The Lister copperplates – update

This time last year, Anna Marie Roos wrote about the copperplates made by the daughters of Martin Lister (1639-1712) to illustrate his work, Historiae Conchyliorum. The story was taken up by Nature online. Now her article on the copperplates made by the teenage daughters of Martin Lister in the 1690s, to illustrate his Historiae Conchyliorum, has appeared in Notes and Records of the Royal Society. The copperplates were bequeathed to the University of Oxford in 1712 and form part of the Bodleian Libraries Special Collections.
“The Art of science: a ‘rediscovery’ of the Lister Copperplates,” has been published online, at, in advance of print publication in March 2012.
We look forward to the display of the copperplates and related items exploring the illustration of science books,curated by Dr Roos, in the Old Library proscholium during September 2012.

Learn more about Martin Lister in the context of early modern scholarship, at the Cultures of Knowledge site.

Bibliography Room in the Story Museum

Printer Paul Nash at the opening of the Bibliography Room in the Story Museum, Oxford
Printer Paul Nash at the opening of the Bibliography Room in the Story Museum, Oxford
On 7 December 2011 the Library celebrated along with the Story Museum in Oxford the successful installation of the Bodleian printing presses at the Story Museum on Pembroke Street. The six large presses (five of iron, one of wood) and other Bibliography Room materials will be housed in the Story Museum where printing workshops and courses will be available for students and for families. The presses will stay in the Museum throughout the period of the redevelopment of the New Library into the Weston Library.

Courses and classes for students, families and members of the public have already begun, and the programme for 2012 will soon be available on the Story Museum website (

Sebastiaan Verweij: ‘The eye of any deliberate reader’: John Donne and the Early Printed Book

Using the collator
Using the collator to compare books.
Merton History of the Book Group and the Early Modern Literature Graduate Seminar
25 October 2011

from Edmund Christie White, Merton College

Speaking in the Breakfast Room of Merton College, Sebastiaan Verweij (Lincoln) described his work as a Research Associate for the Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne.

A bibliographical specialist, Dr Verweij’s principal role in this project is in collating the many printed variants of Donne’s sermons, ranging from quartos published whilst the author was still alive, to posthumous collected editions. With no autograph manuscripts of these works known to remain, this vital work contributes to the efforts of the project’s editors to get as close as possible to the sermons as they were when delivered from the pulpit.

Donne himself had a somewhat mixed relationship with his printers. Dr Verweij highlighted the paratextual elements of some of these editions, such as errata pages, in which it appears that the author directly appealed to his readers to amend their copies in order to undo the printer’s mistakes.

After the talk, there was a chance to see at first hand some of the books in Merton’s collection that were examined by Dr Verweij. He also demonstrated how to use a ‘Hailey’s Comet’ optical collator. This device uses angled mirrors so that the user can simultaneously see two different versions of the same page in a book; by way of stereoscopic vision, any variations in the printing then seem to jump off the page in 3D.

Oxford’s other treasures: from Mill to Milligan

from Owen McKnight, Jesus College Library

The Bodleian Libraries are currently celebrating their long history of collecting with an exhibition of ‘Treasures’. Venerable as it is, the Bodleian was not the first library in Oxford: at least a quarter of the 44 colleges and halls had established libraries by the time the Bodleian opened in November 1602.

The college libraries have a continuous tradition of serving their members. They provide textbooks for today’s undergraduates at the same time as preserving and interpreting the historic books and manuscripts which have now become ‘special’ collections. The Committee of College Librarians has now published a new guide to the special collections in the care of Oxford’s colleges. [8 pages, PDF format].

Brasenose and Lincoln Colleges drawn by John Bereblock in 1566 (Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 13)

Previously, the only guide to such material in college libraries was the late Paul Morgan’s compilation Oxford libraries outside the Bodleian. This has long been out of print, but it remains a valuable reference for its detailed survey of early printed books, manuscripts, and archives. The new document is intended as an accessible and up-to-date complement.

Among many diverse holdings, the guide reveals collections of Civil War tracts across Oxford, in Christ Church, Lady Margaret Hall, Lincoln, and Worcester. Somerville has the library of John Stuart Mill – and St John’s has the papers of Spike Milligan. Many Old Members have presented their literary papers, and other donations have created collections of books and manuscripts predating colleges’ foundations.

Each of the colleges and halls remains independent, both of the University and of one another. There is, nonetheless, close collaboration, notably in 2008 when the Bodleian mounted an exhibition under the title Beyond the Work of One: Oxford College Libraries and Their Benefactors , still available to visit online.

Researchers who wish to explore these collections are welcome on application in advance.

Medieval manuscripts masterclasses, 2011 — Second-hand books in the 15th century

2011_October_24 018_detail_smallDr James Willoughby led the first medieval manuscripts masterclass of 2011, examining manuscripts from Bodleian collections that had been part of the library of St George’s Chapel, Windsor.  The main problem was to establish when the books had arrived in St George’s Chapel. A 14th-century inventory from the library, fortunately preserved also in the Bodleian as MS. Ashm. Rolls 47,  showed none of the manuscripts in question (many of them older than the Chapel itself, which was founded in 1348) were at that time in the Chapel library. In 1612, the transfer of 70 surviving manuscripts from St George’s to the Bodleian was recorded in the library records. Between those two dates, Dr Willoughby found the question that drove his research: were these manuscripts requisitioned from monasteries at the Dissolution ordered by Henry VIII (who is buried in the Chapel)? Or had the library acquired them by other means, through a second-hand market in manuscripts, active already in the 15th century? The evidence had to be sought in the style of bindings, in inscriptions, marks of chaining, and pressmarks.

The classes are convened by Professor Richard Sharpe (History Faculty) and Martin Kauffmann (Bodleian Library). See the current calendar of events.

Literary manuscripts 2011: Dealing meaning, 17 October

The Business of Archives: handling the remains of Shelley and Larkin

The first class in the series “Dealing meaning” was given by Joan Winterkorn (Bernard Quaritch Ltd). How to keep a literary archive together, and why this was important, were the themes of her talk, and she drew examples of how literary archives endured or were dispersed by means of encounters between authors, families, and collectors; estates and auctioneers; and dealers and libraries.

Considering the impact for scholarship of the Abinger Shelley Papers, Winterkorn pointed to individual items of significance for literary studies (the drafts of Frankenstein that showed Percy Shelley’s interventions) and those providing insights into the personal histories of the writers (such as the journals of Percy and Mary Shelley’s sometimes tempestuous times together).

Participants examine items from the collections at the masterclass.

Winterkorn referred to two collections that had come to the Bodleian Library in recent years:

The Abinger Collection of material from the Godwin and Shelley families [Bought by the library in 2004; since then the Bodleian has put further effort into a catalogue, linked here, and displaying the material, with items from the NYPL’s Pforzheimer Collection, in the exhibition Shelley’s Ghost.]

Philip Larkin’s letters to Monica Jones, a selection of which have been published as Letters to Monica in the volume edited by Anthony Thwaite, and complementing the Larkin Estate Collection at the University of Hull.

A display of the full surviving draft manuscript of Frankenstein can be seen in a Turning the Pages display here:

See more masterclasses this term on the CSB calendar.

Adventures in Provenance : the Gough Missals card index

from Sarah Stewart

As part of my SCONUL graduate library traineeship, I spent a week in Rare Books and Special Collections at the Bodleian Library, gaining a basic experience and understanding of rare and antiquarian book acquisitions, cataloguing and provenance. One of my projects during this week involved investigating provenance and cataloguing of a collection of missals held in the Bodleian Special Collections. These missals (dating between 15th-16th centuries, mostly pre-Reformation) were collected by the antiquarian and topographer Richard Gough (1735-1809). Although Gough is primarily known for his collection of antiquarian maps and topographical manuscripts, in addition to his work on the sepulchral monuments of Great Britain, Gough also contributed 200 early printed service books from the English Churches (primarily York and Sarum), including some illuminated Books of Hours, Missals, breviaries, psalters and hymnals.

The card catalogue of provenance evidence in missals collected by Richard Gough

Former antiquarian books librarian David M. Rogers (1917-1995) had created a card catalogue with notes on the annotations and provenances of these missals. When presented with this card catalogue, housed in a brass tin, the ominous categories “No Clue” in addition to “Not Yet Seen” presented themselves. My task was to order some of the missals in the Gough collection from the stacks, and determine what some of the rather cryptic notes on these cards might indicate. If of use, the information would then be added to the library catalogue record, if not already included. Some of the information contained on the index cards had already been recorded and noted, but others, such as the cryptic “pencil” were rather mysterious.

Along with Antiquarian books librarian Dr Alan Coates, I examined several of Gough’s missals at the Special Collections reading room (currently in the Radcliffe Science Library). One of these missals, Gough Missal 129, presented us with an interesting puzzle. On the index card, “anon. bookplate” had been written. This anonymous bookplate turned out to be a coat of arms, but it did not include a name. The coat of arms depicted a single white rose and chief in ermine on a red shield, surmounted by a rampant Pegasus crest. We are currently in the process of investigating this crest, which will aid in determining who might have owned this missal before it became part of the Gough collection. CERL’s page for finding and exchanging provenance information.

Anthony Sampson archive open

— from Chrissie Webb

The Library’s one year project to catalogue the papers of Anthony Sampson (1926-2004), writer and journalist, is now complete.

Sampson read English at Christ Church, Oxford, graduating in 1950. Undecided on a career, he went to South Africa in 1951 as business manager for the black magazine, African Drum. Within weeks he was promoted to editor despite having no journalistic experience. He became immersed in black culture at an exciting time in Johannesburg, and made many friends including Trevor Huddleston, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Nadine Gordimer. He returned to England after four years but maintained a lifelong interest in South Africa, and in the anti-apartheid struggle. On his return he worked for the Observer as a journalist, under David Astor’s editorship. He reported on Harold Macmillan’s tour of Africa in 1960 and heard the ‘Wind of Change’ speech which disassociated Britain from the policy of apartheid. He was in South Africa at the end of the trial of Nelson Mandela and others in 1964, and advised Mandela on his defence speech. Many years later, after Mandela’s release, he wrote the authorised biography, Mandela (London, 1999).

He wrote over 20 books, mainly investigative journalism, but his major best-seller was the Anatomy of Britain (London, 1962), ‘a book about the workings of Britain – who runs it and how, how they got there, and how they are changing’. It was hugely popular, and five updates were published between 1965 and 2004.

In 1979-80 Sampson was editorial adviser to the ‘Brandt Commission’ on international development issues, working closely with Ted Heath, who later became a neighbour in Wiltshire. A few years later he was closely involved in the founding of the Social Democratic Party with friend and former fellow journalist, Shirley Williams.

Sampson’s correspondence and working papers provide intelligent writing, vivid insights, and first-hand experience of some key events of the 20th century, reflecting his wide-ranging interests throughout a full and varied career, The archive will be of interest to anyone studying late 20th century British politics; the workings of power through public institutions, private business and government; the politics of South Africa under the apartheid regime and after; and contemporary journalism and the history of journalism.

The papers can be consulted in the Bodleian’s Special Collections Reading Room and the catalogue can be viewed online:

Experiments with image matching of illustrations on early ballad broadsides

Bodleian Library 4o Rawl. 566(11)
Woodcut illustration highlighted for matching.

Supported by the John Fell Fund, the project “Engaging with early modern print culture online” has been developing innovative techniques for searching and comparing woodcut-printed images in early English broadside ballads. An experiment with image matching software was conducted as part of this project.

Link to the Project Page

The Bodleian Libraries hold over 25,000 ballad sheets which are accessible online through the Bodleian Broadside Ballads database. Over 1,600 of these are from the 16th and 17th centuries and typically feature a single song accompanied by several woodcut images. As with any hand-printed material, the letters of the type and the woodcut images are physical clues to the origins of this often undated, unattributed material. Some woodcut blocks were reused again and again until they wore out. Images were copied with varying degrees of exactness. Book historians use the presence of the same woodcut image across different printed texts to explore visual traditions and to identify the business relationships between printers who might inherit or share woodblocks.

Within this project, technology developed by the Visual Geometry Group at the University of Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science has been applied to a sample of almost 1000 early printed ballads. The image-matching tool works by comparing a subpart of an image with all others in a database; finding regions that are common to both; and returning a sequence of images in order of similarity with the selected image. It can find images printed from the same wooden printing-block with a high degree of accuracy, even when the block has undergone considerable wear and tear. It can also identify copies made by tracing or by freehand imitation, even when the copy is a mirror-image.

For researchers, this technology offers a promising means of grouping the woodcuts to explore their bibliographic history or compositional similarities. It can assist cataloguers in determining if images are derived from the same block, or if they are looser copies. More casual browsers will find the technology an engaging way of browsing collections without prior knowledge of their contents. For all users, it is potentially a new way of exploring the rich visual traditions of early-modern print culture.

This work has been carried out by Andrew Zisserman and Relja Arandjelovic of the the Visual Geometry Group,University of Oxford.