The tyranny of good tailoring

from Sarah Wheale, Rare Books, Bodleian Library Special Collections

During the decant of the New Library in 2010 we unearthed a number of Victorian and Edwardian patterns for cutting, sewing, crocheting and knitting clothes. One of the most interesting finds was James Adams’ “Anatomical self-varying system of cutting coats, waistcoats, trowsers, breches and habits” (Cirencester, 1843) with instructions and plates for manufacturing better fitting clothes. The majority of the work, however, deals with the plight of the poor working in Britain’s clothing industry, the insidious sales practices of the sellers and the destructiveness of the entire system. He was clearly a social reformer in the same mould as Robert Owen and a supporter of the movement to reduce the long hours of textile workers. He touches upon the eight hour working day, unfair pricing practices, appalling working conditions, terrible pay and the lack of skill and imagination in what he pejoratively calls the “outfitters and slopsellers” of London’s West End.

He goes on …

“The articles exposed for sale are got up in a showy manner, to attract the eye but when minutely examined, the notion of cheapness will immediately dissolve. For the purposes of entrapping the unwary passer by, they exhibit a large placard, on which they offer a best superfine coat at a low price of two pounds … Now the cloth used in making such coat is of the very commonest kind … which is always pressed as highly a possible, in order to give it a smooth glossy appearance which by the unacquainted with the trade is mistaken for fineness … the price paid for making is perhaps not more than five shillings … leaving a profit of seventeen shillings to the vendor. After the coat has once been exposed to a storm it becomes as spotted as a leopard, and the wool, which was once apparently beautifully smooth, stands up from the texture of the cloth so much that if again shorn would go some way towards the manufacture of cloth for another such article.

Thus, are the public defrauded, and the industrious man robbed, by this victimizing system. It behoves all who wish others to live as well as themselves, to unite in the suppressions of such infamous trickery. More especially should every one strive to break up a system which produces such abject misery among toiling artisans, as is vividly pourtrayed by their sallow and emaciated appearance – produced by working such a number of hours for such trifling recompence …  Thousands of our fellow creatures are confined in dens, from five to six feet square, and toiling for ninepence or a shilling per day – infants are pining at the breasts of mothers, and fathers distracted for want of food – all produced by this ticketing contrivance.”

“Who will uphold such a diabolical state of things as this? Is there no tongue that will endeavour to make itself heard in the cause of suffering humanity, and try to convince the public, of the injurious tendency of such a system?” (p. 13-14).

Shelfmark: 2 Δ 366

Pattern books are one of the categories of material which were poorly treated among the masses of material arriving in the Library in the nineteenth century. After the renewal of the copyright agreement in 1824 the Bodleian began to take in books on an unprecedented scale and to cope with processing the many items considered to be without much scholarly interest (at the time), many were assigned shelfmarks but not added to the main printed books catalogue. Entries were made in the handlists in the usual way which allowed them to be found, after a fashion, but no wholesale retrospective recataloguing of items that had slipped through the net was done until the closure of the main Bodleian stack in 2011, when brief information was finally added to the online catalogue, SOLO.

Digital versions of Bodleian catalogues of manuscripts

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Now online: digital copies of the Quarto Catalogues of Ashmole, Canonici, Digby, Laud, Rawlinson and Tanner collections, and of Greek Manuscripts.
Now online: the digital copy of the Summary Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts holdings of the Bodleian Library received before 1915.

‘The Bodleian Library’s catalogues of manuscripts, and especially the many volumes of the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts and its supplements, are among the most important research resources in the world for scholars: time spent reading them is never wasted. Now that they are freely available and searchable online, their value and usefulness are hugely increased.’ – Professor Henry Woudhuysen

*Link here to images of SC 29493.

The Bodleian’s original First Folio of Shakespeare

The Bodleian’s original copy of the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s plays is the subject of a campaign to stabilize the volume through a conservation program,digitize the volume, and publish it freely online. This “Sprint for Shakespeare” echoes an earlier effort, over a century ago, to ensure that the book would be housed in the library after a long period of absence from the library.

This copy of the first folio arrived in the Bodleian shortly after its publication in 1623 and was bound in Oxford. Then, in later decades, it left the library, though the date of its de-accession is not clear.

It reappeared only in 1905 when an undergraduate, G.M.R. Turbutt, brought into the library a copy of the first folio that was owned by his family. The preservation of the original binding demonstrated that this was the Bodleian’s original copy.

The story that this book’s own journey tells is recounted by Emma Smith (English Faculty, University of Oxford) in a lecture recorded [here].

The Bodleian Library at different times in its history has responded to a process which had begun as far back as the eighteenth century, in which copies of early books became prized by collectors and by scholars for their embodiment of physical evidence of the history of printing and book-ownership.

In her lecture Dr Smith outlines the work by Bodleian staff in the early twentieth century to purchase the volume in the face of competition from the American collector, Henry Clay Folger, determined to secure as many copies of the First Folio as possible for his library. The multiple copies of the First Folio that Folger did successfully acquire enabled the researches of Charlton Hinman in the 1940s, who collated 55 copies (of the over 200 surviving) to complete his study, The Printing and Proof-reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare (1963).

Information about this copy of the First Folio during its first residence in the Bodleian comes from Library Records, the library’s archive of its own history. Library Records e.528, the Bodleian Library Binders Book from 1621- 1624, contains the record of the Bodleian First Folio being sent to the binder Wildgoose in Oxford, on its arrival at the Bodleian. Library Records c.1259 – c.1262 and Library Records b.862 detail the research and publications of Falconer Madan, the sub-librarian in 1905, on the volume’s history, and the efforts by the librarian, E.W.B. Nicholson, to raise funds for the purchase of the volume in 1906.

Pictures on the “Sprint for Shakespeare” blog show why the volume has not been considered suitable for handling in recent years, and why conservation has been required simply to get it into shape for digital photography.

Read more about the conservation and digitization of the Bodleian’s original First Folio, here.

Earliest known book wrapper or dust-jacket

Bodleian Library G.Pamph. 2921 (19)

from the Rare Books section:
Material of significance for the history of publishing and printing is part of the Rare Books and Printed Ephemera collections at the Bodleian Library.

The earliest-known book dust wrapper was discovered in the Bodleian collections by the Bodleian’s former Head of Special Collections, Michael Turner, during the 1970s. Dating from 1829, it protected a finely-bound gift book entitled Friendship’s Offering.

The wrapper had been separated from its book, and has now been catalogued individually. Scholars are now recognizing this as the earliest known dust jacket.

The cover came to the library in 1877 when the Library bought a collection of book-trade and other ephemera at the auction of Gillyatt Sumner, a Yorkshire antiquary. Now the dust wrapper is part of a collection of pamphlets based on those bequeathed by Charles Godwyn in 1770 but added to by the Library until the end of the 19th century. The shelfmark is G.Pamph. 2921 (19), found in the volumes G.Pamph. 2920-21 (Outsize).

This dust wrapper once enveloped the book completely and was secured with sealing wax, traces of which can still be seen on the Bodleian’s original. Creases at the edges where the paper had been folded indicate the shape of the book it had enclosed.

Several distinctive elements were printed on the dust jacket: the book’s price of 12 shillings; a promotional slogan stating that the volume was ‘elegantly bound’; an advertisement for the first six years of the Friendship series ‘uniformly done up in the improved binding’; and another advertisement for proofs of the engravings in portfolios.

Other resources for the study of publishing history in the collections include the “Booktrade and Publishing” portions of the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera.

The verso of the wrapper shows an address to G. Sumner, Woodmansea [or Woodmansey, East Riding of Yorkshire].

Bodleian G.Pamph. 2921 (19) , verso

Rainy weather …

This publication from 1758 should resolve our questions about the continuing rain.
The new book of knowledge. Shewing the effects of the planets and other astronomical constellations; with the strange events that befall men, women and children, born under them. Together with the husbandman’s practice: Or, prognostication for ever. With the shepherd’s perpetual prognostication for the weather. … London: Printed for A. Wilde, in Aldersgate-Street: sold also by the book-sellers in town and country. MDCCLVIII

The new book of knowledge, (London, A. Wilde, 1758), Bodleian Library Vet. A5 f.4135 [detail]

Rare Books discoveries, 2: Picture book of Hitler’s navy

from Sarah Wheale, Rare Books, Department of Special Collections

Not everything discovered during the recent emptying of the New Library ahead of the refurbishment was old or rare, but their subject matter or form brought them to our attention. One such item is a picture book of Hitler’s navy containing 270 photographs, looking much like cigarette cards, pasted into an album.

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Unsere Reichsmarine : Bilder aus dem Leben der Matrosen was probably published in 1934 in Hamburg and was based on an earlier book published in the previous year entitled Matrosen, Soldaten, Kameraden by Max Burchartz and Edgar Zeller (Hamburg, Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1933). This new edition was greatly enhanced with an additional 80 photographs by Burchartz but the text was largely taken from the earlier edition.
It covers every aspect of a sailor’s life at sea, from firing practice to disarming a sea-mine to keeping exotic pets on board ship. The intention is clearly to portray the Reichsmarine as a modern, well trained and well equipped service at a time when Hitler was pressing to increase the size of Germany’s marine forces beyond that stipulated in the Versailles Treaty. With full German rearmament just over the horizon this picture book was doubtless intended to justify the need for a larger navy, and the Introduction clearly draws comparisons between the size of the other great marine forces (America, Great Britain, Japan) and the depleted size of Germany’s.
There are few clues as to how this item came to the Library. It was found in the stacks of the New Library (construction completed 1940) in 2011, as material was being prepared for removal preceding renovation of the building (see
It is now kept at shelfmark: Rec. d.494.

Purchase of historical medical books

from Francesca Galligan, Rare Books, Dept. of Special Collections

The Birmingham Medical Institute, established in 1875, offered a first part of its historical medical books at auction in April. The Bodleian purchased six lots, of fifteen editions, adding important new texts and editions to our extensive medical collections. Many of the books were chosen for their focus on women, and include a group on midwifery.


Fielding Ould, A Treatise of midwifry (1748; Vet. A4 e.3676)
This is the rare first London edition of a book striking in its concern for the wellbeing of and respect for the mother, and in its focus on observations from nature and on natural delivery. It includes a glossary: “To make this treatise of more general use, (especially to women who live in the country remote from the assistance of skilful persons) the editors have here subjoined an explanation of the tems of art”. Most of the words in the glossary are of a technical nature, though some are very general: ‘adult’, ‘pregnant’, ‘spine’, ‘intestines’. Ould discusses the work of several others in this field, including Henry Deventer, whose The art of midwifery improv’d was purchased in its 4thedition (1746, Vet. A4 e.3676).

Fig. 1

Deventer’s book contains a series of illustrations of the foetus in utero [Fig. 1].

Illustrations were, for some, a point of concern. Edmund Chapman notes in the preface to his Treatise on the improvement of Midwifery, purchased in its 2nd and 3rd editions (1735 and 1759, Vet. A4 e.3678, Vet. A5 e.7466), that plates of the body would only “serve to raise and encourage impure thoughts” (p. xx). He states “my design, on the contrary, was to compose such a treatise as one of either sex might read without a blush”, and the only illustrations present are forceps and another extraction tool called the fillet. [Figs 2 and 3.] The author recommends the book specifically to midwives, though he hopes that surgeons will also find it useful.

Fig. 2

Women’s health – general

Jean Astruc, Treatise on the diseases of women (1762, in two volumes, together with the rarer third volume, 1767), Vet. A5 e.7469 and Vet. A5 e.7470
An English translation of this important French work that includes an extensive “Chronological catalogue of the physicians, who have written treatises, particularly on the diseases of women…”, divided into four periods. In his preface, Astruc likens his task to that of Vergil, picking over the poetry of Ennius: “I acknowledge it is not without being surfeited with them, that I have gone over so great a number of such collections: and I question whether Virgil was ever so much so in reading the verses of Ennius. But we had both the same design: for I endeavoured, like him, to extract something useful from this heap of things, that contained so little of what was good; and this supported my patience” (p. iv).

Fig. 3

Also purchased were:

William Rowley, A treatise on female, nervous, hysterical, hypochondriacal, bilious, convulsive diseases; apoplexy and palsy; with thoughts on madness, suicide, &c. in which the principal disorders are explained from anatomical facts, and the treatment formed on several new principles(1788), Vet. A5 e.7468  [Fig. 4].

Fig. 4

John Friend, Emmenologia (1752), Vet. A5 e.3
An edition in English, with a typographical error corrected in manuscript [Fig. 5].

Fig. 5

Charles Perry’s rare A mechanical account and explication of the hysteric passion (1755), Vet. A5 e.74711st and 3rd editions of Pierre Pomme’s Traité des affections vaporeuses des deux sexes(Lyon, 1763 and 1767), Vet. E5 f.549 and Vet. E5 e.1221

General medical

William Salmon’s Parateremata: or Select physical and chyrurgical observations: containing divers remarkable histories of cures, done by several famous physicians (1687); Vet. A3 e.2219
One of three editions of this year, all rare, and all thus far absent from the Bodleian. [Figs 6 and 7]

Fig. 6
Fig. 7

Domenico Panaroli, Discorso delle stufe da bagni di Roma, e suoi nocumenti. (Rome, 1646); Vet. F3 e.66
A treatise on the perils of Rome’s modern public baths, known in only a few copies. [Fig. 8]

Robert Bunon, Essay sur les maladies des dents, (Paris, 1743); Vet. E4 e.92
One of the first books devoted to children’s teeth.

An Edinburgh edition of Anton Störck’s An essay on the medicinal nature of hemlock (1762).
Vet. A5 e.7465

Fig. 8

Rare Books discoveries : A first edition Mark Twain

The Bodleian’s legal deposit copy of the first edition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, shelfmark 251 d.401.

from Sarah Wheale, Rare Books, Department of Special Collections

The Bodleian’s collection of mid-Victorian English literature in Old Class, (the Bodleian’s mid-19thcentury subject classification scheme) is outstanding, with almost 22,000 volumes housed together in a single sequence stretching more than 700 linear meters. The vast majority retain their original bindings with the addition of a black shelfmark label at the foot of the spine, and most were acquired under the terms of the copyright agreement.

Until 2010 it might have seemed to a user of the library catalogues that one item was missing from this collection – a first edition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer (London, 1876). Happily, the move of library collections has brought this to light along with an array of other items which seem to have slipped onto the stack shelves without making their way into the printed books catalogue first. Some categories of material were known to have been exempted from the main Pre-1920 Catalogue (e.g. 19th century foreign dissertations, items in some non-Roman languages, etc.) but I was surprised by other omissions which cropped up during the stock-take and over the next few months I will be adding them to the catalogue. This occasional series will highlight the more interesting and usual finds as I go along.

The Bodleian’s legal deposit copy of the first edition of Tom Sawyer was resting at shelfmark 251 d.401. Twain insisted it should be published in London ahead of the US publication, to secure the British copyright.  It appeared in this red cloth binding in early June 1876, but delays with the US publisher meant that it did not appear in his home country until December that year. It was a bestseller, and allowed Twain, amongst other things, to engage Louis C. Tiffany in 1881 to supervise the redecoration of his home in Hartford, Connecticut in lavish style.

The Bodleian’s copy is not date-stamped (something the Library began doing from 1882 onwards) but almost certainly entered the collection in 1876. While it has an entry in the handlist (a 19thcentury manuscript inventory) and was given a shelfmark, it did not appear elsewhere in the various main Bodleian catalogues and was effectively untraceable in SOLO by readers.

After the creation of the Nicholson classified shelfmarking scheme in 1882, novels were more widely dispersed, being arranged by size, language, subject, target audience and even acquisition date.

For more information on accessing material via the Old Class or Nicholson Classification Scheme please email

A visual record of unidentified coats of arms in Bodleian incunables

From Marie-Eugénie Lecouffe (Enssib / CSB intern)

The importance for a library such as the Bodleian Library of making provenance information more available for its users, with the aim of helping provenance research, was already mentioned on this blog in a previous post. Indeed supplying images of provenance evidence was described as the easiest way to allow comparison between several unidentified monograms or coats of arms, for example. Displaying the pictures on Flickr was also presented as one simple possibility for sharing them, organizing them in sets and receiving corrections and comments from any person interested in provenance research.

A family or institutional coat of arms is a very good example of provenance evidence that might be helpfully identified by a picture.  The Provenance Index of the Bodleian Incunable Catalogue registers more than 80 unidentified coats of arms.  For each of them an extended blazoning is provided in the text of the catalogue. But heraldic language is so specific that it could be difficult for non-specialists to imagine what these really look like. Supplying  photos allows visual connections… and perhaps identification!

Now almost all of the unidentified coats of arms registered in the Bodleian Incunable Catalogue (Bod-Inc) have been imaged. A few examples of these pictures are shown in the slideshow below.

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But you’ll find much more on Flickr. Indeed all (or almost all) the pictures of those unidentified coats of arms have been put with their descriptions in the set called “Unidentified coats of arms in Bodleian incunables“. A caption for each picture includes:

  • the location of the coat of arms in the incunable;
  • its blazoning (verbal description), as it is provided in Bodleian Incunable Catalogue;
  • a short notice of the incunable: shelfmark, author, title, publisher details and publication date;
  • the link to the online PDF version of the incunable catalogue with the Bod-Inc number.

Tags have been added as well:

  • Bodleian shelfmark;
  • Bod-Inc number;
  • keywords (“coat of arms”, unidentified and incunables).

There are other types of unidentified provenance evidence noted in the Bodleian Incunable Catalogue which might usefully be imaged and put on Flickr for the same purpose: bookplates, monograms…

Identifications, if any are forthcoming, can be made in comments to this blogpost.

Affectionately yours, William Godwin – The Abinger Papers Conservation Project – Phase one.

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from Arthur Green, Conservation & Collection Care

The Abinger papers are a substantial part of three generations of the Godwin and Shelley family archive, and were the last third of the archive to remain in private hands. The papers were purchased by the University in 2004 with the support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, and other donors through a public campaign.

The collection consists of over 8000 letters and over 100 notebooks, and is the bulk of correspondence and journals of the novelist and political philosopher William Godwin, as well as items from other family members including Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Other significant items within the collection include letters from poets John Keats, William Wordsworth, and Lord Byron. The collection was catalogued in 2010 by Charlotte McKillop-Mash, and the conservation was made possible by a generous donation from Prof. Suzuna Jimbo.

The year-long conservation project has helped to stabilise fragile items and to improve safe access to a well used library resource. All of the 8646 letters are now safely housed in ‘fascicules’ and the notebooks all have custom made archival boxes. Fascicules are a purpose-made storage system devised at the Bodleian in the late 1970’s, whereby loose items of varying size are hinged into suitable sized single-section bindings.

Fasciculing has addressed many of the preservation needs associated with handling and storage. It eliminates the need for folding items, and reduces wear and tear by supporting each leaf when read, particularly the thin paper of the 189 ‘wet-transfer-copies’ within the collection. Wet-transfer-copying was developed by James Watt, and is a system of taking multiple copies of a letter from one original, by sandwiching a letter written with specially formulated ink, with a thin paper, and then pressing. William Godwin was an early adopter of James Watt’s invention and the Abinger wet-transfer-copies are a rare and important example of this technology.

Many items from the collection have been recently displayed in the exhibition “Shelley’s Ghost: Reshaping the image of a literary family” at the Bodleian Library and Wordsworth Museum in 2011, and currently at the New York Public Library.

Phase one of the conservation project was successfully completed in February 2012 by Arthur Green, with assistance from Joan Lee, and under the supervision of Robert Minte, in consultation with Bruce Barker-Benfield. Phase two of the project to conserve two of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s notebooks is scheduled to start soon and will be undertaken by Nicole Gilroy, Book Conservation supervisor.