Best lookers rather than best sellers: Gaberbocchus Press

Written by Fiona Melhuish (UMASCS Librarian)

“There is a madness about various Gaberbocchus books which is the spice of life, an ingredient somewhat lacking in the world of impeccable book production”.

(Ruari McLean in ‘Quarterly News Letter of the Book Club of California, Summer 1956)

 

Two examples of book cover designs by Gaberbocchus Press.

 

Gaberbocchus Press was founded in 1948 in London, by Stefan and Franciszka Themerson. It was the product of an artistic collaboration that had begun in Warsaw, when they worked together as experimental film-makers. With Franciszka as artistic director and Stefan as editor, the Press published sixty titles, during forty years, and the University of Reading Special Collections holds a set of these titles, in various editions, in the Gaberbocchus Press Collection, together with some archive records of the company.

Page from ‘The Good Citizen’s Alphabet’ by Bertrand Russell, illustrated by Franciszka Themerson (1953). GABERBOCCHUS PRESS COLLECTION–1953/01

 

The Themersons used their small press as “a vehicle for introducing new ideas”, and selected intellectual avant-garde texts. These ranged from poetry to philosophical novels, from authors such as Bertrand Russell and Raymond Queneau, to first English translations of Alfred Jarry and Heinrich Heine.

The name ‘Gaberbocchus’ was taken from the Latinised version of Lewis Carroll’s poem ‘The Jabberwocky’, a source which already points to a surreal and often absurdist sensibility running through the publications. Both the choice of text and the illustrations display a concern for morality and ethics, as well as a keen sense of the ridiculousness of human beings. One common characteristic of the publications is the intimate relationship between image and text as an expression of content.

 

Page from ‘The Good Citizen’s Alphabet’ by Bertrand Russell, illustrated by Franciszka Themerson (1953). GABERBOCCHUS PRESS COLLECTION–1953/01

 

A key objective was to produce “best lookers rather than best sellers”. The Themersons felt little sympathy for mainstream taste, with Stefan once identifying a ‘refusal to conform’ to be both the Press’s primary strength and primary weakness. The Press attracted curiosity from critics, who saw it as odd and yet appealing, observing in the words of one that Gaberbocchus books show “a pleasing and intelligent originality in presentation, which make them quite different from anything else appearing in London”. In its position outside the mainstream of the established world of publishing, Gaberbocchus Press is certainly one of the most interesting and original of British small presses of the twentieth century.

Books from the Gaberbocchus Press Collection are all catalogued on the Enterprise catalogue, and are available to view in the Special Collections reading room on request.

 

Page from ‘Semantic Divertissements’ by Themerson & Themerson (1962). GABERBOCCHUS PRESS COLLECTION–1962/01

Further reading:

The Themersons and the Gaberbocchus Press : an experiment in publishing, 1948-1979 / edited by Jan Kubasiewicz and Monica Strauss ; with contributions by Marcin Gizycki … [et al.]. New York, N.Y. : MJS Books & Graphics, 1993. Available to consult in the Special Collections open access reference collection: FOLIO–070.593-GAB/THE

Gaberbocchus Press : an exhibition / curated by Fiona Barnard (draft copy of a catalogue to accompany an exhibition held at the National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 14 April – 31 August 2003). Available to consult in the Special Collections reading room on request: PRINTING COLLECTION F–094.0942-GAB/BAR

One of the many versions of the Gaberbocchus Press emblem

 

Images reproduced by permission of Themerson Estate.

Reading Readers: Lost in Translation in George Bell and Macmillan Publishers Archives

This month’s blog comes from one of our ‘Reading Readers’, Anna Strowe, who’s been looking at the archives of the publishing companies of George Bell & Sons and Macmillan. George Bell & Sons consists of A woman is sat in the Reading Room, surrounded by documents, and a laptop. correspondence, ledgers & miscellaneous records from 1813–1976. The Archive of Macmillan at the University of Reading is vast and mainly consists of around 60,000 incoming letters, covering the period 1875 to 1967 with material also held at the British Library. We asked Anna about her research and about some of her favourite things she had found within the collections.

I’m working on translation in the archives of George Bell & Sons, covering items from 1890-1900. I started out initially just wanting to know what kind of materials there might be that would address issues of translation, and narrowed down pretty quickly to looking mostly at correspondence in and out. This is part of a larger project, where I’m also looking at Macmillan records in the same period.

Within these materials, I’m particularly interested in a couple of things. First, I want to know very generally what kinds of conversations happen around the issue of publishing translations. Who is involved and what do they write about to each other? What do proposals look like? What do reviews look like? How do translators and texts get chosen? Unsurprisingly, a lot of conversation is about whether things will sell, and about pricing and payment, but there’s also a lot of conversation about other issues: why people think a particular book would do well in translation, how people know the translators they are recommending, what various readers think is good or bad about particular translations.

I’m also interested in particular stories that come out of the archival materials. I’ve started to focus on one that involves a Dutch-born professor of English literature in Germany, his three-volume history of English literature and another volume of essays on Shakespeare, three publishers, seven translators (some just hopeful for more work!), a particularly harsh book review, some miscommunication about what the actual problem is, the professor’s wife, and an infringement of international copyright law… That story plays out over the course of around 50 letters back and forth between these various people, and 21 letters that must have existed but that I haven’t found. I’m also interested in the stories of particular translators who come up in the documents repeatedly. I’m trying to find out more about these translators through both their letters and outside research; they can be a bit hard to track though!

A table showing a pile of letters. Two letters are brought to the front.

Just some of the letters Anna worked with. In the forefront – MS 1640/223/255 and MS 291/255.

I love working in archives because there’s so much that is interesting or surprising. Things that are relevant to the work that you’re in the archive for in the first place, and just wonderful things you come across. So a few of each:

One of the things I like the most about the material that I’m getting on my topic is the sense of personality and the intimacy that you get from working with these types of materials. You get to follow people in so many ways: their work, their family lives, their travels. There’s a little of everything in the documents. A lot of the time in translation studies, we work with the texts themselves and maybe with a little biographical information. But holding in your hands a letter that someone wrote over a century ago is just so much more personal. And you start to feel like you’re meeting people: the business-like, the chatty and friendly

And then there are the random little things that you find: a rant from an outraged author who believes his work to be revolutionary, in which he suggests that they probably didn’t even read the manuscript, and offers as evidence the fact that they had misspelled his name in their reply (his signature in the previous letter was almost illegible!); a hint that several of the translators whose names keep coming up in the archives actually knew each other, when one of them writes that she saw “Miss Whoever” at a dinner party the other evening.

Maybe my favourite find (not relevant to my research) so far is a little card from 1921, from

A table showing a letter with a painting of some scenery.

The letter from the Tompkins’ sisters. MS 1640/49/1

two sisters in New Jersey. They write to George Bell & Sons essentially just to thank them for having published so many lovely books that the sisters own, and include a tiny watercolour done by one sister. The picture is a little scene with a meadow and a river with a couple little houses and some birds, and hills in the background. It’s about 4 x 6.75 cm, and it’s been sewn to the card (which is also quite small- about 8 x 9 cm) with six little stitches in white embroidery floss, in the corners and top and bottom centre. It’s signed by the sister, Abigail Brown Tompkins, and titled “A Misty Summer Morning in New Jersey U.S.A.” I don’t really know anything about it or the sisters, and it’s not actually part of what I’m supposed to be working on, but it’s such a wonderful random gesture.

 

I still have a huge amount of work to do though; my time in the archive was really just collecting images of all of these documents, so I’m only just starting to read through them in more detail and get a better sense of what’s there. I’m sure I’ll find many more interesting and surprising things.

To find out more about the above collections get in touch via email at specialcollections@reading.ac.uk or visit our website https://www.reading.ac.uk/special-collections/.  Follow us on twitter @UniRdg_SpecColl and @unirdg_collections on Instagram for updates on services, events and collections.

John and Griselda Lewis Postdoctoral Fellowship: Invite for applications

Applications are invited for the John and Griselda Lewis Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Reading. The Fellowship is available from March 2019, or a mutually agreed date and for a period of up to 12 months (we estimate this would equate to 2-3 months full time equivalent) and will attract a stipend of £5,000.

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

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

We are seeking an exceptional postdoctoral researcher with an ability to exploit this opportunity to build on the legacy of the Lewis’s pioneering work in relation to the history and development of type and letterforms. They will have a demonstrable interest in printing history, ephemera or the history of typographic design and preferably a strong track record of archival and collections research experience in a relevant area.

The successful candidate will be part of the University’s growing interdisciplinary community of scholars working with its distinctive collections and will be supported and advised by colleagues from the Departments of Typography and Graphic Communication, the Department of English Literature, and the HCIC (Heritage and Creativity Institute for Collections). The Fellowship will be based at the University Museums and Special Collections Services.

John Lewis (1912-1996) was one of the most influential figures in the study of printed ephemera, who combined his role as a lecturer in graphic design at the Royal College of Art with the authorship of 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 research. He married Griselda Rideout, who as Griselda Lewis was a noted writer, designer and ceramics collector, best known for her publication ‘A Collector’s History of English Pottery’.

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)

The role of the fellow will be to complete in draft a project funding bid focused on the John and Griselda Lewis Collection, to be submitted to one of the UK Research Councils. The bid preparation will itself involve new research into the collection and, if the bid is successful, there may be an opportunity to continue it as an early-career researcher attached to the project. The project funding bid would aim to support the production of:

  • a new critical edition of Lewis’ 1962 publication ‘Printed Ephemera: The Changing Uses of Type and Letterforms in English and American Printing’ to be accompanied by a collection of essays or articles exploring different aspects of the collection, the work of the Lewis’s;
  • a further publication on the role and influence of private collectors in relation to the growth of print and ephemera studies, as a special edition of a journal such as Printing History, or as a small book or, by agreement, an appropriate alternative research project drawing on the collection.

 

SUBMISSION DETAILS

Applicants should submit:

  • a CV
  • written proposal (of up to 1,500 words) indicating how you would approach this project and apportion time to developing the bid and other related research.
  • Applicants should also ensure that references have been provided by two referees by (see submission details below).

 

Applicants are responsible for ensuring that references reach Kate Arnold-Forster (k.arnold-forster@reading.ac.uk) by the closing date of 28th February 2019. References should be submitted by email, with the applicant’s name added clearly to the subject line. Applicants should ensure that referees are familiar with the content of their proposal and are able to comment directly on their ability to deliver the work outlined. In instances where the applicants have an institutional affiliation, applicants should seek references from external sources.

 

Applications should be submitted by email, with the applicant’s name added clearly to the subject line. We would strongly encourage applicants to contact us in advance for an informal discussion. For an informal discussion in the first instance, please contact Dr Rhi Smith (r.smith@reading.ac.uk) or Guy Baxter (g.l.baxter@reading.ac.uk).

 

You may find it useful to make use of the web-based catalogue at http://www.reading.ac.uk/adlib/Details/archiveSpecial/110412306

 

Assessment of applications will be by a process of peer review and by an expert panel, with the successful candidate being expected to submit a report on completion of their Fellowship.

 

 

Forthcoming pop-up exhibition: ‘Embellish’d with gold: treasures from the European Manuscripts Collection’

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

To celebrate the arrival of the European Manuscripts Collection earlier this year, we are very pleased to announce that we will be holding a launch event as part of the November Extended Hours of The MERL and the Special Collections reading room.

The pop-up display, entitled Embellish’d with gold: treasures from the European Manuscripts Collection, will feature some of the highlights from the collection, giving University staff, students and visitors the opportunity to explore this exciting new resource.

 

Folio 42 verso, Hours of the Virgin (Prime), with a miniature of the Nativity. From a Book of Hours for the Use of Rome, French, c. 1480-1490. University of Reading Special Collections MS 5650/43.

 

The collection consists of 143 items, including some printed items, an exquisite seventeenth century Italian manuscript prayer book, and the centrepiece of the collection, a stunning fifteenth century Book of Hours. Most of the items are illuminated manuscript leaves, and come from a range of different types of manuscript, including Books of Hours, missals, breviaries, graduals, psalters and a papal bull from Perugia, dated 1265. The material dates from the twelfth to the seventeenth century; the items are predominately of French origin (about half of the collection), with about a quarter originating from Italy and others from England, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

In addition to this pop-up display, we are also planning an exhibition of items from the collection in the Special Collections staircase hall in 2019.

The European Manuscripts Collection has been generously presented to the University of Reading by a private collector with the support of the Art Fund.

The display will take place in the Learning Studio as part of The MERL’s extended hours opening from 5pm to 9pm on Thursday 29 November 2018. The event is free, with no booking required.

This month’s extended hours opening will also feature our annual Christmas shopping evening. Come and enjoy Christmas carols by the University Choir, and make a start on your Christmas shopping with 10% off in The MERL shop!

 

 

Not forgotten: University of Reading to add names to war memorial

On 9 November 2018, the University of Reading will formally announce that the names of nine members who fell in the First World War will be added to its war memorial. This will be the culmination of a long research process by community volunteers based in Special Collections.

A building of a tower being built, surrounded by scaffolding. A note next to the image is states that this is from 1924.

An image of the University of Reading London Road campus Clock Tower being built in 1924. (Image taken from the University of Reading Archives).

The genesis of the project dates back to 2013 and the Arts Council England-funded “Reading Connections” Project. One element of the project was to feed into the commemorations of the First World War. The University’s clock tower memorial, formally dedicated on 7th June 1924, lists those fallen servicemen with a connection to what was then called Reading University College. But this is not the only memorial.

In the University Archives lay a somewhat overlooked volume containing photographs of many of those who fell. As part of the project, this was digitised and made freely available via Flickr along with a brief service and personal history of the individuals listed, well as information on their connection to the College, if known. Information came largely from 1911 census records, WWI service records, War Graves Commission records and the University of Reading Archive. Many people responded to this and added details to the Flickr site.

The story did not stop there. One of the community volunteers, Jeremy Jones, continued delving into the histories of the men and women whose names appeared on the memorial and in the book. Jeremy presented a seminar in 2015 as part of a series looking at the First World War, in which he revealed many of the fascinating stories behind the names.

As the research work continued, it became clear that some names had been omitted from the clock tower, the book, or both. Although the College at the time was small, keeping track of every past student and staff member was not an easy task, and it is perhaps inevitable that there were some names that were missed, primarily through a lack of information, the “fog of war”. In one case, that of “laboratory boy” Charles Flint, the omission had in fact been noted by the first Vice-Chancellor, William Childs, as far back as 1927. A decision was made to wait until “perhaps three or four names come to knowledge”: it has taken a very long time.

These discoveries were a call to action: the University quickly determined that some additional names should be added. Nine have been identified so far. On 9 November 2018 the Acting Vice-Chancellor, hopefully joined by representatives of some of the services and units in which the men served, will announce the names. Also present will be staff and students of the University, who are also the successors of these nine men. The research work continues and more names may be uncovered and added. Some will forever remain unknown, but their sacrifice, made a century or more ago, is not diminished by that.

If the first casualty of war is truth, then by adding these names we hope to make some recompense by painting a more truthful picture of the extent of the sacrifice made by our forebears.

 

The following names will be added:

 

Frederick Wallis Aubrey

Born c. 1884 in Bradfield, Berkshire. Employed at Wantage Hall, described as a “waiter” or “servant”. Served in 4th Btn Royal Berkshire Regiment. Died 16th August 1917. Buried in New Irish Farm Cemetery, Belgium.

 

Richard Herbert Howell Biddulph

Born 1889 in London, Ontario, Canada. One of twelve local men who joined the Officer Training Corps at Reading University College on the outbreak of war, although not a student at the college (he had a degree from McGill University, Montreal and is on their honour roll). Served in the Royal Berkshire Regiment and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regiment). Died 5th July 1917 at Avion. Buried in La Targette British Cemetery, Neuville-St. Vaast, France.

 

Charles Henry Thomas Flint  

A man dressed in military uniform.

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC. Image taken from the University of Reading Magazine Tamesis (Vol XXXII No 2), which noted that the image was provided by his mother.

Born 1900 in Reading. Employed as a “laboratory boy” at Reading University College. Served as an apprentice in what was to become the Merchant Navy.  Died 11th April 1916 at the Royal Hospital, Melcombe Regis. Buried in London Road Cemetery, Reading.

 

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC 

Born 1893 in Shropshire. Famous as one of the leading poets of the Great War, Wilfred Owen attended Reading University College briefly in 1912. Served with the Artists’ Rifles and the Manchester Regiment, earning the Military Cross. Died 4th November 1918. Buried in Ors Communal Cemetery, France. Named in the Reading University College memorial book.

 

John Wilmot Mackenzie Palk  

Born c. 1874. Attended a course in the Faculty of Agriculture in 1905. In 1914 he was living in New Zealand but served in the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders). Died 16th November 1916. Buried in Contay British Cemetery, France.

 

Francis Edgar Pearse 

Born 1891 in Tottenham. Awarded a Borough of Reading Minor Scholarship in Arts for the 1909-10 and 1910-11 sessions to study at Reading University College. Served in the Royal Berkshire

An image of a man in army uniform.

Francis Edgar Pearse. Image taken from Book of Remembrance of those Members of The University College Reading who fell in The War 1914-1918 (MS 5339)

Regiment. Died 3rd October 1916. Buried in Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps, France. Named in the Reading University College memorial book.

 

Percy Leigh Pemberton 

Born 1886. Studied in the Faculty of Agriculture during the 1905-06 session. Served in the Middlesex Regiment. Died 27th February 1916. Buried in St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, France.

 

Thomas Albany Troward  

Born 1881 in India. Studied Fine Arts, 1902-06. By 1915 he was living in New Zealand where he enlisted and served in the Auckland Regiment, New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Died 21st May 1918. Buried in the Wellington (Karori) Cemetery, New Zealand.

 

Frederick Charles Wenham

Born 1889 in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.  Studied in the Faculty of Letters, passing the Final Examination for the Diploma in Letters in 1912 and being made an Associate of the College in May 1913. A member of the Officer Training Corps. Served in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment). Died 20th November 1917. Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France and in the National Union of Teachers War Record.

 

Post written by Guy Baxter, Associate Director of Archives Services. For more information on our archival material on World War 1, or if you have any further information on the names listed here, please contact us at specialcollections@reading.ac.uk. 

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. 

Important new acquisition: the European Manuscripts Collection

Written by Fiona Melhuish (UMASCS Librarian)

I am delighted to announce a very important recent acquisition, in fact, one of the most significant additions to our collections in recent years.

The collection, which will be known as the European Manuscripts Collection, consists of 143 items, including some printed items, an exquisite seventeenth century Italian manuscript prayer book, and the centrepiece of the collection, a stunning fifteenth century Book of Hours.

 

MS 45: Italy (probably Naples), circa 1460. From a breviary showing Vespers from the Hours of the Virgin. An example of gold tooling.

 

Most of the items are illuminated manuscript leaves, and come from a range of different types of manuscript, including Books of Hours, missals, breviaries, graduals, psalters and a papal bull from Perugia, dated 1265. The material dates from the twelfth to the seventeenth century; the items are predominately of French origin (about half of the collection), with about a quarter originating from Italy and others from England, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

 

MS 85: France (Valenciennes), circa 1480. From a Book of Hours showing parts of Psalms 115, 116 and 117. It is thought that the border is the work of the illuminator Simon Marmion or one of his circle. Marmion was described as “the prince of illuminators” by a near contemporary.

 

The Book of Hours [see image below] was produced in the latter part of the fifteenth century, and was written in Latin and French in two stages in Southern Burgundy (or near Lyons) in France. The manuscript has several interesting features which may hint at the identity of the original owner, including the unusual prominence of St Humbert (there is a full page miniature of the saint), suggesting that the original owner had the name ‘Humbert’.

 

MS 43 (Book of Hours): Folio 25 recto – Hours of the Holy Spirit – Matins. A miniature showing the Virgin Mary and Apostles and the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).

 

The collection has been very generously donated to us through The Art Fund. The donors, who wish to remain anonymous, chose the University as a home for their collection as one of them is a Reading graduate. They knew that we already held a Book of Hours in our collections, and thought that it would be good to develop and expand Reading’s medieval holdings, particularly for the benefit of the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies (GCMS).

We are fortunate to have a few early manuscripts in our collections, notably a fifteenth century Book of Hours, but this new acquisition will completely transform our holdings in this area and open up a wealth of teaching, research and other opportunities for the University, and provide an extensive resource for academics and students, especially in the GCMS, and in the History and Typography departments.

We are planning a number of events and other initiatives to publicise the collection, including an exhibition in the Special Collections Service staircase hall in 2019. As a launch event for the collection, we are planning a pop-up display as part of the MERL’s extended hours late opening night on the last Thursday of November this year. We were very pleased to give delegates from this year’s Fifteenth Century Conference, which was held in Reading, a sneak preview of the collection last week, and hope that they will also help us to spread the word about this new acquisition.

 

Detail of MS 89: France (Picardy, possibly Amiens), circa 1300. From a Book of Hours and is partly from Psalm 144, and partly from Luke. This detail shows a drollery with curly hair, holding a red bell.

 

We will be starting to catalogue the items onto our online catalogue soon. In the meantime, a handlist and a series of CDs produced by the donors, with a catalogue and images of the manuscripts, are available to help readers access the items. Please contact Caroline Gould (Principal Archivist) or Fiona Melhuish (UMASCS Librarian) via the Special Collections Service for advice on accessing the collection.

 

Detail of MS 90: France (Paris), circa 1330. From the St. Albans Abbey Bible showing 1-Chronicles 12:40 to 16:5.

 

New exhibition: ‘Hi-tiddley-hi-ti’ : echoes of the Victorian music hall

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

The Spellman Collection of Victorian music covers is one of my favourite collections, and looking through the many boxes of covers never fails to fascinate. The cover designs can be beautiful, imaginative, funny, the height of Victorian kitsch and sometimes just very strange, so it was a difficult, but enjoyable, task to choose 26 covers from a collection of around 2,500 to include in our new exhibition.

‘There’s more to follow : the great topical song’ SPELLMAN COLLECTION – 10057 – one of the many highlights of the Spellman Collection

One of the greatest strengths of the collection is its range and variety which make it a very rich source of images covering a wide range of subjects. Around 800 of the 2,500 or so covers have been digitised, and are available to view online via the Visual Arts Data Service (VADS) website. The extensive use of keywords in the cataloguing of the VADS images make it easy to search for images of specific subjects.

Victorian sheet music covers offer a colourful and fascinating insight into the popular songs and performers of the day, and also into the art and printing, politics and social history of the Victorian era. Pictorial sheet music covers first appeared in the early 1800s, and reached the height of their popularity in the second half of the nineteenth century. One of the most important developments in the history of sheet music covers was the introduction of lithographic printing in England in about 1800. This invention made the mass production of coloured illustrations far cheaper than ever before.

The exhibition on display in the Special Collections staircase hall

The reasons for the great demand for sheet music include the introduction of the upright piano, which became popular in middle class homes from the early nineteenth century, and the popularity of the music halls and their performers from the 1850s onwards. The covers feature illustrations of virtually every aspect of Victorian life, including historical events, royalty, eccentric society ‘types’, and love and marriage.

Some of the most memorable covers feature the vivacious and eccentric stars of the music halls, from the risque Marie Lloyd to the extraordinary performer James Henry Stead, who could leap up and down with both feet at once over 400 times in succession!

 

The exhibition will be on display in the staircase hall outside the Special Collections Service reading room until 31 October 2018, and is open Monday – Friday 9am to 5pm, Last Thursday of the month – 9am to 9pm and Saturday & Sunday – 10am to 5pm. Please ask a member of the MERL reception team for directions.

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. 

The Future of Literary Archives: New Publication Announced

Book cover of Future of Literary Archives.

The long-awaited collection of essays reflecting the work of the Diasporic Literary Archives Network has now been published. Entitled The Future of Literary Archives(edited by David C. Sutton and Ann Livingstone), the book is published jointly by ARC Humanities Press and Amsterdam University Press.

The contents reflect many of the themes and challenges which were pursued and developed by the Diasporic Literary Archives Network, and it is indicative that the book’s Index, in addition to referencing the many literary authors cited, has multiple entries for concepts such as “the politics of location”, “archival ethics”, “archival return” and “appropriateness of location”. Other major themes of the book include the market in literary archives, archives at risk, publishers’ archives, the particular case of Caribbean archives, digitisation and digital archives, the collecting of emails, translators’ papers, appraisal and selection, and cataloguing challenges.

The full list of contents is as follows:
* David C. Sutton: ‘Introduction: Literary Papers as the Most “Diasporic” of All Archives’
* Alison Donnell: ‘Caribbean Literary Archives and the Politics of Location: Challenging the Norms of Belonging’
* Maureen Roberts: ‘The Huntley Archives at London Metropolitan Archives’
* André Derval: ‘Conserving Private Literary and Editorial Archives: the Story of the IMEC’
* Jennifer Toews: ‘Migration, Freedom of Expression, and the Importance of Diasporic Literary Archives’
* Jens Boel: ‘The Universal Dimension of Diasporic Literary Archives’
* Veno V. Kauaria and David C. Sutton: ‘Namibian Literary Archives: New Beginnings and a Possible African Model’
* Sophie Heywood: ‘Francophone Archives at Risk’
* Daniela La Penna: ‘Italian Literary Archives: Legacies and Challenges’
* Trudy Huskamp Peterson: ‘Unknown/Unknowns and Known/Unknowns’
* Andrew Nash: ‘Publishers’ Archives, Authors’ Papers, and Literary Scholarship’
* Serenella Zanotti: ‘Diasporic Archives in Translation Research: A Case Study of Anthony Burgess’s Archives’
* David C. Sutton: ‘Conclusion: The Future of Literary Manuscripts – An International Perspective’

For more information about this title, and how to purchase it, click here.