Ulysses meets Casanova

James Joyce, Ulysses (1922) open to title page
James Joyce, Ulysses (London: Egoist Press, 1922). Bodleian Library, Ryder 2

Evi Heinz, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

One of the treasures of the Bodleian’s John Ryder collection is a copy of the first British edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, published in a private limited edition by John Rodker for the Egoist Press in October 1922. An intriguing detail in this volume throws new light on the relationship between the Irish writer’s infamous modernist novel and the contemporary trade in polite erotica.

The Egoist Press’s British edition of Ulysses was printed from the same plates as Sylvia Beach’s earlier Paris edition – a text famously riddled with misprints – and was issued with an eight-page errata sheet. In Ryder 2, this sheet has been bound into the volume and in one place shows a watermark spelling the name ‘Casanova’.

Light through sheet of paper showing watermark: Casanova
Casanova watermark on errata sheet bound in with Ryder 2

This curious watermark has been identified by bibliographical scholar Gerald W. Cloud as belonging to a London-based private press called the ‘Casanova Society’. This publishing venture, also managed by Rodker, issued luxurious limited editions of erotic classics, from the Memoirs of Casanova to the Arabian Nights.

The use of the ‘Casanova’ paper for the Ulysses errata sheets is likely incidental – Rodker, who was engaged in both publishing projects at the same time, may have simply needed some spare paper at short notice and used what he had to hand. Nevertheless, this unexpected material encounter between two very different cultural signifiers is worth exploring further:  What can the publications of the Casanova Society tell us about how Joyce’s book fits into the early twentieth-century limited editions market? And how does Ulysses feature in the literary imagination of contemporary readers of polite erotica?

The Memoirs of Giacomo Casanova di Seingalt, trans. by Arthur Machen (London: Casanova Society, 1922-23), 12 vols. Bodleian, Arch. D d.73

Among the Casanova Society titles deposited in the Bodleian collections is a copy of the luxuriously produced 12-volume Memoirs of Giacomo Casanova di Seingalt, printed privately for subscribers between 1922 and 1923. With its gilt edges, quarter-calf binding and fine printing on hand-made paper, this publication tells us something about the level of material excellence that was expected by early twentieth-century collectors.

It also allows us to put into perspective the claims that are sometimes made for the early limited editions of Ulysses as ‘deluxe’ publications. In fact, their less than perfect printing and fragile softcover binding are a far cry from contemporary bibliophile’s editions, such as those issued by the Casanova Society. Ryder 2 is an interesting example of this fragility: the copy appears to have been rebound in leather by a previous owner but is now missing its cover and is held together by a make-shift book sleeve.

Ryder 2, binding and make-shift book sleeve

On a literary level, too, the Casanova Society offers an interesting perspective on Joyce’s novel: Francis MacNamara’s preface to Balzac’s The Physiology of Marriage, printed privately by the Casanova Society in 1925, makes direct mention of Ulysses as a modern successor to the French love literature of the early nineteenth century. Noting that ‘in Joyce’s Ulysses we have the very love that is demanded of a husband, the love of things in all their distasteful reality’ (p. vii), MacNamara presents the Irish writer’s book as a work in the tradition of Stendhal and Balzac, offering an intriguing way of approaching its much discussed ‘obscenity’.

Indeed, it is in this context that the linkage between Ulysses and the Casanova Society offers the most food for thought: both are phenomena of the 1920s that can tell us something about how the book culture of the period negotiated the borders between good taste and bad, literature and obscenity. And the watermark on the Ryder 2 errata sheets – where Ulysses meets Casanova – is a potent symbol of this intriguing cultural conjunction.

Evi Heinz was Sassoon Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries during October and November 2023

Book-bindings and the global middle ages

Matthew Holford, Tolkien Curator of Medieval Manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries, writes:

Last week I organized a show-and-tell for students from the Department of Continuing Education studying the undergraduate certificate in the History of Art. One of the difficulties in selecting material was responding to the course’s emphasis on what has been called the ‘global turn’ in art history with its shift away from an exclusive focus on artefacts from Christian Europe and an increased focus on cross-cultural connections.

This is a potential challenge for a library where curatorial expertise and responsibility is very much structured according to linguistic and geographical boundaries. Nevertheless, excellent examples of interactions between European and Islamic art can be found in fifteenth-century Italian book-bindings, of which the Bodleian has an important collection. Connections between Italy and the Islamic world were extensive, as a result both of trade and diplomacy, and manuscripts were among the items crossing the Mediterranean. Books in Arabic are recorded in a number of contemporary Italian inventories, and Islamic books from the Mamluk sultanate (centred on modern Egypt and Syria) provided the most important models for the development of decorated leather bindings in fifteenth-century Italy.

Bodleian MS. E. D. Clarke 28, right (lower) cover

Historians of bookbinding have identified two main phases of development. The first was centred in Florence from around the second quarter of the century and came to be recognized by contemporaries as ‘modo fiorentino’, ‘Florentine style’. It was characterized by borders of geometrically arranged ‘twisted rope’ patterns, in blind, with roundels punched in gilt, often with a centrepiece and four cornerpieces. Our example above (MS. E. D. Clarke 28) is on a manuscript of Terence copied in 1466 (the four clasps, on the other hand, are a typically Italian feature).

MS. Auct. F. 4 33, left (upper) cover

A second line of development is associated with humanists active around Padua in the 1460s. Again their decoration is characterized by ropework borders and a circular or vesical-shaped centrepiece: the crucial innovation is tooling in gilt. Although there are earlier Italian examples of gilt tooling the Paduan bindings, borrowing from Islamic influences, were the first to fully realize its artistic possibilities. An example in the Bodleian (MS. Auct. F. 4. 33) is on a copy of Martial’s Epigrams written by the famous scribe Bartolomeo Sanvito probably in Padua in the 1460s.

MS. Canon. Ital. 78, left (upper) cover

A final binding (MS. Canon. Ital. 78), on a manuscript of Petrarch written in Florence in the third quarter of the fifteenth century, shows even stronger Islamic influence. The previous two bindings  have wooden boards; this has very thin pasteboards, flush with the text block, in common with most contemporary Islamic bindings. The insides of the covers have decorated leather pastedowns (known as doublures), again very typical of Islamic bindings.

MS. Canon. Ital. 78, right (lower) inside cover, showing doublure, and stained endleaf; traces of flap visible at the edge of the cover

A final Islamic feature is a right-to-left envelope flap [https://www.ligatus.org.uk/lob/concept/1343  ], now lost, but small traces remain. In fact Islamic characteristics are so marked that an Islamic origin for the binding has been suggested. The decoration is Ottoman in character, and although the manuscript has endleaves of Western paper, stained purple in an Italian style, Anthony Hobson’s intriguing suggestion was that ‘a Florentine merchant took the works of his favourite poet with him to Istanbul and had them bound there’. That suggestion needs to be reconsidered in the light of the substantial body of research on Islamic bindings that has appeared since Hobson wrote: but regardless of its exact origin, this binding is a powerful illustration of the influence of the Islamic world on Italian decorative arts.

— with thanks to Andrew Honey, Bodleian Conservation

Further reading:

Rosamund E. Mack, Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300-1600 (2002), ch. 7 ‘Bookbinding and lacquer’

Anthony Hobson, Humanists and Bookbinders: The Origins and Diffusion of Humanistic Bookbinding 1459-1559 … (1989)

Paul Hepworth and Karin Scheper, Terminology for the conservation and description of Islamic manuscripts (https://islamicmanuscriptconservation.org/terminology/introduction-en.html)

Karin Scheper, The Technique of Islamic Bookbinding: Methods, Materials and Regional Varieties (Leiden, 2019)

Gulnar K. Bosch, John Carswell and Guy Petherbridge, Islamic Bindings & Bookmaking (Chicago, 1981). Available at: https://isac.uchicago.edu/research/publications/misc/islamic-bindings-bookmaking

Unearthing a Hidden Melody

The secrets of engraved printing plates brought to light by innovative imaging

Chiara Betti, Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD student at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and Bodleian Libraries

William Child. Choise Musick to the Psalmes of David for Three Voices with a Continuall Base either for the Organ Or Theorbo / Composed by William Child. London: 1656. Psalm 9.

How do we see the past? Are there new ways to look at library objects? The display ‘Prints, Plates & Pixels’ which I had the pleasure to curate, open at the Weston Library from the 18th of May until the 18th of August 2024, shows the advancements made possible by the use of innovative imaging techniques and the collaboration of humanities and sciences to look at heritage objects. I began work in 2020 to examine the history and future of several hundred printing plates bequeathed by Richard Rawlinson in 1755 and held at the Bodleian Library. These objects were used to print images, often for book illustrations. While the printed image shows us the end result, the printing plates are the only living proof of the engraver’s work, showing us how deeply they engraved the lines and even when they changed their mind and made corrections!

Printing plates have shallow engraved or etched lines that only show their true detail when impressed in ink on paper. Inevitably, those shallow lines were flattened by repeated use and corrosion. My initial approach to studying the plates’ manufacture adopted traditional methods of viewing artworks in closeup, like digital photography, raking light and a magnifying glass. But the plates’ deterioration hampered my efforts.

However, I did not let that defeat me, and when in 2022, the ARCHiOx Project at the Bodleian Library was launched, I grabbed with both hands the chance to get involved. The project aimed to digitise Bodleian artefacts using prototype photographic and 3D scanning systems. The collaboration between Bodleian academics and Factum Foundation experts facilitated the exploration of the physical properties of Bodleian materials like Sanskrit manuscripts and the Gough Map of Britain, revealing previously unnoticed details and techniques. The opportunity to image some of the Rawlinson copper plates was transformative for my research on this collection of copper plates and led to new discoveries.

The most astounding was the identification of the engraved music on the reverse of a small portrait plate depicting Cardinal Julio Mazarin, included in the ‘Prints, Plates & Pixels’ display. I had noticed the notation during my initial survey, but only my collaboration with John Barret, Senior Photographer at the Bodleian, and Peter Ward Jones, former Curator at the Library, brought the music back to light.

Frontispiece of Galeazzo Gualdo Priorato, The History of the Managements of Cardinal Julio Mazarine (London: 1671). The British Library.

Thanks to the ARCHiOx rendering, it emerged that the reverse of the copper plate is a fragment of Psalm 9 from the Cantus Primus part of William Child’s The First Set of Psalmes of III Voyces published in London by James Reave in 1639 and reissued by John Playford (1623–86) from the original plates in 1650 and 1656 as Choise Musick.

Two views of the reverse of Rawl. Copperplates g.184. ARCHiOx albedo (colour) and annotated version.

I was not expecting the formal portrait of the Cardinal to hide such treasure on its reverse. The discovery was truly momentous, but we must briefly consider the history of music printing in England to appreciate that. As I realised, the use of copper plates for music engraving was comparatively short-lived. Music engraved on copper first appeared in the country around 1612–13, but by the early 18th century, copper plates were replaced with softer pewter plates, which allowed faster production and had the considerable advantage of being cheaper than copper. This re-purposed item is now possibly the earliest surviving copper music plate in the world. In fact, many engraved plates were indeed sold for scrap metal once their commercial value was exhausted. Furthermore, during the World Wars of the 20th century, the need for scrap metal led to numerous publishers donating their stock of plates to support the war effort. Therefore, the preservation of pre-1900 music plates is absolutely remarkable.

This blog and my display, ‘Prints, Plates & Pixels’, offer a small glimpse into the exploration of historical printing plates through the lens of innovative imaging techniques and interdisciplinary collaboration. Through projects like ARCHiOx, the fusion of humanities and sciences enables profound discoveries, showing us even more from the rare survivals carefully kept in libraries and museums. Cutting-edge imaging technology can open new pathways for studying cultural heritage objects. Above all, innovative digitisation methods enhance accessibility and facilitate deeper exploration of artefacts.

About Richard Rawlinson:

The antiquary Richard Rawlinson (1690–1755) had a passion for preserving Britain’s heritage and the wealth to collect books, manuscripts, charters, prints, paintings, coins, and many other artworks that filled his London house to the brim. He left most of his collections to the University of Oxford, where they are preserved and studied today, constantly revealing more about their origins, use and significance. Among his collections were several manuscripts of Chaucer’s works, a medieval Anglo-Jewish bowl (now at the Ashmolean Museum)  and one of the earliest manuscript copies of Magna Carta [MS. Rawlinson C 641, fols. 21v-29 https://magnacarta.cmp.uea.ac.uk/read/magna_carta_copies/Magna_Carta_1215]. Rawlinson didn’t limit his collections to precious and unique artefacts. He also gathered scrap paper from cheesemongers and chandlers and used objects that were not prized by art connoisseurs. The 752 printing plates, dating from the early 17th to mid-18th centuries, are typical of this impulse since two-thirds of them are second-hand. They perfectly match Rawlinson’s interests: pictures of places, objects, and people that told the story of British history as he saw it. Rawlinson also created a sort of picture archive, commissioning engravers to depict unique objects in his own vast antiquarian collections either for book illustrations or to circulate privately among other antiquaries and collectors.

The display in the Weston Library opens 19 May 2024

Further reading about ARCHiOX and copper plates in The Conveyor:

John Barrett, ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging.

Chiara Betti, Chiara Betti brings to light the Rawlinson copper plates at the Bodleian Library

Chiara Betti and Alexandra Franklin, Copper plates in the Bodleian Libraries

Chiara Betti, Researching and Digitising Copper Printing Plates at the Bodleian Library

Chiara Betti is a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD student at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and the Bodleian Libraries. Readers with an interest in Chiara’s research are encouraged to contact her at chiara.betti[at]postgrad.sas.ac.uk. The research is funded by the AHRC through the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership. See: Early modern copper plates at the Bodleian Libraries

Watching wood type

Woodtype and linocut prints at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press

The Bodleian Bibliographical Press holds a collection of wood type in many sizes and styles. These include a few made by the famous firms of DeLittle of York and Stephenson, Blake of Sheffield.

The wood letters have been used at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press to make posters. Some of these prints can be seen at the Oxfordshire ArtWeeks open studio event on Saturday and Sunday 11 and 12 May 2024, 12-4 pm.

The donation was from Stephen Austin Printers in 2013. The catalogue was made and scanned by Paul Nash. The film begins slowly with explanatory slides, but viewers seeking purely visual thrills may skip to minute 4:27 on, with an especially exciting 26-line modified sans serif at 5:20.

More information on the work of DeLittle can be seen in Clare Bolton, DeLittle: an English Wood-Letter Manufacturer (Alembic Press, 1981)

Elements of the DeLittle wood type collection previously at the Type Archive have been moved to the York Centre for Print  which hosts the Thin Ice Press.

Manuscripts: from skin to page

Rebecca Schleuss, MSt in Modern Languages at University of Oxford, on studying the materials of the book

When you mostly work with editions of texts, it is easy to detach them from their physical containers and forget about their materiality. During an afternoon with Andrew Honey, book conservator at Bodleian Libraries, and Matthew Holford, Tolkien Curator of Medieval Manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries, we learned that size, material, texture and quality – irrespective of content – can reveal a lot about a manuscript book.

Parchment was used as a writing surface in Europe since the 2nd century, being replaced by paper from the 13th century onwards. To make parchment, the animal skin of calves, sheep or goats first need to be cleaned of hair and skin. For that the skin is soaked in lime solution to loosen the hair and then scraped first with a blunt knife, then with a sharp knife to remove the rest of the skin.

What differentiates parchment from leather, however, is the following step: the skin gets tensioned onto a frame, called a herse, while still wet and is left to dry. A half-circular lunar knife is used on the stretched skin for further smoothness. Afterwards, sheets are cut out of the parchment to utilise as much of the skin as possible – consequently we encounter some pages with irregular edges, cut from the sides of the skin. A careful observer can at times even detect from which part of the animal’s body the piece is from, making out the contours of the spine or darker coloured arm-pits and leg-pits.

As this is a manual process, accidents happen and the knife can pierce the skin during the production process. The animal also might have had wounds which then create round holes on the parchment, expanding as the skin is stretched; these are known as fly-bites. Their shape and how they are treated by parchment-makers and scribes can reveal when these holes appeared. If it happened during the processing of the skin, then it was mostly sewn together again and the ends are closely aligned.

Scribes wrote around or playfully ornamented extant holes, revealing the care taken to accommodate the various qualities of parchment. As Andrew pointed out, both the parchment-makers and later the scriptorium decided whether and how to hide the faults in the sheet of parchment.

MS. Laud Misc. 439, fols. 35v-36r. The structure of the columns accommodates the hole.

The manuscripts brought along for the session wonderfully illustrated this, containing some insightful examples of irregularities and the methods employed to adapt to them. It made apparent that there was a spectrum to how ‘perfect’ a sheet of parchment needed to be: some flaws were carefully erased, others were acceptable to remain and were incorporated into the layout of the page. The manuscripts also bore testimony to the fact that parchment was valuable.

A parchment manuscript could well contain the hides of a whole herd of animals, making them expensive and precious possessions. Consequently, parchment was reused – as seen in MS Laud. Misc. 306, fols. 72v-73r, where the wide margins are used as ‘quarries’ for small pieces of parchment – and could end up in the most wondrous places (in bindings, as covers of books, in hem of dresses, and saint’s crowns).

Even though paper became the main writing surface – surviving to this day (if we don’t count our Word-documents, which we surely don’t) – parchment continued to be utilised. In the MS Huntington 300 a mixed quire can be found that uses both paper and parchment.

This is written on paper… MS. Huntington 300, fol. 144r
… and this on parchment! MS. Huntington 300, fol. 143v

Re-blogged from the History of the Book blog: read more here….

Codicology in the Weston: A whodunit through the Ages – History of the Book (ox.ac.uk)

‘I dare say will please you when you see them’ – more ‘new’ wood-blocks of an old grotesque alphabet.

Andrew Honey (Bodleian and English Faculty, Oxford)

An earlier blogpost introduced a newly acquired wood-block, a 19th-century copy made of the letter K from a woodcut alphabet – the original ‘K’ being one of 23 letters from a Netherlandish woodcut grotesque alphabet of 1464 that is now at the British Museum. The facsimile copy was used in 1839 to print Treatise on Wood-engraving. In the last post we saw that the popularity of the original grotesque alphabet resulted in 15th and 16th century printed and manuscript copies, and we also saw that the facsimile was printed in 1839 using brown ink to convey the materiality of its water-based printing ink. This relates the interest in this alphabet to the curiosity about the printing of blockbooks, a lasting subject of fascination for historians of printing.

Bodleian Library, MS. Hearne’s Diaries 50, pp. 18-19
Figure 5: Bodleian Library, MS. Hearne’s Diaries 50, pp. 18-19.

This desire to convey the materiality of early water-based printing inks was shared a century earlier by Thomas Hearne (1678-1735). In his 1714 essay on early printing ink the Oxford antiquarian and sub-librarian at the Bodleian Library discussed the colour and texture of the ink used for some blockbooks and early woodcuts, while discussing their place in the history of printing.

“any one that will give himself the trouble of considering the first Specimens of Printing that we have in the Bodlejan Library, being two thin folio Books containing odd Pictures (from wooden cuts) […] will afford to a curious observer many Speculations. But because those Books cannot be conveyed out of the Library […] to give him a better Idea of the nature of them I shall here subjoyn the Speciment of a Fragment of another Book […] that was communicated to me by Mr. Bagford.”

To illustrate his point he pasted a fragment of a German blockbook Biblia pauperum c.1462-8 (Bod-Inc BB-5) into his diary, a fragment given to him by John Bagford (1650-1716) the antiquary and bookseller.

The Treatise tells us more about the interest shown in the 15th century grotesque alphabet when it was rediscovered. On the 27 May 1819 the antiquary Samuel Lysons (1763-1819) wrote to Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827), the then owner of the grotesque alphabet:

“I return herewith your curious volume of ancient cuts. I showed it yesterday to Mr. Douce, who agrees with me that it is a great curiosity. He thinks the blocks were executed at Harlem, and are some of the earliest productions of that place. He has in his possession most of the letters executed in copper, but very inferior to the original cuts.”

Francis Douce (1757-1834), an antiquarian and collector, had been a Keeper of the Department of Manuscripts at the British Museum between 1807-11. The ‘letters executed in copper’ are probably the early copy of the grotesque alphabet by the Master of the Banderoles. Douce would visit the Bodleian in July 1830 where he studied the three complete blockbooks then in the Bodleian’s collection. In 1834 he bequeathed his enormous collection to the Bodleian which included two blockbooks and three wood-blocks.

Woodcut of letters X and Y
Figure 6: Bodleian Library, Douce woodblocks f.1
Woodcut of letter Z
Figure 7: Bodleian Library, Douce woodblocks f.2

These two blocks shown above are facsimiles of the letters X, Y & Z from the same grotesque alphabet. Their existence in the Douce collection was first mentioned in 1897 by the incunabulist Robert Proctor who demonstrated that they had been made for John Bagford in the early eighteenth century for a projected history of printing. Recent work by Whitney Trettien and Edward Potten has linked our two blocks with a block for the letters K & L at the British Museum. These three alphabet blocks and our third Douce block join two others, one at the John Rylands Library and one at the British Library, to form a group of six surviving blocks for Bagford’s history of printing.

Impressions of woodcuts of letters X, Y, Z formed from grotesque figures
Figure 8: Impressions of wood-blocks for John Bagford’s projected History of Printing given to Thomas Hearne. Bodleian Library, MS. Rawl. D. 384, fol. 38r.

We also have prints of A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, X, Y & Z from the Bagford blocks in Hearne’s collection (now part of MS. Rawl. D. 384). A note on the back of X, Y & Z states “These are figures of odd letters wch I had from Mr Bagford. I have an Account of them from his own mouth in one of my Diary Books”.

In a letter to Hearne from Bagford dated 6 February 1708 we learn that:

“Mr Wanley hath lately hapined on some very ould Alphibets antiqe of yt Sorte of printing, cut on wood which I shall exhebite in my Booke, as sone as I have got them cut I shall send you a specement of them, and I dare say will please you when you se them.”

Later that year on 8 October Hearne gives a fuller account, presumably after he received the prints.

“Mr. Bagford has had a German printed Book of the Alphabet drawn exactly. It contains nothing more yn the Alphabet, only here and there a sentence in German inserted in ye Letters. They are all of a very large size for ye use of ye Illuminators, & are made up of several figures, as heads of Men, &c. The Z is made [backward z], […] He has another Alphabet, the letters of a stranger form. They are made up in Knotts with scroles of parchment.”

Just like our newly-acquired 19th-century facsimile wood-block linked Douce, Lysons and Beaumont, these prints of Bagford’s earlier facsimile blocks link these 18th-century printing historians to a specific copy of the 15th-century grotesque alphabet. This copy  was owned by the antiquarian and librarian Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726), and is the second surviving copy, given to the British Museum in 1947.

Further reading

C.E. Doble, (ed.), ‘Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne: Vol. II (20 March 1707–22 March 1710)’, Oxford Historical Society 13 (Oxford, 1889).

Campbell Dodgson, ‘Two woodcut alphabets of the fifteenth century’, Burlington Magazine 17:90 (September 1910), pp. 362-5.

Edward Potten, ‘Dating the Rylands Apocalypse wood-block: John Bagford and the earliest facsimiles of blockbooks’, Journal of the Printing Historical Society TS 3 (2022), pp, 14-46.

Robert Proctor, ‘On two plates in Sotheby’s ‘Principia Typographica’’, Bibliographica 3 (1897) pp. 192-6.

Whitney Trettien, Cut/Copy/Paste: Fragments from the history of bookwork (Minneapolis, 2021).

Hermán Luis Chávez wins the Colin Franklin Prize for Book Collecting 2024

Hermán Luis Chávez, winner of the Colin Franklin Prize for Book Collecting, 2024.

The 2024 Colin Franklin Prize for Book Collecting has been awarded to Hermán Luis Chávez for their essay on the composer Atiliano Auza León (b.1928) and 20th C. Bolivian Art Music. In their essay, Hermán shares the experience of discovering a piano score by Atiliano Auza León tucked beneath a pile of sheet music, and how this led to a desire to perform, research and collect little-known compositions by Atiliano Auza León. “Performance brought me to research, which brings me back to performance once again, as I see my collection as a budding personal library of Bolivian musical culture that will allow me to cultivate a synergy of textual and notated materials to facilitate historically-informed performance research.” Hermán is currently studying an MSt in Modern Languages at Balliol College.

The funder of the Colin Franklin Prize, Anthony Davis, commented of the submissions in 2024: “It is always an overawing and moving experience to judge the entrants for the student collecting prize.  Once again, we had a wide range of exceptional entrants showing the breadth of collecting among a new generation of bibliophiles.  Hermán’s thoughtful essay showed exceptional insights into the collecting process and the qualities of determination, perseverance and scholarship which mark a true collector.  I am delighted that they have won the prize and look forward to hearing what book they have chosen for Bodley.”

Keeper Special Collections, Chris Fletcher, and one of the judges of the prize said of Hermán’s essay: “This was a marvellously written essay which balances the emotional and intellectual motivations behind the quest to bring a little-known Bolivian composer into the light.”

The judges also wish to highly commend two other submissions, from George Adams, an MSt student in English (1700-1830) at Harris Manchester College for his essay, Reading Romanticism, 1790-1830, and from Madeline White, a DPhil student in History (History of Science and Medicine) at Lincoln College for her essay, Peter Pan Printed Books.

The Colin Franklin Prize is awarded every year to an undergraduate or postgraduate student of the University of Oxford or the University of Brookes for a collection of books or other printed materials. You can find out more about the Prize on the Bodleian website.

Hermán will present their collection and perform a composition by Atiliano Auza León at the Scholar’s Coffee Morning on Friday 31 May in the Visiting Scholars Centre, Weston Library. For more information please email bookcentre@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

Winner of the Colin Franklin Prize, 2024, Hermán Luis Chávez, describes the personal journey behind a collection.

The cover of ‘Dinamica musical en Bolivia’, or Musical Dynamics in Bolivia, by Atiliano Auza León. From the collection of Hermán Luis Chávez.

“Lamento Criollo,” the first movement of Atiliano Auza León’s six dances for violin and piano, begins with an inward melancholy that quickly swells, pushing, however meekly, to be heard. The violin seems to beg as it rises and falls, repeating the opening motif until it crowds the piano out, crying briefly before settling into gently rolling chords once more. The piece ends with the violin climbing to a soft but high scream that lingers before the piano allows it to fade away.

When I arranged the piece for cello I realized how much the opening dance demands despite its repetitive motion and short length. Launching my arm to play the same melody on another string, touching harmonics with the right wistfulness, breathing with the closing bawl without betraying the tightness in my own chest. Auza León wrote the movement—in his first published composition—upon hearing a chapaco[1] pass by on the street beneath the composer’s window, singing the tune. This happenstance mirrors my own discovery of Auza León, when I’d pulled out a stained, torn copy of the piano score to the six dances from within an aunt’s piano bench, poking around as a teenager eager to practise some first-year exercises despite the out-of-tune keys.

Fifteen years after composing the dances, Auza León published the second edition of his history of Bolivian music, which became the object of my undergraduate dissertation research. The book vacillates between simplicity and romanticism, even as it attempts to be encompassing and definitive. From an opening chapter that addresses some pre-Columbian Indigenous music to a set of short biographies of contemporary composers, Auza León wrote primarily of burgeoning classical music in the country. Fascinated by one of the only books by a Bolivian composer held at a handful of libraries in the United States, I set about analysing the composer’s work, only to realise there was much more than I could access from the northern hemisphere.

The choir and piano score composed for a celebratory children’s concert called ‘La fiesta del lugar’, or The Party of the Place. Courtesy of the author. From the collection of Hermán Luis Chávez.

After telling my family in Tarija about my woes, another aunt surprised me by finding Auza León and helping me acquire twenty-one scores and books directly from the composer. I spoke to him on a video call during the transaction. Among his supportive comments about taking Bolivian music abroad and light humor about my long hair, he noted important milestones in his work, which helped me put his book of music history into personal context. That text had its basis in Auza León’s first book: a treatise on the so-called dynamics of Bolivian music, where he consciously attempted to break with the established dance-music tradition in the country.

It makes sense that Auza León’s musicological work began immediately after his studies at the prestigious Latin American Center for Advanced Musical Studies (CLAEM) at the Torcuato di Tella Institute in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1965. Despite his musical conservatism (he essentially told me Ginastera didn’t know what he was doing when he wrote Bomarzo), he was exposed to a community where Latin Americanist discourses of regional art music would have instilled the importance of articulating national approaches to classical music. Reportedly the first CLAEM fellow to write such a book and share it with those at the institute, Auza León’s books and music derive from his skepticism for modernist composition and intellectual vision of Bolivian music as culturally hybrid.

Aula Villa-Lobos (Villa-Lobos Room) at CLAEM. Alberto Ginastera analyses a work by Johann Sebastian Bach before the first generation of students. Courtesy of Eduardo Herrera, originally the Rockefeller Archive Center. See Eduardo Herrera, ‘Elite Art Worlds’ (Oxford University Press, 2020).
Torcuato Di Tella Institute, the second floor of the Florida building, where CLAEM was located. On the left, the meeting room, where composers Armando Krieger, alcides lanza, and Blas Atehortúa are sat. On the right, three doors lead to the fellows’ study rooms. Additional study rooms are behind the three composers. Courtesy of Eduardo Herrera, originally the Rockefeller Archive Center. See Eduardo Herrera, Elite Art Worlds (Oxford University Press, 2020).

Though he worked at the national conservatory in La Paz and had lived around Bolivia, Auza León eventually returned to Tarija, where he had taught my own grandmother and great aunt during their childhood. Committed to education, he wrote a book introducing music theory and also composed for children, including choral works for a festival celebration. These texts are special in my collection, not only because I know they are the fruit of a teaching career that included my family members, but because they represent the breadth of a work of a composer truly committed to art music in Bolivia, from historical treatises to music for school kids to the country’s first national opera.

I met Atiliano Auza León for the first time nearly three years after my aunt sent me the majority of the materials that make up my collection. He lives in a humble house just a couple of turns away from my grandmother’s. He was accompanied by his daughter-in-law, though completely lucid at ninety-three years old. Dressed in formal attire fitting for a man of his generation, he was kind and encouraging, reminding me how little Bolivian music is played abroad as he shared his excitement for my work, telling me to press on. Our embrace at the end of the short meeting was moving. Even as I knew I was unlikely to see him again, I felt comfort knowing that every time I’d play through a score or share a lecture on his books, I’d be reminded of this encounter, where my legacy work on twentieth-century Bolivian art music was so significantly abetted.

The covers of my copies of three of Atiliano Auza León’s scores. From left to right, they are his string quartet in homage to the centennial of the National Conservatory; arias and duos from his opera Incallajta; and a violin sonata in homage to Cesar Franck.

I am grateful to the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music for the financial support that made my collection possible. My deep thanks to the Bodleian Libraries for their support of my collection work with the Colin Franklin Prize.

Full essay available to download: Chávez Collection Essay for Colin Franklin Prize


[1]“Chapaco” is a colloquial term for a person from Tarija, and may be used specifically to refer to a campesino, or farmer. A person from Tarija can also be referred to more generally as “Tarijeño,” or in English, “Tarijan.” Though Auza León and his contemporaries thought of themselves as Bolivian, their cultural and creative ties to their local communities meant that using specific terms was important in their work.


Auza León, Atiliano. 6 Danzas Bolivianas del ciclo “Runas” para violín y piano. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Impresores Ricordi Americana, 1960.

—. Dinámica musical en Bolivia. La Paz, Bolivia: Cooperativa de Artes Gráficas E. Burillo, 1967.

—. Historia de la Música Boliviana, 2nd ed. Cochabamba, Bolivia: Editorial Los Amigos Del Libro, 1985.

—. La Fiesta del Lugar: Concierto Coral de Niños. Tarija, Bolivia: Escuela de Música Mario Estenssoro, 2013.

—. Introducción a la teoría musical. Oruro, Bolivia: Latinas Editores, 2019.

Flores Meruvia, Ernesto. “El joven centenario (III).” La Opinión. 2 July 2023. https://www.opinion.com.bo/articulo/ramona/joven-centenario-iii/20230701202613912444.html

Herrera, Eduardo. Elite Art Worlds: Philanthropy, Latin Americanism, and Avant-garde Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Making an impression: a ‘new’ wood-block of an old grotesque alphabet

Woodblock for printing the letter 'K'
Woodblock, acquired for the Bodleian Bibliographical Press in 2024

Andrew Honey (Bodleian Libraries and English Faculty)

An unexpected recent discovery on Etsy (of all places) of a wood-block which I bought for the Bodleian Bibliographical Press throws new light on items in the Bodleian’s collections and their place in the study of the history of printing. The block is a facsimile of the letter K, a 19th-century copy of a letter from a woodcut alphabet dating from 1464. It was used in 1839, in the printing of A Treatise on Wood Engraving, historical and practical. With upwards of three hundred illustrations, engraved on wood, by John Jackson published by Charles Knight.

The Treatise explains the model for this facsimile block.

“There is in the Print Room of the British Museum a small volume of wood-cuts, which has not hitherto been described by any bibliographer […] it consists of an alphabet of large capital letters, formed of figures arranged in various attitudes.”

Our block – K – has four figures. A man is kneeling, holding a ribbon on which are written the words ‘mon ♥ aues’ (with my heart) while presenting a ring to a standing woman. These two figures form the stem of the letter, while two men fly out to form the arm and leg of the K. The description of the printed image in the Treatise states “the above is a fac-simile of the cut referred to, the letter K, of the size of the original.”

An open book and printing block
The facsimile ‘K’ woodblock and the illustration it printed, in the 1839 book ‘A treatise of wood-engraving’; Bodleian Library, Jessel d.58 , p.135.

The original is a letter K from a Netherlandish woodcut grotesque alphabet of 1464. There are now two surviving copies of that printed alphabet at the British Museum, but only one of these was known in 1839 when the Treatise of Wood-engraving was published.

15th-centuy print of the letter 'K'
15th-centuy print of the letter ‘K’ : British Museum, B,10.1-23 (© The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The Treatise describes both the unusual printing method and the water-based ink of the original alphabet print. It relates these to the printing of blockbooks, a subject of fascination to printing historians because these printed texts from carved blocks, without moveable type.

“There is only one cut on each leaf, the back being left blank as in most block-books, and the impressions have been taken by means of friction. The paper at the back of each cut has a shining appearance when held towards the light [… and] the ink is merely a distemper or water-colour, which will partly wash out by the application of hot water, and its colour is a kind of sepia.”

The Treatise reproduced three letters from the alphabet – K, L & Z – in brown ink, the only coloured ink in the book, explaining: “the colour of the above […] will give the reader, who had not had an opportunity of examining the originals, some idea of the colour in which […] are printed; which in all of them is a kind of sepia”.

Our information about the block might have ended there had the real author of the Treatise not fallen out with both John Jackson the wood-engraver and Charles Knight the publisher. William Andrew Chatto (1799–1864) was clearly so angered by the absence of his name on the title page that he responded with a densely written, privately printed, 36-page Third Preface! As well as being extremely rude about Jackson – “an illiterate, ignorant man”, Chatto gives the names of the real contributors:

“of the numerous copies of old wood-cuts contained in the work, not a single one has been either drawn or engraved by Mr. John Jackson [… Jackson and Knight had supressed] the name of Mr. F[rederick]. W[illiam]. Fairholt, the artist by whom all ‘the elaborate fac-similes’ of old wood-cuts contained in the work – except two – were copied and drawn on the block. The best of the copies of old wood-cuts, […] were engraved by a young man named Stephen Rimbault, at that time a pupil of Mr. Jackson’s”.

He also notes that the size of the book as originally planned meant that the reproduction is not an exact facsimile.

“It is in consequence of the work having been originally intended to be printed in demy octavo, that most of the cuts now appear so small when compared with the size of the page. It is from this cause that the so-called fac-similes for the […] Alphabet […] want the outer border-line at the sides”.

Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1504, fol. 45v.

If the grotesque alphabet stirred interest when it was rediscovered in or before 1819 it appears to have stirred even greater interest when it was first produced in the 15th century. There are near contemporary woodcut [now at the Kunstmuseum BasleInv. X.1881-1882] and copper engraved versions, as well as our kneeling man and woman adapted as a stand-alone letter ‘I’ in a German manuscript of 1467 and drawn copies in the Nuremberg chronicle now at the Newberry Library. The interest was not short lived and the Bodleian has a finely painted copy of A, B, C & D dating from c.1520-30 in MS. Ashmole 1504, described in a 1845 catalogue as ‘Book of patterns of an illuminator of MSS’. This wasn’t the only English interest: the ‘S’ was adapted and used as an initial by the London printer John Rastell in 1530 and continuing interest is witnessed by two further sixteenth-century manuscript copies; a complete version as part of the  Macclesfield Alphabet Book (British Library, Additional MS 88887) and a partial version from the 1540s-1560s now at the National Art Library.

The story will continue ….

Further reading

A Treatise on Wood Engraving, historical and practical. With upwards of three hundred illustrations, engraved on wood, by John Jackson (London, 1839).

William Andrew Chatto, A third preface to “A treatise on wood engraving, historical and practical”: exposing the fallacies contained in the first, restoring the passages suppressed in the second, and containing an account of Mr. John Jackson’s actual share in the composition and illustration of that work (London, 1839)

Campbell Dodgson, Grotesque Alphabet of 1464: Reproduced in facsimile from the original woodcuts in the British Museum (London, 1899).

Early donors to the Bodleian Library: Katherine Sandys and colonialism

by Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

One rich example of the Bodleian’s acquisition of books produced outside of Europe is provided by the donation of £20 (nearly £3000 today) in 1607 from Katherine Sandys née Bulkeley. Katherine was a shrewd businesswoman and the fourth wife of Edwin Sandys: a prominent MP, religious writer, and coloniser.

-The Bodleian’s copy of Fang Gung’s, Dan shi shin fa (Thoughts on Dan Shi) (1522). The vellum cover is annotated in latin with an inscription recording Sandys’ donation Sinica 32/6. Image taken by Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull in 2023.
The Bodleian’s copy of Fang Gung’s, Dan shi shin fa (Thoughts on Dan Shi) (1522). The parchment cover is annotated in Latin with an inscription recording Sandys’ donation. Sinica 32/6. Image taken by Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull in 2023.

In his letters, Bodley complained about donors being allowed to choose the items purchased with their donations. But in the case of this donation, the choice of books made by Bodley and librarian Thomas James may have reflected the Sandys family’s involvement in early colonial activities such as those of the Virginia Company.

Such works included important travelogues containing finely engraved maps. These depicted parts of the world where at this point in history England was a weaker colonising force, such as the Middle East (Arthus Gotthard and Johann Bry’s The Seventh Part of the East Indies (1606)), and Asia (Cornelius Wytfliet’s Universal History of the Indies (1605)). Much like Matal’s atlas, these texts helped to expand Western readers’ understanding of these newly navigated areas. But like Lodge’s manuscript catechism, their subject matter also shone light on the ongoing efforts of European colonists to convert indigenous people to Christianity; making these books fitting acquisitions for a library founded by Bodley as a seat of Protestant learning.

Sandys’ donation also included works acquired from these areas in non-European languages unreadable to Western scholars. This included eight medical texts in Chinese, such as Gong Ting Chien’s Van Bin Hoiye Chun (Cure for all Illnesses) (1573) and Fang Gung’s, Dan shi shin fa (Thoughts on Dan Shi) (1522). Like the Bodleian’s other early Chinese works acquired from 1604 onwards, Sandys’ books are cheaply printed.

Book with Chinese printed characters, Gong Ting Chien’s Van Bin Hoiye Chun (Cure for all Illnesses) (1573)
The Bodleian’s copy of Gong Ting Chien’s Van Bin Hoiye Chun (Cure for all Illnesses) (1573). Sinica 19/2. Image taken by Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull in 2023.

Some are unique survivals of sixteenth-century editions produced in the Fujin province on the southeastern coast of China during the Ming Dynasty. Too cheap to adorn the library of any serious Chinese scholar, they were probably sold by entrepreneurial local booksellers to Dutch merchants, and then exported to Europe by Dutch merchants engaged in the lucrative transcontinental spice trade in the employ of the newly formed Dutch East India Company. Bought in Amsterdam at auction by Bodley’s literary agent, when they arrived at the Bodleian they were simply recorded in the Benefactors’ Register under the catch-all heading ‘volumes in Chinese’. It was not until 1687, when the Chinese scholar and Catholic convert, Shen Fu-Tsung 沈福宗 (Michael Alphonsus), was paid by the Bodleian’s librarian Thomas Hyde to transliterate their titles that their contents became known in England. This enabled the creation of the first catalogue of Chinese Books for the Bodleian, and ultimately paved the way for future scholars to explore the library’s rich East Asian collections.

The books purchased with Sandys’ donation exemplify the complex relationship of the Bodleian’s early collections to colonialism and its legacy. Bodley’s acquisition of Chinese books is part of an explicitly colonial narrative. Likely acquired directly from the emergent oppressive power of the Dutch East India Company, these books were brought to Europe by a chartered company who would come to dominant East Asian trade routes across the Indian Ocean through the forced migration and killing of indigenous people. These books and their acquisition by a Western seat of learning promoted and glorified colonial projects of conquest, trade, and conversion to readers. Bodley did, albeit unintentionally, enable Fu-Tsung and Hyde’s later intellectual endeavours, paving the way for the first known direct Anglo-Chinese scholarly collaboration. The acquisition of these books also ensured the preservation of unique texts of international import and facilitated further study that continues at the library today. But as we continue to unlock their rich histories, we need to consciously centralise, and make accessible, the often-hidden colonial narratives that led to the arrival of items like these volumes at the Bodleian. However problematic and uncomfortable these may be, they are vital to furthering our understanding of the role colonialism played in developing the library’s collection.

My thanks go to Mamtimyn Sunuodula, Curator of Chinese Collections at the Bodleian, for translating the titles of Sinica 19/2 and 32/6. 

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull is a research associate on the AHRC-funded project ‘Shaping Scholarship: Early Donations to the Bodleian Library’. He is also a final year DPhil student, Clarendon, and Graduate Development Scholar in English at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research focuses on the materiality of women’s texts between 1580 and 1760, and related work has appeared in The Review of English Studies. You can contact Ben via email at b.wilkinson-turnbull@ucl.ac.uk. He can also be found on X (Twitter) @Ben_WT.

Further reading

Cornelius Wytfliet, Histoire universelle des Indes, orientales et occidentales (Douai, 1605)

Arthus, Gotthard  and Johann Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis Pars Septima : Navigationes duas, Primam, trium Annorum, a Georgio Spilbergio, trium navium praefecto, Ann. 1601. ex Selandia in Indiam Orientalem susceptam (Frankfurt, 1606)

Gong Ting Chien,Van Bin Hoiye Chun (Cure for all Illnesses) (Fujin, 1573)

Fang Gung, Dan shi shin fa (Thoughts on Dan Shi) (Fujin, 1522)

David Helliwell, ‘Our Earliest Chinese Accession’, https://serica.blog/2012/11/29/our-earliest-chinese-accession/

William Poole, ‘The Letters of Shen Fuzong to Thomas Hyde, 1687-88’, British Library Journal (2015), article 9. (https://bl.iro.bl.uk/concern/articles/1227de6b-c20f-48fb-8411-b1f811ffa957).

Kerry Ward, Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company. (Cambridge, 2009).