The Bodleian Libraries hold several collections of copper plates dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, amounting to approximately 2000 individual pieces of copper. A brief overview and the available handlists can be found in the LibGuide to printing surfaces.
The majority of these plates were made for book illustrations connected with published scholarship in the sciences, or antiquarian studies. These include the plates to:
Robert Morison, Plantarum historiae universalis Oxoniensis (1680-1699) Martin Lister, Historiae Conchyliorum (1685-1692) Edward Lhyd, Lithophylacii Britannici (1699) Richard Gough, Sepulchral Monuments (1786)
Plates made for a number of other 17th and 18th-century publications survive in the collection of Richard Rawlinson (d. 1755).
Another category of plates are those that were commissioned by Richard Rawlinson (1690-1755) to portray his own collections of other objects, including medieval manuscripts. The Rawlinson collection of copper plates, amounting to some 750 in all and including these commissioned plates, the collected book illustrations and other picture plates, is currently the subject of a doctoral study by Chiara Betti.
Finally, copper plates made for packaging and ephemeral print are held in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, under the headings “Copper Plates for Paper Bags” and “Copper Plates for Bookplates”.
The Morison copper plates
Morison was Professor of Botany at the University of Oxford. The publishing history of his great work has been studied by Scott Mandelbrote. [‘The publication and illustration of Robert Morison’s Plantarum historiae universalis Oxoniensis’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 78 (2015), 349-379.] Over 290 folio-sized plates were preserved for a projected reprint but were then set aside for some centuries before finding use, allegedly, as the counterweight to a lift in the science library.
A project and seminar in 2019 examined the Morison plates by placing these alongside related material surviving in several Oxford institutions, including plant specimens from the Herbarium, proofs of the plates in the Sherardian Library, and prints at the Ashmolean Museum and at the Oxford University Press made by the same engravers, including Michael Burghers, who worked on the plates for the lavishly illustrated, and ruinously expensive, Morison book.
A John Fell grant to the Bodleian Libraries supported Optical 3D profilometry of some sections of the plates, taken by the Laboratory for In-situ Microscopy and Analysis (LIMA), in the Department of Engineering Science. Four days were allocated for the profilometry scanning in January 2019. Examinations were carried out on small portions [c. 4 cm sq, up to 10 cm. sq] of each of the plates. Profilometry enabled close examination of the depth of the engraving marks. Measurements enabled comparison of marks at different parts of the plates. The measurements showed the consistent depth of the lines, the profile of engraved lines (shown in the image) and also demonstrated the raised surface, as expected, of plates from which corrosion had not been cleaned.
The Lister copper plates
The Lister copper plates of shells and molluscs, from drawings by Martin Lister’s daughters, are the subject of a publication by Anna Marie Roos. [Martin Lister and his remarkable daughters: the art of science in the seventeenth century (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 2018)] https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsnr.2011.0053
Many of the illustrations for Lister’s work depict just one specimen. Many plates in the book therefore bear the assembled imprints of several small pieces of copper.
The Rawlinson copper plates
During his life, Richard Rawlinson built a collection of 752 printing plates. He commissioned at least one-fourth of them to illustrate his vast collections, while the rest of the plates came from auction sales. The copper plates show a wide range of subjects: portraits, facsimiles of documents, topographical views, coins, medals, and seals.
From the early 1720s, Richard Rawlinson used his engravings as a means to facilitate and spread the knowledge of his collections. Besides commissioning original engravings, the voracious collector attended many auctions of books, art, and copper plates. Thanks to Rawlinson’s meticulously annotated sales catalogues, it has been possible to study the provenance of about 80 of his second-hand copper plates.
The Rawlinson printing plates are now the focus of Chiara Betti’s doctoral project. Her research takes a multidisciplinary approach that brings together book history, printmaking, engineering, and history of collecting. Chiara’s research will shed light on the history and provenance of the Rawlinson plates and their manufacture and use in publications both before and after the antiquary’s death.
The Gough copper plates
Among the plates of Richard Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments (1786, 1796) are several images engraved from drawings by the young William Blake. The plates themselves are signed by James Basire but, as argued by Mark Crosby, [‘William Blake in Westminster Abbey, 1774-1777,’ Bodleian Library Record 22:2, October 2009] ‘it was common practice for a master to sign the work of his apprentices,’ and Blake was apprenticed to Basire from 1772.
The John Johnson Collection
As a collection dedicated to printed ephemera and the history of printing, the John Johnson Collection in the Bodleian Library holds a few dozen copper plates which were used to print packaging and for personal printed items such as bookplates and calling-cards. These are probably the most recent in date of the copper plates preserved in Bodleian collections.
Guest blog by George Haggett (Music, Magdalen College).
University of Oxford students are invited to enter essays about their own book collections for the Colin Franklin Prize. Entries are accepted in Week 6 of Hilary Term. See the prizes webpage for details.
Galangal and Garbage: Medieval Cookbooks Through Time
In 1780, antiquarian Samuel Pegge returned a ‘very curious’ scroll to the curator of the British Museum, containing some 229 recipes (see Figure 1). They were compiled circa 1390 by Richard II’s cooks, and Pegge would go on to publish them as The Forme of Cury: the oldest known cookbook in the English language.
Tired of my thesis and needing something to do with my hands, I saw in Cury an opportunity to combine my dual obsessions with cooking and Middle English. Medieval readers ‘ruminated’ on and ‘regurgitated’ scripture. Our epicurean way of describing texts is more than metaphor: it draws meaning from food’s ephemeral qualities. An art form that you swallow, food is either digested or decomposes, and communicating flavour is possible only by analogy, contingent on visceral likes and dislikes and deep cultural impulses. I will never taste the Middle Ages. But through these books I see the dazzlingly generative potential of recipes, both to provoke centuries-long discourses, and to bring hands to utensils and conjure up tangible, nourishing food.
I bought a cheap paperback reprint of The Forme of Cury from open-access project ForgottenBooks.org. This is my ‘dirty’ copy of Cury. In Arial typeface throughout and stained by stock and spices, its marginalia are my scribbled translations, timings, temperatures, and substitutions for obscure herbs.
I will focus here on editions of sources from Northern France and England in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries; cultures in which upper-class milieus moved liberally, sharing texts and fashions. New-world foods like potatoes, tomatoes, and corn are absent, but other ingredients and influences that travelled with merchants, crusaders, and pilgrims (attested to by many Mediterranean, Asian, and North African sources beyond the scope of this collection) are palpable. Food’s religious significance manifests in the observance of feasting and fasting, and in broader ethics of the body. Medical ideas of the humours influence the preparation of meats, roasted or boiled according to how ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ the animal was. When something so supremely carnal as food is at issue, questions of health, spirituality, and sensuality are never far from the table.
One of my earliest sources is The Viandier of Taillevent, a thirteenth-century cookbook in side-by-side Old French and Modern English translated by Terence Scully, with appended modernised recipes by D. Eleanor Scully. It is associated with Guillaume Tirel, cook to Charles V and Charles VI of France, although some of its manuscript copies predate his lifetime. But while those manuscripts don’t tell us about authorship, they make up for in what they reveal about their readers: ‘dusted with powders, splattered with sauces, burnt or smudged’, they seem to have been used by literate cooks. They would have been highly skilled, too. Among the Viandier’s suggested centrepieces are involve inflated swan skins, a tower of mutton bones, and ‘Hedgehogs and Spanish Farts’ (stuffed sheep stomachs). This edition’s striking cover art is fittingly anachronistic dress and cutlery, but fails to acknowledge D. Eleanor Scully’s co-editorial labour.
Lots of medieval sources themselves had hybrid functions. Take John Crophill’s Commonplace Book (Harley MS 1735, pre-1485), which offers alongside its 69 recipes texts on alchemy, divination, and a medical treatise called ‘The Doom of Urine’. Another example is the late-fourteenth-century housekeeping treatise Le Ménagier de Paris. Written by an elderly husband for the instruction of his teenage wife. Its recipes are accompanied by moral tales (including ‘the woman who laid an egg’) and guides to gardening and falconry, and feminist economic historian Eileen Power translated most of it into modern English in 1928. Ménagier’s recipes share much with Taillevent, including a method of retaining the water after boiling peas, a delicacy known in Wigan chip shops today as ‘Pey Wet’.
Thrillingly, the previous owner of my copy of Thomas Austin’s 1888 edition Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books left three loose leaves inside the cover: an 1803 screed cryptically signed ‘Coquinarius’ and two photographs of medieval manuscripts. Based on its historiated ‘T’s, I have tentatively identified the first as two recipes from Harley MS 4016: ‘Blanch Porrey’ (a leek-based sauce for eel) and the evocatively titled ‘Garbage’ (chicken giblets, heads, and feet steeped in spiced broth). (see: Austin 1964, 90; 72.)
Photograph One and British Library, MS Harley 4016.
I identified the second based on each recipe beginning, ‘ffor to make’, which Cury does in its second section. The recipes include extravagant dishes, like swan in an aromatic sauce thickened with rice-flour. In his foreword to Cury, Pegge makes clear that this ‘horrid and barbarous’ medieval food is not to his taste.
My third version of Cury was also never intended for culinary use. Measuring three-by-three centimetres, it contains dozens of Cury’s recipes in Middle English, reproduced in 1:12-scale by Dateman books, who furnish the shelves of period-specific dollhouses. It serves as an important reminder that medieval life, so alien to Pegge in 1780, is still a curio in late-capitalist hobby culture, part of a wider constellation of conservative tweeness (Dateman also do Gilbert and Sullivan scores and a new mini-newspaper for each royal baby).
We are served historical sources and consume them. Whether in the handwriting of some scribe or via many editorial hands, texts have always been ‘cooked up’ in some way. Chopped and changed, blended, and taken with a pinch of salt, all writing is a concoction, and we receive it according to our appetites.
Composer Tom Coult (Albi Rosenthal Visiting Fellow, 2021) will see the premiere of his song cycle, ‘Clippings and Fragments,’ at the Oxford Lieder Festival on 18 October 2021.
The work was commissioned by the Festival for its 20th year, and draws upon the Bodleian Library’s John Johnson collection of printed ephemera. This rich and diverse assemblage of often-overlooked items is one of the largest and most important collections of printed ephemera in the world. It offers a fresh view of British history through documents which, produced for short-term use, have survived by chance, including advertisements, handbills, playbills and programmes, menus, greetings cards, posters and postcards.
In July 2021 the Bodleian Libraries hosted a virtual reunion of scholars who spoke about their research into the Persian collections of the Bodleian Libraries. Over the past five years, through the Bahari Fellowship programme, scholars have visited the library to examine texts, paper, paintings, bindings, and provenance of manuscripts now in the Bodleian collections. Their insights and conversations with distinguished panel chairs were shared with an online audience watching from around the world, on 13 and 14 July.
The Bodleian Libraries hold copper plates from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in several different collections. These are listed along with the finding aids in the LibGuide Printing Surfaces.
Many of the earlier plates are survivals from publishing projects, whether realised or not. Others were collected or commissioned to depict objects of antiquarian study. Still others, in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, represent the process of printing, for instance, Copper plates for paper bags.
Engraved and etched copper plates owned by the London-based antiquarian collector Richard Rawlinson (1690-1755) came to the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, with his bequest of a large collection of material, in 1755. The majority of these plates were gathered by Rawlinson second-hand from printers or other collectors, and thus date from the seventeenth, and first half of the eighteenth, century. These illustrate scenes and objects of antiquarian and topographical interest and many portraits. The plates include work by seventeenth-century engravers Wenceslaus Hollar [see the catalogue of Hollar’s work by Richard Pennington, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677] and David Loggan. Another group of plates within this collection was made for Rawlinson himself, to depict unique objects in his own vast antiquarian collections. These collections included a large number of medieval and early modern manuscripts donated or bequeathed to several institutions including the Bodleian, as well as printed images, antique and exotic cultural objects, inscriptions, and seal matrices.
The copper plates thus sit within a much more extensive collection assembled by an eighteenth-century antiquarian, touching on areas of curatorial interest to libraries, museums, and archives. Surviving papers and notebooks of Richard Rawlinson are held at the British Library, the Bodleian Library, and at St John’s College, Oxford.
This AHRC-funded project led by Robyn Adams (CELL, UCL), examines the network of individuals whose donations helped to build the collections of the library. Focusing on the first two decades following the seventeenth-century refurbishment by Sir Thomas Bodley (c.1600-1620) of Oxford’s university library, the study examines the shape of the collection of the books donated and purchased with funds, the social backgrounds of the c.220 donors, and how these men and women were connected across the social compass of the time.
The Bodleian Libraries contain a wealth of material that is relevant to the study of the book in every period. This is not only in book or manuscript form, although Bodleian Special Collections are frequently used for teaching at the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections. Many non-book items–eighteenth-century pins, samples of paper, newly-made parchment, old copper plates–exist within and outside the miles of bookstack. We will be undertaking a survey of this material in 2021-22, paying close attention to what is useful for the teaching the history of books and manuscripts in the broadest sense.
Throughout this year we expect to be looking into:
Tuesday 30 November 2021 at 5.15 p.m.
Oxford Bibliographical Society/ Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book
‘What does feminist bibliography do?’
A panel discussion with Dr Sarah Werner, Dr Francesca Galligan and Dr Tiffany Stern
Online, registration required. Register: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking ahead: Events for Winter 2022 (Hilary Term)
Palaeography Seminar: Medieval manuscripts master classes
(Details to follow)
Seminar in the History of the Book
(Details to follow)
Thursday & Friday, 17th & 18th February 2022 Workshop on the Murbach Hymns and Bodleian MS. Junius 25
In this workshop, the fascinating Murbach hymns – a Latin hymnal with Old High German interlinear glosses from the 8/9th century – and their manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Junius 25) will be carefully examined regarding their translation technique, use and function, cultural background and transmission. Expect an afternoon full of presentations and discussions, a peek in the original manuscript and a live recitation of the hymns.
Registration required, updates to follow.
Convenor: Luise Morawetz (email@example.com)
Ana Paula Cordeiro’s work, Body of Evidence, is one of the artist’s books that inspires contemporary letterpress printers. A recent conversation linked the Bodleian Bibliographical Press with the Center for Book Arts in New York City, where Cordeiro made that work.
The workshop in the Old Bodleian Library is a place for artistic experimentation as well as teaching about historical printing.
The Printer in Residence programme has hosted creative printers who use the letterpress craft within the tradition of artist book-making.
Printers in residence, 2017-2020
The printer-in-residence programme, funded by a generous donation, invites a working printer or book artist to put their own stamp on the Bibliographical Press programme, and to share their individual artistic visions with students, local printers, and the public.
While he was in residence at the Bodleian during November 2017, Russell Maret was developing the typeface ‘Hungry Dutch’, a project begun in 2016. During his visit to Oxford, New York-based Maret shared his inventive approach to typography with a practical workshop exercise in printing a passage of King Lear with fallen type. Podcast of Russel Maret’s lecture
In 2018, Emily Martin visited from Iowa, focussing on the genre of movable books, a subject of collecting interest for the Bodleian, with the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera holding early examples. Martin’s publication in residence, Order of Appearance / Disorder of Disappearance, is a ‘slice book’ printed with the P22Blox modular printing blocks created by Richard Kegler. Podcast of Emily Martin’s lecture.
David Armes (Red Plate Press, Yorkshire) was the most recent Printer in Residence to visit, in November-December 2019. The residency resulted in an addition to his series of site-specific prints, with Between Sun Turns. This year (2021) Mr Armes holds a fellowship at the Eccles Centre, British Library. Podcast of David Armes’s lecture
The next Printer in Residence will be Thomas Gravemaker, of LetterpressAmsterdam.
The printer-in-residence programme has broadened the workshop’s remit and established new connections with contemporary book artists. Experience in supporting these artist-printers enabled the workshop to welcome eight Fine Arts students in Trinity Term 2021, under the guidance of Ruskin School tutor of printing, Graeme Hughes.