Cliveden House Exhibition

At the end of February, staff from Special Collections were joined by students of the history department at Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire to showcase material from the Nancy and Waldorf Astor Archives. The material for the exhibition was chosen by the students as part of their discovering archives and collections module during the autumn term when they spent several weeks in the reading room at Special Collections. During that time they helped to catalogue the myriad of names in the Cliveden visitor books, got the chance to shadow archive staff and organise the material that formed the basis of February’s exhibition.

Students with Dr Jacqui Turner and Guy Baxter (University Archivist) in the reading room (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

Students with Dr Jacqui Turner and Guy Baxter (University Archivist) in the reading room (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

This is the second year in a row that students have had the chance to co-curate an exhibition at Cliveden and it proved just as popular with visitors as last year, if not more so. The exhibition offered a rare opportunity for visitors (including hotel guests and staff, as well as the National Trust staff that work on the Cliveden estate) to see original documents in their original setting.

Students at Cliveden House with general manager Sue Williams (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

Students at Cliveden House with general manager Sue Williams (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

You can see more of the display and find out more about the project in this short video:

The exhibition was separated into different themes including women’s suffrage, the Cliveden estate and the Cliveden stud. Hear more about the aspects of the exhibition in this conversation between Dr Jacqui Turner and two of the students who co-curated the exhibition:

The Nancy and Waldorf Astor archives can be accessed in our reading room. For more information about accessing our collections, click here.

Travel Thursday – A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

IMG_9551‘A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter A.D. 1697’ was written by Henry Maundrell, a Church of England clergyman and chaplain to the Levant Company’s factory at Aleppo in Turkey.  Maundrell went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1697 and the journal he produced on his journey is described as being a ‘minor classic’ (Howell, 1964) in the world of travel writing.  Originally published in 1703 it reached its twelfth edition by 1810 and was translated into three different languages (Butlin, 2004).

The success of this particular travelogue is attributed to the precise, detailed and factual accounts given by Maundrell.  Howell (1964) describes this style of writing as being like that of, “a fine reporter, detached, cool and observant.”  Amusingly, in the preface to his uncle, Maundrell himself describes his style as ‘dry’, ‘tedious’ and ‘nauseous’; apologising for it profusely:

When you are tired with reading it, you may support your Patience as we did in Travelling it over, by considering, that what you are about is a Pilgrimage; that you need go it but once.

Despite Maundrell’s humility and reluctance to publish his work, his friends realised its potential and were able to persuade him otherwise.  Maundrell intended to submit the work with some corrections and amendments but by the time these arrived in Oxford, the first edition was almost complete.  Later editions, such as our sixth edition copy, printed in 1740, do however, contain the additions.

Temple of Baalbek

Temple of Baalbek

Maundrell’s observant and detached style is easy to illustrate, take this example from his description of the Temple of Baalbek in Lebanon:

The Body of the Temple, which now stands, is encompassed with a noble Portico, supported by Pillars of the Corinthian Order, measuring six foot and three inches in diameter, and about forty five foot in height, consisting all of three Stones a piece.

The detail with which Maundrell describes the Latin Easter in Jerusalem is equally staggering and moreover, provides a fascinating insight into the festival in 1697.  Confined to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Mount Calvary for three days, Maundrell explores every inch of the building, describing everything from the history, to the thirteen sanctuaries dedicated to the life of Christ and the various apartments for the reception of “almost every Christian Nation.”

The ceremonies begin on Good Friday (Nox tenebrosa) with a solemn procession around the church.  This begins in the dark with a sermon in Italian, then candles are lit and a large crucifix, “which bore upon it the Image of our Lord, as big as life[…]was carried all along in the head of the procession; after which the company follow’d to all the sanctuaries in the church, singing their appointed Hymn at every one.” This is followed by a symbolic re-enactment of the crucifixion and burial of Christ and a final funeral sermon in Arabic.

On Saturday Maundrell provides an interesting commentary on the pilgrims who have their, “arms mark’d with the usual ensigns of Jerusalem,” giving a detailed description of the tattoo process involving needles and ink made from gunpowder and ox-gall.

Finally, Easter Sunday was celebrated with a mass led by the ‘Father Guardian’ who was adorned in episcopal robes and mitre.  Maundrell (a little cheekily) suggests that the joy the Friars display on Easter morning perhaps has a little more to do with the end of Lent than their celebration of the Lord’s resurrection.

Although Maundrell can be critical of the places and customs he describes, his writing is often witty and well informed,  it was valued by later travellers and moreover, remains an important account of the, “the life and landscapes of Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine” (Butlin, 2004) for today’s writers, travellers and historians.



 When you come therefore to any such Nauseous places in this Journal, you may please to pass them over with that Contempt which they deserve, but nevertheless with some indulgence to the Writer of them; for if this Vanity may be ever tolerated, Travellers are the Men who have the best claim to that Favour.


Maundrell, H (1740) A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter A.D. 1697. Oxford: Peisley & Meadows [Available on request – Overstone 27/c]

Howell, D (1964) The Journey Of Henry Maundrell. Saudi Aramco World. Available via:

Butlin, R.A. (2004) ‘Maundrell, Henry (bap. 1665, d. 1701)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. [, Accessed 23 March 2016]

College Song No. 1, “The Song of the Shield”

Written by Guy Baxter, Archivist

The Song of the Shield

The Song of the Shield

Since the University celebrated the 90th anniversary of the granting of its Royal Charter last Thursday, many people have been asking for the words of College Song No. 1, “The Song of the Shield”, which was performed with gusto by the University Chamber Choir that evening under the direction of Samuel Evans. It was discovered in the University Archive just a few months ago.

The music was written by J.C.B. Tirbutt (1857-1908), who lectured at Reading and who was the organist at All Saints church. The words are by the then

Sheet music for 'The Song of the Shield'

Sheet music for ‘The Song of the Shield’

Principal (and later Vice-Chancellor) W.M. Childs (1869-1939). More about the

inspiration for the song, the Coat of Arms, may be found here, and it is fitting that the original Grant of Arms from 1896 was on display last Thursday as well.  As for the style: well, it’s unlikely to be covered by any time soon, but it’s very jolly and evokes a strong sense of the College in its early days when everyone would have known each other. Rumours of compulsory singing of the song before every lecture next term are thought to be unfounded.

Lyrics for 'The Song of the Shield'

Lyrics for ‘The Song of the Shield’

Congratulations to all involved in bringing this hidden piece of our past to light. The other music performed at the meeting of the University Court on 17 March included Prelude and fugue in C minor BWV 549 by J.S. Bach, which was also performed at the inaugural organ recital in the Great hall in 1911; I Vow to Thee, My Country by Gustav Holst (words by Cecil Spring-Rice) – Holst taught at the College from 1920-1923; and My Spirit Sang All Day, No.3 from Seven Part Songs op.17 by Gerald Finzi, whose literary collection is held here

Special Collections will continue to support the 90th Anniversary events with a series of displays during the Summer and Autumn.

A relic of an 18th century poet to mark World Poetry Day

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

Tucked away in one of our archive boxes is an envelope which contains a small, folded piece of paper which, when opened carefully, reveals a tiny fragment of netting, woven from fine string (University of Reading Special Collections MS 12) [see image below]. It is attached to the paper by four pieces of red sealing wax. The paper has been folded and addressed To Mrs Jenning(?) With most affectionate and grateful regard.

Cowper netting1


Beneath the netting, a slip of paper has been attached upon which is written the line  – ‘Thus, all their plan adjusted, diff’rent ways/They took,’. Beneath this, in another, perhaps later, maybe nineteenth-century, hand, is written the following:

This netting was made by the Poet Cowper, his ‘The Task’ – “Weaving nets for bird-alluring fruit &” – The hand writing is also The Poet’s, being a part of his Homer.

Attested by Maria D. Johnson – widow of The Poet’s beloved kinsman – Dr Johnson. The seal, of which these hares are the impression, was the gift of the Princess Elizabeth to the late Lady Hesketh, and bequeathed by her in her will to the late Dr Johnson’.

Cowper netting2


William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”) (1731–1800) [see portrait below]  was one of the most popular poets of his time. He was influential in the development of eighteenth-century nature poetry, drawing on scenes from everyday life and the English countryside, and was admired by other poets including Coleridge, Wordsworth and Blake.

Cowper portrait


His most substantial poetic work was The Task, a poem in blank verse which begins by focusing on the origins of the sofa, but develops into a meditation on a wide variety of subjects, including nature, the retired life and religious faith, and includes attacks on slavery, the clergy and blood sports. However, he regarded his translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey into blank verse as his greatest achievement. The handwritten line on the slip of paper beneath the netting is from Cowper’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey, and, according to the inscription, was written in Cowper’s hand. I have not yet investigated what link the line from Homer might have with the piece of netting.

Cowper suffered from bouts of severe depression throughout his life, and was institutionalised for insanity in the period 1763–65. However, he had close friendships with his cousins, the writer John Johnson and Lady Harriett Hesketh (both mentioned in the inscription). According to Thomas Wright, one of Cowper’s biographers, Lady Hesketh stayed with the poet during one of his periods of mental illness in 1794/95. During this time she wrote in a letter that during the winter of 1794/95 he seemed to improve, and that she was “able to get him to employ himself with “little avocations, such as netting, putting maps together, playing with the solitary board, &c.” Perhaps this little piece of netting was produced by Cowper as a therapeutic pastime to distract him during this period? As an appendix to his biography of Cowper, Wright includes a list of ‘Some relics of Cowper and their present owners (1892)’ which includes some ‘netting done by Cowper’, owned by the Rev. W. Cowper Johnson, junior, which, along with other relics of Cowper including his cap (worn by the poet when writing), was ‘exhibited in the Guelph Exhibition, 1891.’ It is not known if this piece of netting is the same as ours.

On closer examination, three of the four seals appear to feature a tiny image of a hare as mentioned in the inscription. The seal fob which is likely to have made these seal impressions is held by the Cowper and Newton Museum in Olney in Buckinghamshire. As Nicola Durbridge notes in an article about the seal fob on the Museum’s website, “the seals are carved with representations of Cowper’s three tame hares. Cowper nurtured these hares whilst he lived at Orchard Side, Olney and they were a great source of entertainment and companionship. Their names are incised on the seals: Puss, Bess and Tiney. Cowper published a long letter about his hare-keeping which gives us such a vivid picture of their characters and habits …”.


Cowper seal hare

One of the seals featuring an image of a hare


Durbridge also mentions that the seal fob “originally belonged to Lady Hesketh who had been given it by Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of George III and Queen Charlotte. Harriot moved in courtly circles and apparently met Princess Elizabeth whilst at Weymouth. For such a gift to have been made, Harriot must have become quite well acquainted with the Princess and regaled her at some point with stories of Cowper’s domesticated hares”. This confirms the information given in the inscription under the piece of netting. I cannot see any names above the images of the hares, but the creatures themselves can quite clearly be seen in three of the examples.

This piece of netting was one of our earliest archive acquisitions, but its provenance is unknown. I will be contacting the Cowper and Newton Museum to let them know about our curious little piece of Cowper memorabilia, and also to see if they can shed any light on the identity of the writer of the explanatory inscription, who Mrs Jenning(?) was and what link, if any, they had with William Cowper …

With thanks to Verity Andrews and Nancy Fulford, former members of the Special Collections archives team, for making this ‘discovery’ in the archive collections!


Durbridge, Nicola. Lady Hesketh’s seal fob : a material world. (Olney : The Cowper and Newton Museum, 2012. (Accessed 16.03.2016).

King, James. William Cowper : a biography. (Durham, N.C. : Duke University Press, 1986). University Library STACK–821.65-KIN

Wright, Thomas. The life of William Cowper. (London : T. Fisher Unwin, 1892). University Library STORE–57796


Reading Readers – Adam McKie

Adam McKie, MA Research Student at Royal Holloway, University of London, tells us about his research into employee sporting activities in the Huntley & Palmer papers.

Aerial view of the Huntley & Palmer factory in Reading with railway to the north and the River Kennett running right through the site (c. 1926)

Aerial view of the Huntley & Palmer factory in Reading with railway to the north and the River Kennett running right through the site (c. 1926)

My MA thesis explores the history of women’s cricket in interwar England; a project sponsored by The Association of Cricket Statisticians. Despite an abundance of research (both academic and trade) into the history of men’s cricket, the women’s game has largely been ignored by scholars and sports enthusiasts alike, and I hope to shine a light on the initial growth and organisation of the sport which occurred during this period. Women’s cricket can in turn be used as an effective cultural case study to explore issues surround women’s role in public life, gender construction, class and employment.
It is the relationship between women’s employment and sporting/recreational opportunities that led me to use the University of Reading’s Special Collections. The collection holds a large amount of records related to Huntley & Palmers and Peek Frean biscuit factories – including minute books, pamphlets, photograph albums, official works’ publications and other ephemera (the Reading Room supervisors were very patient with my continued requests for more and more bulky items…). Particularly interesting records for my research include interwar departmental cricket scorebooks [HP OS 610,6 607, 606, 676, 677] and a 1946 survey of 362 female employees’ social activities at the Huntley & Palmers’ Sports and Social Club [HP 768].

HP 768: 1946 survey of 362 female employees’ social activities at the Huntley & Palmers’ Sports and Social Club

HP 768: 1946 survey of 362 female employees’ social activities at the Huntley & Palmers’ Sports and Social Club

Called upon to fill the jobs left behind by men leaving for war, women joined these factories’ workforces in large numbers during WWI: the ‘munitionettes’ contributed to an estimated 60,000 shells produced at Huntley & Palmers between 1915 and 1918 [HP102 p. 14]. A number of companies, including Huntley & Palmers and Peak Frean, subsequently offered female employees opportunities to participate in company-funded sporting/recreational activities in what they claimed was a paternalistic and benevolent approach to workers’ welfare. By 1929 both companies had women’s cricket teams, and Huntley & Palmers even had 21 interdepartmental women’s cricket teams (far outnumbering the men on just 12!). In what must have been a competitive and entertaining company tournament, teams included the Invoice Office, Sugar Wafers, Cake Making, Cream Filling and ‘Sample Room’ (I wouldn’t mind working in that last one). [HP OS 610]

HP 610: The cover of one of the Cricket Scoring Books used by the firm

HP 610: The cover of one of the Cricket Scoring Books used by the firm

HP 610:  One of many score sheets contained with the Cricket Score Books

HP 610: One of many score sheets contained with the Cricket Score Books

By allowing women to play what was generally considered a ‘manly’ game unsuitable for females, these employers demonstrated their progressiveness on issues of sex; while simultaneously undermining this by providing women with less holiday and less pay than men. By 1946 the company also offered female workers badminton, darts, hockey, rifle shooting, and tennis, alongside courses in more traditional female pastimes including dressmaking and hairdressing [HP 768]. However by this time cricket seems to have lost its popularity – less than 3% of the 362 female employees reported to play the game, with netball becoming the chief sport for women with 14% participating [HP 768].


Martin Bishop, Bats, Balls and Biscuits: A Brief History of Cricket at the Reading Biscuit Factory (2008), p. 114.

You can find our more about the Huntley & Palmer archive here, as well as find out about visiting our reading room here.



Johannes Kepler – Astronomiae Pars Optica

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

The theme of this year’s Science Week taking place from 11-20 March is ‘Science in Spaces’ so to celebrate here is our first edition of ‘Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena, Quibus Astronomiae Pars Optica Traditur’ (Supplement to Witelo, in Which Is Expounded the Optical Part of Astronomy) by German astronomer Johannes Kepler.

Astronomiae Pars Optica

Astronomiae Pars Optica

Born in 1571, Kepler was a leading figure during the scientific revolution of the 17th Century.  While usually best known for his discovery of three major laws of planetary motion, which “turned Nicolaustables Copernicus’s Sun-centred system into a dynamic universe, with the Sun actively pushing the planets around in noncircular orbits,” (Britannica Academic, 2016) his work on optics was equally ground-breaking and earned him the title ‘father of modern optical study,’ (Skydel and Whelan).


Written in 1604, ‘Astronomiae Pars Optica’ explores the properties of light, applying the ideas of reflection and refraction to explain astronomical phenomena, such as the size of astronomical bodies and the nature of eclipses.  It also investigates the workings of light with regard to pinhole cameras and the human eye.  In his explanation of vision, Kepler was the first to recognise the importance of the retina and the inversion of images within the eye, and the first to explain how eyeglasses, in use for over three centuries, actually worked, (Britannica Academic, 2016).  Kepler’s understanding diagram2of light and vision later allowed him to invent the Keplerian telescope in 1611; by replacing the concave eyepiece used by Galileo with a convex lens, Kepler was able to make considerable improvement to the design; although this inverted the image produced, it enabled a much wider field of view, (Di Liscia, 2015).

Our edition of ‘Astomomiae Pars Optica’ includes notes on the front endpapers handwritten by Francesco Tognetti, an Italian man of letters c.1810-1820.  His notes discuss Kepler’s life and work and are signed ‘from Tognetti’ suggesting that the book was given by him as a gift.


I used to measure the heavens,
now I shall measure the shadows of the earth.
Although my soul was from heaven,
the shadow of my body lies here.

Kepler’s self-composed epitaph



An interview with Nitisha, Archives Assistant

One of our volunteers,Whitney, has been interviewing MERL & Special Collections staff about their roles. Today she talks to Nitisha, a Law graduate who now works as a Conservation & Archive Assistant. Though she started out with little experience in Museums & Archives, volunteering with our Conservator gave her an opportunity to learn about that field of work. In the first of two posts she discusses her role as an Archive Assistant, working on the Beckett Collection. 

Nitisha in the camera room

Nitisha in the camera room

  1. How did you get started in Museum work and what is your background training?

I met Rhi [Dr Rhi Smith, Director of Museum Studies, University of Reading] at a field project at Silchester Roman Town, and she advised that I volunteer at the museum. I volunteered for about a year at MERL and then I got a short term contract. I had done some work experience in the past working for law firms but felt that was not my calling and I had always wanted to explore Archaeology. So I did a short course at the University of Oxford in Archaeology.

  1. What is your main job role?

My role in the archive is specifically more geared towards the digitisation of the Samuel Beckett collection. A while ago the University acquired a manuscript well worth over more than £million. Since then, the University has decided to digitise the whole of the Samuel Beckett collection because the collection is so widely and regularly accessed and to facilitate the work of those researchers.

  1. Is that transferring documents to the online space so people can view and access them online?

Not specifically with the Samuel Beckett collection because there are copyrights on the documents and manuscripts. It’s mainly to digitize it at the moment and preserve it for the future. After I’ve digitised them I then print off copies because the copies that are currently available for the readers are not very good ones. That’s why we are going through this process of digitisation. Also, if there are other colleagues who need some pictures to go on online, or on social media, I can do that as well.

  1. So can researchers then use those images and publish them in books?

That’s right yes, but I think they would have to go through a process of applying to the University to seek authorisation to use those images, but yes they would be able to.*

  1. What aspects of archiving interest you the most?

When I am able to make a difference, for example digitising the Samuel Beckett collection to make it accessible for future researchers and enabling them to get better quality copies, so this in turn enables them to do their work.

  1. What are your thoughts when you come across people that may not necessarily value the importance of working in a cultural or historical setting?

I personally feel a deep connection to heritage, and cultural heritage in general. I feel that I perform best when I can link my personal passion to my work. It’s important to preserve the past because you can only learn from the past to make yourself better in the future. If we don’t preserve the past we will just lose our roots. It’s really important to have people who are guardians of heritage.

Whitney: Wow, so it’s really about coming to terms with and understanding a past you may not have been involved in and being cultured. It’s really amazing to be able to explore spaces and places through the span of history and gain a different perspective of life through that.

Nitisha: I think you’re quite right there, and I think with law I was not able to express myself creatively. I had to follow rules and even at the end of a case, you might have gone through a set of rules and realise it’s not necessarily fair. That would annoy me a lot and would conflict with my personal values.

  1. How do you feel once youve come to the end of a project? What emotion runs through your mind?

It’s a very good feeling when you’ve finished a project and you’ve given it your best. I feel a sense of accomplishment that I’ve finished something, handed it over to the next person and accomplished what I was meant to do.

  1. What new things have you discovered about either yourself or job role since working at MERL?

I’ve discovered that I’ve always wanted to do something but have never known what it was! After I started volunteering here at MERL it really confirmed my desire to work in the heritage sector. Although it’s very tough to get a job or progress within the heritage sector I still very much enjoy it and want to carry on.

It was a pleasure talking to Nitisha about her role as an Archive Assistant, understanding her approach to her work and all the different opportunities that have presented themselves through her time here at MERL. Next week we’ll be exploring some of the exciting work she does over in the Conservation department.

*As Nitisha has stated, we only copy items in the Samuel Beckett Archive for preservation purposes in order to reduce the handling of the originals, which are in high demand. Other copying is done for a wide range of purposes and for both internal and external users. For every request we take copyright into consideration. Anyone wishing to use copies of material in our collections – whether in print or online – should contact us in the first instance (

The second part of Nitisha’s interview, where Whitney talks to her about her role in conservation,  can be found over at the MERL blog

From the cradle of printing to binder’s waste: incunable leaves in the John Lewis collection

Written by Erika Delbecque, UMASCS Librarian

Earlier this year, we shared some exciting early printing finds from the John Lewis Printing Collection on this blog. In the past few months, I have been researching these leaves, so that they can be catalogued and the collection can be made more accessible. In the first instance, I have been focusing on leaves from incunables.

The cradle of printing

Incunables, from the Latin incunabulum (“cradle”) are books that were printed in Europe before 1501, in the infancy of the art of printing with movable type, which was introduced by Johannes Gutenberg in ca. 1450. These books from the cradle of printing can give us a glimpse into the early stages of one of the most significant human inventions.

Often a hybrid between manuscript and print, with hand-painted initials and decorations sitting alongside the black ink of the printed text, incunables embody the gradual transition from a world where the manuscript was the prime medium for the transmission of knowledge to one where the printed word took on this crucial role.

Hand-painted initial (Alighieri, Dante. La Commedia. Venice: Wendelin of Speier, 1477)

Hand-painted initial (Alighieri, Dante. La Commedia. Venice: Wendelin of Speier, 1477)

Hand-painted initial and decoration (Beauvais, Vincent of. Speculum historiale .  Strassburg: Johann Mentelin, 1473)

Hand-painted initial and decoration (Beauvais, Vincent of. Speculum historiale. Strassburg: Johann Mentelin, 1473)

Some of these craftsmen reach an astonishing degree of esthetical perfection in those early stages. Consider, for example, the woodcut from a leaf from the famous Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) below, or the leaf from Plutarch’s Vitae illustrium virorum, printed by the Venetian printer Nicolas Jenson in 1478. The typeface that Jenson designed for his printing business would later be praised by William Morris for its elegance and beauty, and it continues to influence type design to this day.

Detail from a leaf from the Nuremberg Chronicle (Schedel, Hartmann. Liber chronicarum. Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1493)

Detail from a leaf from the Nuremberg Chronicle (Schedel, Hartmann. Liber chronicarum. Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1493)

Jenson's celebrated roman type (Plutarch. Vitae illustrium virorum. Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1478)

Jenson’s celebrated roman type (Plutarch. Vitae illustrium virorum. Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1478)

We owe the survival of these leaves to the thriftiness of early modern craftsmen. Rather than wasting new paper, which was a relatively expensive commodity, bookbinders recycled leaves from earlier documents to reinforce the spine and covers of a book. Some of the leaves in our collection provide clues as to why they ended up in the bookbinder’s stack of wastepaper: the pages of this double leaf from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a romance that was printed by Aldus Manutius in 1499, are in the wrong order.

Pages printed in the wrong order (Colonna, Francesco. Poliphili Hypnerotomachia. Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1499)

Pages printed in the wrong order (Colonna, Francesco. Poliphili Hypnerotomachia. Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1499)

Incunable leaves in the John Lewis Collection

Although it is uncertain how these leaves ended up in the collection of John Lewis (1912-1996), a typographer and graphic designer whose collection of ephemera we purchased in 1997, the foreword in his book Printed ephemera provides a clue:

A dozen years or so ago, I bought from a bookseller in Ipswich, Suffolk, an album compiled about the year 1820 by a Dr Lodge, sometime librarian to the University Library at Cambridge. Dr Lodge’s album contained a wide variety of printed matter including […] an Indulgence printed by Thierry Martens.
As librarian to a great library, Dr Lodge’s opportunities for collecting pages from damaged books and packings from broken bindings were extensive. It would seem that this particular Indulgence may well have lurked for three hundred years or more inside some vellum or calf-bound volume, doing duty for the paste-boards which in those days did not exist.

Thus, it is possible that these leaves spent centuries sitting undisturbed in the bindings of their younger relatives on the shelves of Cambridge University Library, before ending up here at the University of Reading through the rather dubious collecting efforts of this Dr Lodge…

On the trail of early printers

Identifying what work these leaves are part of often requires quite a bit of detective work, as the features by which an early printed book would normally be identified, such as the title page, the incipit or the colophon, are lacking.

The first step is the identification of the text. Search engines like Google are immensely useful for this purpose in many cases, but for more obscure texts skim-reading the pages or translating a part to form an idea of the content is more fruitful. This can be particularly challenging when dealing with a text in heavily abbreviated Latin, which many of these leaves contain! Then, a search on incunabula catalogues, such as the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue and the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke, will reveal which editions of this text were printed in the fifteenth century. Finally, a comparison with digitised copies, if available, will let you determine what edition the leaf was once part of.

Fifteen leaves have been identified in this way. They are currently being catalogued onto Enterprise, our library catalogue, and our holdings on the ISTC have been updated. However, four leaves remain unidentified. If this blog post has inspired you to try your hand at researching an incunable leaf, have a look at the photographs of the leaves below. Let us know in the comments section if you discover anything about them!


Lewis, J (1976) Collecting Printed Ephemera. London: Cassell and Collier Macmillan.

The Edinburgh Imperial Atlas: Ancient and Modern

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

The Edinburgh Imperial Atlas

The Edinburgh Imperial Atlas


The ‘Edinburgh Imperial Atlas: Ancient and Modern’ (1859) [Overstone – shelf large 34I/10] is a beautiful collection of maps developed from, what the publishers Gall and Inglis describe as, ‘The Best Authorities.’  Unfortunately, very little information is given as to who these authorities may be or which dates the historical maps reflect– indeed only two are named: Gerard Mercator and Strabo.


Strabo (c.64BCE – 21 CE) was a Greek geographer and historian whose work ‘Geography’ diligently describes “the whole range of peoples and countries known to both Greeks and Romans during the reign of Augustus,”(Lasserre.)   Strabo drew on his own travel experiences as well as the first-hand accounts of explorers such as Polybius and Poseidonius, and earlier geographers including, Artemidorus, whose book describing a voyage around the world provided Strabo, “with a description of the coasts and thus of the shape and size of countries,” (Lasserre).

Strabo's Map of the World

Strabo’s Map of the World

Gerard Mercator (1512-1594) was a Flemish cartographer who not only introduced the term ‘atlas’ for a collection of maps but also created “one of the most influential depictions of the globe,” (Molloy, 2015), in 1569, known as the ‘Mercator Projection’.   The map is often still used today; even Google Maps uses a close variant! (Molloy, 2015)

The Mercator Projection

The Mercator Projection

Mercator’s projection was highly useful for sailors and widely used for navigation charts as, “any straight line on a Mercator-projection map is a line of constant true bearing that enables a navigator to plot a straight-line course,” (Britannica.)  However, while the map is an excellent navigational tool, the inaccurate scale of various landmasses make it less helpful as a general map of the world. For example, Greenland is particularly distorted, appearing to be larger in size than South America or Africa. (Molloy, 2015; Britannica)

Although the remaining maps are without their creator’s name tags, they are beautifully rendered and contain a fascinating insight to the historical geography of the time.  I particularly love the details on this map which show the longest rivers and tallest mountains in the Western Hemisphere:

The longest rivers and tallest mountains in the western hemisphere.

The longest rivers and tallest mountains in the western hemisphere.

Based on this newspaper clipping from ‘The Glasgow Herald’ in December 1851, an earlier edition of the ‘Edinburgh Imperial Atlas’ was marketed as an educational resource.  These comparative maps of

The Glasgow Herald -December 1851

The Glasgow Herald -December 1851

ancient and modern geography were first compiled for classroom use by French Jesuit Phillipe Briet in

the mid-seventeenth century (Goffart, 2003.)  They usually mirrored the a Ptolemaic prototype, following the ancient map-makers’ focus on showing the outlines of different regions rather than providing glimpses of historical moments, (Goffart, 2003.)  The ‘Edinburgh Imperial Atlas’ is no different with regions being highlighted with beautiful hand-colouring.

Colouring of English counties

Colouring of English counties

A particularly interesting feature of the colouring of this Atlas is the

effect of the pale green colour on the paper.  Below is the reverse side of the map displaying Strabo’s view of the world.  This effect is caused by oxidation of the copper acetate used to create the green pigment

‘verdegris’ (Greek Green) and is usually a sign that the colouring is original and was applied when the map was printed. (Meijer, 2008)

The reverse of Strabo's map

The reverse of Strabo’s map


In his creation of a special collection of ancient maps in the late sixteenth century, cartographer Abraham Ortelius declared,“historiae oculus geographia, “geography (is) the eye of history,”” (Goffart, 2003) and in collections such as the ‘Edinburgh Imperial Atlas’ it is certainly possible to see the historical development of our understanding of the shape of our world.


Sources and Further Reading:

Goffart, Walter. Historical Atlases : The First Three Hundred Years, 1570-1870. Chicago, IL, USA: University of Chicago Press, 2003. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 2 March 2016.

Lasserre François –  Britannica: Strabo

The Glasgow Herald – 22 December 1851

The Edinburgh Imperial Atlas – digitisation

Britannica: Mercator Projection

Molloy, Antonia (2015) Gerardus Mercator: 3 ways influential cartographer changed the way we look at the world 

Meijer,  Boudewijn (2008) Antique Maps – Recognising the difference between old and modern colouring 

Baynton-Williams, Roger., Colouring on Antique Maps