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I’m moving!

[Picture: Stack of old books, light background]My blog that is. Up to now, I’ve been using two different platforms for my website and my blog, which was not the most practical. I’m finally getting around to doing some more imaginative things with my website; being ever so slightly technophobic and techno-illiterate, I’ve been putting this off for ages! Using, I hope to have everything in the one place. It could all go horribly wrong and I loose everything, including your good selves following my tales of antiquarian books. But if not, it will be great!

So, from today, I will be writing my blog posts at Looking forward to seeing you there!


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January 8, 2015 · 3:46 pm

Use and Abuse of Books: an exhibition

Sebastian Brant - The Book Fool - WGA03111

The Book Fool. From Sebastian Brant’s “Ship of Fools” (1494). Copyright: Wikimedia Commons

  Quick post again, while I am trying to get my images together for more snippets from the Erddig collections. Also in the offing:  another round of volunteering with the book team at Calke Abbey and, finally, a little bit more on the research I’m still trying to undertake with regard to a vanity publication in the Library at Kedleston. But, this week, I’d like to draw your attention to this wonderful online exhibition of incunabula in Cambridge University Library. It focuses on a topic close to my own interests: the physical signs of the use and abuse of books. Enjoy! And do visit the actual exhibition as well if you happen to be near Cambridge (which I’m not really unfortunately…)

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November 23, 2014 · 3:50 pm

Material Evidence in Incunabula – a CERL project


Underneath the heading for ‘De lollio’ (lollium temulentum, i.e. darnel), an early reader has written: ‘onkruijt dat in die tarw wast’ (weed that grows among wheat). Image taken from a copy of the Ruralia ([Speyer: Petrus Drach, ca. 1490]) in the Edward Worth Library, Dublin.

 A short post this time… (because I’m on holiday and haven’t had a chance to sort through my images from Hatfield House yet!)

Looking at the incunabula at Hatfield recently (and of course finding that ‘Crescentius’ manuscript) reminded me of a German printing of the Ruralia ([Speyer: Petrus Drach, ca. 1490]) I was asked to have a look at a few years ago. The volume in question is in the Edward Worth Library in Dublin (worth – forgive the pun – exploring as a library), and I was particularly interested in how it could have ended up in Edward Worth’s collection as well as in how it had been used before he purchased it (perhaps during his time on the Continent).

It was therefore terribly exciting to come across a blog-post from the University of St Andrews Special Collections team about their contributions to a new CERL project which aims to record material evidence in incunabula (MEI).

Led by Dr Cristina Dondi, the project aims to map all evidence of interactions with the contents of books printed before 1500, which will give us a valuable insight into how incunabula were read and used as resources, or collected; patterns of ownership; distribution and geographical networks; ways in which provenance was marked and even how some books were stored. The data is linked to ISTC and the CERL biographical and place name thesauri. Records can be searched and downloaded in MARC format into local OPACs. According to the introductory page, they are hunting for contributions from libraries, so spread the word!

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August 17, 2014 · 11:01 pm

The library at Mount Stewart secured

Treasure Hunt

View of Lady Londonderry's Sitting Room at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/Peter Aprahamian View of Lady Londonderry’s Sitting Room at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/Peter Aprahamian

It has just been announced that the library at Mount Stewart has been acquired by the National Trust from the estate of the late Lady Mairi Bury. These books, spread across a number of rooms in the house, document the intellectual, cultural and political life of the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family since the eighteenth century.

Lady Londonderry's Sitting Room, Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond Lady Londonderry’s Sitting Room, Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The library was purchased for just under £100,000, with funding from the Royal Oak Foundation, the B.H. Breslauer Foundation, the Northern Ireland Museums Council, the Friends of the National Libraries, Doreen Burns and Terence and Di Kyle.

View of the Castlereagh Room at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond View of the Castlereagh Room at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Some of the books were owned by Charles Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry (1878-1949) and his wife Edith (1879-1959). They were…

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May 1, 2014 · 9:30 am

Counting books

I’m taking the easy route over Easter and will be blogging about removing mould from books in the next instalment. However, here’s an interesting short post on “counting books” in a library collection as part of the nation-wide effort to update the Directory of Rare Books and Special Collections, edited by Karen Attar, Rare Books Librarian at Senate House Library in London. Although in this case the quantification of the collection was limited to what has already been catalogued, it is also a very useful tool to pull together, relatively quickly, a statistical breakdown of items in a collection that still await cataloguing (so-called “hidden collections“).
Two years ago, I did a report for the Angus Library in Regent’s Park College, Oxford, which concentrated on their hidden collection of several thousand books. They were not entirely sure how many uncatalogued items they had, from what period the books dated and where they had been printed. In addition, I recorded languages, provenances, interesting bindings and checked pre-1800 books against national STCs. The advantage of looking at each book was that I could also make some general observations about the physical state of this part of the collection.
Without cataloguing the individual items to antiquarian standards (which is what is currently happening), I was able to present a relatively detailed overview of the Angus’s hidden holdings.

Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the UK and Republic of Ireland

Reporting collections for the Directory encouraged librarians to delve more deeply into their collections. Jesus College in Oxford was founded in 1571, and its library had been built by 1628. Owen McKnight, the current Librarian of Jesus College, reports:

Books in the Fellows’ Library (Nick Cistone; © Jesus College, Oxford) Books in the Fellows’ Library (Nick Cistone; © Jesus College, Oxford)

The guidelines for the new edition of the Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections ask libraries to indicate where possible how many printed books they hold from each century. I didn’t know how the Fellows’ Library measured up but I was keen to find out, so I asked the Oxford University cataloguing team to extract the dates of our books from the SOLO catalogue and set my graduate trainee to explore.

Even allowing for the fifth of the collection which is still to be catalogued, the figures demonstrate that the seventeenth-century Fellows’ Library houses an overwhelmingly seventeenth-century collection. This ties…

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April 19, 2014 · 12:14 pm

Do I need to wear gloves in the archives? A helpful flow chart

To glove or not to glove… Although this funny chart comes from an archives blog, it touches upon a contentious issue in the world of historic and special collections libraries as well: the use of the “white glove”. For an article on common misperceptions about the use of these gloves, see

Derangement and Description

Feel free to print this out for your archives or send a copy to every journalist you know. Click through for a high-res version.

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January 17, 2014 · 11:38 am