How the Bodleian Library collected playbooks: evidence from Library Records

Tara Lyons (Illinois State University) Sassoon Visiting Fellowship, Bodleian Libraries

Through an examination of the Bodleian’s archive of its own history, the Library Records collection, Tara Lyons has been investigating the earliest arrival of playbooks on the Bodleian’s shelves after the opening of the library in 1602.

The records of books claimed by the library from the Stationers’ Company under the agreement of 1610 , and the binding of books now in the library, combined with clues from printed library catalogues and the lists of locations of books (the order in which they were found on the shelves), helped Dr Lyons to build a picture of the sequence in which some individual plays were received early in the Bodleian’s history, and how they were treated once they were part of the Library’s collections.

In addition to scanning lists of books in the Library Records, Dr Lyons adopted the methods used by librarians in 1905 to identify the Bodleian’s original copy of the first folio edition of William Shakespeare’s plays.[1] In that case the bibliographical detectives took clues from the printed waste that was used in the binding of the book, including fragments of a 15th-century edition of Cicero.

The result in 1906 was a notable re-purchase of a book which in the 17th century had been allowed to leave the library, but by the 20th century was regarded as a treasure.

Dr Lyons’ research promises to amend an impression that playbooks in English found no home in the Bodleian in the decades after its founding in 1602, at a period when English literature was not recognized as a subject of academic study.[2]

[1] The original Bodleian copy of the first folio of Shakespeare (The Turbutt Shakespeare) [by F. Madan, G.M.R. Turbutt, and S. Gibson]. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905

[2] Reliquiæ Bodleianæ: or Some genuine remains of sir Thomas Bodley [ed. by T. Hearne.]p. 278.

Chasing ghosts in the early Bodleian Library

Bodleian benefactors register
27 March 2014: Papers at the Renaissance Society of America 2014 annual conference explored the 17th-century history of the Bodleian Library, opening questions about the ways in which the practices and intellectual aims of individual librarians shaped what scholars at the time could find on the shelves.

Robyn Adams, University College London
Ghosts in the Library: The Hidden Spaces within the Bodleian Library Records
Robyn Adams examined the early history of collecting by Thomas Bodley and his librarian, Thomas James, as this is reflected in the Benefactor’s Register, a printed list of donations in between 1600 and 1604, with manuscript additions of later donations, and in the first printed catalogue, prepared by James and published in 1605. She aims now at the creation of a virtual model of DHL, as it was in 1605, an enterprise which highlights how much of what we know is either made evident, or hidden, by the physical spaces of the library.

Brooke Sylvia Palmieri, University College London
Unpacking the Baggage Books: Acquisition Policies in the First Fifty Years at Bodley’s

Continuing the theme of Robyn Adams’s presentation, Brooke Palmieri told of her own experience in discovering that what’s in the catalogue may not be on the shelf — and vice versa. A spectacular example of this, indicative of how library procedures differ from users’ aims, is ‘Robert Burton’s astrological notebook’, at the shelfmark 4o R 9 Art., which takes on a different character depending on whether it is considered a collection of three separate printed works – namely Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, John Dee’s Propaeudeumata Aphoristica, and Cyprian Leowitz (though, be warned, the name is spelled Leovitius in the Bodleian’s online catalogue record for this item) Brevis et Perspicua Ratio Judicandi Genituras – or as a manuscript notebook, with extensive astrological notes by Burton, which happens to be made up of the printed pages of these works.

Giles Bergel, University of Oxford
Ballads and Other Ridicularia: Cheap Print in Thomas Bodley’s Library
Today the Bodleian has a large collection of ballads and ephemera dating as far back as the 16th century. But, Giles Bergel asked, when did the first broadside ballad enter the Bodleian Library’s collections? Given Thomas Bodley’s well-known execration of “riff-raff” and “baggage books”, in which he included play-texts, this cheap vernacular printed form was probably not welcome among the first acquisitions. When Robert Burton’s (d. 1640) bequest of his books arrived at the Bodleian, Bodley’s second librarian John Rous selected many English-language works, including many literary works, for the library shelves. To be sure, Rous classified a group of small-format vernacular texts as “ridicularia” – but they were entered into the catalogue nevertheless. Later in the 17th century, antiquarian ballad-collectors were John Selden (d. 1654), whose ballad collection was acquired by Samuel Pepys, though many of his books and manuscripts went to the Bodleian, and Anthony Wood (d. 1695), whose ballads were first held by the Ashmolean Museum, and are now in the Bodleian.

Each of the papers added a perspective on how our own research is framed by the concepts of genre and value in library collections, and reminded us that this carries a residue of the practices that shaped these in earlier centuries.

(Re)Constructing the Bodleian’s Index of Literary Correspondence; a post from the Cultures of Knowledge blog

The card index of literary correspondence, in Duke Humfrey's Library
The card index of literary correspondence, in Duke Humfrey’s Library

This recent post from Miranda Lewis, in the Cultures of Knowledge blog, delves into the history of the Index of Literary Correspondence. Kept in Duke Humfrey’s Library, this card index of sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century correspondence in Bodleian collections became a core dataset for Early Modern Letters Online (EMLO), a union catalogue of correspondence from the early modern period.

Ghosts in the Machine: (Re)Constructing the Bodleian’s Index of Literary Correspondence, 1927-1963

Bodleian Portraits Online

Over 300 paintings in the Bodleian Libraries can now be viewed online at the BBC website, Your Paintings. The digital images were made by the Public Catalogue Foundation, a charity dedicated to making the art owned and held in public collections more accessible.

A Little Girl Reading  (unknown artist), from the collections of the Bodleian Library
A Little Girl Reading (unknown artist) [Bodleian Library collections]

The paintings in Bodleian collections are principally portraits. They depict authors of some of the library’s treasured books and manuscripts, as well as the founder Thomas Bodley (1545-1613) himself, donors and librarians and the all-important reader of books.

Others portrayed in Bodleian paintings include:

Explorer and privateer Martin Frobisher (1535?-1594)

in Bodleian collections: Letter of, in papers of the Herrick Family: Summary Catalogue 39669.

Author Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

in Bodleian collections: A draft manuscript of Frankenstein
see the list of Mary Shelley’s Correspondence and papers in the Abinger Collection

Composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

in Bodleian collections: Schilflied manuscript with watercolour by the composer

William Cecil (1520–1598), Baron Burghley  by Marcus Gheeraerts the younger (attributed to) [collections of the Bodleian Library]
William Cecil (1520–1598), Baron Burghley
by Marcus Gheeraerts the younger (attributed to) [collections of the Bodleian Library]

Most of the paintings housed in the Bodleian Library are currently accessible to visitors only by appointment. Visitors wishing to see an individual painting should apply to:

Bodleian Libraries Exhibitions Section

Images from the Your Paintings site can be downloaded for personal research use. See the FAQ ‘What can I do with the images on the Your Paintings site?’ for information about using images from the BBC Your Paintings website.

High-resolution digital images may be ordered from Bodleian Library Imaging Services, (see order form), giving the Accession Number (available in the Additional Information about each painting).

Your paintings screenshot

Digital versions of Bodleian catalogues of manuscripts

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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

2012 Seminar on the History of the Book: Mark Purcell, “The private library in Ireland before the Union”

from Martha Repp

The second in the 2012 series of the Oxford Seminars on the History of the Book was held at All Souls’ College, Oxford, on 27 January, 2012. Mr. Mark Purcell, Curator of Book Collections for the National Trust, spoke on “The private library in Ireland before the Union”.

The first preconception that Mr. Purcell’s paper sought to dispel is the idea, enthusiastically promoted by seventeenth century English propaganda such as Nahum Tate’s lyrics to Henry Purcell’s ode for the centenary of Trinity College, Dublin, that, before English intervention, Ireland was an entirely uncultivated country in which books were more or less unknown, and certainly unread. There is, in fact, evidence of significant sixteenth century Irish book collections. Nor were these collections entirely confined to monasteries and religious houses: as early as 1519, the Earl of Kildare is known to have had a collection of books in his castle at Maynooth. The main focus of the paper, however, was on the period from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.

Anyone interested in researching Irish private libraries labours under a number of distinct disadvantages. The first of these is the lack of a complete national archival record, with the destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922. The second is the lack of extant libraries, with many of the private libraries which are known to have existed having been destroyed, sold, or otherwise dispersed. To learn about these collections, one is therefore forced to rely on evidence other than the books themselves, such as bills of sale, correspondence with book dealers or lists of subscribers in printed books, but these only tell part of the story. For example, if you want to know whether a collection was shelved with the spines facing in or out, you need to know whether the books have fore-edge titles or not. Equally, the lavishness or otherwise of the bindings can indicate the extent to which the owners were using the books to put on a show for their friends and neighbours. Historical shelf-marks can reveal how the books were arranged, and ownership inscriptions can reveal information not only about who owned the books, but about how, where, when and for how much they were acquired, and how they were used.

The difficulties raised by this lack of surviving libraries are compounded by the fact that, of the libraries that do survive, few remain in their original setting, making it harder to gain a picture of the collection as a whole. Some have been absorbed into larger collections, such as the Townley Hall collection, now part of the library of Trinity College, Dublin. Others, such as the collection of William King (1650-1729), Archbishop of Dublin and ardent bibliophile, have been split up among several different locations. Equally, many surviving libraries have not been catalogued and are in very poor condition, and few have been studied in any detail.
Mr. Purcell then went on to consider to what kinds of people these libraries typically belonged. Many belonged to important members of the clergy, typically Protestant, English implants. Scholarship and reading were seen as suitable diversions for a clergyman, and the founding of diocesan libraries was seen as a useful way of promoting the Protestant interest in Ireland. This philanthropic impulse towards the creation of libraries does not, however, always seem to have taken into account whether a library was needed or likely to be used. Landowners were also important book collectors; by the eighteenth century, there was a general consensus that reading and owning books was something that a person of quality ought to do. One preconception about book owning by landowners during this period is that the books were intended for show by insecure social climbers, and were never actually read or used. In fact, the books that survive do show evidence of use. It should also be borne in mind that in Ireland, more so than in England, many members of the landowning classes had risen from comparatively obscure origins, and that many of these were scholars, or at the very least had an interest in books. Examples here include Judge Michael Ward of Castle Ward, a lawyer and book collector, whose son was later elevated to the peerage as Viscount Bangor. The professional classes, such as lawyers, doctors or army officers, also owned books, and were perhaps even more significant as book collectors than were the landowners. Evidence from Irish sale catalogues suggests that, of the libraries offered for sale, only 12% belonged to landowners, with 60% belonging to professional men. Book ownership was not restricted to men; there is also evidence of Irish private libraries belonging to women. Books aimed specifically at children do not really exist before the eighteenth century, but there is no shortage of school and college textbooks, or of books awarded as university prizes.

The books in these private libraries may have been purchased in Ireland; Dublin had a thriving book trade, both new and second-hand. They may equally have been purchased from London and either sent to Ireland or brought back in person, or even imported directly from the continent. The nature of the books is likely to be as varied as the owners who acquired them. There was, however, a distinction between books considered “useful” and books considered “curious”, and many collectors do seem to have been aware of the age, value and condition of the books they were acquiring.

The final question considered was how these books would have been stored, and who would have had access to them. Here, the frequently used term country-house library is perhaps misleading, as it suggests that all the books would always have been stored in the country, when in practice they may also have been kept in houses in town or professional offices. In general, during the period, there is a progression from libraries being kept in private spaces or closets (Archbishop King, for example, is known to have stored his books in a complicated series of numbered boxes), to libraries being public, ceremonial and social spaces. It should also not be assumed that, in important families with large numbers of books, there was only one library or collection of books in a single location. Access to the books was not always restricted to the family; in some cases, friends or connections of the family, or even particularly favoured retainers, were given access. If this is indeed the case, it calls into question the distinction between public and private libraries, and makes the history of libraries less a history of institutions than a history of individuals, networks, and connections.

The final discussion considered all of these issues in more detail, as well as raising new questions, such as whether catalogues for any of these collections survive, and whether the situation in Ireland can usefully be compared to the situation in Scotland.

Oxford’s other treasures: from Mill to Milligan

from Owen McKnight, Jesus College Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventures in Provenance : the Gough Missals card index

from Sarah Stewart

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

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

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

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