The press in Blackwell Hall, the public entrance foyer of the Bodleian’s Weston Library, is a replica made in 1951 by A.H. Smith, Quain Professor of English at UCL, with A. Brown, from designs published in 1683 by Joseph Moxon in Mechanick Exercises, or, The doctrine of handy-works, applied to the art of printing.*
It is currently being used by a team of volunteers, who will be at press most Saturdays this summer, to enable visitors to try their hand at printing keepsakes
* See Frans A. Janssen, ‘Reconstructions of the common press: aims and results’, Quærendo 32/3-4 (2002), for a photo of the press at UCL and a discussion of the design and use of this and other replicas.
Unfurled across five tables, Kabe Wilson’s astonishing Of One Woman or So is the result of a painstaking process of cutting up books. The novella, which tells the story of a young Cambridge student who becomes politicized and burns down the University Library, was created by re-arranging all 37,971 words of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. At once a tour de force of wit and wordplay and a serious consideration of what Woolf’s essay has to offer us today, Wilson’s work often dramatizes its own method of construction, as in the following passage.
In front of an audience in the Visiting Scholars’ Centre at the Weston Library, Wilson described how creating the piece involved a mixture of old and new technologies: spreadsheets and macros to keep track of each word has he typed; scissors and glue – and two copies of Woolf’s book – to turn the digital document into a physical piece. ‘I see myself as an artist rather than a writer,’ he told us, ‘so it was important that at the end of the process there should be something that could be exhibited.’
For Wilson, one of the major reasons for doing this work was to see how the language of Woolf’s time has been reoriented or reenergized in the intervening years. Woolf’s fictitious author, Mary Carmichael, provides a means for Wilson’s protagonist to become radicalized by the writings of Stokely Carmichael; a mention of the writer Vernon Lee in A Room of One’s Own allows Wilson to drop in a reference to Woolf’s biographer Hermione Lee. bell hooks and Edward Said appear courtesy of the simple terms bell, hooks and said. Meanwhile there are dozens of playful allusions to the culture of the early twenty-first century, from reading Harry Potter to supporting Manchester United; from watching Friends to drinking vodka jellies. Wilson described how the word sex features prominently in Woolf’s essay, but how, in recent feminist discourse, the sense in which Woolf uses it has been largely supplanted by the term gender. In order to avoid the clang of anachronism, then, Wilson’s tale involves rather more sex scenes than Woolf’s, with the narrator at one point voicing Wilson’s own concerns here: ‘True, I should think of women, women, women, women. And not of sex, sex, sex.’
During the Question and Answer session Wilson discussed how he envisaged publication of the work, and the importance of retaining the look of the art piece with the signs of its physical construction: the shadows of the cut-up paper and Wilson’s handwritten punctuation. We also got to consider the mind-boggling, Borgesian potentiality of the exercise – the infinite, unwritten texts contained in all the other possible arrangements of the same words – and the one extant but secret rearrangement hidden on the reverse sides of Wilson’s gummed-down words.
by Emily Mayne (St Hilda’s College) and Callum Seddon (Merton College)
How did men and women secure their letters before the introduction of gummed envelopes? Why should the materiality of letters as folded packets interest scholars and conservators as much as their contents? Jana Dambrogio (Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator at Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Daniel Starza Smith (British Academy postdoctoral research fellow, Lincoln College) led a workshop to explore these and related questions through a series of hands-on case studies.
When we send letters today, the envelope acts as a security, protecting the content from prying eyes. But envelopes as we think of them now were not invented until the mid-nineteenth century. Prior to this letters were secured by folding and various combinations of sealing, tying, cutting, and sewing, making the letter its own security device. ‘Letterlocking’, as Jana Dambrogio calls it, is a social and textual practice of document security that stretches back thousands of years, but the workshop focused particularly on techniques dating from the late sixteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Participants were able to open pre-sealed examples, and, throughout the workshop, learn to fold and lock their own.
We began by opening a folded packet, sealed with a strip of paper and wax seal. Upon opening, a number of slits were visible, running vertically down each side of the paper; a triangular section of paper was also missing from the lower, right-hand corner of the unfolded letter. Many early modern letters currently survive in this state today, and it is only by thinking of letters as folded and sealed packets, rather than simply flattened objects, that we can begin to piece together why these material signs – vertical or horizontal slits, and missing triangular pieces – matter. In this example, the triangular piece of paper has been cut from the end of the letter and used as a sealing device to authenticate the packet. Anyone receiving this packet would know if its contents had already been read, because both wax seal and paper strip would be broken. It would take someone with access to an identical seal and paper-stock to replicate this security measure once opening it. This format of letterlocking is, therefore, a more secure method than the ‘tuck and seal’ method (also demonstrated in the workshop) in which one side of the packet is tucked into the other prior to sealing.
We then looked at a series of case studies of alternative letterlocking formats, each of which demonstrated the importance of bringing an analysis of a letter’s material form to bear on understanding the circumstances of its production, exchange, and reception. Wax is by no means a necessary part of letterlocking, as we learned by studying correspondence sent from the front line by a Russian soldier in the Second World War. This soldier secured his letter (into a triangular format) with the expectation that it would be opened and read by army censors, who would examine the post sent by troops to safeguard against the risk of military intelligence coming into the wrong hands. Similarly, a letter sent by Marie Antoinette to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi showed the importance of being able to open, but re-secure the letter with a removable paper lock and elaborate papered-seal. Other examples included a format often used by Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex in his correspondence with Elizabeth I: the letter is pleated, folded into a small packet and a length of thread is wound around the ends of the folded letter, and warm sealing wax is placed over the thread on one (and often both) of the exposed panels and impressed with a signet. Folding a letter in this way produces a thin rectangular packet easily concealed in the hand or sleeve, and choosing this letter format might then serve to communicate intimacy or a wish for intimacy between letter-writer and recipient, in addition to the written contents of the letter. John Donne’s letters were arguably the ‘show-stoppers’ of the workshop, if only for his spectacular seals: a sheaf of snakes, and Christ crucified on an anchor. Participants sealed their own versions of the letter formats demonstrated in the workshop using replicas of Donne’s own sealing devices that Dambrogio and Smith had specially made. Donne used many of the formats explored in the workshop, but perhaps unsurprisingly also took care to make more extravagant paper locks.
The session ended with the chance to apply this knowledge to actual examples in the Bodleian’s Special Collections. We were able to materially ‘read’ surviving autograph Donne letters, besides other examples of letterlocking in some of the Bodleian’s manuscript letter collections. This final stage of the session served to illustrate an important point: letterlocking is useful for both researchers and conservators. After working through the examples, we could appreciate that letters were neither ‘flat’ objects (they only seem to be once they are bound into a composite volume), and that they conveyed a number of social signs through their material features. If scholars are repeatedly called upon to recognize the importance of the material text, letters are a useful place to begin exploring the connections between material form, content, and meaning.
Verity Wilson, guest curator. The Art of Dress is on view in the Proscholium, Bodleian Library, until April 27 2015
Everyone wears clothes and so everyone has an opinion about them. Not everyone, of course, sets down their sartorial thoughts in writing but considerable numbers do as I found out when I curated The Art of Dress ( 26 February to 26 April 2015). The exhibits in this Proscholium display represent just a few of the many western printed books about dress from the Bodleian’s rich collection. Over 400 years of publications about clothes, their different manifestations and many meanings, made the selection process woefully thorny so, as a way to make amends for leaving so much out, here are just four books that would have been included had there been space.
John Evelyn’s Tyrannus or The Mode, published in London in 1661 is a small volume reprehending the English craving for French fashions. Penned by the diarist and garden writer, it maintains that a nation should have confidence in its own individual style of dressing and not copy others. Full of witticisms and erudite quotations, the Bodleian copy belonged to Evelyn himself. It is signed by him and there are corrections in his hand throughout the text.
My second ‘waiting in the wings’ book is the exquisitely illustrated Costumes of the Russia Empire, published in 1803 as the fourth in William Miller’s costume series. It attests to the growing interest in scientific ethnographic scholarship and the full-page coloured engravings include A female Baschkirian, A Barabintzian girl, A Kirghis on horseback, A Yakut in his hunting dress, A woman of Esthonia, and A Circassian Prince.
On Cellular Cloth for the Clothing of the Body: The Theory and Practice produced by the Cellular Clothing Company Ltd in 1888 is another reluctantly discarded publication. The seeming contradiction between holes and heat was reconciled when Lewis Haslam (1856-1922), an industrialist and Member of Parliament, put Aertex into production at his Manchester mill in 1888. This lightweight cotton fabric, widely and expensively advertised, very quickly became the established fabric for sports shirts and service uniforms, and generations of school children have worn the three-button, short-sleeve, collared shirt made from this material.
‘Why do people tie their ties in only one of four ways?’ ask two Cambridge University physicists, Thomas Fink and Yong Mao, in The 85 Ways To Tie a Tie: The Science and Aesthetics of Tie Knots. In 1999, when the book was written, this male dress accessory was already becoming obsolete and today the tie is not an essential part of correct dressing. For many years, however, all men wore ties in business and formal situations; Fink and Mao’s strategies might have added a dash of brio to the knotting process. The book combines mathematics with stylish creativity and it was disappointing to exclude it from the display.
Stuart Barnard, RBC-Bodleian Visiting Fellow, writes:
Although none of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing presses survive from the 15th century, Alan May has crafted a working press that closely replicates what historians believe Gutenberg’s invention would have looked like. May built the one-pull press for the BBC programme “The Machine That Made Us,” which was hosted by Stephen Fry and aired in 2008.
Last Monday evening, Alan May and Martin Andrews gave an extraordinary presentation in the Upper Library at Christ Church, Oxford, about the development of the press. They discussed how historians have used various illustrations and historical records to determine how Gutenberg’s press and the moveable type were developed. After showing clips of the BBC program in which the metal screw was carved, May described the process by which he was able to build a working press. Those in attendance were then given the opportunity to cast their own type and then pull the lever of the press to print their own page of Gutenberg’s Bible, a passage from 2 Maccabees in the Latin Vulgate, and take home unique pieces of printing memorabilia.
Thanks are due to Cristina Neagu, the Christ Church Librarian, for hosting the session. See more beautiful pictures of this workshop here: http://davidstumpp.tumblr.com/
One of the most visually appealing products of the Aldine press, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, will be the subject of a lecture by Dr Oren Margolis (Somerville College, Oxford), who will discuss the artistic and business background to the production of this exquisitely illustrated and mysterious Renaissance book. Dr Margolis will speak on 6 February in the Convocation House of the Bodleian Library, at 5:30 pm. The lecture is free to attend but please register online:
27 November: the first Bodleian Libraries Fellows Seminar heard from three researchers in the Visiting Scholars’ Centre, Weston Library.
Dennis Duncan (British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries, Centre for the Study of the Book) has embarked on a three-year project to write the history of the book index from late medieval times to the present. Dr Duncan presented to the seminar an early-modern instance of the index used as a weapon of character assassination in 1698 when Richard Bentley was satirized by critics deploring his painstaking philology. An item from Bodleian collections, T. B. Macaulay’s heavily and intemperately annotated copy of Charles Boyle’s attack on Bentley, highlighted the continued fear of the index as a potential distortion, rather than distillation, of knowledge.
Claire Gallien (Université Paul Valéry – Montpellier 3, and BSECS-Bodleian Fellow, 2014) is extending her work on English Orientalism* to a close study of the manuscript collections which informed 17th- and 18th-century scholarship. Working with the Bodleian Oriental manuscript collections, she will be examining the contribution these materials made to English understanding of the Middle East and of Arabic literature throughout the cycle of collection, from their acquisition to their reading and annotation by English scholars.
*L’Orient anglais: Connaissances et fictions au xviii e siècle (Voltaire Foundation, 2011)
Mirjam Brusius (Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Photography, Oxford) is building on her research into the origins of photography* with further examination of the role of photography in historical and archaeological study during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Her presentation to the seminar focussed on the early history of photography in Iran, outlining in that context the adoption of the technology (notably by the Shah, Nasser al-Din) and the adaptation of aesthetics to the production of photographic records of the Middle East in the middle of the 19th century, including albums produced by European visitors which have survived in library and museum collections.
*William Henry Fox Talbot – Beyond Photography (Yale, 2013)
Work in progress from three resident researchers: on 27 November the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book will host a its first evening seminar in the new Visiting Scholars’ Centre. Dennis Duncan, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for the Study of the Book, will talk about his project on the history of the book index, and a case of ‘Indexing with malice in the 17th century.’ Claire Gallien, BSECS-Bodleian Fellow, will speak about her research into British Orientalism, for which she is examining materials in collections of Arabic and Persian manuscripts bequeathed to the Bodleian in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mirjam Brusius, Mellon Post-doctoral Fellow in the history of photography (History of Art), will speak about her current research into the history of photography in Iran.
These notes on the Bodleian’s collection of harlequinades, by Sarah Wheale (Bodleian Rare Books), were first posted in 2008-9, and are presented again in anticipation of the conference taking place in Oxford, Sept. 2014, ‘Forms and formats: experimenting with print, 1695-1815’ See the event posting to register: http://bit.ly/1lWPgxO
A harlequinade (known also as a metamorphosis, flap-book or turn-up book) is composed of two single engraved sheets. The first sheet is folded perpendicularly into four sections. A second sheet is cut in half and hinged at the top and bottom edges of the first so that each flap could be lifted separately. The sheets are folded into four, like an accordion, and then roughly stitched with a paper cover. A verse on each section of the flap tells a simple story usually concluding with instructions to turn a flap to continue. When the flap is turned either up or down the viewer sees that half of the new picture fits onto the half of the un-raised flap, so the act of lifting one flap after another creates a surprise unfolding of the story.
The Library has recently (in 2009) acquired an album of 89 coloured prints dating from the early 1820s. It may have been issued by William Darton Jr. (1781-1854) and his firm at Holborn Hill during the mid-1820s as a sample album to show potential customers examples of his work. It contains a small number of sheets originally issued in 1800 by William Darton Sr. (1755-1819); 11 harlequinades in unfolded sheets with the imprint of B. Tabart & Co., and some sheets bearing Darton Jr’s imprint with dates ranging from 1821 to 1824. This mix of imprints suggests that Darton Jr. inherited some of his father’s old stock upon his death, including some of Benjamin Tabart’s publications which William Sr. possibly acquired in 1811 when financial difficulties may have forced Tabart to sell off some of his stock.
The harlequinades are especially interesting as very few examples survive generally, and four of the eleven Tabart examples in this album are currently untraced elsewhere. There are certainly difficulties locating harlequinades in library and museum catalogues around the world as they can be treated equally as toys, books, ephemera or prints, but as some titles were not located by Marjory Moon in her bibliography of Tabart’s Juvenile Library it seems likely that some of the Bodleian copies may be unique survivals. It is also possible that these eleven titles represent Tabart’s entire output of harlequinades, but that is pure speculation.
Blue Beard. Sold by B. Tabart & Co., June 1st. 1809. Robinson Crusoe. Sold by B. Tabart & Co. June 1. 1809. Veroni or the novice of St. Marks. Published by B. Tabart & Co, June 1. 1809. Mother Goose. Published by B. Tabart & Co., July 1st 1809. Hop o’ my thumb. Published by B. Tabart & Co., Jany. 1st. 1810.. Black Beard the pirate. Published, by B. Tabart & Co., July 1st. 1809. Parnell’s hermit. Published, by Tabart & Co., Jany. 31st. 1810. Exile, as performed at the royal theatres. Published by B. Tabart & Co., June 1st. 1809. Robin Hood. Published by B. Tabart & Co., June 1st. 1809. Polish tyrant. Published, by B. Tabart & Co., Aug. 1st. 1809. A tale of mystery. Published by B. Tabart & Co., Jany. 25th, 1810. Shelfmark: Vet. A6 c.118
See the records of the pictured harlequinades here: