Early Modern copper plates at the Bodleian Libraries

The Bodleian Libraries hold copper plates from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in several different collections.  These are listed along with the finding aids in the LibGuide Printing Surfaces.

Many of the earlier plates are survivals from publishing projects, whether realised or not. Others were collected or commissioned to depict objects of antiquarian study. Still others, in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, represent the process of printing, for instance, Copper plates for paper bags.

The Rawlinson collection of copper plates is the subject of a doctoral study by Chiara Betti, under the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership programme.

Engraved and etched copper plates owned by the London-based antiquarian collector Richard Rawlinson (1690-1755) came to the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, with his bequest of a large collection of material, in 1755. The majority of these plates were gathered by Rawlinson second-hand from printers or other collectors, and thus date from the seventeenth, and first half of the eighteenth, century. These illustrate scenes and objects of antiquarian and topographical interest and many portraits. The plates include work by seventeenth-century engravers Wenceslaus Hollar [see the catalogue of Hollar’s work by Richard Pennington, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677] and David Loggan. Another group of plates within this collection was made for Rawlinson himself, to depict unique objects in his own vast antiquarian collections. These collections included a large number of medieval and early modern manuscripts donated or bequeathed to several institutions including the Bodleian, as well as printed images, antique and exotic cultural objects, inscriptions, and seal matrices.
The copper plates thus sit within a much more extensive collection assembled by an eighteenth-century antiquarian, touching on areas of curatorial interest to libraries, museums, and archives. Surviving papers and notebooks of Richard Rawlinson are held at the British Library, the Bodleian Library, and at St John’s College, Oxford.


Shaping Scholarship: early donors to the Bodleian Library

This AHRC-funded project led by Robyn Adams (CELL, UCL), examines the network of individuals whose donations helped to build the collections of the library. Focusing on the first two decades following the seventeenth-century refurbishment by Sir Thomas Bodley (c.1600-1620) of Oxford’s university library, the study examines the shape of the collection of the books donated and purchased with funds, the social backgrounds of the c.220 donors, and how these men and women were connected across the social compass of the time.

Locating material for the material history of the book

Teaching with our Collections, at the Bodleian Libraries

The Bodleian Libraries contain a wealth of material that is relevant to the study of the book in every period. This is not only in book or manuscript form, although Bodleian Special Collections are frequently used for teaching at the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections. Many non-book items–eighteenth-century pins, samples of paper, newly-made parchment, old copper plates–exist within and outside the miles of bookstack. We will be undertaking a survey of this material in 2021-22, paying close attention to what is useful for the teaching the history of books and manuscripts in the broadest sense.

Throughout this year we expect to be looking into:

Centre for the Study of the Book | Bodleian Libraries (ox.ac.uk)


Events from the Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book, Autumn 2021

Ruskin School of Art student and researcher work, collage
Collage of work by Ruskin School of Art graduates and researchers

Current season (Michaelmas Term, to December 2021)

Saturday 11 September 2021
Ruskin School of Art graduates and researchers will be showcasing work using creative languages of letterpress, writing, film and relief printmaking in collaboration with The Bodleian Library Bibliographical Press, The Weston Library and Oxford Open Doors.
Registration is required

Monday 11 October 2021
Competition: Scribes vs. Printers
Members of the Oxford Scribes and printers from the Bodleian Bibliographical Press race to produce a page of text. Settle the 500-year-old question – which is faster?
Weston Library, Blackwell Hall (public foyer), from 1 pm
Free, open to all.

Monday 11 October-Wednesday 20 October 2021
The Lyell Lectures 2020-21
Paul Needham (Princeton), ‘The Genesis, Life, and Afterlife of the Gutenberg Bible’
Lecture Theatre, Weston Library & online
All at 5 pm
Registration is required for in-person attendance. The lectures will also be livestreamed. See the event listing on the Bodleian’s Visit website.

Tuesday 19 October 2021
Lecture: Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen, ‘The Institutional Library and the History of Book Collecting: Fragility and Perseverance’
Lecture Theatre, Weston Library
Registration is required.
The Bodleian Library was one of the greatest libraries of the first age of print. In size and resilience it was exceptional. Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen look at the Bodleian’s founding in the wider context of an age where other institutional libraries struggled for survival, and university libraries were often smaller collections than those of university professors. Private collecting played an essential and underrated part in the development of library, right through to the trials and turbulence of the twentieth century – in which the Bodleian would again play a notable role.
Andrew Pettegree, FBA is Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Director of the Universal Short Title Catalogue. He is the author of over a dozen books in the fields of Reformation history and the history of communication including Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion, The Book in the Renaissance, The Invention of News, and Brand Luther: 1517, Print and the Making of the Reformation.
Arthur der Weduwen is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of St Andrews and Deputy Director of the Universal Short Title Catalogue. He researches and writes on the history of the Dutch Republic, books, news, libraries and early modern politics. He is the author of Dutch and Flemish Newspapers of the Seventeenth Century, The Bookshop of the World. Making and Trading Books in the Dutch Golden Age (co-authored with Andrew Pettegree) and two books on early newspaper advertising in the Netherlands.
The Library: A Fragile History, is published by Profile on 14 October.

Tuesday 2 November 2021
Multi-library seminar: Early Printing in Bamberg 
Online, registration required. Register for e-mail announcements from the CSB to receive information.

Looking ahead: Events for Winter 2022 (Hilary Term)

Palaeography Seminar: Medieval manuscripts master classes
(Details to follow)

Seminar in the History of the Book
(Details to follow)

Thursday & Friday, 17th & 18th February 2022
Workshop on the Murbach Hymns and Bodleian MS. Junius 25
In this workshop, the fascinating Murbach hymns – a Latin hymnal with Old High German interlinear glosses from the 8/9th century – and their manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Junius 25) will be carefully examined regarding their translation technique, use and function, cultural background and transmission. Expect an afternoon full of presentations and discussions, a peek in the original manuscript and a live recitation of the hymns.
Registration required, updates to follow.
Convenor: Luise Morawetz (luise.morawetz@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk)

Art and artists’ books at the Bibliographical Press

Ana Paula Cordeiro’s work, Body of Evidence, is one of the artist’s books that inspires contemporary letterpress printers. A recent conversation linked the Bodleian Bibliographical Press with the Center for Book Arts in New York City, where Cordeiro made that work.

The workshop in the Old Bodleian Library is a place for artistic experimentation as well as teaching about historical printing.

The Printer in Residence programme has hosted creative printers who use the letterpress craft within the tradition of artist book-making.

Printers in residence, 2017-2020
The printer-in-residence programme, funded by a generous donation, invites a working printer or book artist to put their own stamp on the Bibliographical Press programme, and to share their individual artistic visions with students, local printers, and the public.

While he was in residence at the Bodleian during November 2017, Russell Maret was developing the typeface ‘Hungry Dutch’, a project begun in 2016. During his visit to Oxford, New York-based Maret shared his inventive approach to typography with a practical workshop exercise in printing a passage of King Lear with fallen type. Podcast of Russel Maret’s lecture

In 2018, Emily Martin visited from Iowa, focussing on the genre of movable books, a subject of collecting interest for the Bodleian, with the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera holding early examples. Martin’s publication in residence, Order of Appearance / Disorder of Disappearance,  is a ‘slice book’ printed with the P22Blox modular printing blocks created by Richard Kegler. Podcast of Emily Martin’s lecture.

David Armes (Red Plate Press, Yorkshire) was the most recent Printer in Residence to visit, in November-December 2019. The residency resulted in an addition to his series of site-specific prints, with Between Sun Turns. This year (2021) Mr Armes holds a fellowship at the Eccles Centre, British Library. Podcast of David Armes’s lecture

The next Printer in Residence will be Thomas Gravemaker, of LetterpressAmsterdam.

The printer-in-residence programme has broadened the workshop’s remit and established new connections with contemporary book artists. Experience in supporting these artist-printers enabled the workshop to welcome eight Fine Arts students in Trinity Term 2021, under the guidance of Ruskin School tutor of printing, Graeme Hughes.

The Bodleian Bibliographical Press

Newly-made printing blocks from a 17th-century ballad in the Bodleian Libraries, 4o Rawl. 566(121), showing a man and woman with hats
Newly-made printing blocks from a 17th-century ballad in the Bodleian Libraries, 4o Rawl. 566(121)

The Bibliographical Press workshop in the Schola Musicae, Old Bodleian Library, is used for practical teaching of the history of printing.

Equipment at the workshop includes several cast-iron hand-operated presses, a proofing press, a rolling press, type and a type mould.

The room hosts classes in hand-printing for students from Oxford and other universities, and regular workshops for families, adults, and primary school groups.

Presses in the Bodleian workshop:

Albion (demy), serial number 539, (1835), from the Daniel Press. This was the press used by C.H.O. Daniel, Provost of Worcester College, from 1880-1906 and presented to the library in 1919.

Albion (pot), serial number 4993, (1898), from the Moss Press

A Columbian, from the Samson Press

An Albion, from Leonard Baskin’s Gehenna Press

A card-size Albion, maker Ullmer, number 2919

A star-wheel etching press

A ‘Western’ model proofing press, formerly belonging to Vivian Ridler


Open-access Bodleian publications on HathiTrust

Proposal for a suburban annex in ‘The Future of the Bodleian’: ‘Built of ferro-concrete, the building would be a striking, and perhaps not unsightly, feature in the Upper River landscape, and have a beauty like that of the grain-elevators at Fort William and Port Arthur on the Great Lakes in Canada.’

Bodleian Library Publishing are delighted to announce the release of 548 scans of historical publications from the Bodleian and other University of Oxford libraries on HathiTrust. HathiTrust is a partnership of university libraries to preserve digital scans of printed collections. Our release makes over 250 collection guides, catalogues, exhibition books, and histories to which the Bodleian Libraries are rights holders open-access throughout the world.

Highlights of the Bodleian collection

The Bodleian publications now available to read on HathiTrust are especially helpful for researching the manuscripts, archives, and rare books that now form the library’s special collections. While most of our catalogues are now accessed primarily in digital forms, many readers overlook introductory printed guides. You can now read The Bodleian Library: A Subject Guide to the Collections (2004) for an overview of the system, or R.W. Hunt’s introduction to the library’s intricate system of shelfmarks in the first volume of the Summary Catalogue (1953). For recreation, you might simply browse photos of the Bodleian in the early 1950s.

‘Rough sketch for a Book-store between the Bodleian and the Clarendon Building’, from ‘The Future of the Bodleian’

Bodleian history

Medieval and Byzantine manuscripts

Modern manuscripts and archives

Oriental manuscripts and rare books

Rare books


Commonwealth and African archives and manuscripts

We are grateful to everyone who made this project possible: Andrew Dunning, Samuel Fanous, Sarah Barkla, Ruth Mallalieu, Beth Gibbs, and Martin Kauffmann. We also thank our colleagues at Oxford University Press, who printed our books before the formation of Bodleian Library Publishing and supported this project.

A virtual tour of Dante 1481 in multiple copies

See recording of the online multi-library event on 4 May 2021

See the film demonstrating printing an intaglio plate on a letterpress sheet

A follow-up seminar will take place on 6 July 2021; Registration at this link.

View of intaglio illustration of the 1481 edition of Dante, from Bodleian Auct. 2Q 1.11. The illustration is upside down.
Bodleian Auct. 2Q 1.11, Canto Tertio, detail

[re-blogged from Teaching the Book]

Examining several copies of the same book, especially one printed before 1500, is an enlightening experience. The copy-census is a valuable method for the study of early printing and one which requires personal inspection of copies which may be widely distributed around the world. To do this in person is a long and expensive process. A glimpse of the knowledge gained, though, could be had in a virtual visit to eight libraries, coordinated on 4 May 2021 to look at copies of one particular publication, the 1481 edition of Dante’s Comedia with a commentary by 15th-century Florentine scholar Christoforo Landino.

Although the invention of printing seemed to promise a stream of identical copies from the press, scholars of early printing are well aware that this was not always the result. Stop-press changes and accidents in the press account for minor or sometimes major differences between copies of the same edition. The marks of ownership over several hundred years have added further copy-specific elements to the objects held in libraries today.

Springing happily from a suggestion by Tabitha Tuckett, Rare-Books Librarian at University College London, this international tour co-hosted by UCL and the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book, with support from the Italian Cultural Institute in London and the Bibliographical Society of America, expanded on a growing practice of librarians showing books online using a visualiser. In pre-pandemic times the visualiser or document camera could be used for teaching in a lecture theatre or at a distance; in times of limited international travel it is a way to communicate across institutions, and librarians have grasped the possibility of ‘face-to-face’ comparisons on camera, as at the January, 2021 seminar on Myles Coverdale’s Goostley Psalmes between the Queen’s College Oxford, Beinecke, and Bodleian Libraries.

For a description of the ambitious – perhaps too ambitious – 1481 edition and the drawings by Botticelli which seem to be the source of the illustrations, see this blogpost by Gervase Rosser, Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, The first printed and illustrated edition of Dante’s Comedy

The edition is now the subject of a collaborative copy-census research project co-ordinated by Cristina Dondi, Professor of Early European Book Heritage, University of Oxford, via the Printing Revolution project

The event included short talks on Dante (Professor John Took, UCL and Dr. Alessandro Scafi, Warburg Institute), Botticelli’s illustrations (Professor Gervase Rosser, University of Oxford), on surviving copies (Professor Cristina Dondi, University of Oxford and Secretary of CERL) and on the context of the book’s production (Dr. Tabitha Tuckett, UCL).

Library curators from several institutions gave their time and expertise to this exciting tour which revealed the complexity of the original printing project and the rich history of collecting this edition over the succeeding centuries. A recording of the online event is hoped for. Libraries taking part in the 4 May virtual tour:

·      Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, UK (co-organiser)

·      Library Services, University College London, UK (co-organiser)

·      Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Italy

·      Biblioteca Vallicelliana di Roma, Italy

·      The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, USA

·      The British Library, UK

·      John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK

·      Trinity College, Cambridge, UK

The Bodleian’s copy, which is available in digital facsimile online, includes three printed illustrations; the illustrations to Canto 2 and Canto 3 are each printed from the same intaglio plate, but in Canto 3 this has been printed upside down. A film made at the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press workshop demonstrates how the printing of an intaglio illustration on a letterpress page might have been done by fifteenth-century printers.

Where did you get that hat?

from Alexandra Franklin (Bodleian) & Giles Bergel (Engineering)

re-blogged and updated from the Bodleian Ballads blog, 2012

2021: Updating the discovery of detachable woodblock hats in Bodleian broadside ballads, we’ve had a printing block made with the detachable hat, and a matching hat for the woman pictured on the same ballad sheet, ‘Unconstant Phillis’.

Newly-made printing blocks from a 17th-century ballad in the Bodleian Libraries, 4o Rawl. 566(121), showing a man and woman with hats
Newly-made printing blocks reproduced from images on a 17th-century broadside ballad in the Bodleian Libraries, 4o Rawl. 566(121)

The idea of applying image-matching software to the illustrations within the broadside ballad collection occurred to Giles Bergel in 2011. Under a John Fell Foundation-funded pilot project in that year Dr Bergel, in partnership with the Bodleian Library, asked Professor Andrew Zisserman of the Visual Geometry Group at Oxford to test their pioneering technology on a sample of broadside ballads.

The hat — in “Unconstant Phillis”

The hat — in “The Noble Gallant”

The first step was to obtain high-quality images. A sample of 800 ballads dating from the seventeenth century was chosen: this was the period when ballads were most typically illustrated, with a combination of commissioned and stock images. Photography, carried-out by the Bodleian’s Imaging Services studio, was funded with a grant from the John Fell Fund. High-quality colour images (600 DPI, 24-bit) were the result: these are now mounted within the current Ballads database and replace some of the older, lower-quality bitonal images which the Bodleian is hoping to fully replace.
Relja Arandjelovic at the Visual Geometry Group processed the new images and built a test site to demonstrate the image matching. The results were impressive: the pilot proved that software can match woodcut images on multiple printings, in varying conditions. The software, still under development, will be migrated to a new Bodleian Broadside Ballads interface under the current JISC-funded project.

What does “image match” offer to researchers?

Researchers working with ballads quickly notice that the same or similar woodblock-printed illustrations appear on multiple broadsides. The same hand-holding couple appears time and again on ballads of love; the same ships decorate songs of naval battles; the same cityscape appears, surprisingly, in ballads about London and Troy. And sometimes the same illustrations appeared in early modern English books and pamphlets, too. (See A guide to English illustrated books, 1536-1603, by Ruth Samson Luborsky and Elizabeth Ingram).

The repetition of generic illustrations in this way is often derided as evidence of ballads’ lowly status, but (as well as providing evidence for popular iconography), for early-modern bibliographic detectives, the re-use of woodblocks provides evidence for the date of a ballad’s printing: deterioration of  a woodblock might be a way to establish a timeline of broadsides that share the same illustration.

But there are other questions to be answered, sometimes questions we didn’t even know we needed to ask, which could be answered by selection portions of woodcut printed images: like, ‘Where DID you get that hat?’

John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams: Their Life, Their Times, and their Library

Jessica Leeper, Exeter College, Oxford
DPhil student in History
shortlisted for the Colin Franklin Prize for Student Book Collecting, 2021

Bookshelf of book collector Jessica Leeper

My antiquarian collection began by chance in the winter of 2011 on a snowy day in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There I discovered an illustrated 1946 edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in a tiny downtown bookstore. Since that day my collection has grown to include over 230 volumes and prints, spanning the period between 1484 and 1980. Though my collection includes a variety of themes, there is one overwhelming theme that has become increasingly evident in my collecting. As a student of history, I have focused my research since my undergraduate days on the lives and works of the American presidential Adams family. My undergraduate, masters and now DPhil research has been an examination of the political lives of John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa Catherine. Because of my interest in them, I have acquired a significant number of books and prints related to their life, their times, and their library. The association has led me to collect books which are not only antiquarian and beautiful, but also extremely useful for my research.

Issues of Niles' Weekly Register
Niles’ Weekly Register

Most notably, I have a first edition copy of William H. Seward’s Life and Public Services of John Quincy Adams, published in Auburn, New York in 1849. I also have several newspapers of the General Advertiser, the Edinburgh Evening Courant, and the Nile’s Register, documenting the American Revolution up through Adams’s cabinet career in the early 1820s and the tumultuous election of 1824. The General Advertiser copies have Adams’s name inked at the top of the first page, indicating that they may have been delivered directly to his office in Washington D.C.

However, the majority of my books and prints are those that were directly mentioned in the Adams family’s letters and diaries and appear on the listings of their private library collections in Boston. Many of these are classical texts, such as my 1653 works of Statius, and Lucan’s Pharsalia. My copy of the latter was printed in Leiden in 1612, and it is the oldest book in my collection, still maintaining its original vellum binding and red wax seals on the pastedowns. This gorgeous duodecimo bears the signature of its 17th century owner, Peter Wybrants, who does not let me forget that it is still “his booke.” Being able to claim something as mine from a year when Shakespeare was still alive is extraordinary to me.

The Beauties of Johnson, a collection of Samuel Johnson’s maxims, printed in 1782 in London for G. Kearsly of Fleet Street. An inscription has been added by  J.L. Chambers of Newcastle in 1851.

I also have a large number of texts that were written in the 18th century, which would have been household names to the Adamses and their circle of acquaintances. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele’s The Spectator was read again and again by the Adamses, and was referenced often in their letters. My set of The Spectator was published by Jacob Tonson in 1726, and they are some of the most beautiful books in my collection, still appearing polished and practically untouched. However, the crown jewel of my collection is my first edition two volume set of Henry St. John Bolingbroke’s Letters on the Study and Use of History, published by Andrew Millar in 1752. This work was also referenced in the Adams family writings, but my set is uniquely fascinating: these two volumes bear the 19th century library stamp of the first Earl of Lovelace, who was married to Ada Lovelace, the brilliant daughter of Lord Byron. It is astounding to me to own two books which once belonged to their home.

Why I Collect Antiquarian Books

Old books offer a direct physical access to the past, while also revealing a glimpse of the passing of time. Old books offer first-hand physical evidence of the lives of our predecessors, their social norms, their popular culture, the kind of collections they might have had. Collecting antiquarian books allows me to engage in a form of micro-historical case studies, with primary sources on my own shelf for my own leisure and study.

I like to imagine that the Romantic poets would sigh to see how their own books have lasted and aged, to see my 1847 Waverley Novels for instance. I think they would be amazed to see how their books have ignored the passing of time and have denied the end of their own familiar eras. Though their books have been cast into this new world of technology, industry and speeding lights, they remain like picturesque ruins standing monumentally out of place in a futuristic world. They are a reminder that life was different once.

With all of my books I like to imagine their origins – the sort of print shops they came from, what the printer looked like, etc. How many were in great and noble libraries? How many were thoroughly abused by uninterested students? How many were read or printed during wars? How many were the last book someone ever read, or someone’s favourite book they ever read? How many were never read even once? How many were read in horse drawn coaches, or carried along to spring hillsides? How many have never been overseas, or have sat on shop shelves for years before I came along? How many have seen politicians like the Adamses, or suffragettes, or servants and lords? How many were cherished as much as I cherish them now? I like to imagine women in corsets and men with cravats reading them, some lounging in a sitting room by a winter’s fire, some hunched over a desk reading by candlelight. Some of my books are fourteen times my age, reminding me that I am only a passing figure in their long existence, a number in its list of owners. Antiquarian books are incredible relics, and I consider it a sort of job looking after them all. I am all in one the historian, the conservator, the curator, the archivist, the exhibition curator, and the amazed museum spectator.