Archive for March, 2012

Guest post – investigating provenance

Posted March 14, 2012 5:29 pm by Helen Vincent | Permalink

My name is Lauren Kraut, a Postgraduate at the University of Edinburgh and am interning in the Rare Books Department working on a provenance project.  Imagine your own library; do you buy or sell books to a secondhand shop? Have you exchanged books with friends?  Each time a book changes hands, another person is added to that book’s provenance.  It is our duty to locate as many owners as possible by the clues left behind in the books themselves.

Armorial bookplate of Sir David StewartFor example, Essays in Philosophy (ABS.2.79.81) was written by Alexander Campbell Fraser, M.A., Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, New College, Edinburgh.  It was published in Edinburgh and in London in 1856.  On the paste-down is an armorial bookplate of Sir David Stewart of Banchory Devenick.  On the recto of the first fly leaf is the inscription “Reverend Dr Brown with the author’s affectionate regard. Edinburgh, 3 June 1856.”  On the verso of the page, opposite the title page, is a bookplate from the National Library of Scotland with Dr. Jonathan Miller’s name (the polymath?) typed in at the bottom of the bookplate in recognition of his donation to the library.

Here we have four owners: the original author, Professor Fraser; Sir David Stewart; Reverend Brown and Dr. Miller.

I want to include in my entry as much information I can find.  I began by turning to the invaluable Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to search for Sir David Stewart.  No luck.  His is a popular name but the bookplate gave me a location of Banchory Devenick, which would help narrow my search down.  By checking Armorial Families – a complete peerage, baronetage and knightage, I was able to find Sir David, born in 1835, whose father had been Justice of the Peace in Banchory Devenick.  In 1860, Sir David married Margaret Dyce, daughter of Reverend David Brown, Principal of Free Church College, Aberdeen.  I found the connection between two of the owners!Inscription from Professor Fraser to Reverend Brown

To continue!  Professor Fraser was found in the Oxford DNB and I learned that in 1846 he began teaching at Free Church’s theological college, New College in Edinburgh.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find a direct connection between Professor Fraser and Reverend Brown, but they may have known of each other as they were both very active in the Free Church of Scotland.

 After making inquiries within the library about Dr. Jonathan Miller, the donor of this book, it was determined that it was indeed the same man.  He has donated several books to the library over the years, this being one of them!

It would seem that after Professor Fraser gave the book to Reverend Brown, Reverend Brown then may have passed it to his son-in-law, Sir David.  Its progression after that is more complex: how did it get to Dr. Miller?

Essays in Philsophy has certainly had a lucrative and busy history!

Further Reading

  • Armorial Families – a complete peerage, baronetage and knightage, and a directory of some gentlemen of coat-armour, and being the first attempt to show which arms in use at the moment are borne by legal authority, Complied and Edited by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (Edinburgh, 1893) NLS Shelfmark S.296.b, Pg. 931

Guest post: Excisions in a 17th century book

Posted March 9, 2012 12:55 pm by Helen Vincent | Permalink

Catechismvs Ex Decreto Sacro, excition on the title pageI am Marta Ameijeiras Barros, a Postgraduate Intern working in the Rare Book Collections Department, and today I ‘am making my debut’ on the Rare Books blog. The subject I chose belongs to one of the saddest chapters of the history of the book: its dissection, as if it were a laboratory specimen, at the hands of collectors, antiquarians, book dealers and even librarians.

On one of my first days in the department, an exquisite Latin catechism published in 1635 fell into my hands, the Catechismus Ex Decreto Sancrosancti Concilii Tridentini (Paris: Martin Durand, 1635) (NLS shelfmark: Cassidy.1746), belonging to the Cassidy Collection. What grasped my attention was that the woodcut had been cut out of the title page, leaving the next page visible as if through an open window. So somebody had thought that what was represented there was interesting and had decided to extract it.

What today would always be seen as vandalism was not always considered such. From the 17th until the beginning of the 20th century incunabula, illuminated manuscripts and early printed books, were victims of a fashion in collecting, in an effort to create varied compilations of pages and woodcuts from books of different origin, size and date; or a desire to make good defective copies.

This activity was so widespread between the antique dealers, that it is well known that even a bibliophile like John Ruskin (1819-1900) did not have any doubt about cutting a page if this was pleasing to him. A diary entry in which he records spending an evening cutting up a missal is reported by David Pearson in Provenance Research in Book History, pp.5-6.

This phenomenon can also be seen in the current exhibition of the National Library Beyond Macbeth: Shakespeare in Scottish Collections  in the figure of James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips (1820-1889), a scholar of Shakespeare who for his studies, made a series of scrapbooks with excisions from early printed books with references about the life and works of Shakespeare.

Coming back to our catechism, I think that this was a victim of the first wave of these collectors and its cutting would form part of those varied collections. But there is the chance that there could be another reason. Title pages frequently appeared signed indicating the ownership of these books, so could this missing piece have been extracted for covering up a possible inscription, perhaps of a previous proprietor?

However, as we all know, something incomplete or damaged is more vulnerable to destruction, as happened with a number of rare books. Luckily, this was not the destiny of this catechism, which is now kept resting on the shelves of the National Library bearing the scar of a dark time of the history of the book which we can not neglect.

Further reading:

  • William Blades, The Enemies of Books (London, 1880) NLS shelfmark Bg.10/2, chapter IX
  • David Pearson, Provenance research in book history: a handbook NLS shelfmark NRR (3.11 PEA) (Ruskin reference pp. 5-6)

The Cassidy Collection is not currently listed on the NLS online catalogue, but this book can be ordered by phone or email, or by filling in a slip in the reading room.

Early colour printing

Posted March 5, 2012 3:49 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

A small book with coloured plates published in 1858 was recently added to the Library’s collections. It was published by the firm of Thomas Nelson, which became one of the most successful publishing houses in the world during the 19th century. Its origins lay in bookselling in Edinburgh, and from there the firm expanded into publishing and printing.

This book has particularly attractive colour plates. They were produced using an early chromolithograph technique based on G. J. Cox’s invention of transferring steel and copperplate engraving onto lithographic stone, but using a combination of light blue, chocolate brown, and beige. Here is an example:

Sailing ship

“Overland route to India and China” is an example of Nelson’s success in printing good quality, affordable, small format books. Despite its title, this anonymous work describes a sea journey to China, stopping in Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt and India, Ceylon, Hong Kong and Singapore, before ending up in Shanghai. The only real overlandpart of the journey was travelling from Alexandria to Suez (the Suez canal was yet to be built)! This journey involved “incessant galloping and jolting over the parched desert” as the railway line through the desert was still in construction. Travelling was certainly an adventure in those days!

Scott for young Russians

Posted 3:28 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

We recently acquired an adaption of Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Kenilworth“, an adventure story set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) with a bit of a tragic ending. What makes this acquisition so interesting is not that it is aimed at younger readers, but that it’s a Russian adaptation! It was printed in Moscow and St Petersburg in 1873, that is 52 years after the original edition.

 Russian Scott

Translations of Scott into Russian began to appear in the 1820s. Scott reached probably the widest audience of any foreign author in Russia in the 19th century. Not only that, he also had a considerable influence on the development of the Russian historical novel. It even became fashionable in 19th-century Russia to wear tartan and so-called ‘Walter Scott’ cloaks, and to dress up as characters from his novels.

You’ll find lots of information about Walter Scott’s life and works in the Walter Scott Digital Archive maintained by Edinburgh University Library. Have a look in particuar at the page about the novel “Kenilworth“.

More Information about Sir Walter Scott is available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections)

A beautiful binding

Posted 2:51 pm by Anette Hagan | Permalink

The Library has the largest collection of bindings by the brothers James and William Scott, renowned Scottish bookbinders who were active in the second half of the 18th century. We are always looking to add to our collections of bindings, and here’s one we bought recently.

Scott binding

This particular volume is bound in a red morocco binding which is representative of James Scott’s earlier work. Here is a bit of technical information: It combines the characteristics of the rococo style with elements of chinoiserie, a style that preceded his shift into a more neo-classical decorative influence. Both boards are bordered by a Greek-key roll, panels with an elaborate rococo decoration framing a radiating pyramid, with use of swan and nesting bird tools; the spine is gilt in compartments, repeating a tool with two birds. The binding appears datable to c.1777. 

Three books are bound together in this one volume: a Book of Common Prayer, a Companion to the altar, and the New version of the Psalms of David. They were all printed by Adrian Watkins in Edinburgh between 1761 and 1762, but they obviously had to wait some 15 years before they were bound together by James Scott.

On World Book Day: in praise of books

Posted March 1, 2012 12:28 pm by Helen Vincent | Permalink

I thought it would be appropriate to mark World Book Day with some quotations from our exhibition Beyond Macbeth in praise of books.

William Drummond is one of my favourite collectors – his motivation in building his collection seems to have been his love of reading all kinds of literature. He wrote two essays about libraries. The first is in the persona of the library of Edinburgh University, to which he donated a substantial part of his own personal library in 1626. In ‘Bibliotheca Edinburgena Lectori‘ (’The Edinburgh Library to the Reader’), he says

‘ Books have that strange Quality, that being of the frailest and tenderest Matter, they out-last Brass, Iron, and Marble; and tho’ their Habitations and Walls, by uncivil Hands, be many Times overthrown; and they themselves, by foreign Force, be turned Prisoners, yet do they often, as their Authors, keep their Givers Names; seeming rather to change Places and Masters, than to suffer a full Ruine and total Wrack.’

Continue reading On World Book Day: in praise of books