Travel Thursday: Wish you were here…

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

This week’s Travel Thursday feature focuses on postcards and in particular, the postcards in our John Lewis Printing Collection (Group XII 2)

postcard box

An early form of postcards were in circulation from the middle of the eighteenth century and the introduction of the penny postage stamp in 1840 made mail delivery easier and more affordable in Britain but it wasn’t until 1870 that the first official, plain postcard was issued by the Post Office, selling over 500,000 on its first day!

One Penny Stamp

One Penny Stamp

However a number of restrictions slowed the rise of the picture postcard in Britain and it wasn’t until the 1890s that regulations relaxed and privately published cards could be sent via the Post Office.  By 1902 the popularity of postcards was soaring and the British Post Office were the first to introduce the postcard design we are familiar with today; splitting one side for address and written message while leaving the other side free for illustration or photographs.



The postcards collected in our John Lewis Printing Collection span the globe, with images from New York, to Rouen to Cairo:

New York, Cairo, Rouen

New York, Cairo, Rouen

And although not technically postcards this little collection of photographs from Oxford are stunning:


The majority of postcards in the John Lewis Printing Collection were not intended for use and as such were never sent. However, we do have a couple of messages dating from the early 1900s:


Don’t you like the look of the lonely thatched cottage? I wish it was mine!


I have been awfully busy, will visit you from Colorado when all the rough weather will be over I hope.


Arrived safely on June 17th am leaving again July 14th. I trust you are well


While the postcard may have enjoyed its heyday in the first two decades of the twentieth century, they are still a highly collectable item.  Developments in digital photography and advances in communications technology have  superseeded this older method of sending greetings but postcards remain available for sale in many tourist destinations around the world, perhaps proving that, for holiday purposes, postcards remain a fun way to share a ‘I wish you were here…’



Brady, T.J. 1969, POSTCARDS AND HISTORY, History Today Ltd, London.

Art History Archive: The History of Postcards

Postcard Pages

Visit the Past: History of the Postcard

Explore your Archive: Ducks

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Jemima Puddle Duck - Children's Collection 823.9-POT

Jemima Puddle Duck – Children’s Collection 823.9-POT

Today the theme of Explore Your Archives is  Archive Animals so we’re going to have a look at some of our wonderful archive Ducks!


Let’s start with perhaps our most famous duck, Jemima Puddle-Duck! UMASCS holds a 1908 edition of the tale, beautifully illustrating the adventures of Jemima who gets into trouble with a fox when leaving the safety of the farm to hatch her eggs. Jemima was based on a real duck that lived at Hill Top farm, the home of author Beatrix Potter.


According to the charmingly illustrated ‘Ducks: Art, Legend and History’ by Anna Giorgettii, [Merl Library 4534 GIO] ducks belong to the Anatidae Family, a word derived from the Latin ‘anas’ meaning ‘to swim.’ The book goes on to give all kinds of interesting facts and stories about ducks, including the idea that in ancient China a prospective lover would send a live duck or goose to the woman he desired.

John Lewis Printing Collection, Group XII 1

John Lewis Printing Collection, Group XII 1


Our modern term of endearment ‘duck’ was even used by the Romans in the form of ‘aneticula’ or ‘duckling’ (p82). It’s unsurprising then that this sweet Valentine’s Day greeting from our John Lewis Printing Collection (Group XII 1), dating to 1858, features a little duck!








In the beautifully designed ‘A Book of Ducks’ by Phyllis Barclay Smith, we learn that it was King Charles II in 1661 who first formed a collection of wild birds in St James’ Park, so setting a precedent for the creation of collections in parks, lakesides and ponds across the country.

Printing Collection 082 Kin/58

Printing Collection 082 Kin/58


Engravings by T. Bewick, MERL LIBRARY RES--1840-HIS

Engravings by T. Bewick, MERL LIBRARY RES–1840-HIS

The great range of birds within the ‘Anas’ genus is explored in ‘A History of British Birds’ vol. II (1805) alongside beautifully detailed wood engravings by T. Bewick. For example, the rather cute ‘Scaup Duck’ (bottom centre in the picture to the right) is described as having a broad, flat bill , a black head and neck glossed with green and fan shaped brown tail feathers.


Finally we have ‘Ploof – the wild duck’, number 3 of the Père Castor wild animal books series, written principally by Lida Durdikova.  Originally published in Paris in 1935 by Flammarion as ‘Plouf, canard sauvage,’  it tells the story of the duckling’s birth, his first visit to the pond, a frightening attack by a hawk and his adventures out on a big lake before finally describing his migration south for the winter.

Russian illustrator, Feodor Rojankovsky, is quoted describing his artistic beginnings developing from a trip to a zoo being followed by a gift of colour crayons. His beautifully intricate drawings of Ploof and his friends show that animals must have continued to fire his imagination!

Photo 11-11-2015, 13 59 39

Ploof, Children’s Collection FOLIO–598-LID

Ploof, back cover. Children's Collection FOLIO--598-LID









Peter Rabbit

Miami University Special Collections and Archives


Reading Readers – Matt

PhD student Matt tells us about his time spent studying material within the world-renowned Samuel Beckett archive, and the archive of actor Billie Whitelaw.

A selection of Billie Whitelaw's copies of Beckett scripts (BW A/2/4, BW A/3/2 & BW A/4).

A selection of Billie Whitelaw’s copies of Beckett scripts (BW A/2/4, BW A/3/2 & BW A/4).

I am researching the production histories of Samuel Beckett’s drama in London as part of my PhD attached to the AHRC Staging Beckett project in the Department of Film, Theatre & Television. This research has involved a significant amount of archival explorations in a number of UK and international repositories including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Library, the National Theatre Archive and the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. Luckily for me, Reading has excellent resources relating to Beckett’s theatre in performance through the Beckett Collection and the James and Elizabeth Knowlson Collection and as a result I have spent numerous hours in the Reading Room at MERL viewing theatre ephemera ranging from programmes and reviews to photographs and interviews.

One collection that has made an interesting contribution to my research and interest in Beckettian performance is the recently acquired Billie Whitelaw Collection. Whitelaw and Beckett closely collaborated on significant performances of Play, Not I, Footfalls, Happy Days and Rockaby in notable London theatres and this collection contains Whitelaw’s working scripts for these productions. These colourful and heavily annotated typescripts epitomise the detail and diligence given to these texts by Whitelaw during the many arduous hours she and Beckett spent in rehearsals together. This collection also includes some handwritten notes by Beckett when he supervised or directed Whitelaw in her plays. On the page Not I, for example, may appear like a nonsensical monologue of words or phrases, though through Beckett’s notes it is possible to see how the narrative of this unnamed woman has more of a structure than meets the eye, as he has carefully organised the play into acts noting its repetitions, interruptions, memories of the past and stream of thoughts. They offer a snapshot of Beckett’s creative process and his meticulousness as a director, which continues to fascinate and intrigue scholars and practitioners of his work.

To learn more about the archive of Samuel Beckett click here, and you can find out more about the Billie Whitelaw archive here.

The Billie Whitelaw archive is a relatively recent acquisition and you can read more about its arrival at Reading in a previous blog post.

Reading Readers – Jenny

For the second in our Reading Readers series, Jenny tells us about the exciting discoveries she has made about the world of publishing in the Chatto & Windus letter books.

Jenny recording details from one of the many Chatto & Windus letter books.

Jenny recording details from one of the many Chatto & Windus letter books.

I started working as a volunteer in the Special Collections about two years ago, my task being to join the team transcribing the archive of letters from the Chatto and Windus publishing house. I began with letters from the 1860s. Time moves on, and I am now working on volumes of letters from the 1890s. The objective remains to record the names of the recipients, together with the page number on which the letter appears in each volume. The fragility of the tissue on which the letter copies were made means the pages need to be turned carefully, and quite often the use of a magnifying glass is required to assist in reading the elegant but indistinct copperplate writing.


The letters reveal that the daily business practices of a publishing house have not changed so much over time; potential authors are sent rejection letters, suppliers are sent orders, debts are pursued, remuneration cheques are issued to successful writers. Most of the correspondence is the routine stuff of office life. What fascinates, however, is that occasionally a letter appears addressed to a familiar name; an author or a member of nineteenth century society now recognised by posterity. I have come across letters concerning Mark Twain, Jerome K Jerome, the poet Algernon Swinburne and the composer Arthur Sullivan. There was delight in finding a note telling a Mr J E Millais that his illustrations were not of sufficient quality to be used. I wonder if the future Sir John Everett Millais kept that note. It was interesting to find a short letter to Victor Hugo, sending him a cheque for sales of the translation into English of the first parts of Les Miserables.


The letters are all out-going and very seldom have replies, but once in a while there is a response tucked between the pages. My most exciting find was just such a reply. The outgoing letter was addressed to a Mr A. Conan Doyle, and expressed concern that one of his tales had been used to advertise and market a book of short stories not published by Chatto and Windus. The publishers were asking his advice as to how they should react. And there, between the tissue, was a hand written reply from Conan Doyle himself, in crisp black ink, very clear and easy to read. It was not one of his best stories, he says, but since the book is out and for sale, he prefers to take no action. A wonderful find on a nineteenth century sales problem – one which still seems relevant to business today. And I had in my hand a letter from Arthur Conan Doyle!

You can find more details about the Chatto & Windus archive here.


Explore Your Archive: Woolworths

As part of the Explore Your Archive campaign, we’ve been looking at the role of archivists. Here we look at the work involved in dealing with a newly acquired collection, and preparing items for use by researchers.

Woolworths was a major retailer of books, clothes and pick and mix sweets. Shoppers in the UK considered ‘Woolies’ British but the brand was global, originating in America as F W Woolworth to include more than 3,000 stores around the World. There were 800 shops operating in Britain in 2008 but in 41 days all the shops were closed.

The Woolworths archive was offered to the University of Reading. After consideration it was agreed to accept the collection for two reasons; because of the significant academic support and as it would complement the WH Smith Archive which is already held in the Special Collections.

The archive arrived on 4 pallets covered in shrink wrap in August 2015 after being stored at the headquarters of Shop Direct.

Woolworths pallettes

As soon as we started to unpack the items, it became clear that they had not be loaded onto the pallets in any particular order and that they were dirty.

Woolworths CG

All the items need to be cleaned. We have started this process but it is time consuming.

Woolworths conservation

Then we need to create order from the chaos and box the items ready for cataloguing to allow access to the collection.

Woolworths collection

The archive contains minute books, premises records (including plans and photographs) and ledgers showing sales from each store.

Woolworths floorplan

We hope to make the collection available for research during 2016. Contact the reading room at for details.

Display of annotated rare books at ‘Books in unexpected places’ event

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

While writing in books is generally discouraged, annotations and marginalia in books can offer valuable insights into the impact of books in their contemporary and later contexts. As part of the ‘Books in unexpected places’ event taking place at Special Collections this coming Saturday, a display of annotated rare books will offer a glimpse into the private relationship and interaction between reader and text where the distinction between ‘book’ and ‘manuscript’ becomes blurred and mass-produced texts become unique artefacts.

The display, entitled ‘Unexpected insights’, will be available to view in the Special Collections reading room throughout the ‘Books in unexpected places’ event on Saturday 21 November, and will give visitors the opportunity to closely examine a number of examples of annotated books dating from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, including some of our incunabula, or early printed books.

Book provenance and marks of ownership are among the most fascinating features of rare books, and looking for examples to include for this exhibition has been a very interesting experience for both me and my job share colleague, Erika Delbecque. Among the gems that we have selected for this display are a seventeenth-century gardening manual with practical hints added by a former owner [see image below], and a 1640 edition of the works of Ben Jonson, which has been censored by a previous owner who crossed out all oaths and references to faith in several plays.


Countrymans recreation

Annotated pages from ‘The country-mans recreation’ (London, 1640) – RESERVE 634.


The exhibits have been selected from a wide range of the rare book collections held in Special Collections, and are just a small selection of the many examples of annotated texts that we hold in the collections.

The ‘Books in unexpected places’ event is part of the Being Human festival 2015, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, and is a one day event exploring the idea of the book by thinking about writing in the past, how books were used and the books we find in unexpected places. Join us for a fascinating series of short talks, discussions and displays at the Museum of Rural Life/Special Collections on Saturday 21 November, 11.00am – 4.00pm.

You’ll find a full programme for the event here.

While admission to the event is free, places are limited so make sure to book in advance.

To see more examples of marks of ownership on rare books from our collections, including fine examples of bookplates, armorial bindings and ownership inscriptions, look out for ‘Ex libris : marks of ownership in rare books’, one of our forthcoming exhibitions which will be on display in the Special Collections staircase hall from 4 April – 1 July 2016.

Books in Unexpected Places

Join us for a fascinating series of short talks, discussions and displays at the Museum of English Rural Life on Saturday 21 November, 11.00am – 4.00pm.

As part of the Being Human festival 2015, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, this one day event aims to explore the idea of the book by thinking about writing in the past, how books were used and the books we find in unexpected places.


John Lewis Printing Collection – Group XI 2 Education

Talks will cover a range of topics, from books in burials, to philosophy in trenches and books as art; with researchers explaining how everyday books such as diaries and sketchbooks may reveal unexpected ideas and perspectives, or challenge conventional views.


John Lewis Printing Collection – Group XI 2 Education

We will also be hosting a public workshop inviting participants to share their own reflections on books in the workplace and have a fun, interactive session for children to create a book within a hidden place!

You’ll find a full programme for the event here.

While admission to the event is free, places are limited so make sure to book in advance.

Introducing Reading Readers

Our Reading Room Supervisor, Adam Lines, introduces a new feature for the University of Reading Special Collections blog.

On a daily basis, members of the public, students and academics from around the world use our extensive and varied collections. In the Reading Room at one time, researchers can be consulting manuscripts from the Samuel Beckett archive, looking at engineering drawings as part of an engine restoration project, or exploring our photographic collections as part of a local history study. They play such a key role in our understanding of the things under our care. They bring with them specialist subject knowledge and shed light on aspects of archives that enriches our understanding of them.

Researchers working in our reading room

The view of the Reading Room from the supervisor’s desk.

With this in mind, I decided it was time we shared some of the fascinating research carried out in our Reading Room. My colleagues and I hear about the research taking place on a daily basis, but a lot of it is too interesting not to share.

As part of ‘Explore Your Archives’ week, we will be sharing some examples. This will be the start of a regular feature on the Museum of English Rural Life and University of Reading Special Collections blogs, and through the eyes of our researchers we hope to share the potential for discovery in our collections.

Look out for more Reading Readers posts this week, and in the future.

To find out more about accessing the archives, click here.


Robert Louis Stevenson

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Today celebrates the 165th birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson, most famous for his classic novels ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’.


Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, XReserve 823.89 STE

Indeed it is ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ that is credited with the accolade of having initially established Stevenson’s reputation as a writer of great talent, (Daiches.)


Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.

― Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


However, in his life-time, Stevenson wrote a vast number of works, including over 20 novels, short stories and poems. He frequently experimented with a range of genres and styles also producing essays, travel writing, plays and biographies!


Robert Louis Stevenson books on a shelf

Robert Louis Stevenson, Children’s Collection 823.8STE

UMASCS holds examples of each of these genres, ranging from his 1982 history of Samoa, ‘A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa’ (XReserve –996.13-STE) to a fifth edition of his poetry collection, ‘A child’s garden of verses’ (Children’s Collection, 821.8-STE).





Some of our favourite editions however, are of his most well-known publications, including this beautifully designed copy of ‘Kidnapped’ from the 1920s:

Book cover for 'Kidnapped' featuring a ship design

Kidnapped, Children’s Collection 823.8 STE


Our Children’s Collection also hosts a fantastic range of illustrated book covers of ‘Treasure Island.’

treasure island

Sir, with no intention to take offence, I deny your right to put words into my mouth.

― Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island


Although it was originally published in book form in 1883, after appearing in ‘Young Folks’ as: The Sea Cook, one of our oldest copies of ‘Treasure Island’ is a 1893, Cassel and Company Ltd, illustrated edition. Beautifully illustrated, it comes complete with a lovely map of Treasure Island itself.  A handwritten note inside the book shows it was originally a Christmas gift to one Francis Gore from his father in 1894.

Map of Treasure Island, 1893

Treasure Island, 1893. Caption reads: Francis C. Gore from my Father Christmas 1894.



Daiches describes ‘Treasure Island’ as, ‘an adventure presented with consummate skill, with atmosphere, character, and action superbly geared to one another.’ As such it is no wonder that it remains a favoured classic even today.



Daiches, David, “Robert Louis Stevenson.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica Academic. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. <>.

Robert Louis

Travel Thursday – Thursday’s Child Has Far To Go

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

On alternate Thursdays for the next few months we will be exploring some of UMASCS collections’ fascinating atlases, maps and travel journals.

To start us off, I present ‘Coxe’s Travels’, a three-volume journal account of ‘Travels into Poland, Russia, Sweden and Denmark.’

Book spine

Coxe’s Travels – Reserve Folio 914.8 COX

The author, William Coxe, a historian and Church of England clergyman, who was born in London on 6 March 1748, travelled frequently during the period of 1775 – 1788. His first trip, with the future eleventh earl of Pembroke, took place from 1775-1779 and formed the basis of this particular travel journal. Coxe is described in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as being:

…of medium height, erect and active, and was known for his genial character. In later years he became stout, and his love of good food was well known among his friends.


The books feature beautiful maps of each country, such as this one of Norway, alongside some interesting insights into local culture:


Wilf, a native of Norway, informs us, that the gentry and inhabitants of the principal towns, allowing for a few provincial expressions, speak purer Danish than is usual even in Denmark, not excepting Copenhagen… – p133

…many of the peasants pretend to be descended from the ancient nobles, and some even from the royal line: they greatly pride themselves upon this supposed descent…  – p134

In his ‘Travels into Poland, Russia, Sweden and Denmark’ Coxe also comments on such diverse things as geographical features, population statistics, royal families, tombs, and chance encounters… one such tale tells of the dangers of travel but also the kindness of strangers:


On September 11 – Having narrowly missed overturning their transport, Coxe and his companion arrive at their destination after midnight to find that the town of Fossum is only a small collection of villages with no obvious place for them to rest. Taking a chance, they knock at the nearest door and are happily received and welcomed by the inspector of the cobalt works nearby:

the gentleman, who had so kindly received us at so undue an hour, and without the least of previous acquaintance, was Mr Bornstein, a native of Germany, lately appointed inspector of the cobalt-works. – p164


Of course, Coxe does not neglect the rare books he finds on his travels, noting, “a most beautiful Cicero’s Rhetoric on Vellum, and a no less beautiful Virgil on vellum, of the eleventh century,” that he finds in the King’s Libraries in Copenhagen.


Volume II and volume III of this 1790 edition of Coxe’s work are located in our Store at Reserve Folio 914.8 COX. A later 5th edition of five volumes is located in our Store at OVERSTONE–SHELF 24E/3 1. Both are available upon request.



Knight, Jeremy. “Coxe, William (1748–1828).” Jeremy Knight In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman, May 2009. (accessed November 5, 2015).