The prize will be of two parts: a payment of £600 to the winner, and an allowance of £300 for a book to be purchased for the Bodleian Library’s collections, selected by the winner in co-operation with the Bodleian’s Curator of Rare Books.
Jessica Leeper, Exeter College, Oxford
DPhil student in History
shortlisted for the Colin Franklin Prize for Student Book Collecting, 2021
My antiquarian collection began by chance in the winter of 2011 on a snowy day in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There I discovered an illustrated 1946 edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in a tiny downtown bookstore. Since that day my collection has grown to include over 230 volumes and prints, spanning the period between 1484 and 1980. Though my collection includes a variety of themes, there is one overwhelming theme that has become increasingly evident in my collecting. As a student of history, I have focused my research since my undergraduate days on the lives and works of the American presidential Adams family. My undergraduate, masters and now DPhil research has been an examination of the political lives of John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa Catherine. Because of my interest in them, I have acquired a significant number of books and prints related to their life, their times, and their library. The association has led me to collect books which are not only antiquarian and beautiful, but also extremely useful for my research.
Most notably, I have a first edition copy of William H. Seward’s Life and Public Services of John Quincy Adams, published in Auburn, New York in 1849. I also have several newspapers of the General Advertiser, the Edinburgh Evening Courant, and the Nile’s Register, documenting the American Revolution up through Adams’s cabinet career in the early 1820s and the tumultuous election of 1824. The General Advertiser copies have Adams’s name inked at the top of the first page, indicating that they may have been delivered directly to his office in Washington D.C.
However, the majority of my books and prints are those that were directly mentioned in the Adams family’s letters and diaries and appear on the listings of their private library collections in Boston. Many of these are classical texts, such as my 1653 works of Statius, and Lucan’s Pharsalia. My copy of the latter was printed in Leiden in 1612, and it is the oldest book in my collection, still maintaining its original vellum binding and red wax seals on the pastedowns. This gorgeous duodecimo bears the signature of its 17th century owner, Peter Wybrants, who does not let me forget that it is still “his booke.” Being able to claim something as mine from a year when Shakespeare was still alive is extraordinary to me.
I also have a large number of texts that were written in the 18th century, which would have been household names to the Adamses and their circle of acquaintances. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele’s The Spectator was read again and again by the Adamses, and was referenced often in their letters. My set of The Spectator was published by Jacob Tonson in 1726, and they are some of the most beautiful books in my collection, still appearing polished and practically untouched. However, the crown jewel of my collection is my first edition two volume set of Henry St. John Bolingbroke’s Letters on the Study and Use of History, published by Andrew Millar in 1752. This work was also referenced in the Adams family writings, but my set is uniquely fascinating: these two volumes bear the 19th century library stamp of the first Earl of Lovelace, who was married to Ada Lovelace, the brilliant daughter of Lord Byron. It is astounding to me to own two books which once belonged to their home.
Why I Collect Antiquarian Books
Old books offer a direct physical access to the past, while also revealing a glimpse of the passing of time. Old books offer first-hand physical evidence of the lives of our predecessors, their social norms, their popular culture, the kind of collections they might have had. Collecting antiquarian books allows me to engage in a form of micro-historical case studies, with primary sources on my own shelf for my own leisure and study.
I like to imagine that the Romantic poets would sigh to see how their own books have lasted and aged, to see my 1847 Waverley Novels for instance. I think they would be amazed to see how their books have ignored the passing of time and have denied the end of their own familiar eras. Though their books have been cast into this new world of technology, industry and speeding lights, they remain like picturesque ruins standing monumentally out of place in a futuristic world. They are a reminder that life was different once.
With all of my books I like to imagine their origins – the sort of print shops they came from, what the printer looked like, etc. How many were in great and noble libraries? How many were thoroughly abused by uninterested students? How many were read or printed during wars? How many were the last book someone ever read, or someone’s favourite book they ever read? How many were never read even once? How many were read in horse drawn coaches, or carried along to spring hillsides? How many have never been overseas, or have sat on shop shelves for years before I came along? How many have seen politicians like the Adamses, or suffragettes, or servants and lords? How many were cherished as much as I cherish them now? I like to imagine women in corsets and men with cravats reading them, some lounging in a sitting room by a winter’s fire, some hunched over a desk reading by candlelight. Some of my books are fourteen times my age, reminding me that I am only a passing figure in their long existence, a number in its list of owners. Antiquarian books are incredible relics, and I consider it a sort of job looking after them all. I am all in one the historian, the conservator, the curator, the archivist, the exhibition curator, and the amazed museum spectator.
Elisa Cozzi, The Queen’s College, Oxford
DPhil student in English Language and Literature
shortlisted for the Colin Franklin Prize for Book Collecting, 2021
Irish gothic novels were among the first examples of the genre and greatly influenced later authors who played a key role in the development of the novel as a literary form, including Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Walter Scott. Unlike Ann Radcliffe’s popular gothic romances, set in a vague medieval past in faraway southern Italy or France, Irish gothic novels such as Regina Maria Roche’s The Children of The Abbey (1796) and Clermont (1798), Sydney Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl (1806), and Charles Maturin’s The Milesian Chief (1812) and Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) share Irish settings, characters, and themes. They deal, directly or indirectly, with Irish history and politics and were influential in the development of Irish literary nationalism.
Roche’s The Children of the Abbey, once among the top bestsellers of the Romantic Age, has had a lasting impact on my studies. While researching material for my undergraduate dissertation I purchased a mid-nineteenth century illustrated edition of The Children of the Abbey from an independent Irish bookshop (John’s Bookshop in Athlone, Co. Westmeath). Printed by William Lane and A.K. Newman’s infamous London-based Minerva Press, which specialised in gothic novels and became the most prolific popular press of the age, my copy is a small one-volume edition, measuring 3x5x1.5 inches and bound in rib grain book-cloth with faint remnants of gilt ornaments on the spine. Although it is undated, the title page of the volume is signed “Elizabeth Jessop, 1859” in faded black ink, while the front free endpaper displays a handwritten place name, “Doory Hall, Co. Longford”.
Intrigued by these allusive traces of past readers, I discovered that the Jessops were an Anglo-Irish family of the landed gentry, with their seat in Doory Hall, near Longford. I also found (in Burke’s Peerage) that Frederick Thomas Jessop, Esq. had a child called Elizabeth, born between 1839 and the early 1840s. Thus, she would have been around fifteen or twenty years old when she put her signature in this copy in 1859: the perfect age to enjoy what was, by then, a good gothic classic. I find it fascinating that although the Jessops’ extensive library was sold upon the family’s demise, and their big house fell into ruin in the 1920s, a few of their books, like my own copy, survived to tell the forgotten tale of their past owners. This exciting discovery initiated me to the study of the book as material culture and inspired me to research the history of the Minerva Press and its gothic output. During my postgraduate course at Oxford I turned this research into a paper on Bibliography and Book History and included a bibliographical analysis of my own copy of The Children of the Abbey.
Although technically belonging to the genre of the ‘national tale’, Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl contains strong gothic elements and themes, including a ruined castle on a cliff, a sensitive female protagonist, an ancient crime, and a nocturnal, blood-chilling plot twist. What most struck me upon a first reading was the presence of constant comparisons between Ireland and Italy throughout the novel. Irish places, traditions, landscapes, literature, and art are continually juxtaposed with their Italian equivalents. While the evocation of Italy and things Italian in gothic novels was mainstream, as Italy had been shaped as ‘quintessentially gothic’ since Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797) and The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), I soon realised that, in the Irish context, the Irish-Italian comparisons served a political purpose. In the early 1800s, when The Wild Irish Girl was published, both Ireland and Italy were grappling with foreign domination, fighting to gain independence from England and Austria, respectively. Thus, by bringing Italy and Ireland together, the radical Owenson (one of the founders of Irish cultural nationalism) framed Italy as a compelling mirror-image of Ireland, the epitome of a ‘nation’ oppressed by foreign powers, a politically subversive ‘double’ of Ireland. After all, ‘doublings’ and ‘mirrorings’ are classic features of gothic narratives.
The Wild Irish Girl alerted me to a previously unappreciated wealth of Irish-Italian literary connections in the Romantic period, and has directly inspired my doctoral thesis topic. In the case of Irish gothic novels especially, Ireland and Italy are often brought together and personified in overtly political romance plots. A good example is Charles Robert Maturin’s The Milesian Chief, which tells the story of an Irish-Italian girl called Armida Fitzalban who, although promised to an Englishman, travels to Ireland and falls in love with the Irish Connal O’Morven, the descendant of a dispossessed Gaelic prince, and fights alongside him in a rebellion against the English. A similar politicised Irish-Italian plot is at the centre of Bianca: A Tale of Erin and Italy (1852), another forgotten gothic tale by Maturin’s son Edward. These avenues of research brought me to my current doctoral project, which looks at the literary connections between Italy and Ireland in 1798-1848, with a particular focus on the literary production of Irish exiles and expatriates in the Italian peninsula.
No Irish gothic collection would be complete without the Victorian classics Carmilla (1872) and Uncle Silas (1864) by Sheridan Le Fanu, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). The last notable Irish-Italian novel in my collection is a second edition of Luttrell of Arran (1863) by Charles Lever (1806-1872). My 1866 edition is enriched by 44 illustrations by H.K. Brown and has an emerald binding embossed with Celtic patterns. Partly set in Italy and containing humorous-gothic tropes, Luttrell was written in Trieste (about an hour away from my hometown) where Lever, predating James Joyce, spent the last years of his life.
Despite their critical neglect, the enduring appeal of Irish gothic classics is reflected in contemporary publications. For example, Sarah Perry’s Melmoth (2018) reimagines Maturin’s masterpiece in a feminist key, while Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Deathless Girls (2019) tells the untold story of Dracula’s three vampire brides.
 John Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Colburn, 1847): 649.
Yvette Siegert, Merton College, Oxford
DPhil student Medieval & Modern Languages
In order to consult the historical archives in Cartagena, Colombia, you have no choice but to visit the Palace of the Inquisition. You climb a grand colonial staircase, past displays of religious iconography and authentic torture devices, to the only air-conditioned room in the building. There you meet with Don Aníbal, the archivist, who invites you to sit in front of a blinking computer screen and describe what you are looking for. Birth certificates, newspaper folios, fin-de-siècle magazines, city plans, or revolutionary pamphlets – it makes no difference: Don Aníbal can coax almost any resource out of the cumbersome digital database that only he can decipher.
The problem lies in procuring the desired item itself, since it may no longer be available. One of the obstacles to preserving materials in Cartagena is the intense year-round tropical heat and humidity. Onsite documents have suffered the effects of dampness or flooding; various irreplaceable volumes have disintegrated owing to disorder or neglect. Digitisation efforts have not been able to keep up, and many documents of national interest are stored in far-off Bogotá, the capital of Colombia.
My aim as a collector parallels my research aims as a D.Phil student: to understand how Cartagena managed to survive its century-long stagnation since Independence and become a central inspiration for important works of Spanish American political thought and cultural production.
The reason my collection keeps expanding – one extra suitcase per visit – is owing to my desire to develop my D.Phil thesis into a cultural history of the city, one that will not only trace its broader intellectual and literary currents but also incorporate details of its astonishing contradictions and inequalities, while capturing its vibrant whimsy, resilience, and creativity. This book collection is a loving act of resistance against forgetting the history of a city that is not only essential to my intellectual growth but also, I’ve discovered, a part of my family heritage.
Some items came into the collection thanks to my friendship with Ibeth, the first person I ever met in Cartagena. Ibeth – we share a name – manages Librería Los Mártires, a famous makeshift bookstall in the archway of the clock tower in the heart of the city. During my fieldwork, I’d visit her on most days and stay for a cup of hot tinto under the breezy arches. Ibeth introduced me to Ruby Rumié’s Tejiendo Calle/Weaving Streets, an artbook from a ground-breaking exhibition, at Nohra Haime Gallery, that portrayed fifty of Cartagena’s famous Afro-Colombian palenqueras, or street vendors, who are depicted in brochures and guidebooks in familiar costumes bearing the colours of the Colombian flag. This exhibition called urgent attention to the women’s exploitation in a gentrifying city where they are icons of its largest economy.
My favourite workplace in Cartagena is a bookshop named Ábaco, where the shop-sellers let customers sit for hours with a book and a glass of coffee (or cocktail). There I obtained Ortíz Cassiani’s account of the Cartagena railway, a rare work of scholarship that shows how the ‘devil train’ modernised the city and connected it to the interior metropolitan centre.
One of the most unusual items in my collection is the recent full-length comic Lezo, about the blind, one-legged hero who miraculously staved off an invasion by Sir Edward Vernon, who was so confident of a victorious plunder that he had celebratory commemorative coins minted in England ahead of his sea voyage. This book, crowd-sourced and self-published in Spain, calls attention to a nearly-forgotten hero of Spanish America.
Collecting books about Cartagena is part of an attempt to resist the erasure of the city’s past while remaining hopeful about the prospect of peace in Colombia. That optimism is sustained by the friendships that make my collection possible.
Books mentioned in this extract:
Rumié, Ruby. Tejiendo Calle/Weaving Streets. Cartagena de Indias: Villegas, 2018.
Ortíz Cassiani, Javier. Un diablo al que le llaman tren. Bogotá: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2018.
Miranda, Ángel et al. Lezo, Parte I: La toma de Bocachica, illus. Guillermo Mogorrón. Madrid: Espadas de Fin del Mundo, 2020.
I am grateful to the Socity for Latin American Studies, the Clarendon Fund, and Merton College, Oxford, for research funds that made it possible to carry out my 2019 fieldwork in Colombia and acquire several items for this collection. – Yvette Siegert
The 2017-18 Colin Franklin Prize for book-collecting has been awarded to Ekaterina Shatalova (Keble College), for her collection of works by and about Edward Lear (1812-1888), the poet and illustrator famous for limericks in A Book of Nonsense, and for poems recounting the nautical adventures of The Owl and the Pussycat and the Jumblies (‘who went to sea in a sieve’). Writing about her collection, Shatalova recalls first encountering the nonsense poetry of Lear and other English writers in a Russian translation. Her research at the University of Oxford is on the subject of nonsense poetry, and the special challenges of translating the mixture of verbal and visual forms in this genre. As part of the Prize, Shatalova has consulted with librarians on the purchase of a book for the Bodleian’s Rare Books collection. The next competition for the Colin Franklin Prize will be announced in October, 2018.
About the Colin Franklin Prize: The prize is offered in honour of Colin Franklin, the distinguished author, book collector and bookseller who has over many decades encouraged numerous young book collectors at the University. It is funded by Anthony Davis. The prize follows the tradition of similar prizes awarded at Cambridge and London and at universities in the United States and Canada. It is intended to encourage book collecting by undergraduates and graduate students of the University by recognising a collection formed by a student at the university. The prize is announced each year in October. For information see: www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/csb/prizes