New acquisition: a set of Talwin Morris poetry books

The graphic artist Talwin Morris (1865-1911) was a member of the circle of artists surrounding the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow. Through his book designs, Morris was able to introduce a wide audience to what was known as the ‘Glasgow Style’ as it flourished at the end of the nineteenth century.

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Front cover design by Talwin Morris

Five years ago we organised an exhibition of Talwin Morris book covers which was on display outside the Special Collections reading room, with an accompanying exhibition page on our website. The exhibition showcased a selection of book covers designed by Morris from our rare book collections and the MERL library. Since then, we have been very pleased to receive a number of emails from Talwin Morris collectors and other individuals with an interest in his work, sometimes to offer Morris books for sale or donation, or just to share interest and knowledge.

In this way we were contacted recently by an Oxfam bookshop in Birmingham seeking information about a beautiful set of poetry books designed by Talwin Morris. We are delighted to say that we have now purchased this set for the Printing Collection, part of the rare book collections at Reading.

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Volumes from ‘A Library of Choice Poetry’ designed by Talwin Morris

The set is a later version of the Red Letter Library, published by the Gresham Publishing Company as a boxed set with the title ‘A Library of Choice Poetry’ some time between 1902-1911. The books are bound in cloth with front cover and spine designs by Talwin Morris [shown above], who also designed the title-pages and endpapers [detail of endpaper design shown below]. The series includes volumes of poetry by Matthew Arnold, Tennyson, Wordsworth and Keats.

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Detail of endpaper design by Talwin Morris

One of the appealing features of Talwin Morris’s work is that, aside from the beauty of the designs, examples of his book covers can still be found for sale for fairly modest sums in charity shops and secondhand booksellers as the texts themselves are not particularly rare – once you become familiar with his style they are easy to spot!

[Many thanks to Ladi Dell’aira from the Oxfam bookshop in Kings Heath, Birmingham, for her kind permission to use her photographs of the books in this post and for her help with the acquisition of the books].

New Beckett letters acquired

Five letters and three postcards from Samuel Beckett to the Israeli scriptwriter and journalist Mira Avrech have been acquired by Special Collections. The letters date from 1967 to 1974, and may be found under reference MS 5515. Copies of these items are now available for consultation in the reading room.

Beckett is believed to have met Avrech in 1967 whilst in Berlin directing Endspiel (Endgame), and to have conducted a brief love affair with her during his stay. The letters discuss both his writing and hers, his health, international politics and his habit of drinking whiskey from an old tumbler.

Ada Lovelace day: 15 October

Ada Lovelace portrait (sourced at Wikipedia)

Ada Lovelace portrait

Today is Ada Lovelace day, an annual celebration of achievements in science, technology, engineering and maths by women.  Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was a nineteenth century mathematician and computer pioneer.  Interested in all kinds of scientific developments, such as the brain and phrenology, Ada is most well known for her work on Charles Babbage’s invention of an analytical engine, a kind of mechanical computer.

Ada was noted for her ability to capture technical concepts and transform them into lucid and clear prose.  Her comments in the early 1840’s on Luigi Menabrea’s work contain what is believed to be one of the earliest computer programs, in the form of an algorithm for machine processes.

Childe Harold's Pilgrimmage, Byron, 1821.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimmage, Byron, 1821

Ada was also the only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron.  Byron featured her in the opening lines of the third canto of his poem Childe Harold, written soon after Ada’s birth and the break-up of Byron’s marriage to her mother:

‘Ada! sole daughter of my house and my heart?’

From our Reserve and Cole collections, one of our featured items highlights female achievement in the field of botanical art in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Pre-nineteenth century professional female artists were very rare, underlining the importance (and beauty!) of the work by Berthe Hoola van Nooten (1840-1855) and Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717).

Garcinia mangostana, Fleurs, fruits et feuillages choisis de la flore by Nooten, 1880

Garcinia mangostana, Fleurs, fruits et feuillages choisis de la flore by Nooten, 1880

An A to Z exhibition: Agriculture to Zoology and beyond

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The ever-beautiful toad fish, from the 1796 Ichthyologie, ou, Histoire naturelle des poissons (COLE—X394)

Our library and archives hold a wide range of collections that touch on many of the areas studies here at the University and beyond. From law material to zoology, agriculture to English and education to typography, we have something for everyone! To showcase the breadth, we have a new exhibition here at Special Collections that includes items selected from across our collections.

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A 12th-century charter of Henry II to the Abbey of St. Sauveur-le-Vicomte (MS 1488)

One case is dedicated to the story of the University itself, showcasing Reading’s tradition of academic excellence back to the late 19th century, when the Schools of Art and Science was established in Reading. These became part of an extension college opened in 1892 by Christ Church, Oxford. Three years later the local Palmer family, of the famous biscuit manufacturer Huntley & Palmers, donated the London Road site – and later this building in which MERL and Special Collections are now housed (originally Alfred Palmer’s house), which became the first Hall of Residence for women. We received a Royal Charter in 1926, the only university to do so between the two world wars, and in 1947 we purchased our main Whiteknights campus, the former country estate of the Marquis of Blandford.

Other cases explore the sciences, social sciences and humanities. An 18th-century text on the history of fish sits beside a 12th-century charter of Henry II to the Abbey of St Sauveur-le-Vicomte; a 1950s guide to sign lettering for the Festival of Britain complements the 19th-century Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones; and a theatre programme for a Japanese production of Waiting for Godot in 1994 is matched by a signed letter from WB Yeats.

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The grammar of ornament, by Owen Jones (PRINTING COLLECTION FOLIO–745-JON)

The exhibition will be on display at the Special Collections Service from until 30 September 2013.

Manuscript of Beckett’s Murphy acquired

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Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

The University has acquired the working manuscript of Samuel Beckett’s first major work, Murphy, at the cost of £962,500, at an auction at Sotheby’s in London today.

The hand-written manuscript, which has been in private hands for the last half century, will now become accessible to Beckett scholars around the world as part of our Beckett Collection.

At nearly 800 pages long, Murphy is among the greatest literary manuscripts of the 20th century and, according to Sotheby’s, is the “most important manuscript of a complete novel by a modern British or Irish writer to appear at auction for many decades”. Murphy was Beckett’s first published novel and the first major expression of the central themes that would occupy Beckett for the next half century.

Professor James Knowlson, University of Reading Emeritus Professor, friend of Beckett and his sole authorised biographer, said: “This manuscript is a treasure trove of insight into the mind of one of the greatest literary figures of the past 100 years.

“Murphy was Beckett’s first published novel. To see the novelist’s development of some of the most famous passages in modern literature gives a unique insight into how he worked at an early stage in his career.”

The manuscript, which fills six notebooks, provides a text that is substantially different from the final printed edition in 1938. With its revisions, different colour inks, dated pages and doodles, it is an extraordinarily rich manifestation of Beckett’s writing practices and provides a unique and deep insight into the mind and working practices of one of the greatest writers of the last hundred years.

Murphy concerns the main character’s attempts to find peace in the nothingness of the ‘little world’ of the mind without intrusion from the outside world. It is Beckett’s London novel, which he began writing in August 1935 while undergoing intensive psychoanalysis there. It was completed in Dublin in 1936 and unlike many of his other works, which were written in French, was written in English.

There are significant textual differences from the published novel throughout the manuscript. The most heavily revised passages provide fascinating evidence about the portions of the text that gave Beckett most trouble. Eight versions of the opening are crossed out until the Nobel prize-winning author eventually settled on “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

Peter Selley, Sotheby’s Senior Specialist in Books and Manuscripts, commented: “This is unquestionably the most important manuscript of a complete novel by a modern British or Irish writer to appear at auction for many decades. The notebooks contain almost infinite riches. The manuscript is capable of redefining Beckett studies for many years to come.”

Completion of Beckett’s novel was followed by 40 rejections from publishers before Routledge eventually published the book in 1938. Although it received sympathetic reviews, it was not a success at the time of publication.

The University of Reading is an acknowledged world centre for Beckett studies. A new project led by Special Collections, Staging Beckett, will put Beckett’s impact on modern theatre practice in the UK and Ireland under the spotlight for the very first time.

Random Penguin? Random House merges with Penguin

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No, the name won’t be Random Penguin, nor does their (temporary) logo bring any excited penguin/house mashups. But frequent users of our publishers’ archives and those with an interest in the book trade may be interested to know that Random House and Penguin have negotiated the largest-ever publishing house merger to create Penguin Random House.

How the merger affects the publishing industry remains to be seen, though the combined entity is sure to have extraordinary influence with an approximately 27% share of the UK’s book publishing market and 25% share of the US market. The merger brings the new corporate strapline ‘The world’s first truly global trade book publishing company’.

Those with an interest in the changing world of contemporary publishing may also wish to take a historical look at the publishing industry. The University of Reading is home to the archives of several imprints currently owned by Random House, including Chatto & Windus, Jonathan Cape, Bodley Head, Secker & Warbug and Hogarth Press. Although the Penguin Archive is held by Bristol University, our readers are able to access Penguin material via the archives of Ladybird Books, as well as other affiliated collections such as the papers of literary personalities and staff.

Exploring Reading’s Special Collections: A new blog

Written by Kate Arnold-Forster, Head of the University Museums & Special Collections Service

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Welcome to the launch of our Special Collections blog, the beginning of a new University Museums and Special Collections Services (UMASCS) venture, although an idea that we have been contemplating for a while. Our hope is that this blog will help provide new insights into the extraordinary range and depth of the University of Reading’s archives and library collections and explain how our activities and services aim to improve their accessibility and increasingly extend and promote their use.

It is hard to sum up the diversity of what we hold, although a brief wander among our book stacks provides an eclectic glimpse of anything from tractor manuals to nearly 500 different editions of Samuel Beckett’s work, alongside the 4,000 books of the Mark Longman Library on book and publishing history and the archives of biscuit company Huntley and Palmers. We are also home to internationally important archive holdings, including two Designated collections, the Archive of British Publishing and Printing History and the Samuel Beckett Archive.

Our aim is to share the writing of this blog (at least initially) among UMASCS staff. Over the coming months, this will help us introduce not only our collections but also ourselves and our work as well as explain what we do ‘behind the scenes’. But we also intend the blog to offer updates and more detailed reports on the various projects that underpin many of our activities – some directly linked to supporting new research, often involving close collaboration with researchers, while others focusing on collections development that continues to build our capacity to extend new knowledge of our collections in the digital age.