From Manchester to Melbourne: Gutenberg Bible on the move

Originally posted on John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog:

GB on stand

We are very excited that our copy of the magnificent Gutenberg Bible is on display for a limited time at the University of Melbourne as part of Melbourne Rare Book Week and the Cultural Treasures Festival. This Bible is the first book to be printed in Europe with moveable type, by Johann Gutenberg in Mainz around 1455.

The substantial two folio volumes are remarkable for the fine quality of the printing, executed with great care and attention to detail. The John Rylands Library copy is one of forty-eight substantially complete surviving copies, now housed in libraries across the world. Purchased by George John, 2nd Earl Spencer in 1790 it found its way to Manchester in 1892 when Enriqueta Rylands purchased the Spencer Collection of books. It includes original hand decorated initials at the beginning of each book and was probably at the Augustinian monastery in Colmar, northern France, in the…

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Glory Through Print: Emperor Maximilian I


Just to keep you going while I write my next post :)

Originally posted on John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog:

George Spearing writes:

The Hiero von Holtorp collection has been subject to an ongoing cataloguing project facilitated by The John Rylands Research Institute. After sifting through the majority of folders and boxes, one location appears to dominate in terms of quality and quantity, the Holy Roman Empire.

The Emperor of this vast territory, Maximilian I (1459-1519), oversaw multiple printing projects that served to commemorate his life and reign. The Rylands Library is fortunate enough to include fragments of these projects, namely the semi-biographical work entitled Der Theuerdank, and the monumental Triumphal Arch.

Theuerdank Received by Ehrenreich.

Theuerdank Received by Ehrenreich.

Der Theuerdank was first published in 1517, and formed what should have been the second installment of a semi-biographical trilogy; however, it was the only volume to be published in Maximilian’s lifetime. The text is an allegory of the Emperor’s journey to Flanders to claim his bride, Mary of Burgundy, written by…

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Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Materials as Meaning


Reblogged due to unseemly admiration for Rebecca Romney, unseemly I say.

Originally posted on Aldine by Rebecca Romney:

It’s difficult to call The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman a novel. The first of its nine volumes appeared in 1759, while the novel was still being developed as a genre. But that’s not why the term “novel” seems pathetically imprecise for this book. Endlessly digressive, the title character isn’t even born in his own supposed autobiography until about a third of the way through. Large portions of texts are cribbed from other writers (if adapted to new purposes). But most fascinating to me is Laurence Sterne’s use of the physical traits of the book to add meaning to his text.

Most obviously, Sterne uses unusual punctuation to create meaning. The copious and expressive dashes jump out even with the quickest of flips through any edition of Tristram Shandy. One of my favorites is just after Phutatorius has dropped a hot chestnut onto his…lap. The chapter begins…

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“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.”

So, last night a thing happened to me. I went to a party. I don’t get invited to parties much as a rule, I always end up pulling someone’s hair or sticking my fingers in the cake, and none of the other kids like books as presents. This, however, was a rare book trade party, and they always have to make up the numbers somehow.

The shindig, or indeed hootenanny, in question was the opening of this:

A bookshop, not messing about, yesterday.

A bookshop, not messing about, yesterday.

This is Peter Harrington Rare Books new Dover Street branch in the posh bit of Mayfair. In case you were wondering, no, there’s no bit of Mayfair that isn’t posh. If there were an un-posh bit, this shop wouldn’t be in it, I needed an escort of smartly dressed adults to get within ten feet of the door unchallenged.

As you can see, it’s very pretty, very green and exuding an air of calm elegance. My familiarity with calm elegance is right up there with my familiarity of say, early cuneiform, or the inner workings of the Antikythera Mechanism, but I have it on good authority from people who know calm elegance when they see it that, yup, this place is dripping with it.

Justin Croft was there, what more do you need to know? He’s like a calm elegance early warning system. He also doesn’t age, but that’s a story for another day, one when we have garlic and mistletoe and the backing of a reasonably sized religion.

"No, I am in fact 175 years old...hmm? Oh, virgin's blood mainly, and special soil..."

“No, I am in fact 175 years old…hmm? Oh, virgin’s blood mainly, and special soil…”

In case you were wondering whether I’m just plugging their shop because I work for one of their relatives, no, that wasn’t my intention, have you met me? I’m plugging their shop because it’s awesome. Not because it’s big, and clean and spacious, not because it has concealed lighting and air conditioning and a cool staircase and not because they were giving away free champagne and the bubbles went up my nose.

I mean, all those things are true, but they aren’t really things I give much of a toss about (except the free champagne), in fact they are usually reasons for me not to particularly like a place, being kind of grubby and low rent myself. There are other reasons:

Firstly, it’s a massive vote of confidence in the rare book trade, its future, and its customers. At a time when (once again) the majority of booksellers are predicting a rain of frogs and the imminent arrival of the Whore of Babylon (whom I believe collects Cosway bindings and Jardine’s New Naturalist), often whilst people who want to buy books off them are standing there looking all forlorn and forgotten, this is a successful, internationally lauded firm making the statement that no, they aren’t having any of that, they are going to sell amazing books to anyone who wants them and they’re going to do it with a degree of style. So there’s that. We like that.

Secondly, the staff. Normally I hate bookshop staff. I am bookshop staff, and I’m grotesque, so I naturally suspect the same of anyone in the same profession.

Me, only better groomed.

Me, only better groomed.

Dover Street is being managed by Ben Houston. He is not horrid. He’s annoyingly intelligent, reprehensibly helpful and informed and quite disgustingly friendly and efficient. He fills me with insecurity and self loathing. He gave myself and one of my colleagues a guided tour and he actually managed to make us feel as if we were perhaps his first or most definitely, favourite guided tour of the day. He’d probably done 50, and detested most of the last 20. I have a keen eye for vile and deceitful behaviour in others (I’m competitive that way) and could detect none. He gave us drinks and showed us wonderful books. He smelled nice, sort of sandalwoody with a hint of citrus, rather like one might expect the 1930’s to smell, only with less national socialism.

All that aside, he knows what he’s talking about, and he knows what he’s doing…personally not things I look for in a bookshop manager, but people who want to buy inscribed F. Scott Fitzgerald, sets of Cook’s Voyages in contemporary bindings and the world’s most beautiful first edition of The Hobbit probably feel differently. They probably think he’s peachy.

I was also introduced to Gracie Pocock, who initially had the bad judgement to attempt to make me believe she was actually looking forward to meeting me. Once we’d got that tissue of patent untruths out of the way I discovered that she is working in PR and marketing for the rare book trade. The party was her doing. It appeared most successful.

Yes. I know.

Public Relations in the  British rare book trade used to consist of wearing a shirt with not too much egg down it. Marketing involved a sign on the front of your shop and a postcard in the local newsagent’s window. I’m exaggerating, but not by much. It is still very much possible to attend a bookfair by accident, simply because you didn’t know it was happening and took a wrong turn into a church hall. This is a trade where a lot of dealers still get grumpy when you buy a book off them and ask for a receipt. Miss Pocock might have to get an assistant.

The main reason why you should drop everything and go to the Dover Street shop is pretty obvious. The books; the books are absolutely incredible.

There’s this:


This copy has no way been there and back again...

This copy has no way been there and back again…

and somewhere there’s this:

McKenney & Hall, the original line up before the arrival of John Oates.

McKenney & Hall, the original line up before the arrival of John Oates.

and this:

It was the best of books, it was the...well pretty much the best of books actually.

It was the best of books, it was the…well pretty much the best of books actually.

All those images are the property of Peter Harrington Rare Books, just click on the pictures to see the descriptions. It’s well worth it.

So go. Go and browse. It’s beautiful. I haven’t been this impressed by anything in a long while. Usually my life is a storm of NSFW book lust on the one hand and the crippling disappointment of reality on the other. Occasionally there’s a brief moment of joy caused by finding a half eaten, forgotten pasty in my coat pocket, or when Adrian forgets to mark the level on the shop whisky bottle…but last night’s visit to Dover Street was a very grown up, considered, intelligent and important event. The appearance of a shop like that, whoever owns it, wherever it is, is a significant moment for the international rare book trade. Much as I love the teetering piles of old leather and the creaky cabinets of cloth bound oddities, and I do love them, fervently and indecently; they are where I grew up, and where many important things happened to me…but often the books deserve better.

That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day; are the books being given their due importance, their proper significance? Aside from the fact that we’re all trying to make money out of them, aside from the fact that there’s no such thing as free champagne, aside from the fact that we’re all fashionably cynical and that we have collectively more behavioral disorders than an off Broadway production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest…that perfect copy of The Hobbit, or the corrected Joyce typescript, or a first issue Origin of Species or a 16th century navigational manuscript don’t actually give a damn how much money we put on them, nor do they care which of us get to put them in a catalogue or exhibit them at Olympia…the only thing that matters is that they are put in the best possible place in the world to be seen, and to do their job, and feed our sense of wonder.

Last night I drank free champagne in one of those possible places.




5 Things Thursday: #RBMS2014, #ALA2014, Spaces and Metadata


Lots and lots of lovely RBMS bits and bobs…one day I’ll make it there…one day.

Originally posted on MOD LIBRARIAN:

Happy 3rd of July! Here are 5 things, mostly gleaned from Tweets of the librarians that did attend RBMS and ALA this year.

  1. Fabulous presentation about spaces for special collections by Shannon Mattern, Associate Professor in the School of Media Studies at The New School in New York. My favorite comment regarding rows and rows of archival boxes “Amidst the beige and grey,students not only begin to grasp the scope of an institution’s collection and the breadth of formats it contains, but they also begin to appreciate how value is attached to those materials – and just how much of it lives only in material form, and will likely not be digitized any time soon.
  2. Slides from Jennifer A. Liss, Metadata Librarian at Indiana University Libraries. I wish I had been able to attend this, but it echoes some of my top concepts – that catalogers need…

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Emblems and enigmas: our latest acquisition

Originally posted on University of Glasgow Library:

We were recently able to acquire another emblem book for our Stirling Maxwell collection thanks to help towards its purchase from the National Fund for Acquisitions (NFA). It is copy of the edition of Alciato’s Emblematum Liber, produced in Lyons in 1547 by Jean de Tournes and Guillaume Gazeau.

Jean de Tournes emblem book

This is a significant addition to our collection, being the first edition of Alciato’s two books of emblems printed together. The woodcuts in this book are also of importance since they are the first use of the exquisite blocks that are attributed to the renowned artist Bernard Salomon. All subsequent editions of Alciato’s emblem book descend from these cuts. This book has now been catalogued as Sp Coll S.M. Add. 462 and is available for consultation in our reading room. If, in the meantime, you are intrigued to find out more about emblem books in general and our peerless collection…

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Protect Your Collection


Firsts Magazine on Rare Book Collecting.

Originally posted on Firsts: Rare Books Magazine:

The most important single factor in the valuation of a first edition is condition. (Some people go so far as to say it is the only factor.) For modern first editions published since the turn of the Twentieth century, the most important element in pricing is the condition of the dust jacket. The reason for this is obvious: the jacket is the most fragile and vulnerable element of a book.

A hundred years ago, the dust jacket’s only use was to protect the book it covered from damage. That quickly changed when publishers began printing promotional material on dust jackets. In a relatively short period of time—less than 20 years, from roughly the first decade of the Twentieth century to the early 1920s—dust jacket design evolved into a sophisticated sales tool for publishers.

Despite the fact that some of the most wonderful dust jacket art was produced in the first…

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