Jones was a willing and generous provider of funds to buy books old and new. Indeed, he often took a pro-active role in this respect – personally identifying and purchasing books he deemed befitting of a University, in order that they might enrich the education of the many. In particular, Jones bought books for the University as part of his grand plan to create a leading centre for educational research and teacher training in Liverpool. To this end, he purchased, adapted, and furnished numbers 20 and 21 Abercromby square, before gifting them to the University in the early 1920s. He was clear that this gift must include a “panelled and fitted Library to contain about 9000 volumes and a reading room adjoining”, writing that a “well-equipped Library will enable Liverpool to become an important centre of Educational Research” (University of Liverpool archives: D728/4/1). For those familiar with the University, the library Jones created is now the School of the Arts Library, though the books he filled it with are now primarily housed in Special Collections.

As his activities on behalf of the University suggest, Jones had considerable knowledge of the rare books market. Indeed, as well as buying books destined specifically to adorn the shelves of the Department of Education Library, he also bought rare books intended – at least in the first instance – to line his own bookcases. His impressive personal collection included a Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), as well as works printed by Nicolaus Jenson, Aldus Manutius, Johann Mentelin, Wynken de Worde and Richard Pynson, to name but a few. Mostly purchased during the 1910s and 20s, Jones’s personal library was eventually also gifted to the University, in the mid-1940s.

A heavily annotated copy of Higden’s Polychronicon, translated into English by John Trevisa, and printed by William Caxton, 1482 (SPEC Inc.CSJ.D03). This book came from Jones’s personal collection.

In all, we can thank Jones for around 150 books printed between 1501 and 1540, as well as for 46 incunables (the earliest complete work dating from 1465). These books were purchased from a range of booksellers, including Goldschmidt and Dobell in London, Gregory in Bath and Henry Young in Liverpool. The collection boasts the work of a wide range of early printers, and includes some landmark editions in the history of printing, as well as a number of especially rare early printed books.

SPEC EP.CSJ.A24 – the device of Wynkyn de Worde, in Incipiunt opera super co[n]stitutiones prouinciales & othonis (1517). The book contains annotations in more than one hand, including multiple inscriptions by “Arthuri Purde”. It is boxed with a letter from the Liverpool bookseller Henry Young, dated 30th December, 1912, describing this item, giving a price of £75, and suggesting that Sydney Jones may be interested to take a look at it.

A particular strength of the collection consists in the large number of books printed at the Aldine Press that it contains. As well as donating a number of Aldines from his own personal collection, Jones funded the acquisition of 100 formerly owned by the Rev. Mr. Charles Daniel (1836-1919), late Provost of Worcester College, Oxford, and founder of the Daniel Press. In a letter to his friend and collaborator, Professor Ernest Campagnac, he expresses his “delight” at this acquisition, and his desire to see the books for himself, particularly the “’Politiani’: I shall be interested to compare it with my copy for which I paid £15” (University of Liverpool archives: A192/5/2). The total sum paid for the Daniel collection was just £396. 

Jones’s books are rich in provenance, providing ample evidence of centuries of ownership. Many still contain marks of very early owners – in their early bindings, illuminations and inscriptions. Moreover, a number of the books have spent some part of their lives in the collections of important figures in the history of rare books collecting, including George Dunn, Michael Wodhull, Maffeo Pinelli, Richard Heber, Lord Spencer and Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex.

Catalogue records for all of the books donated by Charles Sydney Jones and printed before 1540 have now been updated, and his incunabula have been added to the Material Evidence in Incunabula project.

Sir Charles Sydney Jones (1872-1947)

Sir Charles Sydney Jones was one of the University’s great benefactors, and this year sees the 70th anniversary of his greatest gift of valuable books to the University Library. Items from this gift and Sydney Jones’ life are currently on display in Special Collections and Archives, as part of an exhibition celebrating accessions old and new.

Charles Sydney Jones was born in Liverpool and educated at Charterhouse School and Magdalen College, Oxford. He followed his father into the city’s shipping trade as a partner in Alfred Holt & Company, popularly known as the Blue Funnel Line.

A Unitarian and a Liberal, Sydney Jones took a leading role in the politics of Liverpool, serving as a Justice of the Peace, a councillor for Fairfield Ward, and an Alderman. He was elected briefly as the only ever Liberal MP for Liverpool West Derby in 1923-24. He was Lord Mayor of Liverpool from 1938 until 1942.

Sir Charles Sydney Jones, as Lord Mayor, meets a deputation from the University in 1938 [University Archive P1003/8]

Sir Charles Sydney Jones, as Lord Mayor, meets a deputation from the University in 1938 [University Archive P1003/8]

Typically of the Liverpool philanthropists of the time, Sydney Jones had a great belief in the value of education as the foundation of a meritocracy. This belief manifested itself in his long association with the University. He became a member of the University Council, as his father had been, in 1906. Subsequently he served as Treasurer, President of the Council, and finally Pro-Chancellor between 1936 and 1942.

His first gift to the University came in 1911, when he agreed to meet the cost of an expansion of the Athletics Club’s facilities, which his recently-deceased father had instigated. In 1916, in memory of his father, he endowed the Charles W. Jones Chair of Classical Archaeology. Abercromby Square is a university quad thanks in no small part to Sydney Jones, who successively bought and gifted properties there to the University throughout the 1910s and 1920s. He worked closely with Professor E.T. Campagnac to provide, redevelop, and refurbish a home for the Education Department’s teacher training courses in the square, known as Abercromby House. Taking a great deal of interest in this “Temple of Education,” Sydney Jones sourced fittings from antiques shops and dealers around the country.

Sydney Jones was an active and informed collector in many fields: his gifts also include the silverware now housed in the University’s Art Gallery in the Victoria Building, and more than 200 volumes presented to the University Library and the former Education Library. These range from medieval manuscripts to limited editions of contemporary fine printing to which Sydney Jones subscribed. Nearly a quarter of Sydney Jones’s gifts to the Library came as part of a single great gift in 1945, when he gave some of the most valuable and beautiful books representing the highlights of five centuries of printing from his own private collection. The description of the gift in the Annual Report to Court for 1945 notes,

Sir Sydney’s private library has now ceased to rival the University’s in its special field because he has presented the best books in it to us, an act of heroic generosity far surpassing even his own previous benefactions.

The freedom of the City of Liverpool was conferred upon Sir Charles in 1946. Upon his death the following year, he bequeathed an estate of £40,000 to the University, as well as his home in Sefton Park Road, which became the Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge.

He was remembered by the University first through the construction of the Sydney Jones Memorial Gates opposite the Staff House in 1953, and later of course in the naming of the Sydney Jones Library, built in 1976.

    Charles Sydney Jones' initials on his Memorial Gates, Abercromby Square.

Sir Charles Sydney Jones’ initials on his Memorial Gates, Abercromby Square.