Rare Book Cataloguing: The Case of the Blurry Page

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Sometimes in rare book cataloguing you come across something that requires you to flex you analytical bibliography muscles. It can be amazing what you can gather from the study of the physical form of a particular volume.
In the following case we managed to learn quite a bit about the printing practices in Cologne during the 1470s from the study of one page.

 

So, one day I was merrily cataloguing CRC Inc.S.16/2 (De excidio Troiae historia. Not printed after 1472) when I turned a page and found this:

Not actually a bad photograph, but a badly printed page. Possibly what is known as a “slur” where the platen (we’ll get into that later) moves during the printing process and causes the ink to smear. But more likely the platen was lowered twice on the same page, whether on a one- or two-pull press is open to debate.

So far, so what. ¯\_(シ)_/¯

Well, it occurred to me that there was only one mis-printed page. In the printing process there will always be a partner page printed on the same sheet, which is then folded. So, I checked the partner of our mis-printed page and found that it wasn’t blurred. This book was a quarto which meant, as I’m sure you’re all thinking, that that was impossible.

Okay, so a lot of jargon there. Let me break this down.

This is a diagram of a hand-pulled press. Showing the frisket, tympan, forme, press stone and the aforementioned platen.

(Public domain image made available by Smithsonian Libraries (AE25.E53X 1851 Plates, t.7, “Imprimerie en caracteres,” plate 15))

 

  • Frisket: Used to hold the paper in place on the tympan and to mask off areas that you don’t want printed.
  • Tympan: Holds the paper using small pin-like pieces of metal.
  • Forme: The name given to the frame that the type is tightly packed into.
  • Press Stone: The frisket and tympan are folded onto the press stone.
  • Platen: Is the part of the press that applies the pressure to the paper on the forme.

 

The illustration above is actually a two-pull press. In this case the press is set up for a quarto sheet with four pages to be printed. The stone is rolled under the platen once, the platen is pressed down printing two pages, then it’s lifted and the stone is rolled further in and the platen is lowered again, printing the final two pages.

In the case of a one pull press, the platen is lowered once. If it’s a folio then one page is printed, if it is a quarto then two pages are printed. After it’s printed, the forme is reset with the next page(s) to be printed.

Now the complicated bit.

Let’s talk about formats. Folio, quarto, octavo, etc.

The format of a book is determined by how many pages are printed on a sheet and how many times that sheet is folded.

So, for example, one sheet of paper is printed on both sides, then folded once.

This is a folio. It’s folded once along the y-axis. Giving two leaves or four pages.

 Front of sheet

Back of sheet

The Folger Library has an interesting website that lets you play with Shakespeare’s First Folio where you can assemble sheets into “gatherings”.

This is a quarto. It’s folded twice. First the y-axis, then the x-axis giving four leaves or eight pages.

 Front of sheet

Back of sheet

Check out this video to see how it’s done.

Octavos are folded three times, giving you eight leaves or sixteen pages. And so on …

Okay now that we’re all experts on formats, let’s stampede over to chain lines.

 

Chain lines are formed during the paper making process. The mould used to make the paper is dipped into a vat of pulped linen and the water is sieved away leaving behind an impression of the mould.

Check here to see the process.

The mould consists of wire sewn onto supports, it’s these supports that leave the chain line impressions.

Here’s a paper mould.

The thicker, vertical lines you can see are imparted onto the sheet of paper during the paper-making process and will end up looking something like this.

Chain lines help to determine the format of a volume. With a folio the sheet is folded once along the y-axis, therefore the chain lines will be vertical on the page. If there is a watermark (and there isn’t always!) it is placed on the right-hand side of the sheet.

In the example below there’s a watermark on the right-hand sheet and a countermark on the left. When the sheet is folded the chain lines will be vertical and the watermark will be in the centre of the page.

Folio

 

With a quarto the sheet is folded once along the y-axis, then once along the x-axis therefore the chain lines will be horizontal on the page. The watermark will be in the gutter, often difficult to see, especially in tightly bound books.

Quarto

 

Phew! Okay, we now have all that knowledge, so here’s why that blurry page is so weird. The chain lines and watermarks in the book show that it is a quarto. And if you remember from before, quartos are printed either two or four pages at a time, so how can there be only one mis-printed page on a sheet? The conjugate page should be mis-printed as well.

When the platen lowered the mis-printed page should have had a mis-printed partner:

 

If the red page is the mis-printed page, then the green page must be mis-printed because the platen would be lowered on the both at the same time.

No such mis-printed partner existed.

Headaches ensued.

More headaches.

Much sighing.

Light-bulb!

This volume was printed before 1472, we know this because the rubricator (someone who would emphasise areas of the text with red ink) very kindly dated his rubrication. So, it’s a very early quarto. What if the printer viewed printing a quarto like printing a small folio?

Possibly they used a half sheet and imposed the quarto as a folio, and then printed it a page at a time. That would allow for only one page to be mis-printed. We checked the watermarks and chain lines and established that these were indeed half sheets.

Calls went out on Twitter; colleagues were asked for their opinions. Robert MacLean at the University Glasgow put us on to Karina de la Garza-Gil at the University of Cologne who confirmed that the common practice for Cologne printers at that time was to print quartos in half sheets one page at a time.

All that was left was to work out how it happened.

There is no smearing of the ink, and the first printing is sharp if faint. This makes it unlikely that anything twisted or moved, so perhaps the printer lowered the platen once and changed their mind before lowering it with the required force a second time.

The final mystery: was it a one or two pull press? It would be pure speculation to decide either way. Arguments could be made for either. At this point you really need to be able to read the mind of a printer from five hundred years ago. What we do know is that printing quartos on full sheets on a two-pull press became common a few years after this particular book was printed.

In the end what this does show, is how much information can be gleaned from analysing the physical properties of a book. From one mis-printed page we established the printing practices in Cologne from five hundred years ago.

And that end’s the tale of the blurry page!

A Suffragette Belt

The CRC has recently acquired a rare belt previously owned by a Scottish suffragette. The belt has already been attracting lots of interest on Twitter so we’ve been exploring where it sits in the context of Suffragette textiles and symbolism.

DSCN0253The belt is made from a strip of ribbon, embroidered with enamelled motifs in the signature white, green and purple associated with the suffrage movement. It has a pink lining on the reverse and a gilt buckle fastening. The belt is in amazing condition despite some oxidisation of the silver in the ribbon, leading the silver threads to turn dark grey.

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Old Books, New Discoveries: The Tale of a Feather

Our blog post today comes from History of the Book student and CRC volunteer Allie Newman.

The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections (CRC) is home to over 300 examples of Western medieval manuscripts, ranging from single leaves and fragments to large bound tomes. While it can certainly be said that this collection represents some of the oldest material in the library, it cannot be said that everything in the collection has been exhaustively examined, even given the items’ relatively long existences. Despite the great age of the items, they are still producing new discoveries in terms of textual content and physical structure, both of which inform our understanding of their individual histories and book history as a whole. I recently made a very interesting, if very tiny, discovery that could hopefully shed some more light on the medieval scribal and artistic processes.

MS 33, a 15th century illuminated Dutch gradual (or songbook), is a large and somewhat unwieldy volume, and is known as the source of the illuminated piper that graces the logo of the Friends of Edinburgh University Library. The piper is actually part of a richly decorated floral border that surrounds a page of music, further embellished by a large illuminated initial (folio 10 verso).

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Art for Industry in the 19th Century

Within the Edinburgh College of Art Rare Books collection are a number of manuals or instructional books which were published for the purpose of encouraging good design practice in both artisan and industrial production. This is not surprising when we consider the history of the college. Established as the Trustees Drawing Academy of Edinburgh in 1760, the purpose of the college was to provide train designers working in the manufacturing industry, such as pattern designers or engineering draughtsmen.

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In the 19th Century there was a concern that the mechanised manufacturing processes which contributed to the industrial revolution were having a negative impact on the artistic quality of design for industry. This resulted in the publication of numerous books and journals providing guidance and inspiration for designers. Two books, The Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament & Costume and The Art-Workman show the different approaches authors and publishers took. Continue reading

Visualising the Scott Monument

In Semester 2 this year, we had a number of first-year architecture students visiting the CRC to research historic Edinburgh buildings. There have been enquiries about Old College, New College, and the National Museum of Scotland, but the most popular building by far has been the Scott Monument. Designed by local (and self-taught) architect George Meikle Kemp (1795-1844) and constructed between 1840 and 1846, the monument is a defining feature of Edinburgh’s New Town.

The CRC’s Corson collection of books by and about Sir Walter Scott contains plenty of books about the Scott Monument, including Thomas Bonnar’s Biographical Sketch of George Meikle Kemp (1892), as well a few oddities (a Scott-themed thermometer and even a bar of soap!). Further information about the Corson collection is available online. 0030068d Two bars of soap illustrated with the Scott Monument and Edinburgh Castle. One of the most distinctive images of the Scott Monument in our collection is an early calotype, circa 1845, taken by Edinburgh photographers D.O. Hill and R. Adamson. 0012164c The calotype process, developed by Henry Fox Talbot in 1841, used silver iodide to produce paper negatives; these were then printed onto silver chloride, or “salted paper”. The original prints are extremely sensitive to light but we have digitized our entire collection of about 700 Hill and Adamson calotypes. You can view them online here: http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/UoEcar~4~4

Anne Peale, CRC Evening Assistant

Musical Marginalia in Textus Logices

 We are delighted to be sharing a guest blog post by Elizabeth Cary Ford and Vivien Estelle Williams of Glasgow University who have recently been studying the marginalia of item De.8.83 in the CRC collections.

James Douglas’ copy of Thomas Bricot’s Textus Logices and its musical marginalia

Kenneth Elliott, the late eminent scholar, identified a basse danse written in the margins of a sixteenth-century book. The existence of the score of the basse danse was quite a well-known fact in academia; but the original source for it was not. We are pleased to say that we have been able to track the book in which the marginalia appears to the University of Edinburgh Special Collections, item De.8.83. The field of the basse danse in Scotland is certainly understudied, and we hope this finding will add a piece, however small, to the wider picture.

Basse danses were very popular in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. This type of dance probably originated in Burgundy. It quickly travelled to other European courts and was certainly known in Scotland after King James V’s second marriage in 1538 to Marie de Guise, if not before. It is reasonable to assume that this basse danse was part of the repertoire of the French musicians who travelled with the queen.

Kenneth Elliott transcribed the tune from the source and shared it with John Purser, who published a portion of it in Scotland’s Music. Elliott described the tune as “[a]n anonymous instrumental composition possibly of Scottish authorship and related to the basse-danse is recorded in an early-sixteenth-century source”. According to Purser’s note, the book was passed from Hector Boece to Theophilus Stewart and to James Douglas. This is confirmed by an inspection of the book, as well as the University of Edinburgh’s records of the book.

All we knew about this dance was that it was marginalia, and that Kenneth Elliott was the first person to call attention to it. Thanks to Dr Theo Van Heijnsbergen and Dr Nicola Royan we discovered that the volume in question was a little publication by Thomas Bricot: Textus Logices, c. 1513.

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The author of the book, Bricot, from the diocese of Amiens, studied in Paris during the late 1470s, where he went on to teach philosophy. His major publications were dedicated to the discipline of logics, as is our Textus Logices. The small volume, re-bound in the nineteenth century, was possibly intended as a teaching aid or a textbook; 136 beautifully-printed leaves on the subjects of logics, as well as Aristotelian and Porphyrian works. The various handwritings of the marginalia, and in the flyleaves and end-papers show that the book has passed through various hands.

Amongst the calligraphies and signatures a few are more clearly discernible: on the title-page there is a “Codex Hector Boethi” and a “Hethor Bethius”. Hector Boece, c.1465–1536, was born into a prominent Dundonian family. He was a historian and the first principal of the University of Aberdeen. He most probably came in contact with Bricot’s publication in Paris as a student at the Collège de Montaigu. The annotations in the volume are extensive, which may well indicate the mark of an informed reader. We doubt whether Boece would have written the score himself, as given his known persona a casual treatment of a book would be unlikely.

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On the fly-leaves are other ownership marks; this may indicate they were added after binding. Theophilus Steuart is mentioned in the Fasti Aberdoniensis as a “gramaticus”, as well as the Analecta Scotica, as “Maister theophelus stuart, master of the gremer skuill of ald Aberdeen”. This Aberdeen connection links Steuart with Boece, as both were based at King’s College.

It could be that James Douglas, potential source of the tune, was the Earl of Morton (c. 1516 – 1581) as he had dealings with the University of Aberdeen. David Stevenson points out that “The general assembly in 1574 requested that the then regent, the 4th Earl of Morton, to take orders that doctors may be placed in the Universities and stipends granted unto them”.

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The book contains two sections of musical notation. The first is a snippet of what could be a basse danse. The dance in full is scribbled in the back of the book, between annotations. The handwriting of the score would appear to date from the sixteenth century. Does this mean the dance was current and popular at the time? Did James Douglas himself compose it? As there is no searchable index of tunes for basse danse, unfortunately we have not been able to verify whether or not the tune was known and popular. What comes as no surprise is that French music was popular in Scotland in the sixteenth century, owing to the cultural ties of the Auld Alliance.

This marginalia is early evidence for the basse danse in a Scottish source, no matter who the author may have been. We will never know why this dance was scribbled in the fly-leaves of a philosophical treatise. It would be nice to think that, perhaps, the tune was popular amongst the students of the University of Aberdeen as a dance or a song – maybe we could picture a young James Douglas jotting it down, as his mind wanders, while at his desk during a lecture on logics!

For our finding and assistance with it we wish to thank: Denise Anderson, Francesca Baseby, Warwick Edwards, Luca Guariento, David McGuinness, Nicola Royan, Evelyn Stell, Theo Van Heijnsbergen, Janet Williams, Allan Wright.

This piece is dedicated to John Purser, our druid in the West.

Elizabeth Cary Ford Research Profile

Vivien Estelle Williams Research Profile

Hand-finished Printed Books

Our blog post today comes from History of the Book student and CRC volunteer Allie Newman.

The University of Edinburgh Centre for Research collections holds a veritable treasure trove of early printed books, also known as incunabula or incunables. Numbering over 200 items, the collection houses everything from the apparently mundane to the richly decorated, both in terms of type ornament and colours. Today I would like to showcase Inc.49.2, a delightfully illustrated Bible printed by Anton Koberger in Berlin in 1483, that is a wonderful illustration of a particular period of book history.

inc1.jpgThe advent of the printing press in the West, begun by Gutenberg’s moveable type press in 1440, heralded a new era in book production. Suddenly, instead of taking weeks, months, or even years to copy out a book by hand, books could be produced relatively quickly and in larger numbers by moveable type presses. This naturally put manuscript production into an immediate spiral of decline, eventually leading to the triumph of print over hand-written books… Or did it?

Contrary to popular belief, the two forms of production actually continued to exist side by side for nearly 200 years, printed works only overtaking manuscripts in terms of popularity in the 1600s; even then, a big reason for that overtake was due to the fact that printing a book was just plain cheaper than hand-copying a book, not because manuscripts were seen as inferior or old-fashioned. Evidence of this can be seen in the Koberger Bible, where the pages were printed in such a way that they left space for an artist to later come in and add decorative initials by hand!

inc3 inc2This is not an uncommon practice – it even happens in the Gutenberg Bible, though its initials are much less embellished. Because manuscripts were still somewhat of a status symbol and occupied a position of prestige in the world of books, this hand-finishing was a way of adding legitimacy to the printed book. And it didn’t just happen to initials! This Bible is full of woodblock prints, such as the one below, that, although printed on a press, were later hand-coloured (most likely at an extra cost!).

inc4Hand-finishing of printed text eventually faded away as a widely practiced stage of book production by the late 17th century, for the same reason that manuscripts became the less common form of book: it was just too expensive and time consuming. However, the intersection of manuscript techniques and printing press technology left its mark (literally) on the way we write today- ever wonder why the first line of a new paragraph is indented? Why, to make room for a hand-finished first initial, of course!

Auden, Dame Edna and Bletchley Park

Welcome to the first Rare Books & Manuscripts blog of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections. And what better way to start than a post on W.H. Auden’s Poems (1928) …

 

One of the University of Edinburgh Library’s rarest 20th-century printed items is W.H. Auden’s Poems (1928). This item was part of the Archibald Hunter Campbell collection which was presented to the Library in 1984. Campbell studied at Oxford and was a contemporary and friend of Stephen Spender, Christopher Isherwood and W.H Auden. During the Second World War he served at Bletchley Park as a codebreaker and, on returning to Edinburgh, he held the post of the University’s Regius Chair of Public Law and the Law of Nature and the Nations from 1945 to 1972.

Printed by Auden’s fellow undergraduate at Oxford, Stephen Spender, Poems purports to be number 11 of “about 45 copies” subsequently Spender admitted that the actual number of copies was nearer 30.

Although a large part of the book was printed by Spender in his parents’ house on an Adana label printer, it would seem that either the printer or Spender (or possibly both!) weren’t up to the task and the book was finished and bound in its strong reddish orange wrapper by the Holywell Press. Evidence of the handover from Spender to Holywell is apparent in the immediate improvement in printing quality from page 23 onwards.

Some of the poems were never republished and Auden himself excluded most of the contents from the canon establishing Collected Shorter Poems, 1927-1957 (Faber, 1966).

The University of Edinburgh’s copy has few annotated corrections but has been signed by both Auden and Spender on the title page and is in remarkably good condition.

It truly is one of the University’s finest rare books and a fitting subject for the first Rare Books blog.

The library has a collection of W.H. Auden material, which we have recently completed cataloguing. This was purchased in 1982 from Barry Bloomfield (co-editor with Edward Mendelson of W.H. Auden: A Bibliography, 1924-1969), and has been added to by generous donations from Mendelson and others as well as purchases from book sales. Although Poems is not part of that collection we have taken the opportunity to improve the cataloguing of Auden material elsewhere in the collections.

Oh, and Dame Edna? Stephen Spender’s daughter married Barry Humphries!

Finlay West: Rare Book Cataloguer