Buried Treasure on Campus? A closer look at the Overstone Library

Currently working at the University of Reading as Staff Engagement and Communications Officer, Jeremy Lelean previously worked as a dealer in antiquarian and collectable books. In today’s blog, Jeremy takes a closer look at the Overstone Library, the foundation collection of the University Library. 

I work in science communication, most recently with research into soil, and when looking at the Overstone Library I was struck by a certain similarity. Both are somewhat ignored but just as there is treasure in soil there is treasure in the Overstone Library. This is clearly seen in this stunning (and surely longest ever) illustration of Trojan’s Column from Colonna di Trajano e di Antonio Pio (1770). Or more obviously valuable items like Jules Goury’s Alhambra (1842-1845) or David Roberts’ The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, & Nubia. But, there is also a less obvious significance to the Overstone Library. I love books but when I say this, people often confuse this with liking literature. It is the books themselves that interest me: every library or collection is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered.

How the Overstone library was created can be clearly followed in the two bookplates seen in many of the volumes. Though fallen out of fashion now, bookplates were commonly used from the days of early printing into the mid twentieth century. We know, therefore that this library was collected by two people: that is John Ramsay McCulloch and, subsequent to his death, Samuel Jones Loyd, Baron Overstone. Using bookplates as a sign of ownership was important to the sort of collecting that led to the creation of these libraries in the nineteenth century. Having a library was a great sign of being solidly middle class, a notoriously important thing in Victorian England. Once one had made a fortune, showing one’s wealth was important but also one’s knowledge and culture. The books in the Overstone Library demonstrate this well but the significance is that it is still intact and all together.

Many of the books the library contains are not that remarkable and certainly none are very rare. There are many eighteenth and nineteenth century editions of books and poetry we could recognise today, as well as standards of the time that might have been forgotten like The Fables of Aesop or the Decameron (The Ten Days) by Giovanni Boccaccio. In my previous work as a dealer in antiquarian and collectible books I would often see odd volumes from such collections but never saw an intact library like this. Most of these libraries had been broken up post-First or Second World War (this library came to the University in 1920). So, to see such a collection as a whole tells us a lot about the aspirations of Overstone and the wider Victorian middle class.

More social history can be unearthed by looking at the books as objects rather than for what they contain. Until paper tax was abolished in 1846, books were the preserve of the wealthy and were sold as paper text blocks, without covers, so the owner would have them bound, if not uniformly, then sympathetically. This can be seen in these two French reference books (see above) showing Overstone’s choice in binding and decoration. As well as this we can see the Victorians’ love of decoration, for example, in the Decameron (see below). The gilt decoration on the cover is perhaps enough but, if it wasn’t, open the book to see how it continues inside and the beautiful marbled endpapers. You may not agree with the Victorians’ idea of taste but have to admire their commitment to it in all things, even their books.

So the next time you hear the word library, think less of a building or even a collection of books, but of treasure waiting to be discovered!

 

Click here for more information on the Overstone Library. If you have any further queries, or wish to view items from the Library, email specialcollections@reading.ac.uk. 

Cat sketches and cataloguing: Final thoughts of our Archive Graduate Trainee

Special Collections offer year long graduate trainee schemes in both the Archive and Library. In this month’s blog, our departing Archives Graduate Trainee Timothy Jerrome looks back on his year with us. 

 

Now that I am coming to the end of my year’s archive traineeship at Special Collections and the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), I feel it is a good time to reflect on the range of invaluable experience I have gained. Call me biased, but I honestly believe that this role has provided me with the best possible platform from which to dive into my MA in Archives and Records Management!

On top of the challenges of starting any new job, this was also my first period of full-time employment, so I am most grateful to the researchers and colleagues who tolerated my constantly exhausted expression over the first couple of weeks! However, I soon fell into the rhythm of working at the MERL, and my excellent prior work experience at the University of Surrey archives gave me a good idea of what to expect.

As any researchers who have visited frequently over the past months will know, the majority of my time here has been spent supervising the MERL Reading Room. I have interacted with a vast range of researchers with varying interests, from students interested in the materiality of archives to steam engine enthusiasts poring over engineering drawings. My experience in the reading room has taught me that access is the most important aspect of maintaining archives. Whether this is through creating a clear catalogue, knowing the location of every item in storage, or helping researchers handle material in a safe and sustainable way, I now believe that access to collections should be a high priority of any good archivist – and the archivists at the MERL are very good!

As well as Reading Room duty, I have helped catalogue parts of the Cole, Scrivener and Landscape Institute collections, and contributed to the digitisation of the John Fowler & Co. engine registers. Additionally, I have participated in a locations survey, and updated several of our website’s ‘A-Z’ pages for the MERL archive collections.

I would fully encourage anybody with a desire to become an archivist to apply for the traineeship at MERL and Special Collections. Furthermore I would encourage anyone with even a passing interest in our collections to pay us a visit and explore the archives. I have lost track of the number of researchers who came for a very specific purpose and then discovered a treasure chest of fascinating material which they did not know existed.

The best example I can give is that of my own personal experience. I never would have expected that the Landscape Institute archive, along with the associated collections of the Landscape architects, would become my favourite material both to look at myself, and produce for researchers. In particular, I love the sketchbooks of the Landscape Architect Peter Shepheard, who saw himself as an artist as much as a garden designer, and his sketches (including one pictured here – AR SHE DO1/4/1/14) really demonstrate this.

An unfinished sketch of a cat.

One of Peter Shepheard’s cat sketches, drawn possibly between 1940-80. Taken from the Peter Shepheard Collection (AR SHE DO1/4/1/14)

I wish all the best to my colleagues at MERL, and all researchers past, present and future. I am now looking forward to beginning my further studies at University College London.

Timothy Jerrome, Archives Graduate Trainee

For more information on graduate trainee roles in archives, check the ARA’s webpages on traineeships. 

Born on this day? The strange case of Nancy Astor’s birthday

This weekend we celebrate Nancy Astor’s birthday, said to be on the 19th May. But is there more to this birth date than meets the eye? Head of Archive Services Guy Baxter takes a closer look at the mystery surrounding Nancy Astor’s birth. 

The first female MP to take her seat in the British House of Commons, Nancy Astor was born (as Nancy Langhorne) in Danville, Virginia. But when exactly?

It is not unknown for celebrities to be coy about their age, but there was no such vanity from Nancy Astor. The mystery in this case surrounds not the year (1879) but the date of her birth. Stranger still, it was not until the publication of Adrian Fort’s extensively researched biography in 2012 that the mystery came to the attention of the public – or even specialists in the field.

Fort sums up the mystery thus: “It was at street level in the newly built house at Danville, in a room with dull green walls and a bare wooden floor, that Nancy was born on 30 January 1979 – although subsequently, and throughout her adult life, her birthday was, for no clearly stated reason, given as 19 May.” The biography is aimed at the general reader so, understandably, there is no footnote; I therefore approached the author and asked his source. What came back to me was a scan of Nancy Astor’s birth certificate extracted (with some difficulty, I gather) from the State authorities in Virginia.

The plot then thickens somewhat. Waldorf Astor (Nancy’s second husband) was born on 19 May 1879. So Nancy Astor, for much or her adult life and to the extent it confounded biographers and academics for years, seems to have adopted the birth date of her second husband.

Apart from scratching our heads, what should we do with such information? I suggest three things: we can speculate on the reasons; we can do more research, or at least bear this my

A photo of two people on an ice rink. The man is kneeling on the floor.

Nancy and Waldorf Astor. Was their shared birthday an elaborate in-joke? (MS 1416/1/6/94/10)

stery in mind while researching in the archives; and finally we might use this as a starting point to explore some wider implications and issues.

The speculation first. Is the Virginia record incorrect? There would seem to be no good reason to back-date a birth record, and it seems like an odd error to make. Having said that, the strange case of Ulysses Simpson Grant springs immediately to mind.

Born and raised as Hiram Ulysses Grant, he was the victim of an assumption made by the Congressman, Thomas Hamer, who nominated him to enrol as a student at West Point. A family friend, Hamer only knew him as Ulysses and inserted Grant’s mother’s maiden name (Simpson) into the register. The United States Army bureaucracy proved immovable and Grant, once he realised the error, was unable to change it. By the time he became the head of the U.S. military and 18th President of the United States, it may well have ceased to bother him, and it gave him the patriotic initials “U.S.” which proved a boon as his military career took off. So mistakes in an official record can be hard to change.

If the record is correct, then we must ask whether Nancy was aware that this was her birth date. Could her family have deceived her? Apart from the fact that no obvious reason springs to mind, neither this idea, nor that of an administrative mistake, explains the co-incidence with Waldorf’s birth date. Though it should be noted that the odds of two randomly selected people sharing a birth date are not outrageously long.

Perhaps Nancy and Waldorf decided to align their birthdays: possibly for convenience, possibly as an in-joke or an intimate secret. Given their wealth, sharing a birthday party can surely not have been a money-saving measure. Or is it possible that Nancy concealed her real birth date from Waldorf? Could the shared birthday have been a ploy in her courtship? As the son of one of the richest men in the world, he was quite a catch – was it worth a small lie to grab his attention?

This must all remain as speculation until more evidence emerges. Neither Fort nor any previous biographers found any mention of it in Nancy or Waldorf’s personal correspondence, though this is very extensive. Nancy’s correspondence with her American relatives is more recently available and has been less used by researchers. Deceit, mistake or shared joke, it may well have been referred to in a deliberately obscure manner. Seekers of the truth will find the Special Collections Reading Room a pleasant and friendly environment in which to seek out needles from haystacks. As far as I know, Waldorf Astor’s birth certificate has not been checked: could there be a further twist in the tale?

So to the final, and more serious word about this. Just as his mistaken identity probably mattered little to Grant, especially as he rose to prominence, so Nancy Astor’s birthday must have been of little real

Photograph of a large house, set in gardens.

Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire, family home of Waldorf and Nancy Astor (MS 1616/2/6/94/3)

significance in her life or livelihood. The official record is of minimal practical benefit for the rich and famous. But as the Windrush scandal has brought into sharp focus, for many citizens the possession of verifiable identity documents can be a critical matter. It is not for nothing that patients are identified not just by their name but also by their date of birth: even then, horrific mistakes can occur.

Windrush is not the first time that the quality of the data recorded by the state to identify individuals has been questioned: Dame Janet Smith’s third report as part of the Shipman Inquiry – that looking at Death Certification – noted: “The information received by registrars forms the basis of an important public record that is widely used for statistical and research purposes. It is vital that it is recorded meticulously and accurately.” It was not until 50 years after her death that the search for documentary evidence of Nancy Astor’s birth began. Most citizens rely on the integrity of such systems in their lifetimes: for the most vulnerable, this can be crucial.

So let us toast Nancy Astor, whether it’s her birthday or not, for reminding us of the value of the written record. Or as the Universal Declaration on Archives puts it, “the vital necessity of archives for supporting business efficiency, accountability and transparency, for protecting citizens rights, for establishing individual and collective memory, for understanding the past, and for documenting the present to guide future actions”.

Are you intrigued to do your own research on this mystery? Or just interested to know more about Nancy Astor? Find out more about the Papers of Nancy Astor held at Special Collections here. For further enquiries, or to request access, email specialcollections@reading.ac.uk.

 

 

A selection of Royal Wedding Cakes from Huntley & Palmers

Inspired by the “Royal Wedding Fever” surrounding the upcoming nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Librarian Bethan Davies takes a closer look at the archive of Reading biscuit manufacturers Huntley & Palmers, and their bakes for previous Royal Weddings! 

Primarily known for producing biscuits, Huntley and Palmers resisted selling everyday cakes until after World War II, when it started selling simple slab cakes. From the beginning, however, Huntley and Palmers would create wedding cakes to order, and by the 1930s, had begun to produce elaborate wedding cake catalogues to sell their products, similar to this 1970 example. 

Three of their most memorable wedding cakes were created for the Royal Family, and our Huntley & Palmers Archive provides a fascinating snapshot into each of these spectacular creations!

Princess Marina of Greece and Prince George, Duke of Kent 

The first royal wedding cake from our archive was created in celebration of the wedding of Prince George, Duke of Kent and Princess Marina of Greece, on November 29th, 1934. Huntley & Palmers produced a wonderful four tiered hexagonal cake, measuring 8 feet high and 33 inches across the base.

The cake design was influenced by the bride’s background, as Princess Marina was the daughter of the exiled Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark. The official cake description states the design is inspired by “the symmetry and balance which was the underlying principle of Greek architecture”. It goes on to state that all the scrolls, images and patterns found on the cake could be found either in the famous “Greek Temples”, or, more closer to home, in the British Museum.

The glamorous Princess Marina inspired a growing public fascination with the Royal Family. To capture this, the department store Selfridges sold souvenir samples of the Huntley & Palmers wedding cake (or at least, “made from the same batch” as the royal wedding cake), distributing 100,000 pieces throughout the store. Our archive includes one of these cake samples, kindly provided by a Mrs. M H Smith from Newark, alongside the original letter of distribution from Selfridges.

 

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and Prince Albert, Duke of York

Prior to the 1934 wedding, Huntley & Palmers had created a previous Royal wedding cake, for the then-Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and Prince Albert, Duke of York in 1923. Like the Princess Marina cake, this cake is 8 feet high with four tiers, but was cylindrical, and was inspired by Lady Elizabeth’s Scottish heritage. The cake was decorated with York roses, lions, thistles, roses, doves and the crests of the Strathmore family, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. Three of the tiers included sugar work reproductions of Windsor Castle, Glamis Castle (the Bowes-Lyon ancestral home), and the famous Glasmis Castle garden and sundial. The top tier was decorated with a scroll which lists Lady Elizabeth’s ancestors through marriage.

Before the cake was sent to the palace, the cake was famously displayed at Huntley & Palmer’s in Reading. The factory estimated that over 600 people came to view the wedding cake. You can see a video of this event through on the British Pathe website.  Many years later, Elizabeth, then the Queen Mother, viewed a replica of her wedding cake on a tour of Huntley & Palmers.

 

Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten

Twenty-four years after creating a wedding cake for her parents, Huntley & Palmers created a wedding cake for the wedding of the then Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, 20th November, 1947. The cake, which was one of 11 cakes presented to the couple, was specifically requested by Buckingham Palace to be reduced in size. This was because wartime rationing was still in effect, and so the cake was re-designed from its intended weight of 400 lb, to an “austerity” size of 195 lb. Even with this specification, the cake was a four tiered masterpiece with each tier’s 6 sides incorporating hand paintings or sugar reproductions of scenes and images which “reflected the Princess and Lieutenant’s interests” – including Balmoral Castle and the horse races at Ascot. No wonder the icing alone took around three weeks to complete!

 

These archival finds show the royal links to Huntley & Palmers, and Reading in general. It’s clear that our archive goes beyond biscuits!

These items are taken from our Huntley & Palmers Archive, which is open to view for researchers and the public. To request access, or for further enquiries, email specialcollections@reading.ac.uk.  

References

https://www.britishpathe.com/video/the-royal-wedding-cake-1/query/Elizabeth+Bowes-Lyon+wedding 

http://collections.readingmuseum.org.uk/index.asp?page=record&mwsquery=%7Btotopic%7D=%7BFour%20Bs%7D&filename=REDMG&hitsStart=32

 

 

Book Covers and Robinsonades: Exploring the Crusoe Collection

This month’s blog post was written by Chloe Wallaker, a final year BA English Literature and Film student at the University of Reading. Chloe has been researching our Crusoe Collection as part of her Spring Term academic placement based at Special Collections. 

Today marks the 299th anniversary of the publication of one of our favourite novels – Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. It is one of the most popular and widely published books today. The University of Reading Special Collections holds hundreds of editions and imitations of the novel as part of their Crusoe Collection, so I decided to visit and explore what the archives have to offer.

For a novel that was intended for adult readers, it was striking to discover the vast number of publications of Robinson Crusoe that were aimed at children. Different editions emphasise different aspects within the story and aim at children of different ages. I have chosen to showcase some of my favourite modern editions of the text that are aimed at children and published in the twentieth century.

A red book cover including pirates, dragons, Alice in Wonderland and a Knight.

The Rand-McNally edition of Life and adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954)– CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1954.

I came across the edition published by Mcnally and Company (above), which includes the modernised text of Robinson Crusoe, with minor abridgements. The cover includes different illustrations referencing classical children’s literature, including Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland, that was also published in the eighteenth century and forms a part of popular culture today. The edition categorized Robinson Crusoe amongst famous children’s fairy tales and recognised it as an adventure story for young readers.

A book cover showing an island and the sea, with Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday sat together.

Nelson (1960), Robinson Crusoe – CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1960

There are many adaptations of the novel that are shortened for younger children. I discovered Nelson’s adaption of the text. The edition is published to be told to children by adults, demonstrating how the story is constructed for very young readers as well as older children. This edition stood out to me as the cover focuses on the more mature and violent themes of the novel, including slavery and death, than the covers intended for older children. This made me question the appropriateness of the story in challenging its young children

The adaptation published by Hunia (above, left) encourages young children to read the story for themselves, instead of being read to. The cover suggests the story focuses on the relationship between Crusoe and Friday, as opposed to focusing on the adventure story which most of the publications adopt to appeal to children. This demonstrates how Robinson Crusoe not only appeals to children through entertainment, but teaches moral lessons, highlighting the pedagogical value of the novel.

Most of the children’s adaptations use illustrations to appeal to children. Wilkes’s edition (above, right) seems to construct the text to resemble a picture book. As well as focusing on the adventure aspects of the text, the publication focuses on the spiritual themes embedded within the novel, with its cover illustration resembling the biblical story of Noah’s Ark.

The publications I found most interesting were the imitations of the text, commonly described as ‘Robinsonades’, which reveal how Robinson Crusoe was not just a popular novel, but became an identifiable piece of popular culture. Crocket’s imitation of the text constructs Crusoe as a child figure, creating an identifiable protagonist for children. The edition takes the themes of adventure from the original text and constructs a version of the novel that is perhaps more suitable for children.

Perhaps the most interesting imitation of the novel is Ballantyne’s edition. This edition focuses on the relationship between a dog and his master, resembling the relationship between Crusoe and his man Friday. The edition removes the mature and violent themes of slavery, which could be considered inappropriate aspects of the novel, and constructs a pet-master relationship, which would appeal to children and in terms they could understand.

Some of the editions that stayed more true to the novel seemed to present problematic themes for children. This made me question the appropriateness of a novel that was intended for adults, being read by children. I found it interesting how each edition focused on different aspects and themes of the novel, demonstrating the number of ways in which the novel can be read and used to educate and entertain children. This investigation into the children’s editions of Robinson Crusoe has reminded me why the novel has remained a favourite read for people of all ages and continues to be published today.

For more information on our Crusoe Collection, visit the Special Collections website, or email us at specialcollections@reading.ac.uk.  

References:

 

Ballantyne, R.M (1970), The dog Crusoe, London: Abbey Classics, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1942-2013 [BOX].

Crockett, S.R (1905), Sir Toady Crusoe, London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. Ltd, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1905.

Defoe, Daniel (1954), Life and adventures of Robinson Crusoe, New York: Rand McNally & Company, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1954.

Defoe, Daniel (196-), Robinson Crusoe, London : Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1960

Hunia, Fran (1978), Robinson Crusoe, London: Collins, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1954.

Wilkes, Angela (1981), The adventures of Robinson Crusoe, London: Usborne Publishing, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1981.

Sex, Scandals and Censorship: Mirabeau’s Errotika Biblion

Written by Erika Delbecque, Special Collections Librarian

Our copy of Errotika Biblion, part of the Overstone Library.

Inconspicuous amongst the venerable old tomes on the shelves of our rare book store, an unassuming binding contains one of the most infamous texts of the Ancient Regime: Errotika Biblion, Ancient Greek for The Erotic Book, by Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau. On the occasion of Valentine’s Day, we explore the scandalous love affairs, forbidden passions and relentless prosecution that are intertwined with its publication history.

Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti (1749-1791) was a famous French statesman who played a key role in the early stages of the French Revolution. He was equally well-known for numerous scandals, several of which landed him in prison. When he joined the French cavalry regiment aged 18, he had an affair with the love interest of a superior, which resulted in his first imprisonment. After he was released, he joined the French mission to Corsica as a volunteer, where he had another scandalous affair. In 1772 he married the rich heiress Marie-Marquerite-Emilie de Covet, allegedly under controversial circumstances. She was already engaged to someone else and had rejected him several times, so he devised a treacherous plan to win her hand. He is said to have bribed one of her maids to let him into the room next to hers, and appeared on the shared balcony in the morning in his underclothes, chatting to passers-by. Her furious father realised his daughter’s reputation was at risk and arranged for the marriage to take place within days.

The Chateau de Vincennes, where Mirabeau was imprisoned when he wrote Errotika Biblion (photograph by Daniel Kakiuthi)

Mirabeau was imprisoned again in 1775 for taking part in a violent brawl. Whilst he was there, he obtained permission to visit the nearby town of Joux, which is where he met Marie Thérèse de Monnier, known as ‘Sophie’, who was also married at the time. The couple escaped to the Low Countries, and Mirabeau was sentenced to death for seduction and abduction. He was captured in 1777 and imprisoned in the Chateau de Vincennes in Paris, where he would remain until his release in 1780. To pass the time, he became a prolific writer. He wrote a series of erotic letters to Marie Thérèse, which he published under a pseudonym as Les Lettres à Sophie:

Are you sometimes happy, O dearly beloved? Do you in your dreams seem to realise all that my love means to you? Do you feel my kisses on your lips, do you press your own to mine in an abandonment of tenderness? [1]

The table of contents page of Errotika Biblion

It was during his imprisonment at Vincennes that he also wrote the Errotika Biblion. It is a peculiar work. Organised by different sexual practices and perversions into eleven chapters, including topics such as bestiality (‘Béhéma’), female homosexuality (‘L’Anandryne’) and nymphomania (‘La Linguanmanie’), it purports to offer a history of human sexual behaviour. Mirabeau draws on quotes from the Bible and ancient sources to provide historical examples of each sexual practice, and attacks the corruption of the clergy and the aristocracy in the process.

Fully aware of the outrage that his work would cause, Mirabeau published the book anonymously under a false imprint: although it was in fact printed in Switzerland by François Mallet, a bookseller who would later be arrested for publishing this work, the title page states it was printed ‘in Rome, at the Vatican Printing House’. This deliberate attempt to provoke the clerical authorities did not go unnoticed. The work was immediately banned by the Ancient Regime, and its publishers and booksellers were ardently prosecuted. It was destroyed on such a large scale, that only fourteen copies of the first edition are said to have survived.

The title page of Errotika biblion with the false imprint

However, all these efforts could not stop the text from circulating widely and achieving a notorious status. In 1783, the same year in which it was published, a pirated edition appeared on the market. A second official edition was printed in 1792, after which the book was included in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the list of books that were forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church. Although the work remained banned until the mid-nineteenth century, it was never out of print.

Given the amount of censorship it attracted, Mirabeau would undoubtedly be surprised to know that his infamous book is now freely available to all. Digitised copies from the Bibliothèque nationale de France and Ohio State University can be consulted online through, respectively,Gallica and the Haiti Trust website. Anyone who wishes to view our copy is welcome to contact us to make an appointment to view it in our reading room.

References

[1]  Mirabeau, Honoré-Gabriel de Riquetti. Mirabeau’s love-letters. London: A.L. Humphreys, 1909. Available at: <https://archive.org/details/mirabeauslovelet00miraiala>.

New Exhibition: The John and Griselda Lewis Printing Collection

The John and Griselda Lewis Printing Collection consists of over 20,000 examples of printed documents covering several centuries and a wide variety of research subjects –from Fifteenth Century religious texts, Nineteenth Century love tokens to Twentieth Century book design. It complements other important printing and publishing collections held at the University’s Special Collections Service and the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication. A selection of favourite items from the collection is currently on display here at the Museum of English Rural Life.

A page from a journal article, decorated with red flowers.

An Illustration from Le Journal de la Decoration c.1906 (JGL 23 23)

John Lewis and His Chance Find

John Lewis spent many years as a lecturer in graphic design at the Royal College of Art, and wrote several publications on printing and book design. His 1962 publication Printed Ephemera: The Changing Uses of Type and Letterforms in English and American Printing is considered pivotal in giving credence to the notion of paper ephemera as a subject for academic study.

His interest in ephemera began as a young man. Lewis started his career as a printer for the firm of Cowells in Ipswich. While working here in the mid-1950s Lewis found a large scrapbook in a secondhand bookshop. The book contained an assortment of printed matter including printer’s marks, specimens of typefaces, tradesman’s bills and public notices. The scrapbook had been compiled in the 1820s by a Dr Lodge, at one time the librarian of the University of Cambridge. The exact purpose of the scrapbook remains a mystery, but John Lewis was compelled to purchase the book and study its contents. This original volume, which he later dissembled, formed the starting point of Lewis’s fascination with paper ephemera. In his collecting he was joined by his wife, the noted ceramicist Griselda Lewis. They believed that such temporary documents contain a wealth of evidence of everyday life in the past, as well as charting the development of printing techniques in the UK.

Wolpe and Weinreb

In addition to John and Griselda’s original collection, a proportion of the archive was originally collected by the typographer and illustrator Berthold Wolpe, a fellow lecturer at the Royal College of Art. The collection was further added to by Ben Weinreb, a London-based dealer in rare books who purchased the collection sometime around 1990. What survives today is an amalgamation of the collecting interests of these various parties. The result is a rare and diverse collection of printed ephemera incorporating early printing specimens, newspaper advertisements, street literature, book covers and trade cards, plus specimens of calligraphy, lithography and fine art printing. As such, material in this collection can support the research of many aspects of social history, as well as students of graphic design and the visual arts.

A black and white magazine cover of a woman, with the words Wendingen on the cover.

Cover from a 1924 edition of Wendingen magazine of art and architecture (JGL 29-4 -15)

During his ownership of the collection, Weinreb arranged the documents into various categories. Roughly the first half of the collection is organised by document type. These include Early Manuscripts and Printed Books, Prospectuses, and Trade Cards, Letterheads and Catalogues. Much of the latter half is arranged by themes, such as Religion, Maritime, Agriculture, and so on, each of which contain a broad mixture of documents. The majority of documents were glued and mounted onto around 1,900 light cardboard sheets, presumably as an aid to displaying and discussing the collection.

 

 Our Project

The collection is now fully catalogued, and is to be made available via our online catalogue. Each cardboard sheet has been digitally photographed. In addition, we are mid-way through a programme of conservation, as the glues used to mount the documents are harmful to their long term preservation. Documents are being carefully removed from their mounts and placed in archive-quality folders. This not only creates a better preservation environment, but also makes them easier for visitors to access in our reading room. In the short term parts of the collection are unavailable to researchers, but archive staff can advise enquirers as to specifics of availability.

The John and Griselda Lewis Printing Collection is being celebrated with an exhibition here at our Special Collections Service, housed at the Museum of English Rural Life. This exhibition showcases a range of attractive and unusual documents from the collection, and runs until Sunday 11th February.

Image of the Exhibition space.

A snapshot of our John and Griselda Lewis Exhibition.

#ReadaBookDay – Our top suggestions!

In celebration of #ReadABookDay, members of staff at The MERL and Special Collections have been sharing their favourite books from within our collection on Twitter. This blog post looks in a bit more depth at our selections (beyond the 140 character limit).

David’s Choice- The Eagle Annual (1950)

David’s selection is from our Children’s Collection, which includes a significant run of the Eagle comics

David with the 1950 Annual of the Eagle. (CHILDREN’S COLLECTION–052)

and three annuals. Created in 1950, Eagle comics were created by Marcus Morris, an Anglican vicar who was disillusioned with children’s literature at the time. The comics ran from 1950 to 1969, and included the iconic character Dan Dare, iconic pilot of the future. The comic holds nostalgic value for many readers, including David, who can remember rereading old copies of Eagle when he was a young boy.

 

Erika’s Choice- Sallust’s Coniuratio Catilinae et Bellum Iugurthinum (1569)

Erika’s choice of Sallust, including marginalia. (RESERVE–878.2)

Translated into The Conspiracy of Catiline and Jugurthine War, Erika’s choice comes from one of the earliest Roman historians. This particular copy was printed in the late 15th century by Aldus Manutius, an influential figure in early Venetian printing.  The reason Erika chose this book, however, is because it includes a large number of drawings and doodles within the margins. The study of marginalia within books has become an important aspect of reception studies and book history, and provides an insight into the character of historical readers.

 

 

Claire’s Choice- The history of a Banbury cake (1835?) 

Another look into our Children’s Collection now, which comprises over 6,000 books and journals written

Claire’s Choice- a talking Banbury cake on a journey to Bristol. (CHILDREN’S COLLECTION–828.7-HIS)

for children. Although the collection mainly covers the 19th and early 20th century. Claire’s choice,

however, is one of the 900 works which are pre-1851. Titled The history of a Banbury Cake: an entertaining book for children, the book is based around a talking Banbury cake, and it’s subsequent adventures from Oxford to Bristol. You can find more about Banbury from our previous blog here, alongside a further look at cakes within the Special Collections. 

 

 

Bethan’s Choice- The girlhood of Shakespeare’s heroines (1884)

Bethan’s choice- The girlhood of Shakespeare’s heroines. (RESERVE–822.33-CLA)

Bethan is one of our newest recruits to Special Collections, but she has already picked out a possible favourite- The girlhood of Shakespeare’s heroines by Mary Cowden Clarke. Clarke was often a partner with her husband Charles Clarke in various Shakespearean studies (Marshall & Thompson 2011). The girlhood of Shakespeare’s heroines was previously maligned by critics as supposedly focusing upon Shakespeare’s female characters as actual people, rather than literary creations. However, more recent research has shown Clarke’s writings to be more subversive and feminist then previously thought (Brown 2005). A previous English Literature student, Bethan  liked the focus on Shakespeare’s female characters, and the illustrations included throughout the book.

 

 

 

If you’re interested in any of the items mentioned here, please feel free to contact us for more information! We hope we’ve inspired you to pick out your favourite books.


References

Brown, S. A. (2005) “The Prequel as Palinode: Mary Cowden Clarke’s Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines,” in Holland, P. (ed.) Shakespeare Survey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Shakespeare Survey), pp. 95–106.

Marshall, Gail, & Thompson, Ann (2011) ‘Mary Cowden Clarke’, in Gail Marshall (ed.), Great Shakespeareans volume 7. 

 

Medieval Caxton leaf: on display from 10 May

University of Reading Special Collections Librarian, Erika Delbecque, with new Caxton discovery

Our discovery of a unique example of 15th century printed text by English printer William Caxton has led to considerable media interest. The item will be on display in the University of Reading’s Special Collections department, within The Museum of English Rural Life, between 10 – 31 May. This is a unique opportunity to see this incredibly rare page. The exhibition tells the story of how this page survived, and how it resurfaced in the collections at the University of Reading .

Exhibition opening hours: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm (Thu 25th May 9am-9pm), Sat-Sun 10am-4pm.

 

The ‘New Women’: women writers of the 1890s

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

Cover design for Leonard Smithers’ ‘Fifth Catalogue of Rare Books’ – from ‘A second book of fifty drawings’ by Aubrey Beardsley (1899). (RESERVE FOLIO–741.942-BEA)

The art and literature of the 1890s is one of the strengths of the University’s Special Collections. However, although these holdings, along with the popular perception of the 1890s, tend to focus on male figures of the fin-de-siècle period, such as Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley and the publisher Charles Elkin Mathews, we also hold a number of early or first editions of publications by women writers of the 1890s. These works appeared in book form and also in short stories in avant-garde periodicals such as The Yellow Book and The Savoy (copies of both titles are held in our Reserve Collection).

Volume II (July 1894) of ‘The Yellow Book’ (RESERVE–820.5)

This new writing was often daring, experimental and innovative, dealing with themes such as marital discontent, female sexuality and the literary and artistic aspirations of women. Their work shocked many contemporary critics, who labelled these ‘New Women’ writers as perverse and unnatural and ‘literary degenerates’, and part of the perceived cultural decline of the decadent period. These women writers were often mocked in the press, particularly in the pages of the satirical magazine, Punch, as shown in the cartoon below.

Cartoon from ‘Punch’, 2 June 1894, p. 255. (University Library: STACK PER FOLIO–052)

One of the key figures among the ‘New Women’ writers was George Egerton, pen name of Mary Chavelita Dunne (1859-1945) . A writer of short stories and plays, she was born in Australia, but was much travelled, living in Ireland, America and Norway before settling in London. Her subject was the lives of working-class women, and her writing was very popular when first published in the 1890s. Egerton’s volume of short stories, entitled Keynotes (1893) [see title-page below of the 1894 edition] was significant for its focus on female sexuality. A second volume, Discords, was published the following year (held in RESERVE–823.89-EGE). We also hold archive material relating to Egerton in the collection of papers of her friend, the poet, bibliographer and bibliophile John Gawsworth (MS 3547).

 

Title-page of ‘Keynotes’ by George Egerton (1894) with design by Aubrey Beardsley (ELKIN MATHEWS COLLECTION–EGE)

Sarah Grand (Frances Elizabeth Bellenden (Clarke) McFall) (1854-1943) was one of the most successful of the ‘New Women’ writers and left her husband in 1890 to pursue a career as an author. She is also thought to have coined the term ‘New Woman’ in 1894. Her first book to attract particular attention was The heavenly twins, published in 1893, which attacked double standards between the sexes ( we hold an 1894 edition). We also hold a first edition of her later work, Babs the impossible of 1901. (both at RESERVE–823.89-GRA)

We also hold the papers of Pearl Craigie (1867-1906) (MS 2133). Craigie was the author of a number of plays and novels under the pseudonym John Oliver Hobbes. She was President of the Society of Women Journalists in 1895, and also a member of the Anti-Suffrage League.

Women writers of the period were often overlooked as they often preferred to write short stories rather than full-length novels. The short story format offered move flexibility and freedom from traditional Victorian plots, which as the critic Elaine Showalter notes “invariably ended in the heroine’s marriage or her death. In contrast to the sprawling three-decker, the short story emphasised psychological intensity and formal innovation”.

The short story was seen by women writers as an opportunity to explore the psychology of women. As Egerton wrote: “I realised that in literature, everything had been better done by man than woman could hope to emulate. There was only one small plot left for her to tell: the terra incognita of herself, as she knew herself to be, not as man liked to imagine her – in a word, to give herself away, as man had given himself in his writings”.

Titles mentioned in this post are available to view on request in the Special Collections Service reading room.

References and further reading

Gawsworth, John. Ten contemporaries : notes toward their definitive bibliography. (London : Ernest Benn Ltd., [1932]). Reference copy held at Special Collections Service: MARK LONGMAN LIBRARY–016.82-GAW and copy held at the University Library: STORE–28802 (Includes ‘A keynote to “Keynotes” by George Egerton).

Heilmann, Ann. New woman strategies : Sarah Grand, Olive Schreiner, Mona Caird. (Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2004). Copy held at the University Library: 823.8-HEI/3rd Floor.

Krishnamurti, G. Women writers of the 1890’s. (London : Henry Sotheran Limited, 1991). Reference copy held at Special Collections Service: 820.99287-WOM and copy held at the University Library: 820.908-KRI/3rd Floor.

Showalter, Elaine (ed.) Daughters of decadence : women writers of the fin de siècle. (London : Virago, 1993). Copy held at the University Library: 808.8-DAU/3rd Floor.