Marks, manicules and more: interactions with our collections

By Ash Charlton, collaborative PhD student on placement with Rare Books.

Please note that some material in the collection and the language that describes them may be harmful. Read our statement on language you may encounter when using the collections.

The National Library of Scotland holds a wealth of information, including a substantial collection of pamphlets relating to slavery. As part of my placement, I have been improving catalogue records for a selection of these pamphlets and this short blog series (3 of 3) will highlight some interesting finds. This covered 35 bound volumes, totaling 355 pamphlets.

People are at the core of our collections; both in the creation of our items, but also as users; active people interacting with our books. Sometimes the materials we come across in the collections are in excellent condition, with only minor signs of wear and tear. At other times, we have clues as to how former owners or readers interacted with their books, whether this is in the form of notes, drawings or things left behind in our books. Here I’ll be exploring some of these material histories that emerged from working with these pamphlets.

Marks and notes 

The condition of these pamphlets was variable; some appeared pristine, like they had barely been touched, whereas others contained marks and notes in ink where they had been used heavily. One 1824 pamphlet had been used by an Edinburgh-based abolitionist group, with the members list heavily annotated, suggesting that it had perhaps been used to keep track of people present at a meeting, active subscribers or to keep a record of members for another purpose.  

As you look down the page you can see annotations and tick marks on the left side of the names, and addresses added on the left of some of the names (page 32, 3.1676(20)): 

Shelfmark: 3.1676(20)

Similarly, the committee members list in another society report has a tick or a circle in pencil next to every committee member, presumably to indicate who was present and was not, and dashed lines in the margins next to committee members names (page 33, 3.1675(1)): 

Shelfmark: 3.1675(1)

These annotations were most likely made on the pamphlet before it came into our collections and add useful historical context to the pamphlet. 


Although these are technically a kind of mark, they deserve their own section here. You might be wondering what on earth manicules even are and it is quite simple; they are small hands used to point to interesting parts of text. They are a common sight in medieval manuscripts, where you might see just a hand, an elaborate sleeve attached, or even a person or animal incorporated into the design. Below are some manicules from our medieval manuscript collections: 

Adv.MS.33.5.2, 14th-century
Adv.MS.18.7.7, late 10th-century
Adv.MS.18.5.16, 12th-century

So why so surprising to see these in our pamphlets on slavery? Manicules were adapted into type settings for printed books, but hand-drawn ones had declined in use by the nineteenth century and were uncommon to see. A previous reader (or readers) of pamphlets 3.2803(1)-(4), however, had covered the pages in tiny hands drawn in ink and pencils. Some of these illustrations can be seen all the way down the margins of the page, suggesting that whoever was reading the pamphlet was keen to indicate important information to return to:

Shelfmark: 3.2803(1)

One of these pamphlets where manicules have been added is 3.2803(2), by Adam Hodgson titled A letter to M. Jean-Baptiste Say, on the comparative expense of free and slave labour.  Amongst many other manicules, the reader has placed one next to the quotation “[t]hat the paying of slaves for their own labour, does actually produce a great profit to their owners” (page 10).  

Shelfmark: 3.2803(3)

Unfortunately we can’t know for sure when these little hands were drawn in, or how many people may have drawn them in. These manicules are not always easily recognisable as hands and some look very hastily drawn, as you can see above, but they were an interesting and unexpected find! 

Tram ticket 

Now this one really is something that I did not expect to come across tucked away in these volumes, which was an old tram ticket, tucked between pages 18 and 19 of pamphlet 3.1521(9)! The ticket shows the name Edinburgh Corporation Transport Department and stops from Colinton in south-west Edinburgh to Crewe Road in northern Edinburgh. Edinburgh Corporation Tramways was active from 1919 to 1956, giving us a window of just over 35 years the ticket would have been used in. So, we don’t know exactly who used it or exactly when, but we do know that someone travelled across Edinburgh and sat in our reading room with these pamphlets, perhaps using it as a page marker before leaving. It seems a fitting find with the reintroduction of the new Edinburgh tram system in 2014 and the current expansion works. 

Shelfmark: 3.1521(9)
Shelfmark: 3.1521(9)

Although it is sometimes difficult to tell exactly how the items in our collections have been used in the past, or by who, small indications like these give us a hint at the material history and how books in our collections have been used in the past.  

For more information on slavery in our collections see our guide on Scotland and the slave trade and our learning resource on anti-slavery activists


Clarkson, Thomas. Thoughts on the necessity of improving the condition of the slaves in the British colonies, with a view to their ultimate emancipation; and on the practicability, the safety, and the advantages of the latter measure (London, 1823). Shelfmark: 3.2803(1)  

Edinburgh Society for Promoting the Mitigation and Ultimate Abolition of Negro Slavery. The first annual report of the Edinburgh Society for Promoting the Mitigation and Ultimate Abolition of Negro Slavery; with an appendix (Edinburgh, 1824). Shelfmark: 3.1675(1), 3.1676(20) 

Fitz-Gerald, John. Christian slaveholders disobedient to Christ : or, Ten thousand English Christians invited to protest actively against the sin of the church in the United States: and to cease from purchasing the produce of slave labour (London, 1854) Shelfmark: 3.1521(9) 

Hodgson, Adam. A letter to M. Jean-Baptiste Say, on the comparative expense of free and slave labour (Liverpool, 1823). Shelfmark: 3.2803(2) 

Macaulay, Zachary. Negro slavery; or, A view of some of the more prominent features of that state of society, as it exists in the United States of America and in the colonies of the West Indies, especially in Jamaica (London, 1823). Shelfmark: 3.2803(3) 


National Library of Scotland, Late 10th-century manuscript, produced in England, which contains a selection of the poetry of Coelius Sedulius, with glosses in Latin and Old English, Image 11. Shelfmark: Adv.MS.18.7.7 

National Library of Scotland, 14th-century manuscript of the ‘Historia Anglorum’ of Henry of Huntingdon Image 12. Shelfmark: Adv.MS.33.5.2 

National Library of Scotland, Volume containing two 12th-century English medical manuscripts, with other works added in the 15th century, Image 147. Shelfmark: Adv.MS.18.5.16