28 September 2013

2014 AU/ NZ Rare Books Summer School Schedule Announced

[The following was posted on the ANZ Rare Books and Special Collections Librarians listserv by Des Cowley, Rare Printed Collections Manager, State Library of Victoria]

The State Library of Victoria is pleased to announce that the 9TH AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND RARE BOOKS SUMMER SCHOOL is to be held at the STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA, 10-14 FEBRUARY 2014

The Domed Reading Room, State Library
of Victoria (Image: Random Photons blog)

From Book to Building: Architecture and Design from the Renaissance to the Twentieth Century
(Instructor: Harriet Edquist)

Palladio’s treatise I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture, 1570) was one of the most influential pattern books in European architectural history, setting out rules for architectural design that were transported across the globe and had currency for three centuries. In the nineteenth century Owen Jones’s treatise The Grammar of Ornament (1856) similarly set the fashion for books on design reform.

Drawing on the State Library’s rich collection of architecture and design publications from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century, this course will introduce participants not only to the histories of these books and their authors but also how they influenced some of Melbourne’s most iconic buildings and their interiors.

Harriet Edquist is professor of Architectural History and Director of the RMIT Design Archives at RMIT University. She was curator of the exhibition 'Free, Secular and Democratic: Building the Public Library 1853-1913', at the Murdoch Gallery, State Library of Victoria, 2013-2014.

The Paper Museum: Opening Up Natural History Illustration

(Instructor: John Kean)

The desire to better understand the world through the examination of animals at close range has driven scientific discovery since the Renaissance. The images created over the centuries and preserved in precious volumes comprise a vast ‘paper museum’. From Robert Hooke’s humble flea, as seen through a compound microscope in 1665, to the ‘double elephant’ folios of John James Audubon, rare books provide intimate access to the great minds of science and art.

The State Library's collection encompasses scientific treatises, taxonomic monographs and lavish folios. The volumes reveal the story of exploration, colonisation and scientific advance, as well as shining light on the world's biological diversity. This course will take participants through the history of scientific illustration, while focusing on particular classes of animal, geographic regions and printing techniques. Participants will also have the opportunity to learn directly from contemporary illustrators who maintain time-honoured techniques, with a contemporary twist.

John Kean is currently undertaking a PhD in art history at the University of Melbourne. He is the curator of the touring exhibition 'The Art of Science: remarkable natural history illustrations from Museum Victoria'.

The Poetics of Printing on the Iron Hand-Press
(Instructor: Caren Florence)

Participants in this course will combine the mind, hand and eye with a classic printing process to explore the physical qualities of text. They will experience hand-rolling both wood and metal type and printing on fine papers with an iron hand-press. They will learn to use the type creatively, operate the press safely and control the ink when rolling both small typefaces and large surfaces. The emphasis will be on text as image, with poetry as the main focus.

Caren Florance is a Canberra-based printer. She teaches book arts and letterpress at the Australian National University School of Art and operates the private press Ampersand Duck. Her printing output spans both traditional and less structured textual works.

This course will be held at the Ancora Press studio at Monash University’s Caulfield campus.

Applications will close on Friday 6 December 2013. Due to the rare and valuable nature of the materials that students will have access to, numbers are strictly limited, and early application is encouraged. Courses will proceed if sufficient applications have been received by Friday 22 November 2013 (to give interstate and overseas participants time to make travel arrangements).

All applications will be acknowledged upon receipt (preferably by email), and all applicants will be notified of their selection or otherwise in December.

The fee for each course is A$750. Successful applicants will receive a tax invoice and must pay the full fee by Monday 16 December 2013, by credit card (Visa or MasterCard) or cheque. Confirmation of your place will be made upon receipt of payment.

Further information, along with application form, will shortly appear on the State Library of Victoria website.

For more information, email rbss[@]slv.vic.gov.au.

19 September 2013

'Wants E8', or Does It?: The Melbourne Copy of the Gesta Romanorum

While working through the University of Melbourne incunabula, I happened upon a rather interesting printing error in one of the library's two fifteenth-century copies (in different editions) of the Gesta Romanorum, a collection of entertaining short stories meant for moral edification.

This particular copy is from an edition by one of the many early printers whom we know not by name, but by a particular work from their press: the Printer of the 1483 'Vitas Patrum' from Strasbourg.[1]

The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) attributes twenty-eight works to his press, and records him as an alternate printer for a further six titles. ISTC gives an approximate date of 'about 1484' for the Gesta, though the Gesamtkatalog der Weigendrucke (GW) takes a slightly more cautious approach, offering a date range of between 1483 and 1486.[2]

E8 or No?
A number of penciled notes are present on the front free endpaper. One comment records that the copy 'wants E8' and that this leaf was replaced with a leaf from another book. Upon a cursory examination, this appears to be the case. Turning to where leaf e8 should be, one finds the following:

This leaf, signed k2, is indeed not from the Gesta, but from an edition of Guido de Columna's Historia destructionis Troiae.

After comparing the text with digitised fifteenth-century editions, I found that the Columna leaf matches that of the Historia printed by none other than the Printer of the 1483 'Vitas Patrum', the date given as 'about 1483 ... Also recorded as [about 1485]' in ISTC (the later date provided in GW).[3]

How did leaf k2 of the Historia wind up in the Gesta?

The answer, which changes, not solves, the question, was found on the verso of the leaf:

This text does not correspond to k2v in Columna's Historia, but rather to the text of e8v in the Gesta. Leaf e8, therefore, is not missing at all. Instead, an incorrect text was printed on the other side of the sheet of paper. To confirm my suspicions, I checked the conjugate leaf (e1):



The text on e1r corresponds to the Gesta, while the text on the verso matches k7v in the Historia.

With the conjugate leaves confirmed, the question became not how did a single leaf of the Historia find its way into the Gesta, but how did a sheet of paper come to have text from two different books printed on two different sides, and be published as part of a complete copy?

Unlike ... 'perfected' copies, this sort of confusion is not one that would result from someone making up a copy later from parts of defective copies. It seems certain, therefore, that the error happened in the printing house, and is likely to have been present ever since the book left the warehouse over 500 years ago.

One possible explanation is that the two titles were in print simultaneously and there was a mix-up in the half-printed paper stacks. Perhaps a printer removed the sheet in order to check it and then mistakenly returned it to the wrong stack of paper, or maybe a few sheets were mixed up before the printer realised there was a problem. As the error does not appear in the three digitised copies I used for comparison, the problem was obviously caught and corrected, but not before the Melbourne copy somehow slipped past the corrector.

Instead of a mix-up in the paper stacks, could the sheet in question be in an earlier state?

Shef Rogers, who teaches in the Department of English and Linguistics at the University of Otago suggested:

'You would ... need to check the text of the e sides [in multiple copies] of the later-printed title (if you think the dating of that title as later is correct; if not, you cannot presume an order) to see whether a printer might have simply grabbed a spare sheet of paper (blank on one side, but used on the other and therefore no good for book work, but fine for a proof) and printed the e2/e7 side to proof. Ideally, you'd locate textual variants that might indicate a sense of directionality that would let you determine whether your sheet is the earlier or later state. As a proof sheet, one would expect it to be the earlier state. Of course, there may be no variants, and then the whole hypothesis becomes untestable'.

To resolve the issue would take a census of the surviving copies of the Gesta and Historia in the Printer of the 1483 'Vitas Patrum' editions, to see if the oddly imposed sheet is present elsewhere. It is, however, unlikely that I will be able to take up such a task, so I leave such work (as tempting and appealing as it is) to someone with easier access to other copies and with more knowledge of fifteenth-century printing practices.


[1] A. W. Pollard, in his introduction to the first volume of the BMC, noted the possibility that the texts attributed to the Printer of the 1483 'Vitas Patrum' could have come from the press of another Strasbourg printer, Johann Grüninger. He admitted, however, that 'the evidence for positively assigning them to him is insufficient' (1:xix).

[2] Gesta Romanorum [Strasbourg: Printer of the 1483 'Vitas Patrum', about 1484]; ISTC ig00287000, GW 10892.

[3] Guido de Columna. Historia destructionis Troiae [Strasbourg: Printer of the 1483 'Vitas Patrum', about 1483]; ISTC ic00772000, GW 7229.

06 September 2013

Update: Shakespeare Folios and Senate House Library

[Posted on SHARP-L by Simon Eliot, Professor of the History of the Book at the School of Advanced Study, University of London]

Decision on Shakespeare Folios
The University of London this evening announced that it will not be continuing with its consultation over the potential sale of four Shakespeare Folios. However, the development of its Senate House Library Special Collections remains a priority.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Adrian Smith, said: “The University has decided to focus its attention on examining alternative ways of investing in the collection. The money raised from any sale would have been used to invest in the future of the Library by acquiring major works and archives of English literature.”

Sir Adrian explained that the decision not to continue with the consultation on the proposed sale had been reached in view of the feedback already received from the academic community.


James Pestell
Director of Marketing and External Relations
University of London
Senate House

04 September 2013

Petition Against Proposed Sale by Senate House Library of Its Four Shakespeare Folios

[Reposted from The Fine Books Blog]

Word circulated on several electronic discussion lists yesterday that London's Senate House Library--the central library of the University of London--plans to sell four Shakespeare Folios at a Bonhams auction this November. The immediate effect of the sale would be to create an endowment in order to attract more readers and push for restoration of government funding lost in 2006.

Professor H.R. Woudhuysen at Lincoln College, Oxford, sent a long letter last week to Christopher Pressler, director of Senate House Libraries, responding to Pressler's request for 'support' in his decision to sell the folios. Woudhuysen, also vice-president of the Bibliographical Society and co-general editor of The Oxford Companion to the Book wrote, "I have come to the conclusion that I am not able to offer the support that you seek and that I am entirely against any such move." He goes on to say, "On the basis of the documents that I have seen, it seems to me that the sale and its implications have not been thought through properly and that the Trustees have already taken a decision to sell the books through Bonhams, making any public consultation merely decorative. The decision will, I hope, attract a great deal of opposition from supporters of Senate House and if executed, it will, I fear, make many who are supporters of the library and possible donors to it turn their charitable interests elsewhere."

Book historians and special collections librarians on the ExLibris and SHARP-L lists (and Twitter) noted that this type of "asset stripping" in collections is hardly new and should be carefully scrutinized. Library-donor relations are a major theme of this conversation, as many wonder how to trust a library that renegotiates the status of a gift fifty and one hundred years on. The folios in question were donated to the university by Sir Louis Sterling in 1956; as a group, the four have been together since the 1830s. The SHL's website calls the Sterling collection, "an unusually integrated resource for research on the transmission of English literary texts from the 14th century to the present day."

While Professor Woudhuysen did receive a "bland reply" from Pressler in response to his letter, the SHL has not issued an official statement on the auction. A request for comment sent to Mr. Pressler yesterday has not yet received a reply. 

Today, The Bibliographical Society joined the debate by starting a petition that urges the SHL to "reconsider the proposed sale of its first four Shakespeare Folios." After signing his support on that page, antiquarian bookseller Laurence Worms commented, "I teach at the London Rare Books School at Senate House. This proposal damages the very basis of all we try to do."