Copper plates in the Bodleian Libraries

Rawl. copper plates g.310
Bodleian Library, Rawlinson Copperplates g.310

The Bodleian Libraries hold several collections of copper plates dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, amounting to approximately 2000 individual pieces of copper. A brief overview and the available handlists can be found in the LibGuide to printing surfaces.

The majority of these plates were made for book illustrations connected with published scholarship in the sciences, or antiquarian studies. These include the plates to:
Robert Morison, Plantarum historiae universalis Oxoniensis (1680-1699)
Martin Lister, Historiae Conchyliorum (1685-1692)
Edward Lhyd, Lithophylacii Britannici (1699)
Richard Gough, Sepulchral Monuments (1786)

Plates made for a number of other 17th and 18th-century publications survive in the collection of Richard Rawlinson (d. 1755).

Another category of plates are those that were commissioned by Richard Rawlinson (1690-1755) to portray his own collections of other objects, including medieval manuscripts. The Rawlinson collection of copper plates, amounting to some 750 in all and including these commissioned plates, the collected book illustrations and other picture plates, is currently the subject of a doctoral study by Chiara Betti.

Finally, copper plates made for packaging and ephemeral print are held in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, under the headings “Copper Plates for Paper Bags” and “Copper Plates for Bookplates”.

The Morison copper plates

Morison Sect. 15 Tab 7, 'Mosses'
Morison Sect. 15 Tab 7, ‘Mosses’

Morison was Professor of Botany at the University of Oxford. The publishing history of his great work has been studied by Scott Mandelbrote. [‘The publication and illustration of Robert Morison’s Plantarum historiae universalis Oxoniensis’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 78 (2015), 349-379.] Over 290 folio-sized plates were preserved for a projected reprint but were then set aside for some centuries before finding use, allegedly, as the counterweight to a lift in the science library.

One of the Morison copper plates with a plant specimen and a proof print.

A project and seminar in 2019 examined the Morison plates by placing these alongside related material surviving in several Oxford institutions, including plant specimens from the Herbarium, proofs of the plates in the Sherardian Library, and prints at the Ashmolean Museum and at the Oxford University Press made by the same engravers, including Michael Burghers, who worked on the plates for the lavishly illustrated, and ruinously expensive, Morison book.

Optical 3D profile of engraved line
Optical 3D profilometry of an engraved line, by the Laboratory for In-situ Microscopy, University of Oxford

A John Fell grant to the Bodleian Libraries supported Optical 3D profilometry of some sections of the plates, taken by the Laboratory for In-situ Microscopy and Analysis (LIMA), in the Department of Engineering Science. Four days were allocated for the profilometry scanning in January 2019. Examinations were carried out on small portions [c. 4 cm sq, up to 10 cm. sq] of each of the plates. Profilometry enabled close examination of the depth of the engraving marks. Measurements enabled comparison of marks at different parts of the plates. The measurements showed the consistent depth of the lines, the profile of engraved lines (shown in the image) and also demonstrated the raised surface, as expected, of plates from which corrosion had not been cleaned.

The Lister copper plates

Bodleian Library, Lister Copperplates 162 (plate 350), the bear claw clam
Bodleian Library, Lister Copperplates 858 (plate 787 ), Conus Marmoreus

The Lister copper plates of shells and molluscs, from drawings by Martin Lister’s daughters, are the subject of a publication by Anna Marie Roos. [Martin Lister and his remarkable daughters: the art of science in the seventeenth century (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 2018)] https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsnr.2011.0053

Many of the illustrations for Lister’s work depict just one specimen. Many plates in the book therefore bear the assembled imprints of several small pieces of copper.

The Rawlinson copper plates

Rawl. copper plates e.39
Bodleian Library, Rawlinson Copperplates e.39

During his life, Richard Rawlinson built a collection of 752 printing plates. He commissioned at least one-fourth of them to illustrate his vast collections, while the rest of the plates came from auction sales. The copper plates show a wide range of subjects: portraits, facsimiles of documents, topographical views, coins, medals, and seals.

From the early 1720s, Richard Rawlinson used his engravings as a means to facilitate and spread the knowledge of his collections. Besides commissioning original engravings, the voracious collector attended many auctions of books, art, and copper plates. Thanks to Rawlinson’s meticulously annotated sales catalogues, it has been possible to study the provenance of about 80 of his second-hand copper plates.

The Rawlinson printing plates are now the focus of Chiara Betti’s doctoral project. Her research takes a multidisciplinary approach that brings together book history, printmaking, engineering, and history of collecting. Chiara’s research will shed light on the history and provenance of the Rawlinson plates and their manufacture and use in publications both before and after the antiquary’s death.

The Gough copper plates

Bodleian Library, Gough Copperplates d.102

Among the plates of Richard Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments (1786, 1796) are several images engraved from drawings by the young William Blake. The plates themselves are signed by James Basire but, as argued by Mark Crosby, [‘William Blake in Westminster Abbey, 1774-1777,’ Bodleian Library Record 22:2, October 2009] ‘it was common practice for a master to sign the work of his apprentices,’ and Blake was apprenticed to Basire from 1772.

The John Johnson Collection

As a collection dedicated to printed ephemera and the history of printing, the John Johnson Collection in the Bodleian Library holds a few dozen copper plates which were used to print packaging and for personal printed items such as bookplates and calling-cards. These are probably the most recent in date of the copper plates preserved in Bodleian collections.

John Johnson Collection, Copper plates for paper bags

Chiara Betti and Alexandra Franklin

A virtual tour of Dante 1481 in multiple copies

See recording of the online multi-library event on 4 May 2021

See the film demonstrating printing an intaglio plate on a letterpress sheet

A follow-up seminar will take place on 6 July 2021; Registration at this link.

View of intaglio illustration of the 1481 edition of Dante, from Bodleian Auct. 2Q 1.11. The illustration is upside down.
Bodleian Auct. 2Q 1.11, Canto Tertio, detail

[re-blogged from Teaching the Book]

Examining several copies of the same book, especially one printed before 1500, is an enlightening experience. The copy-census is a valuable method for the study of early printing and one which requires personal inspection of copies which may be widely distributed around the world. To do this in person is a long and expensive process. A glimpse of the knowledge gained, though, could be had in a virtual visit to eight libraries, coordinated on 4 May 2021 to look at copies of one particular publication, the 1481 edition of Dante’s Comedia with a commentary by 15th-century Florentine scholar Christoforo Landino.

Although the invention of printing seemed to promise a stream of identical copies from the press, scholars of early printing are well aware that this was not always the result. Stop-press changes and accidents in the press account for minor or sometimes major differences between copies of the same edition. The marks of ownership over several hundred years have added further copy-specific elements to the objects held in libraries today.

Springing happily from a suggestion by Tabitha Tuckett, Rare-Books Librarian at University College London, this international tour co-hosted by UCL and the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book, with support from the Italian Cultural Institute in London and the Bibliographical Society of America, expanded on a growing practice of librarians showing books online using a visualiser. In pre-pandemic times the visualiser or document camera could be used for teaching in a lecture theatre or at a distance; in times of limited international travel it is a way to communicate across institutions, and librarians have grasped the possibility of ‘face-to-face’ comparisons on camera, as at the January, 2021 seminar on Myles Coverdale’s Goostley Psalmes between the Queen’s College Oxford, Beinecke, and Bodleian Libraries.

For a description of the ambitious – perhaps too ambitious – 1481 edition and the drawings by Botticelli which seem to be the source of the illustrations, see this blogpost by Gervase Rosser, Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, The first printed and illustrated edition of Dante’s Comedy

The edition is now the subject of a collaborative copy-census research project co-ordinated by Cristina Dondi, Professor of Early European Book Heritage, University of Oxford, via the Printing Revolution project

The event included short talks on Dante (Professor John Took, UCL and Dr. Alessandro Scafi, Warburg Institute), Botticelli’s illustrations (Professor Gervase Rosser, University of Oxford), on surviving copies (Professor Cristina Dondi, University of Oxford and Secretary of CERL) and on the context of the book’s production (Dr. Tabitha Tuckett, UCL).

Library curators from several institutions gave their time and expertise to this exciting tour which revealed the complexity of the original printing project and the rich history of collecting this edition over the succeeding centuries. A recording of the online event is hoped for. Libraries taking part in the 4 May virtual tour:

·      Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, UK (co-organiser)

·      Library Services, University College London, UK (co-organiser)

·      Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Italy

·      Biblioteca Vallicelliana di Roma, Italy

·      The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, USA

·      The British Library, UK

·      John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK

·      Trinity College, Cambridge, UK

The Bodleian’s copy, which is available in digital facsimile online, includes three printed illustrations; the illustrations to Canto 2 and Canto 3 are each printed from the same intaglio plate, but in Canto 3 this has been printed upside down. A film made at the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press workshop demonstrates how the printing of an intaglio illustration on a letterpress page might have been done by fifteenth-century printers.

Re-blog: Papermaking at home

From the History of the Book blog, Here is an inspiring blogpost by DPhil student Luise Morawetz about making paper, starting with making the paper mould itself, and the wonderful sounds of the vat … History of the Book blogpost by Luise Morawetz

Tracing global connections in a 1730 festival book (from the History of the Book blog, Oxford Medieval and Modern Languages)

A cross-posting from the History of the Book blog, from the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford

Augspurgisches Iubel-Gedächtnüs from 1730 compiled by Johann Michael Roth, Ashmolean
Detail of Augspurgisches Iubel-Gedächtnüs from 1730 compiled by Johann Michael Roth — Ashmolean Museum Library

By Isabelle Riepe

This term‘s focus is the research and writing of a project related to our course Palaeography, History of the Book and Digital Humanities. Having previously studied nineteenth-century carnival illustrations, I wanted to continue with the theme of festivals to trace identity formation through visual dialogue. Through SOLO’s, the Search Oxford Libraries Online Catalogue, tag listing eighteenth-century festival books in Germany, I came across a map of India and script in the Augspurgisches Iubel-Gedächtnüs from 1730 compiled by Johann Michael Roth, a city-musician of Augsburg (Shelfmark: Hope Collection XXVIII.H.6a) – a digitised version can be found at SLUB Dresden.     …

My main interest in this festival book … was a comment in the catalogue on an engraving ‘concerning the propagation of the faith in India‘. I am working on tracing global connections in pretty much everything I find, so this was a phenomenal find, which did not disappoint. As can be seen in the video, a written extract states Danish missionaries in India had commissioned an illustration in Augsburg, which was turned into the biggest illustration of the book. Among the many religious insignia, landscape and groups aimed to represent indigenous people, a map of India and Devanagari script feature at the centre of the illustration titled ‘Vorstellung der Evangelisch-Ost-Indischen Kirche’ (Presentation of the protestant-East-Indian Church). The latter two are exciting finds as they link the German imperial city of Augsburg with global developments and imperial practice of Protestant missionaries in the early eighteenth century. …