Category Archives: Highlights

The way a collection is built speaks volumes of the collector

Every donated collection, however small, tells a unique story. It is never just about the written content confined to the pages of the books within it. The way an assemblage of books is built speaks volumes of the collector. The choice of titles, the marginal notes taken, and the ephemera hidden in-between printed pages, all paint a unique picture of the owner’s associations. They offer a peek into the collector’s personal universe and provide a form of informational overlay librarians and archivists are extra sensitive at detecting and embracing.

We have recently received a small donation of books from a gentleman in London. At first glance, the collection does not appear exceptionally rare. It consists of books on a variety of topics, including roadmaking, Russian folk tales, and punting. One could say, not an obviously Judaica-Library-related book assortment.  However, upon further examination, one realises that the volumes within it are interlinked in more than one way, and actually rather special. In this brief blog post, we are choosing to mention (and show!) just a couple of the many fascinating angles.

Firstly, an assemblage of newspaper cuttings found in a book written by Herbert Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel (1870-1963), a British statesman and philosopher, and the first British high commissioner for Palestine. The ephemera give us an insight into the world of early 20th century British politics (small sample below).


Secondly, a selection of books of historical prose and poetry by Lady Katie Magnus (1844-1924). In 1870, Lady Magnus espoused Sir Philip Magnus, and thus married into the so-called ‘annex’ of the Anglo-Jewish ‘cousinhood’: Rothschilds, Montefiores, Goldsmids, and Mocattas. Her writings, mostly educational in nature, show off her extensive knowledge of history and literature. Incredibly erudite, she remains humble; in an introduction to one of her works outlining Jewish history from Babylonian times to the late 19th century, she states she knows her work is not perfect, even though she tried her best. This selection provides quite an insight into gender relations in 19th century England. Magnus certainly deserves to be read, studied, and written about.

Some of her works which we now hold at the library (several come with multiple revised reprints):

Outlines of Jewish History: from B.C. 586 to C.E. 1885 (London: Longmans, 1886)
Jewish Portraits (London: Fisher Unwin, 1888)
First makes of England: Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Alfred the Great (London: Murray, 1901)
Some minor moralities and minor heresies (London: Routledge, 1908)
Remnants (Chilworth, London: Unwin, 1895)
A book of verse (London: Routledge, 1905)
Little Miriam’s holyday stories for little Jewish readers. 9 volumes in 1 (London: Vallentine, 1868-1875)

Kressel Library and Archive: our Library’s Foundation Stone

Not many realise that the Leopold Muller Memorial Library was founded on a single, yet incredibly rich, acquisition of the 1970s/80s – The Getzel Kressel Library and Archive. The former consisted of thousands of books covering almost the entire spectrum of Hebrew Jewish Studies. The latter, was an archive of hundreds of thousands of letters, pamphlets, manuscripts, typescripts and press cuttings, spanning the years from 1935 to 1980. This brief blog post focuses on a subsection of Kressel’s Archive, our most recent (and ongoing) cataloguing and digitisation project, namely a previously unexplored selection of about 5,000 letters.

Image 1: The first generation of Kressel/Muller Librarians in the newly founded Library in Yarnton Manor, Oxford.

Getzel Kressel was born in Zabłotów, eastern Galicia in 1911, and settled in Palestine in 1930. He was a bibliographer and Hebrew writer. From 1945 to 1951, he was one of the editors of the Hebrew newspaper Davar and of the Am Oved publisher. He founded Genazim, the Bio-bibliographical Institute of the Association of Israel Writers, and was its director (1951–60), enriching its collection of manuscripts, letters and newspaper cuttings. His most important work is Leksikon ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ba-Dorot ha-Aḥaronim (Lexicon of Hebrew Literature in Recent Times, 1965-67).

The Archive as a whole is an expression of Getzel Kressel’s mission to collect and preserve materials relating to the Mandate Yishuv and the establishment of the State of Israel. The letters, specifically, provide a snapshot of Jewish literary, cultural, and political life at the time, with Kressel’s correspondents constituting a network of contacts all over the Jewish world. The letters date from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s and relate in the main to the humanities and social sciences, the world of literature, culture, journalism and publishing, indicating the extraordinary vitality and variety of cultural activity in Israel so soon after the establishment of the State.  They are written mainly in Hebrew, a few in Yiddish and English, the majority from people in Israel and the United States. Most of them are handwritten, often quite difficult and time-consuming to decipher. So far, 2147 of these letters have been catalogued. The remaining selection, discovered within the old library’s walls upon moving to Oxford, is awaiting specialist attention.

Image 2. After the British Army conquered Ottoman Palestine, British military administrators started to establish a Hebrew press that would be favourable to the Mandate. Here is a letter to a Hebrew journalist from Lieutenant Colonel Gordon, editor of the Palestine News, trying to recruit him to work for the Hebrew edition of the newspaper. The letter has a Hebrew version. The paper on which these letters is written is acidic.

Kressel’s correspondences include:

  • Letters from notable persons, such as David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett (Shertok), Israeli Prime Ministers; Ahad Ha`am (Asher Ginsburg), the Zionist philosopher and essayist;
  • Letters from Members of Knesset and other political figures;
  • Letters from the directors of memorial organisations commemorating Eastern European communities destroyed in the Holocaust;
  • Many letters from the most prominent Hebrew authors of the day: H. N. Bialik, Shaul Tchernichowsky, Aharon Meged, Yehuda Burla, Yitzhak Lamdan, Shin Shalom and others;
  • Letters from literary scholars such as Yosef Klausner, Dov Sadan, B. Y. Michaly, Ezra Spicehandler, Avraham Kariv, and others;
  • Letters from prominent Yiddish authors and editors such as A. Sutzkever, Shimshon Meltzer and others;
  • Some letters are from humble clerks and secretaries who went on in later decades to become more notable figures;
  • Letters from librarians and bibliographers; from rabbis; from sociologists and folklorists such as Dov Noy; from cultural institutions in the United States;
  • Letters revealing some gossip, which is useful for information about figures and disputes of the time;
  • A few letters from peripheral figures such as lawyers and doctors who had some professional dealings with Kressel;
  • There are even a few letters from correspondents on their way to fight in the war of Independence in 1948;
  • One of the packets of letters, not yet sorted or catalogued, is crucially dated 1967.

These letters are unique and not available in any other archives. Cataloguing of these involves creating as much metadata as possible in the time and with the funding allowed. They are catalogued by name of the correspondent in English and Hebrew, with Library of Congress transliterations in English of the names in order to allow easier searching, date of the letter, and some pertinent information about the writer and/or the contents. Searching for some of the less well-known correspondents in order to create this metadata is often difficult and time-consuming, based either on the signature, or on the contents of the letter.

Overall, the archive is a treasure trove of primary material, and we would most certainly like to encourage researchers to peruse its contents. In due course, a searchable database of letters will be available online, and a selection of digitised items published in an exhibition.

Image 3: Solomon Buber (1827-1906), Orthodox scholar from Lviv (Lemberg) who edited many of the classical Midrashim and other medieval Hebrew writings and was the grandfather of Martin Buber, writes in 1890 to Abraham Moses Luncz (1854-1918), who settled in Ottoman Jerusalem in the 1860s and from 1881 to 1903 edited the yearbook Jerusalem.

New Acquisition: Haggadah shel Pesah [happy Passover!]

Tonight is the first night of the Jewish festival of Pesah (Passover), celebrated every year from the 15th to the 22nd day of Nissan. This year, the holiday starts on the 22nd of April and ends next Saturday, April the 30th. Passover commemorates the biblical exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. To learn more, click here.

The text of the Passover seder, a special family meal, is written in a book called the Haggadah. Our Library holds numerous copies of Haggadot according to different local customs. Among our recent acquisitions, is a copy of a sephardi Haggadah printed in London in 1813. This particular version is an augmented edition of Alexander’s London Haggadah of 1806, and is the first Haggadah with Spanish translation printed in London (source). The book was presented to the Leopold Muller Memorial Library on long-term loan by the Lewis Family Interests.

The Haggadah contains several engravings, among them a couple of folded maps, one of those being a ‘Plan explanatory of the Passage of the Red-Sea by the Israelites’, depicted below. All in all, feast for the eyes. Enjoy!

Hagadah shel Pesah ke-minhag sefaradim = Orden de la Agada de Pesah, en Hebraico y Espanol, según uzan los Judios, Espanoles, y Portuguezes, traducido del Hebraico y Caldeo. Por Senior Jacob Meldula, de Amsterdam. London : Printed by L. Alexander, Whitechapel-Road, A.M. 5573 [1813]

Sefer Tehilim = Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523) (shelfmark PB449)

One of the smallest books in our newly acquired Weisz Sephardi Collection is a Book of Psalms in Hebrew. Together with its binding, it is 11cm by 8cm in size. This tiny volume was published by Johann Froben in Basel in 1523.

Psalterium Hebraicum (Basle: Johann Froben, 1523)

Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

Portrait of Johann Froben by Hans Holbein the Younger, Hampton Court

Portrait of Johann Froben by Hans Holbein the Younger, Hampton Court


The colophon at the end of the volume says:
“Basel, in the house of Johann Froben, March, 1523”

Colophon, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basle: Johann Froben, 1523)

Colophon, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

Johann Froben (ca. 1460 Hammelburg – 1527 Basel), one of the most prominent printers of sixteenth-century Basel. He established a printing house in Basel together with the already successful printer, Johannes Auerbach (1443-1513). Froben collaborated with leading scholars of the age, such as Erasmus and Konrad Pellikan. Many of his publications were illustrated by woodcuts designed by two renowned artists, Hans Holbein the Younger and Urs Graf. The woodcut decorating the title page of this Hebrew book of Psalters, contains in its centre Froben’s printer’s device: the staff of Mercury surrounded by two crowned snakes and a dove. The device was designed by Hans Holbein the Younger. Holbein also painted two portraits of Froben, one of which is on display in Hampton Court.


Title page, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basle: Johann Froben, 1523)

Title page, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

Johann Froben's printer's device

Title page, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

Printer’s waste, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

A closer look reveals that even the binding of the volume can offer something to the curious-minded: it has Latin manuscript waste in its binding — a widespread way of recycling discarded parchment or paper leaves.

Printer's waste, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

Donation of Domy Reiter-Soffer prints

The well-known Israeli artist Domy Reiter-Soffer’s Genesis Portfolio, consisting of prints on the landscape of Israel, has been given to the Bodleian Library, thanks to the generosity of Lord and Lady Marks.

 Gillian cesar and domy Close up image

Mr Reiter-Soffer presented the portfolio to the Bodleian in person, and it was received by the Head of the Bodleian Libraries’ Oriental Section, Gillian Evison and by the Curator for Hebrew and Judaica, César Merchán-Hamann. Julia Wagner and Anne Lawrence, Deputy Superintendents of the new Weston Library’s reading rooms, are shown admiring the prints. Each print represents a different landscape, distilling its essence and capturing the richness of its colours and history. The Bodleian Library joins the likes of the Library of Congress and the British Library who also hold copies of the portfolio. We are lucky to have them.

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