A hand-coloured book

Posted May 1, 2014 7:32 pm by Rare Books Blog | Permalink

I am Marina Franceschi and I am a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, currently doing an internship within the Rare Book Collections. While doing some research, I got very interested in one book entitled Notitia utraque cum orientis tum occidentis ultra Arcadii honoriique Caesarum Tempora Illustre Vetustatis Monumentum (K.63.b). Do not be afraid of the very long and dull book name! Far from being boring, as the title in Latin could have suggested, this military operations book contained several hand painted illustrations. According to the Ursus Book and Prints website the book was “a collection of works on the late Roman Empire, comprising a profusely illustrated guide to the workings of the Imperial Rome during the beginning of the 5th century, derived from a 9th or 10th century Greek manuscript”. This edition was published in 1552. Yet, the colours are still vivid and shining. This book exists in different copies but the very specific particularity of the National Library of Scotland one is the quality of its illustrations. For instance, there was a copy sold by Christies in March 2012 but the illustrations are not coloured as you can notice on Christies’ edition.

The book is about military operations and most of the images are personifications of the colonies and cities of the Empire. Rome is therefore depicted like a woman warrior sitting on a throne.


Personification of Rome

“Urbs quae aliquando desolata, nunc gloriosior, piissimo imperio restaurata” [the city that sometimes has been ruined now has established the most glorious, devoted imperium]



There are also illustrations of countries such as Italy.

This book was printed in Basel in 1552 by the very famous editing and publishing house Froben On the title page is the device of Johann Froben, as usual with books from his press, but this one has been hand-coloured.

the design of the device was attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger, who also painted Froben’s portrait.

The editor was Sigismund Gelenius who also wrote the“introduction”. According to the Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle by Pierre Larousse, Gelenius, or Ghelen, was “one of the most important scholars of his times”. He was introduced to Johannes Froben by Erasmus who was impressed by his knowledge.

Emblem Froben

Title page

Rare Books Signed by Notable Authors

Posted March 18, 2014 4:06 pm by Rare Books Blog | Permalink

My name is Annemarie Maimone and I am a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh interning in the National Library of Scotland’s Rare Book Collections Department. While doing provenance research, I came across a few books in the collection of particular interest because they contain the signatures and inscriptions of notable authors.

The items I will be discussing for this blog post include books signed by H.G. Wells, Robert Bridges and Compton Mackenzie, as well as one owned by both Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.

Signature of H.G. Wells

Signature of H.G. Wells

My earliest discovery was the signature of H.G. Wells in a first edition folio of his eccentric work of fiction, The Door in the Wall and Other Stories, published in 1915 (Hall.3.a). Wells’ signature appears on the verso of the flyleaf underneath the publisher’s handwritten note stating that “This edition is limited to sixty copies for the United Kingdom. January 1915. No.1”. This edition of The Door in the Wall includes photographic illustrations by Alvin Langdon Coburn, who also signed his name just below Wells’ signature.

Photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn from "The Door in the Wall"

Photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn from "The Door in the Wall"

Illustrating another type of authorial signature, I came across a lovely, 1926 edition of New Verse by the poet Robert Bridges which contains the handwritten inscription “Robert Underwood Johnson with best Xmas wishes from Robert Bridges 1926” on the half-title page ( H1.77.462). Johnson was a distinguished American diplomat, conservationist and published poet (Read More). Bridges was a major literary figure of the early 20th century and was given the honorary post of Poet Laureate in 1913. He counted Gerard Manley Hopkins, Roger Fry, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Henry Newbolt, Mary Coleridge, Robert Graves, Virginia Woolf, and E. M. Forster among his friends and acquaintances (Read more). Bridges apparently gave this “presentation copy” of his poems to Johnson as a Christmas gift, greatly contributing to the book’s material and sentimental importance.

Signature and inscription of Robert Bridges

Signature and inscription of Robert Bridges

Another book in the collection signed by its author is a first edition of Compton Mackenzie’s novel, Carnival (H2.81.1325). Mackenzie, a popular 20th-century Scottish author, wrote the dedicatory note “To Ralph Straus this rare book from Compton Mackenzie” on the book’s front free endpaper. It might seem bold to describe your own work as a “rare book”, but Mackenzie’s publisher is careful to note on the same page that “This first edition was entirely sold out by the day of publication” (Watch an interview with Mackenzie here).

Signature and inscription of Compton Mackenzie

Signature and inscription of Compton Mackenzie

For enthusiasts of the Romantic era, I found the signatures of both Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth in a 1569 edition of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Hall.293.f.4). Their names appear side by side on the title page, the recognizable “S.T. Coleridge” and “W. Wordsworth” inscribed in each poet’s own handwriting. Unlike the other books mentioned, this is an example of a work that was personally owned, not simply written and signed, by popular authors.

Signatures of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth

Signatures of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth

Identifying famous signatures is not always so straightforward,  however. A good example of this is a book I found containing what first appeared to be Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s signature on the title-page. The name looked right; an italicized “S. T. Coleridge” with the address of “Torrington Place”, a neighbourhood in Bloomsbury frequented by Coleridge. A past librarian had even left a note identifying the signature as that of the famous poet. While looking at web images of Coleridge’s known signature, however, I came across the name of his nephew, a certain John Taylor Coleridge who also lived at Torrington Place. Looking back at the signature in the book, I could definitely identify that the “S” was in fact a “J” and the rest of the name fell into place (See a description of John Taylor Coleridge’s signature).

Further reading:

Carter, John. “Presentation Copy.” ABC for Book Collectors. 7th edition. With Corrections, Additions and an Introduction by Nicolas Barker. Oak Knoll Press 1995. International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. http://www.ilab.org/eng/glossary/601-presentation_copy.html.

Jane Austen’s Scottish Sisters

Posted December 10, 2013 2:38 pm by Helen Vincent | Permalink

This year I’ve been involved in celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice with a display at NLS – but I’ve also been casting some light on her Scottish contemporaries – women novelists who in some cases were more famous than Austen during her lifetime, but who are now much less well known.

Engraving of Elizabeth Hamilton

Engraving of Elizabeth Hamilton

There are quite a few Scottish women authors from that period who have been overshadowed by Austen and by their great contemporary Sir Walter Scott, but I’ve concentrated on a few in particular:

  • Susan Ferrier, whose novel Marriage is often seen as the closest contemporary relation to Austen’s own
  • Elizabeth Hamilton, whose The Cottagers of Glenburnie was praised by Scott himself in Waverley – and was seen at the time as bringing about revolutionary social change
  • Mary Brunton, author of novels which Austen herself enjoyed reading, though they did not escape her acerbic pen
  • Catherine Sinclair, author of Holiday House, a pioneering children’s book, who also wrote best-selling adult fiction
Modern Accomplishments by Catherine Sinclair

Modern Accomplishments by Catherine Sinclair

Besides giving some talks about these authors around the country and writing about them for the latest issue (number 24) of our in-house magazine Discover NLS, I’ve also been working with our education team to produce a feature on them for our Learning Zone, which we hope will open these authors’ lives and works up to those who want to explore them further inside and outside the classroom. It contains lots of information about who they were and what they wrote, links to copies of their novels that can be found online, and suggestions for discussion points and creative writing and other activities inspired by their books.

These are some of my favourite authors – they all have laugh-out-loud funny moments, and there are some fascinating portrayals of the Scotland they lived in alongside the strong heroines, dashing heroes, and gallery of eccentrics who populate their novels. I hope that people enjoy discovering them.

‘Forgotten Women Writers: Jane Austen’s Scottish Sisters’ is freely available on our website.

A Scott binding

Posted October 21, 2013 3:04 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

In the 18th century, decorative arts underwent significant developments. Two outstanding Scottish bookbinders, James Scott and his son William, were at the forefront of such design changes. James Scott of Edinburgh is generally acknowledged as the finest bookbinder in Scotland in the 18th-century and indeed one of the finest in Britain at this time.

1013 binding small


In the 1770s and 1780s Scott broke away from the traditional Scottish wheel and herringbone designs, and replaced them with first rococo and then neo-classical styles. We recently bought an outstanding example of his distinctive work: 


1013 binding 2 smallThis binding of a York printing of the 17th-century English scholar John Evelyn’s “Silva” is a magnificent example of Scott’s craftsmanship. The binding is brown tree calf with gilt column style tools and musical trophy on the boards and Minerva ornament on the spines.

The book also has a distinguished provenance: an inscription “Lauderdale” on the title page of vol. 1 indicates it once belonged to James Maitland, 7th Earl of Lauderdale (1718-1789). It was presumably bound for him.

Bindings by James Scott and his son William are much sought after by collectors, and the Library has the most extensive collection in existence.

Find out more about Scottish book binding on our website.

Effects of light and the weather

Posted October 17, 2013 3:42 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We recently bought a rare first edition of a book illustrating the effects of light and the weather on the landscape. It reproduces landscape sketches by William Gilpin (1724-1804), an English writer on art, school teacher and clergyman. His picturesque books became very popular especially among amateur artists , though his didactic and pedantic tone grated with some professional artists.

One of the reasons for acquiring a copy of his A practical illustration of Gilpin’s day (AB.10.213.02) is the fact that this 1811 edition includes an introduction and descriptive text for each plate by the Scottish painter and aquatint engraver John Heaviside Clark (1771-1863). He even hand-coloured the plates, thus adding spectacular dashes of colour and dramatic effects such as rainbows and flashes of lightning, which were a great improvement on the rather muted monochromatic aquatints of the earlier edition.

1013 watercolour small

Clark cites two excerpts from the famous poem “The Seasons” by the Scottish poet James Thomson (1700-1748) and describes “the deep toned clouds skirted by the glowing tinges of electrified vapours” and the use of colours such as prussian-blue, gamboge  and vandyck brown, but fails to make any mention of the figure suspended from what looks like a gallows tree.

Find out more about William Gilpin and James Thomson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).

James IV and the Coming of Print to Scotland

Posted September 9, 2013 12:01 am by Helen Vincent | Permalink

Today from 12-2pm at NLS we are marking the 500th anniversary of the death of James IV by displaying the Chepman and Myllar prints – Scotland’s first printed books. What, you may ask, had this particular Scottish king to do with the history of the book in Scotland?

A Renaissance King

James IV, print from a contemporary portrait. View the original portrait on the <a href=

James IV, print from a contemporary portrait. View the original portrait on the Your Paintings website.

James IV (1473-1515) was the epitome of the Renaissance monarch. Famed for his expert performance in knightly tournaments, he spoke Latin and several European languages in addition to Scots and Gaelic. His interest in new ideas led him to sponsor new buildings, alchemists’ experiments, and even an attempt at flight. During his reign, celebrated scholars such as Hector Boece and Archibald Whitelaw brought the new ideas of humanism to Scotland, and writers such as William Dunbar and Robert Henryson composed some of the country’s finest poems.

James and Printing

It was probably during James’ reign that the first printed books arrived in Scotland, most likely brought back by travelling scholars, diplomats and clerics. Printing must have appealed to a king fascinated by all kinds of new technology. In 1507 James granted a patent or licence to Walter Chepman and Androw Myllar to import Scotland’s first printing press.

James saw the potential of print for spreading many copies of the same version of a text quickly and widely. He wanted Chepman and Myllar to print laws and chronicles – books which would help his project of centralising government.

The first dated Scottish book: colophon Continue reading James IV and the Coming of Print to Scotland

Come and see Scotland’s first printed books

Posted September 3, 2013 3:56 pm by Helen Vincent | Permalink

Come to NLS on Monday 9 September, 2013, 12-2pm, for a rare opportunity to see Scotland’s first printed books!

September 9 is the 500th anniversary of the battle of Flodden, which saw the death of King James IV. We will mark the 500th anMaying title pageniversary of the battle and celebrate the contribution of James IV to printing in Scotland by displaying the first known books to be printed in this country.

James IV has been acclaimed by historians as the king whose reign brought the Renaissance to Scotland. Printing was introduced to Scotland when he granted a patent to merchant Walter Chepman and bookseller Androw Myllar allowing them to import the country’s first printing press.

NLS holds the only surviving copy of Scotland’s first dated printed book in a volume with other unique works from Chepman and Myllar’s press – one of the most precious items in our collections.

The importance of the Chepman and Myllar prints was highlighted when they were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2010.

There is no need to book, just turn up on the day to view the books. Expert curators will be on hand to explain the background to their unrivalled place in Scotland’s printed heritage.

If you can’t come, we have digitised the Chepman and Myllar prints and they are freely available to view online on the NLS website in our Digital Gallery.

200 Years of Pride and Prejudice

Posted July 10, 2013 5:45 pm by Helen Vincent | Permalink

The famous opening sentence, from the first edition

The famous opening sentence, from the first edition

Today we installed the new display in our Visitor Centre, celebrating 200 years since the publication of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

The full title of the display is 200 Years of Pride and Prejudice: From Austen to Zombies, and it contains only a small sample from the hundreds of editions and other books about the novel in our collections, from the first edition to the zombies, who appeared in the ‘mash-up’ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a few years ago.

At the heart of the display is our copy of the first edition, one of a set of Austen first editions in our Hugh Sharp collection. It’s a beautifully-preserved copy of this three-volume set, still in the original publishers’ boards. Like many first editions of famous books, its plain appearance gives no clue to the literary treasure within.

The three volumes of the first edition

The three volumes of the first edition

Some other well-known editions are included, such as the ‘Peacock’ edition, which contains Hugh Thomson’s illustrations, reprinted many times since, but we’ve also taken the opportunity to rediscover some gems, such as the edition illustrated by Chris Hammond, published in 1900 only a few years after the ‘Peacock’.

Our legal deposit collections are an invaluable resource for this kind of display. Many libraries preserve the best editions of novels like Pride and Prejudice and associated scholarly material: we accumulate everything, scholarly and popular. This kind of material tells us a lot about who publishers thought would read the novel, who bought copies, and how attitudes to it have changed over time. In documenting this history, an edition produced a few years ago aimed at teenage fans of the ‘Twilight’ series is as important as the magisterial scholarly edition produced by R.W. Chapman in 1923, and you will find both in our exhibition.

Elizabeth and Lady Catherine, illustrated by Christiana Hammond

Elizabeth and Lady Catherine, illustrated by Christiana Hammond

One of the most interesting things these books tell us about Pride and Prejudice is how people have responded to the novel over the years. The ‘Peacock’ edition mentioned above comes with an introduction from an eminent man of letters, critic George Saintsbury. Anyone whose perception of Pride and Prejudice is that it’s the quintessential women’s romantic novel may be surprised to learn that a century ago, it was men who formed the Jane Austen fanbase. Saintsbury even coined the term ‘Janite’ (later ‘Janeite‘) to describe these avid readers, and ended his introduction with a discourse on why Elizabeth, of all fictional heroines, would be the perfect one to marry. What he would have made of today’s emphasis on Mr Darcy?

Although exhibitions always involve a lot of work, this one was certainly one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done here at NLS – as I’ve adored Pride and Prejudice since I first read it as a teenager, it was a real labour of love. I hope visitors enjoy it too!

  • Our free display runs from 10 July to 15 September, open 7 days a week.
  • Find out more about the display on the special webpage on our website.

An early book for bird breeders

Posted June 5, 2013 5:01 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

Blog June 2013 003 small Despite its title, The bird-fancier’s companion (RB.s.2851) isn’t a guide for bird watchers, but a manual on how to breed canaries. Published in Edinburgh in 1763, the book introduces different breeds of canary and offers some advice about how to choose from the birds imported by German traders.

The book goes on to cover breeding of canaries, health tips and how to make canaries sing. It closes with a section on native wild birds which were often kept in cages: skylarks, goldfinches and linnets.

Caged birds were probably imported into Scotland through Leith, which was the main entry point in Scotland for foreign goods in the 18th century. This would also explain why the book was printed for a Leith-based bookseller, William Coke.

The bird-fancier’s companion is very rare; only two other copies are known. The text comes from A new way of breeding canary birds, a work first printed in London in 1742.

The Battle of Lora: Ossian in Russian

Posted 11:56 am by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We recently acquired a Russian version of “The Battle of Lora”, one of James MacPherson’s Ossianic poems. It was published exactly 200 years ago, in 1813, at the Navy Press in St Petersburg.

MacPherson published his Fingal, and ancient poem in 1762 (Oss.4). The Battle of Lora is one of the epic poems in this collection. A first translation of Fingal into Russian, based mainly on the 1765 French translation by Letourneur, appeared in 1792. It stimulated a huge interest in folk poetry in Russia, and even Pushkin wrote a verse translation of it. In 1813, the editor and translator Valerian Nikolaevich Olin (1788-c. 1840) published this free translation into Russian verse, and followed this in 1823 and 1824 with another two verse adaptations. Olin defended the authenticity of Ossian: he believed that Ossianic poetry was the northern European equivalent of Classical Greek and Roman poetry.

The book was formerly in the Russian Imperial Library at Tsarskoye Selo, a country estate to the south of St Petersburg which was owned by the Russian royal family. It served as a summer residence of the tsars and a place for official receptions. After the October Revolution of 1917, the contens of the Imperial Library were dispersed.

Find out more about James MacPherson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).