Decades of manuscript photography on Digital.Bodleian

from Andrew Dunning, R.W. Hunt Curator of Medieval Manuscripts

Digital.Bodleian is the online home for Oxford’s special collections in the Bodleian and college libraries. Although it is still relatively new – with a second version coming later this year – it encompasses decades’ worth of photography projects. Many of Oxford’s medieval manuscripts are represented in some form, but only a portion of these have a full set of high-resolution images such as the Bodleian studio can now produce.

A recently photographed manuscript: MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 119v
A recently photographed manuscript: MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 119v

This sometimes means that you can find multiple versions of the same manuscript. For instance, the Bodleian’s famous Romance of Alexander, MS. Bodl. 264, appears online in three different forms:

Historical images of manuscripts can be useful to researchers trying to determine what an item looked like in the past or aiming to understand the history of its interpretation. What are the origins of these different sets of photographs?

Collections on 35-mm film

Between the late 1970s and early 2000s, the Bodleian published manuscript photographs on film. Dr W. O. Hassall (1912–1994), a curator of medieval manuscripts, assembled volunteers, popularly known as ‘Hassall’s vassals’, who occupied the Schola Musicae off the Old Schools Quadrangle and compiled image descriptions. Teachers and researchers could buy colour slides and filmstrips to use manuscripts outside the library including such gems as ‘Humanistic script and illumination’, ‘Pilgrimage’, and ‘Diagrammatic and allegorical wheels’. The complete series is listed in a printed index, Colour Transparencies, 35 mm, Available from the Bodleian Library (1983).

The Bodleian Colour Transparencies catalogue (1983)
The Bodleian Colour Transparencies catalogue (1983)

These collections focus on illuminated or decorated books, and were produced either for a particular manuscript or around a theme. This inevitably promoted certain types of manuscripts, and a particular intellectual approach to them focused on illustration. Researchers were already investigating ways to apply computational methods to this collection by 1978. Libraries abroad built up collections and rented them out, such as the Bodleian Library Slide Collection at Purdue. There are a handful of manuscripts in this series that have full film coverage, but most films aimed to give only representative examples.

The library eventually produced over 20,000 slides. ArtStor of New York funded the scanning of the slide collection, which was shipped to the USA for the purpose. Images appeared both on ArtStor and the Bodleian’s LUNA Image Library, the predecessor to Digital.Bodleian, which researchers remember for both its unexpected treasures and frustrating interface. Other large libraries have developed similar projects to repurpose their old photographic holdings, such as the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

These images eventually became part of Digital.Bodleian after 2015. For example, the Laudian Acts (MS. Laud. Gr. 35), a sixth-century copy of the Acts of the Apostles in both Latin and Greek, appears in four film photographs alongside new digital photography). As well as a historical record, these images are valuable for the detailed descriptions which accompany many images and allow you to search out, for example, images of dragons.

Early Manuscripts at Oxford University

Early Manuscripts at Oxford University (originally the Celtic Manuscripts Project) was among the first experiments in digitizing medieval manuscripts. It was a collaboration between the Bodleian Library, Balliol College, Corpus Christi College, Jesus College, Magdalen College, Merton College, and St John’s College. Beginning in 1995, the project photographed almost ninety manuscripts written between the ninth and nineteenth centuries. It focused on major treasures from Oxford libraries to create wider availability for originals which are often too fragile to handle. The photographs were originally available on a separate website.

Digital photography of the late 1990s from Early Manuscripts at Oxford: MS. Hatton 48, fol. 25r
Digital photography of the late 1990s from Early Manuscripts at Oxford: MS. Hatton 48, fol. 25r

This collection includes many of the oldest manuscripts in Oxford libraries, such as the earliest copy of the Rule of St Benedict, written around 700 (MS. Hatton 48); St Dunstan’s Classbook, designed for teaching in the tenth century (MS. Auct. F. 4. 32); and the oldest copy of The Song of Roland, from the early twelfth century (MS. Digby 23b). It also includes some later manuscripts, such as a five-volume set of Fons memorabilium uniuersi, a humanist encyclopedia from the fifteenth century (Balliol College MSS. 238A, 238B, 238C, 238D, 238E). The project was a pioneer in providing open-access digital photography for complete manuscripts. Although the Bodleian’s studio can now produce even more detailed photographs, the images are serviceable for most scholarly purposes and remain a valuable historical record.

New digital photographs

Early Manuscripts at Oxford received government funding, but this disappeared after subsequent cuts. As at other libraries in the UK, collection digitization is now only possible through researchers who make it an element of a broader grant, publishers who produce a facsimile, or the generosity of donors. Partnering with the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, the Bodleian’s latest medieval digitization project is Manuscripts from German-Speaking Lands, digitizing nearly 600 medieval manuscripts in a project funded by The Polonsky Foundation between 2019 and 2021.

New manuscripts usually appear on Digital.Bodleian only when there is a complete set of photographs. Occasionally, part of a book will appear online to support another research project. For example, MS. Douce 180, the ‘Douce Apocalypse’, has selections from 35-mm film; a small set of images made for comparison purposes in The Apocalypse in Oxford project; and now a full set of photographs. The Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries catalogue lists each set of photographs available for a given manuscript.

Digital.Bodleian represents evolving records of collections rather than giving a single representation of a given item. The results of manuscript digitization are increasingly dazzling as photography technology improves, but they do not reduce the value of archival photographs.

The Bodleian Quarterly Record, Vol. II (1917-19); and the Legacy of a Printing Press

Corrected proof of the title page of Three Japanese Plays for Children (detail)
Corrected proof of the title page of Three Japanese Plays for Children (detail)

In 1919, the Bodleian Quarterly Record printed the following notice on the death of Charles Henry Olive Daniel, Provost of Worcester College, Oxford:
‘We regret most deeply the loss of Dr. Daniel, as a good friend of the Library. For many years (though not lately) he occupied his leisure with printing as a fine art, and the beautiful productions of the Daniel Press are well known to all lovers of books. Mrs. Daniel recently offered to present to the Library the hand-press and type used by him, and the offer was very gratefully accepted. Through the kindness of the Controller, the press has now been set up by experts from the Clarendon Press, at the farther end of the Picture Gallery, with the chase, containing the last pages set up, still in place. A small collection of some of the more interesting books printed on it has been arranged on an adjacent table. Though we have plenty of books to show, this is the first time we have been able to exhibit to visitors the means whereby they are produced.’

Portrait of Charles Henry Olive Daniel (1836–1919), Provost of Worcester College (1903–1919), by Charles Wellington Furse (1868–1904). Photo credit: Worcester College, University of Oxford. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/charles-henry-olive-daniel-18361919-provost-of-worcester-college-19031919-224101#
Portrait of Charles Henry Olive Daniel (1836–1919), Provost of Worcester College (1903–1919), by Charles Wellington Furse (1868–1904). Photo credit: Worcester College, University of Oxford. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/charles-henry-olive-daniel-18361919-provost-of-worcester-college-19031919-224101#

The author of a recent book on Daniel and his printing, Martyn Ould, offers this assessment of his printing origins and experience:

‘Charles Daniel learned to print in the family home in Frome, Somerset, where his father Henry was perpetual curate of Holy Trinity. All the family were involved in printing a vast number of ephemeral items: bookplates, printed items for the church, tickets for tea parties, tiny books, programmes for plays, . . . – items that his bibliographer Falconer Madan referred to as ‘minima’. [He added, “Unfortunately there seems to be no dignified and yet suitable term for these waifs and strays, here termed minor pieces. They are what remains when the majestic car of the professional cataloguer has passed by and left them strewn on the wayside. The occupant of the car calls them succinctly and comprehensively trash.”]

‘They printed on a ‘Ruthven’, a parlour press ideal for a Victorian family, but a press that could manage only small items (many of which are pasted into three volumes in the Bodleian: MSS Don. d.94 and d.95 and MS Don. e.227). Nevertheless when Charles left Frome to go up to Oxford the press went with him and it was on that press that he printed one of his rarest items, The Garland of Rachel, in just thirty-six copies. Difficulties with the printing of The Garland led him to replace the Ruthven with the Albion; this had a much larger platen which would have made it very much easier to manage the larger books and pamphlets that were to come from the Daniel Press in Oxford.

‘Daniel was not a great technical printer, but his books have great charm. He printed on hand-made papers, setting his texts – mostly poetry – from founts of some of the famous seventeenth-century ‘Fell types’ which he persuaded Press Controller Horace Hart at the University Press to sell him. He first used Fell type in A New Sermon of the Newest Fashion (1876), the second book he printed at Oxford. He also used a black letter, of which the first example entirely in black letter is The Growth of Love (1890) by his friend Robert Bridges.’

This large Albion was the printing press which was given to the Bodleian. As reported by Philip Gaskell in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society no. 1, 1965, it is an ‘Albion (demy), serial number 539, (1835)’. The maker’s names, Jonathan and Jeremiah Barrett, executors of R.W. Cope, are cast into the staple. Cope was the originator of the Albion press in the 1820s. This cast-iron, lever-operated press was praised by commentators of the time as being simple in construction and durable.

Bodley’s Librarian in 1919, Falconer Madan, had visions beyond a static display of the press. ‘[I]t is in contemplation to print on it a Bibliography of the Daniel Press, with a Memoir of its “only begetter”, and some poems by friends. This will be the first book ever printed within the walls of the Bodleian.’ The catalogue record of this work is in the University of Oxford’s online catalogue, SOLO.

Martyn Ould writes:
‘As well as his books – over fifty in total – we’re fortunate in that two collections of proofs survive from his waste bin. Like early versions of a poet’s final polished verse, they tell us something of his printing practice. They are generally on sheets of newsprint – a suitably cheaper alternative to the expensive hand-made paper of the final book.

A corrected proof from the Daniel Press of the title page of Three Japanese Plays for Children

‘In the proof of a title page shown here he has marked several ‘typos’. The Y for an R in ‘Oxford’ is easily explained: the boxes for those two letters are next to each other in the typecase and no doubt the Y was returned to the wrong box when some other text was distributed. The missing i in ‘Children’ is less easily forgiven.

‘In three further proofs Daniel corrected some errors and toyed with the text; all was well in the published book. The proofs tell us that Daniel did not have a firm habit of reading a completed line in the composing stick before moving on to the next: what must be a first of several proofs of a forme for Three Japanese Plays for Children shows a great many errors, some of which made it through to the final book. Nonetheless, his books are today highly collectable.’

In 1949, library staff and members of the English Faculty established the Bibliography Room in the New Bodleian Library. Practical printing became a regular offering for postgraduate students, just at the time when mechanical processes of type-setting were replacing the hand-composition of type. The enthusiasts from library and faculty supported teaching and demonstration of practical printing, joined by J.R.R. Tolkien and others.

The Daniel Press Albion at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, Old Bodleian Library
The Daniel Press Albion at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, Old Bodleian Library

The Bodleian workshop now holds several other hand-operated printing presses, Albions and other makes, acquired from private presses and individuals. Some of the latest acquisitions were an Albion press owned by Leonard Baskin, whose archive came to the Bodleian in 2009, a proofing press owned and used by Vivian Ridler, Printer to the University, and a rolling press for printing intaglio.

Publications mentioned:
Printing at the Daniel Press (Hinton Charterhouse: The Old School Press, 2011) and The Daniel Press in Frome (Hinton Charterhouse: The Old School Press, 2011). Contact The Old School Press.

Medieval manuscripts: how we are working from home

The Bodleian medieval manuscript specialists have been working from home. Watch this film, and read below, to learn how the online catalogue of medieval manuscripts is being improved, even at a distance from the manuscripts themselves. Take a digital tour of the online resources available to everyone, starting with medieval manuscripts in digital.bodleian, and make a special trip with the Polonsky Foundation to see the Bodleian’s manuscripts from German-speaking lands in partnership with the Herzog August Bibliothek.

Bodleian-Library-MS.-Canon.-Liturg.-55-fol.-16v-detail

by Matthew Holford, Tolkien Curator of Medieval Manuscripts

So, how does a curator of manuscripts work remotely?

Good question! To be honest, we’re still working it out. A normal day used to involve a lot of contact not just with manuscripts but with reference works, many of which aren’t online. Not having access to any of those is going to be challenging. But one thing we can do is work on enhancing the records in our online manuscript catalogue.

Doesn’t the online catalogue already cover all your medieval manuscripts?

It does! But almost all the records are only brief compact descriptions. These give a summary of the textual content and languages used, a broad categorization of the decoration, information on the writing support (usually paper or parchment), and the date and origin of the manuscript. But they often don’t cover all the textual content and generally don’t have any other physical description (e.g. information about bindings) or any information about the history of the manuscripts.

Why wasn’t that information included?

  • Usability; Simply having all our catalogues rekeyed would have been of limited value, for several reasons. Many of them are in Latin, so not very user-friendly; and a lot of the information in the older catalogues needs interpretation and updating to be useful to today’s readers.
  • Accuracy about provenance; The older catalogues were often mistaken about the date or origin of manuscripts. The Bodleian’s summary catalogue of illuminated manuscripts (“Paecht and Alexander”) is much more reliable, and we’ve updated older records with reference to that catalogue where possible.
  • Accuracy about content; It’s usually possible to identify texts in the manuscripts more reliably and accurately. For example the 1922 description of MS. Bodl. 40 contains this snippet, ascribing one text to William of Ramsey:    Snippet from the Bodleian Summary Catalogue

By checking some online databases and chasing up our online bibliography for the manuscript we can see that this text is in fact by Henry of Avranches.

What does that all mean for the catalogue?

Rather than simply reproduce the information in the main printed catalogues, it was decided to create an updated summary of those catalogues that was more accurate in some ways, but less comprehensive in others. The original intention was that the online catalogue would be a way into the printed catalogues, rather than replacing them completely.

But once you provide an online catalogue, users expect it to contain everything.

Exactly; and enhancing the catalogue records is now a major focus of our work at the library. Fortunately it’s something we can continue to do remotely.

How can you catalogue without seeing the manuscripts?

Enhancing the catalogue records doesn’t only result from fresh cataloguing – although that does happen, of course. We also have an ongoing programme of retroconversion – putting all the contents of the printed catalogues online, and updating them as far as possible from key secondary resources, but usually without seeing the manuscripts themselves. This is a much quicker process than fresh cataloguing – it might take a week or more to newly catalogue a manuscript, but on average only an hour to retroconvert a printed record.

So what changes will I see in the catalogue?

Here’s a film to show in more detail how the records are being upgraded.

We’re currently working on records from volume 2 of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue (published 1922-1937), covering manuscripts acquired by the Library before 1697. All records will include more information about the owners of manuscripts and their acquisition; all will include a bit more physical description (number of folios, page size, and binding if early); and many will include much fuller information about the textual contents and languages found in manuscripts. MS. Bodl. 90 is an example. The original record looked like this:

Old record for MS. Bodl. 90

You can see the revised record here.  You can compare the differences for yourself: what stands out for me about this record is the enormous improvement in the accuracy and detail with which the manuscript’s textual content is covered. In other records there might be less new information about contents but more about early owners. In general, as work progresses, the online catalogue will give a much better idea of the texts that can be found in our manuscripts, and of where those manuscripts were in the Middle Ages.

The Bodleian Quarterly Record, Vol. I (1914-16); and Osler’s ‘Illustrations of the book-worm’

"The Old Reading Room ('Duke Humphrey's Library') Opened Nov. 8, 1602" From BQR Vol. I, No. 2, 1914.
“The Old Reading Room (‘Duke Humphrey’s Library’) Opened Nov. 8, 1602” From BQR Vol. I, No. 2, 1914.

The Bodleian Quarterly Record began publication in the first quarter of 1914. The third issue recorded the outbreak of war in August 1914, and each of the following numbers in Volume I, covering 1914 to 1916, included printed lists of staff absent on war duty. Those absent included Miss Frances Underhill, https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/news/2016/oct-18, one of the Senior Assistant Librarians, the first woman to occupy that position at the Library.  The BQR also recorded midnight mobilizations of staff for fire duty, when alarms of Zeppelin raids were received, though no attacks materialized.

Into the twelve numbers of the first volume Bodleian staff poured much useful knowledge: of pre-1200 manuscripts in the Library; of the seventeenth-century Bodleian catalogues of printed books and manuscripts, which influenced bibliographical knowledge and standards well beyond the Bodleian’s walls; and of early Bodleian shelfmarks (call-numbers) showing how books were collected and arranged in the early years of the library’s foundation.

The BQR was printed by the University Press. The first number, from January 1914, contained an error in describing a sonnet by Wordsworth as ‘apparently unpublished’. This number was reprinted for collectors in 1915 and the Wordsworth sonnet page included a footnote stating that, when the error was discovered, the correction was made in pencil; copies of the reprint are also corrected in pencil.

A note from Falconer Madan (Bodley’s Librarian 1912-19) commented that the BQR required 500 subscribers to support the publication costs; it transpired that there were far fewer subscribers than this, and Madan singled out for thanks Sir William Osler, Regius Professor of Medicine and one of the board of trustees — called the Curators — of the Library, for financial support enabling the Record to continue.

Osler contributed an article to the last number of Volume I. ‘Illustrations of the book-worm,’ published in issue Number 12, records a face-to-face meeting between Osler and a living individual of species Anobium hirtum (Illiger, 1807) otherwise known as Nicobium castaneum (Olivier, 1790), or the library beetle.

[A digital version of the article is here:
http://www.historyofscience.com/articles/osler-bookworm.php]

‘In October 1915 I received from a Paris bookseller, M. Lucien Gougy, three volumes of the Histoire abregie de la derniere persecution de Port-Royal. Edition Royale, MDCCL.’ In one of the volumes Osler found a living book-worm, of species Anobium hirtum,* ‘not a native of England, but met with occasionally in the centre and south of France.’

In true scientific fashion, Osler arranged for a portrait of the larva to be made by Horace Knight, natural history illustrator of the British Museum. Knight sent the picture in September 1916, apologising that he had ‘been waiting in hopes the larva would pupate, but it has not even commenced to make a case…’.

Knight’s drawing was printed in colour for the BQR.

Drawings of the book-worm, Anobium hirtum, by Horace Knight, 1916
Book-worm. by Horace Knight, 1916. From BQR Vol. I, No. 12.

In the article, Osler lists works which illustrate book-worms of various species–only partially satisfactorily, he thought. Amongst the works cited are:

Osler noticed that the habitat of the insect he had found matched the provenance of the book, in the south of France. Research connecting the history of books and manuscripts with the biological materials and evidence of animal life found in them is an area which in the past decade has gained notable contributions from Matthew Collins on the animal proteins in parchment https://www.palaeome.org/projects/dnrf-proteios, Heather Wolfe on DNA left by human readers, https://www.washingtonian.com/2019/04/25/shakespeare-dna-hiding-folger-library-vault-project-dustbunny/and Blair Hedges on the species of woodworm which damage the woodblocks made for printing images, and the wooden boards used for the bindings of both manuscripts and printed books. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2012.0926. The research is referenced in Joshua Calhoun’s new book, The Nature of the Page: Poetry, Papermaking, and the Ecology of Texts in Renaissance England.

Though Osler declared in 1916 that ‘Bodley is singularly free from the ravages of book-worms,’ no library can remain complacent, and Preventive Conservation is an important part of the library’s current work. In 1997 the oldest part of the Bodleian, Duke Humfrey’s Library ,was found to be infested with death-watch beetle, Xestobium rufovillosum. That part of the Bodleian was temporarily closed for eradication of the pest and for a more thorough refurbishment to lessen other environmental threats to the books kept there.

Alexandra Walker, Preventive Conservator, writes;

The Preventive Conservation section are responsible for monitoring the libraries collections to ensure the long term preservation by maintaining a stable environment. One of the ways we monitor is through a programme of Integrated Pest Management or ‘IPM’. A robust IPM programme relies on a combined knowledge of the environment, collections, buildings, cleaning routines and trapping for insects. Conservators use sticky traps, known as blunder traps, to monitor which species of insects are entering our libraries. We are on the look out for population changes in ‘library pests’; insects which like to munch on library and archive collections and furniture. These pests might include wood-borers like furniture beetle (Anobium punctatum) similar to those mentioned by Osler, silverfish (Lepisma saccharina), booklice (Liposcelis) or common clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella). By carrying out regular monitoring, we can identify problem areas and make necessary changes, before collections are affected.

*In the drawing made by Horace Knight, Osler’s new acquaintance is labelled ‘Anobium hirtum, Illigar.’ [sic, for Illiger, 1807] https://www.gbif.org/fr/species/1095270  a synonym for Nicobium castaneum (Olivier 1790)

Further notes:

Professor David Cranston tells the story of William Osler’s life, career and character.  http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/william-osler-and-his-legacy-medicine

Additional reading on library pests can be found here:
http://www.whatseatingyourcollection.com/

 

Corrections will be gladly received on entomological or other points – Alexandra Franklin, Centre for the Study of the Book

The irreplaceability of the physical object: examining Persian manuscripts

by Dr Karin Scheper, Conservation Specialist, Leiden University Libraries, and Bahari Visiting Fellow, Bodleian Libraries, 2019-20

Dr Karin Scheper. Photo credit: Ian Wallman
Dr Karin Scheper. Photo credit: Ian Wallman

Thousands of Persian manuscripts are held in the Oriental collections of the Bodleian Libraries, and an increasing number is available online. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/ For the study of the texts and illustrations these digital images are invaluable, as they provide access anytime and anywhere. At the same time, the original manuscripts continue to be of enormous value because things can be learned from the material composition that can never be studied using the digital images alone. We increase our understanding of the use of manuscripts and books, and the historic context of their making, through the physical items.

A Bahari Fellowship in the Persian Arts of the Book made possible my research focussing on the Persian manuscripts in the Bodleian collections, especially those bound in lacquer boards.

See the podcast of Karin Scheper’s 2020 lecture, ‘Islamic bindings as a window on East-West relations’.

Bookbinding traditions differ between cultures because local practices, the availability of materials and cultural cohesion influenced developments. Persian bookbinders worked within the tradition of the wider Islamic world, though they used certain techniques and materials more often or in specific ways.

Bookbinders in the Islamic world used a combination of simple techniques and strong materials that resulted in a functional, durable book. An unsupported link-stitch, a spine-lining and the endbands effectively connected the textblock and binding. This method was used consistently over many centuries for all sorts of texts and bindings, from luxuriously illustrated ones to plain textbooks used for private study, and for elaborately decorated bindings to modestly tooled covers. But when a new technique was introduced in the Persianate world, of painted leather covers which further developed into lacquered boards and gained much popularity, the traditional use of the spine-lining became problematic.

Traditionally, the spine-lining was pasted to the textblock spine to provide stability, and the endbands sewn through it for even more coherence. Then the extending sides at the joints were pasted onto the inside of the boards, to strengthen the board attachment. It used to be the bookbinder who finished the insides of the boards with a doublure of leather, silk or a decorated paper that hid these parts of the lining material.

Bodleian MS. Elliott 104
Bodleian MS. Elliott 104

With lacquer boards, however, the artisans who painted the colourful exteriors also developed decorative schemes for the interior. In most cases they painted a daffodil, iris or dahlia on a contrasting background. The presence of this painting, on the lacquered boards, caused the problem: the bookbinder could no longer adhere the extending side of the lining onto the inside of the board. The change in technique resulted in a more vulnerable board attachment, necessitating the repair of many bindings with lacquered boards in the joints. These later interventions have complicated the study of the historic development of this binding type.

The Bodleian collections appear to hold several nearly pristine bindings with lacquered boards, and my study of the original board attachments was able to shed new light on the construction. I found evidence of a different method to finish the interior joint, specifically developed for these binding types. This knowledge fills a gap in the history of Islamic bookbinding, but is also valuable information for conservators who take care of the collections and develop a treatment approach.

Bodleian MS. Ouseley Add. 183 Fihrist: https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_4800
Bodleian MS. Ouseley Add. 183. Fihrist: https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_4800

A number of the manuscripts with lacquered bindings have painted patterns on the leather spine, though the decoration of the spines is extremely rare in Islamic bookbinding. Some of the geometrical or flowery designs on these spines include the title of the volume, which seems to point at western tastes in the shelving of books; traditionally, the title is found on the tail edge of the textblock as manuscripts were shelved horizontally, the small edge outwards. A spine title suggests a changed placement on the shelf.

Other binding types of full and partial leather that were examined add to our understanding of bookbinding practices in the Indo-Persianate world. Noteworthy is a fairly large number of bindings with leather doublures that extend and cross the inner joint. The part of the leather that is pasted onto the textblock was then finished with a strip of paper that has a zig-zag cut edge, suggesting that the leather was a decoratively cut.

https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_10930
Bodleian MS. Elliott 115, showing cloth satchel. Fihrist: https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_10930

It is fascinating to gain insights into how these manuscripts were carried and handled in the past. A number of cloth bags or satchels have survived as the protective cases of manuscripts collected by the brothers Gore and William Ouseley [https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/weston/finding-resources/guides/middleeast#nineteenth] Some of these enclosures appear to be made of reused textiles and their shape echoes traditional cloth wraps for manuscripts. These may be purely functional protection for the manuscripts during their travels, yet it would certainly have enhanced the experience of displaying these objects, when a beautiful binding had to be pulled out of a colourful satchel.

Nothing can replace working with the tangible objects. Of course, the principal purpose of a bookbinding is functional, though it could be made to also add beauty and value to a manuscript. Historic bookbindings still serve these two purposes, yet for today’s users they have an important extra value. The materials may help to verify the dating of the manuscript and to localise the origin of its making. But what is more, the things we can learn from the materials, the physical characteristics and traces of use increase our possibilities to connect with past practices and help us understand a world long gone.

The Rawlinson copper plates

Rawlinson Copperplates g. 182
Rawlinson Copperplates g. 182

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.

The collection is the focus of a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership, beginning in October 2020, between the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Studies, University of London, and the Bodleian Libraries. Learn more….

Number of items

The number of plates is approximately 750. Lists made at different times indicate that a few items were moved to another collection after arriving in the Bodleian Library.

Where can I find information about this collection?

The essential guide to information about Richard Rawlinson’s life and his multiple collections is the unpublished DPhil thesis by B.J. Enright, Richard Rawlinson : collector, antiquary, and topographer (University of Oxford, 1957). This is available from the Rare Books office in the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections, by application to staff in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room.

The most comprehensive information currently available about Rawlinson’s copper plates is contained in handwritten lists from the early twentieth century, and one printed resource, all kept in the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections. [See link for information about access.] Prospective researchers must be able to navigate both printed and handwritten resources.

Edith Guest's Index to the Rawlinson Copper plates
Edith Guest’s Index to the Rawlinson Copper plates

(1) Reference index, bound as ‘Index to the Rawlinson Copperplates.’ This was compiled in 1900 by Edith Guest. It is kept in the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections, in the Reference section at R. 6.236.
Slips of paper are pasted into a large scrapbook. These contain brief descriptions, arranged alphabetically by principal subject, e.g. a geographical or family name, or genre term, e.g. ‘Business card’. The list includes notes of where the prints from these plates were located in the library, either in Rawlinson’s own collection of prints (shelfmarks ‘Rawl. Prints’ etc.) or in published books.

Paper slip in the reference index, with the entry made by Edith Guest for Rawlinson copperplates g.182
Paper slip in the reference index, with the entry made by Edith Guest for Rawlinson copperplates g.182

(2) Library handlist of Rawlinson Copperplates (Handlist 327)

Library handlist of Rawlinson Copperplates
Library handlist of Rawlinson Copperplates

A transcription of the Edith Guest’s index, presented as a handwritten list arranged by order of shelfmark (call number), to provide a guide for librarians to the order in which the plates are kept on library shelves.

The shelfmarks are in the format:
Rawlinson copperplates / size indicator letter (a = largest, g=smallest) / running number within each size range

The handlist begins with:

Rawlinson copperplates a.1, Map of Anglo-Saxon Britain according to Bede. Printed in Bede’s Historiae Ecclesiasticae libri quinque, opposite p. 653 (edition of 1722), [giving the shelfmark of a Bodleian copy of this item, when available]
[shelfmark] A 15.3 Th.

and ends with

Rawlinson copperplates g.313, The letter A. Printed on p. iii of a circular announcing the preparation of a complete history of the Mallardians, 1752: Gough Oxon. 60(10)

Handwritten entry for Rawlinson copperplates g.182, split across two pages in the library handlist
Handwritten entry for Rawlinson copperplates g.182, split across two pages in the library handlist

(3) The Rawlinson Copperplates: an indexed guide (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Department of the Library, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1988)

(3)The Rawlinson Copperplates: an indexed guide (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Department of the Library, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1988)
(3) The Rawlinson Copperplates: an indexed guide (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation,
Department of the Library, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1988)

Also uses the information in Edith Guest’s index. The entries are arranged in several sequences by subject category, title (i.e. ascribed title of the plate), ‘location’ (i.e. geographical subject), date, author (of the book in which a plate was used), engraver, illustrator (i.e. artist of the image engraved on the plate).
The volume is a printout of information in a searchable database. The Bodleian does not have access to the electronic database. The features of this printed index are that it organizes the listing of plates in several different ways, corresponding to the search functions of the database, and that it introduces new subject categories, grouping the plates under 18 headings.
These are: antiquities, Biblical scenes, biology, coats of arms, coins, commerce, decorative, documents, ecclesiastical subjects, maps, medals, objects, portraits, seals, statuary, text, University materials and Views.
Each plate is listed with an indication of whether the publication information (i.e. the published book in which prints from the plate appear) is available in the Guest handlist, and an indication if unpublished prints from the plate are kept in another collection in the Bodleian.

(4) A very few [currently two dozen] Rawlinson copper plates are entered in SOLO, the Library’s online catalogue. The records of these can be found by an Advanced Search of the Shelfmark field containing ‘Rawl. Copperplate’. [See link for example record: http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph020714490 ]

The ‘Slave Bible’ of 1807

from Charlotte McKillop-Mash, Bodleian Special Collections

The Museum of the Bible  in Washington DC is currently exhibiting the ‘Slave Bible’, a shockingly bowdlerised version of the New- and Old Testaments that was printed in England in 1807, the same year that the Slave Trade Act prohibited the slave trade in the British Empire.
What’s so shocking? This Bible, intended ‘For the Use of the Negro Slaves, In the British West-India Islands’ has been carefully edited to remove any mention of people freeing themselves from bondage. In just one instance, it skips directly from Genesis 45:28 to Exodus 19, so it includes the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) but “disappears” the first eighteen books of Exodus, in which the Israelites escape slavery in Egypt.


I came across this text thanks to an enlightening Religion News Service (RNS) article on the exhibit, which is a collaboration between the Museum of the Bible, Fisk (a historically black university in Tennessee) and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The ‘Slave Bible’ was published by the Society for the Conversion and Religious Education of Negro Slaves, an organisation founded by Bishop Beilby Porteus who was, difficult as it is to believe, a passionate abolitionist. Porteus (1731-1809), an interesting and contradictory figure, was the son of a Virginia tobacco planter (presumably a slave owner?) but was born and raised in England. He was ordained at the age of 26 and rose up the Anglican ranks, becoming chaplain to the king in 1769, bishop of Chester in 1776 and bishop of London in 1787. Porteus criticised the Church’s position on slavery, preached and campaigned against the slave trade, and voted numerous times to ban it. He also, perhaps most ironically, made strong stands for doctrinal purity and theological rigour. Even as he campaigned, however, his Conversion Society was printing and distributing this deeply impure Bible, a publication which can be considered as, at best, politically expedient. [DNB (subscription required) ]  [Wikipedia ]
I was particularly intrigued when I read that “the rare artifact is just one of three known across the world. The other two are housed at universities in Great Britain.” What are the chances, I thought, that Oxford is one of those universities? I asked Jo Maddocks, from the Bodleian’s Rare Books Department, and was thrilled to discover that not only is there a copy here in Oxford, but it has been digitised so it is freely available for teaching.
This eye-opening and disturbing book deserves to be more widely known and I am grateful that the Museum of the Bible has highlighted it.

Portraying a Black African scholar at Oxford in the 1870s — and reimagining those portrayals today

from Pamela Roberts

Images from the Bodleian Library collections: left, John Johnson Collection Minstrels 3 (18d); right, John Johnson Collection Minstrels 3 (2); with a caricature image of Christian Cole in the centre, MS. Eng. a. 2033, fol. 3.
Images from the Bodleian Library collections: left, John Johnson Collection Minstrels 3 (18d); right, John Johnson Collection Minstrels 3 (2); with a caricature image of Christian Cole in the centre, MS. Eng. a. 2033, fol. 3.

‘This is the only image of Cole’. That’s the caveat I append to the caricature image of Christian Frederick Cole, the University of Oxford’s first Black African Scholar in 1873, when I use the image (above, centre) to illustrate a lecture or write an article about him.

Last year the picture was widely used in media promotion of the unveiling of a memorial plaque to Cole, at University College, to honour him and his achievements. Every time I saw a press piece about the plaque with the image of Cole as a ‘minstrel’ adjacent to it, I cringed. Then I started to wonder, why is this caricature, along with other caricature images, the only portrayal of Cole? Who produced it, and for what purpose?

Progressing from these questions and thinking more broadly, I considered Cole’s presence in Oxford, fifty years after the introduction of photography in 1839. Is there a photograph or portrait of him? I considered why Cole’s achievements were portrayed publicly in the form of parody when his contemporaries were commemorated through portraits or statues.

My initial thoughts, reflections and questions about Cole’s imagery developed into a detailed study delving through archives and photographic catalogues of cartoons, caricatures and 19th-century portraits. One collection I looked at was the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, held at the Bodleian Libraries. This is one of the largest and most important collections of printed ephemera in the world, and reflects types of ephemera produced from all periods, especially from the 19th century to the Second World War. I looked at the section on ‘Minstrels’ as the caricature of Cole has a strong resemblance to ‘negro minstrels’ popular at the time. The collection provided a fascinating source of contextual and background information.

This research forms the foundation for the Re-Imagining Cole symposium  which takes place on Saturday 20th October at the Weston Library, from 10.00am – 4.00pm. The symposium will examine the background, context and depictions of previously unseen caricatures of Cole, exploring why Cole and his historic achievements were only portrayed in the form of parodies. The symposium will also examine the broader issues of race and representation in caricatures and portrait art. Finally, the symposium will pose the question, ‘Should Cole’s image be re-imagined?’ A display of items connected with Cole will be shown on the day.

The event will include art historians, artists and academic featuring Dr Temi Odumosu (Malmö University), Dr Robin Darwall-Smith (University College, University of Oxford), Robert Taylor (photographer of ‘Portraits of Achievement’), Colin Harris (cataloguer of the Shrimpton Caricatures collection, from which the caricatures of Cole are taken) and Pamela Roberts (Founder and Director Black Oxford Untold Stories).
The event has also been supported by the Art Fund and the Social History Society. Tickets for the event are £5.00 (£3.00 students, unwaged) and can be booked at:
https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson/whats-on/upcoming-events/2018/october/reimagining-cole

Pamela Roberts at work.
Pamela Roberts at work.

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.

Christian Frederick Cole, the first Black African scholar at Oxford, depicted in a set of 19th-century cartoons

Bodleian G.A. Oxon. 4o 417, fol. 980 (detail): Christian Frederick Cole
Christian Frederick Cole (1852-1885) depicted in one of the Oxford cartoons from 1879.

What images do we have of Black students at Oxford? The picture above is one of the images made of Christian Frederick Cole, the first Black African scholar at Oxford, in 1879. Last year Pamela Roberts, founder and director of Black Oxford Untold Stories, unveiled the first Black Oxford plaque at University College to honour Christian Frederick Cole. Pamela questioned why the achievements of Cole’s contemporaries were commemorated through portraits or statues, while the only images of Cole are in a series of caricatures. The symposium “Re-Imagining Cole”, at the Bodleian’s Weston Library on 20 October 2018, will explore these rediscovered images of Cole, held at the Library, and will examine the background and context of the images. The symposium will pose the question, should Cole’s image be reimagined?

Colin Harris writes about the series of ‘Shrimpton caricatures’, in the Bodleian collection, in which the depictions of Christian Frederick Cole appear:

The Oxford firm Thomas Shrimpton & Son published and sold photographic reproductions of commissioned or submitted original caricatures from their premises at 23-4 Broad St., from 1868-1901, their shop window display seemingly being their only advertising strategy, there being no evidence of them ever having produced a catalogue or list.

The subject matter includes many aspects of University life, notably University and religious personalities, and the trials and tribulations of undergraduate life, as well as sports and pastimes. Other subjects frequently covered are religion, politics, ‘town and gown’ confrontations, and women (the campaign for women to become full members of the University was going on at this time, and women first became full members in 1920).

The caricatures were essentially produced for undergraduates and mainly by undergraduates; many display learned quotations from classical authors and contemporary poets.  In all there are 1214 images. The Bodleian holds what appear to be the only two known complete sets.

Bodleian G.A. Oxon 4o 414
Bodleian G.A. Oxon 4o 414