Rare Books – Expect the Unexpected 4

Lace, Forks, The Arctic Monkeys and Golf

This is the fourth in our series of posts based on the current exhibition in the Library Gallery, and the project by Edinburgh College of Art Illustration students, based on the album of Notgeld, emergency money, from the early 1920s.

The original German Notgeld was produced for local use, which was frequently reflected in the design. In an earlier post we looked at student Notgeld which was inspired by landscape and heritage. In this post we feature the work of the students who celebrated local industry and popular culture, often humourously.

Rosemary Cockrell

The city my Notgeld are fo

The Goffr is Sheffield. The notes show different cultural aspects of the city. For example, one of my notes uses the colours red and blue to symbolise Sheffield’s two football teams. The note is a pentagon to reflect the shape of the team badge. One of my other notes is shaped like a Henderson’s Relish bottle, which is a sauce made in Sheffield. My final note is shaped like the Peak District logo.

Notgeld for Sheffield. Rosie Cockrell

The currency I made for the city also expresses an important part of the city’s history. It is inspired by the shape of a fork which symbolises Sheffield’s stainless steel industry.

Bank notes usually have prominent figures featured on them so I included some well-known celebrities who are from Sheffield. I chose Sean Bean, Jessica Ennis-Hill and the Arctic Monkeys.

 

Jade Hollick

I chose to explore the history of the lace industry in Nottingham looking at the importance of its role within the economy.

Nottingham Lace. Jade Hollick.

Gee Watson

I based my Notgeld on Leith, an industrial area with a lot of history and culture. Inspired by the variety of styles, colours and collectable nature of the University’s collection, I decided to create more abstract, palm sized notes. Using print and mixed media I explored the texture, sound and energy of the area that I call home.

Leith, in texture, sound and energy. Gee Watson

Young Lee

My work is about my favourite activities to do in Busan, South Korea, which is my hometown.

I have invented this special currency that can be used to pay for sports.

Notgeld for Busan, South Korea. Young Lee.

Alison Laing

My Notgeld notes are an example of what the currency may be like if Scotland gained independence. I took a more humorous approach when exploring themes of architecture, royalty and famous Scottish figures whilst using a strict colour palette of blue, white and black.

Currency for an independent Scotland.

 

The exhibition includes a few items which are unexpectedly humourous, for a University Library.  The one which perhaps best complements this group of student Notgeld is the humourous poem about golf The Goff.  This, incidentally, like Gee Watson’s Notgeld, is set in Leith.  It records, in mock-heroic verse, a match between a young Edinburgh lawyer and a bookseller, on Leith Links.  In the passage reproduced below they see a group of senior players – the great and the good of Edinburgh – described as if they were the heroes of legend.

We are not sure whether ‘Golfina’, the goddess of golf, is present in modern Leith.

The Goff

 

Rare Books – Expect the Unexpected: 2

Satire

This is the second in our series of posts based on the current exhibition in the Library Gallery, and the project by Edinburgh College of Art Illustration students, based on the album of Notgeld, emergency money, from the early 1920s.

Some of the original German Notgeld was satirical, containing harsh commentary on the world which created it. One of the students picked up on this idea, and produced a set of notes commenting on current U.S. politics. Rachel’s puns on the names of politicians, her comment the state of the economy and political institutions are all completely in the spirit of the satire used on the original Notgeld. What she did not know was that one of the other items in the exhibition contains satire just as biting, but four hundred years older.

Rachel Berman: Politics and Hyperinflation


“The starting point for my project bloomed from two persistent themes within the presentation of the authentic Notgeld: Politics and Hyperinflation.
Indeed, as an avid political cartoonist, I was intrigued by these notions and was compelled to apply these elements to the contemporary context.

For this, I imagined a near dystopian futuristic USA (2019 to be precise), in which our current Supreme Leader has rewritten the course of history by converting the US Dollar to the US Donald.  This rookie mistake has resulted in extreme hyperinflation, to the point where 1 Dollar now equates to 100 Donalds.

Furthermore, our Leader-in-Chief has decided to rename the US Penny, the US Pence (after his Vice President Mike Pence) and the US Nickel, the US Kavanickel (after his newly appointed Supreme Court Justice).

Additionally I have played around with several details on each note/bill.

For the Donald, I have altered the numbers to read 007, a reference to James Bond, with whom the President believes he shares a likeness.

For the Pence, I have swapped the ‘United States Federal Reserve System’ with the ‘National Rifle Association’, as the latter bared a strong resemblance with the former and better depicted Mr. Pence’s values.

Finally, for the Kavanickel, I wanted to have this used as a legal acquittal for all ‘past’ offences. For this I modelled the colours after the Monopoly ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card. It is no secret that Judge K’s past has been tainted by many credible allegations of sexual assaults. Despite this, however, he, like many other white men, has managed to evade the consequences of his crimes. I wanted to pay particular attention to this white male privilege and illustrate this section of society’s entitlement mentality.

In conclusion, I added a cheeky ‘Made in China’ label to hone in on the blatant fact that our industries are being overrun by the Chinese government, and that despite Trump’s rhetoric, we are NOT number one.”

 

There is another piece of trenchant satire in the exhibition; Robert Parsons’ (sometimes known as Persons) response to the edict of Queen Elizabeth I against the Catholics of England (Cum responsione ad singula capita… Elizabethae, Angliae Reginae, haeresim Calvinam propugnantis, saevissimum in Catholicos sui regni edictum, 1592).

This has much in common with Rachel’s Notgeld, and much of contemporary political satire. Firstly it was calculated to gain the maximum circulation, in this case by being written in Latin and published in several European centres simultaneously.  Latin was then the language for international communication, much as English is today, while the modern means of gaining wide coverage is, of course, to publish online. Parsons’ satire gains its effect by using all the techniques of argument which were appreciated in the sixteenth-century; complex formal rhetoric, references to classical literature and the Bible, and contemporary ideas of the ridiculous. The modern equivalents are the punning jokes, references to contemporary popular culture and vivid images, which Rachel exploits to the full.

The background to Parsons’ book is the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1588. In the aftermath a proclamation was issued by the English crown, though actually written by the Lord Treasurer, Lord Burghley, accusing English Catholics of being in league with the Spanish against the English state, and English Catholics living abroad as being dissolute criminals. The response was a co-ordinated and sophisticated series of publications from the English Jesuits in Europe, culminating in this.

Parsons avoids attacking the Queen herself, concentrating instead on the ministers who were responsible for the legislation. His style is to make them ridiculous, by interpreting their actions and beliefs as monstrous and re-telling events to make them preposterous (according to some modern commentators his was a more truthful account than the official English version of the story). He points out the ministers’ extra-marital affairs and controversial religious views, as making them unfit to legislate on religious matters. He compares them to evil politicians from English and Biblical history.  This is a very similar approach to Rachel’s satire of contemporary politics, with the exception that it depends on words, rather than images, for its impact.  We live in a much more visual world than the Elizabethans did: easily-transmitted film and photographs give the modern satirist possibilities for visual jokes which depend on the audience recognising the victim.  Rachel exploits this to the full in her Notgeld, but it was something which was not open to Robert Parsons.

Rare Books – Expect the Unexpected. 1

Quote

A Sense of Place

If you have been passing the Main Library recently you will have seen the exhibition in the Library Gallery on the ground floor, of some of the more unlikely things to be found in the Library’s Rare Books collections. One exhibit you should not miss is the first thing you come to – the project by students of Illustration from Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), based on an album of German “emergency” banknotes from the years after the end of the First World War.

The schedule for printing the exhibition catalogue prevented us from including any of the student work in it, and in the exhibition itself we only had space for a selection of the student work, and none to include their own commentaries on it.

When we saw the students’ projects, one thing which struck us was how many of them  link with items in the exhibition other than the Notgeld.   These are entirely fortuitous connections; none of the group knew what the other exhibits were.

In this series of blog posts we want to showcase the student work, including the ones we couldn’t fit into the exhibtion, and make some of the juxtapositions with other exhibits which struck us when we were assembling it.

 

Notgeld

In Germany many local authorities issued “Notgeld”,  “emergency money” during and immediately after the First World War.  Initially, the diversion of all available metal to the war effort had caused a scarcity of small change.  Locally-issued, low denomination notes, enabled the everyday econonomy to continue to function, even though they had the status only of tokens, and had no national authority behind them.  They continued to be issued after the end of the war, into the early 1920s, when they were no longer strictly needed, but had become collectible.  These notes were generally very attractive, celebrating the history, industry or culture of the locality which issued them, although they were sometimes satirical or contained propaganda or political messages.  In our collections we have two albums full of notes from this late period, from all over Germany.

The ECA third year Illustration students were set a project to design their own Notgeld, exploring the features of the original Notgeld, looking at money and currency more widely, and developing their own ideas.  They had to print their notes, using any printmaking technique available to them; some of these are referred to in their descriptions.  (Risograph is a digital duplication and printing system, which builds up an image with layers of ink in different colours.  The results are similar to screen printing)

 

The celebration of place is a strong theme in the original Notgeld.  This was explored by the students in a number of different ways.

Several used the landscape, landmarks and distinctive features of their home towns.

Celeste John-Wood

My ‘Notgeld’ notes are designed for imagined use on the South Downs Way, a long distance national trail running through the South Downs in Sussex. The wildness and variety in

the environment inspired me to choose this location, and provided a rich resource from which I could develop my imagery and portray some key sites. For my notes, I aspired to create three very different denominations, portraying the contrast in the landscape and present a sense of each place’s distinct history. I have depicted Devil’s Dyke, the Charleston house (home to the Bloomsbury Group) and the Seven Sisters.

Daisy Ness

For my currency inspired by the German Notgeld, I chose my home of the Isle of Wight to create my notes for. I wanted to combine some of the local landmarks, such as Osborne House and the Needles, with the element of nature to create my work. To achieve the clean and precise look I was after, I decided to risoprint my design.

Lydia Leneghan

My inspiration for my notgeld notes was my hometown, Kilkeel, which is a small fishing town in Northern Ireland. My notes feature the most iconic parts of the town: the faerie trees, the harbour, and the legendary fish and chip van which is known across the country.

Philomena Marmion

Kaunas is the second biggest city in Lithuania. Founded in the 14th century, the city has gone through many changes: an important city in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, part of the Russian Empire, the temporary capital of Lithuania during the Interwar period, a city in the Soviet Union. Now Kaunas is in a cultural upheaval preparing for the role of the European Capital of Culture for 2022. All this history has left a mark on Kaunas and made it into the quirky, welcoming city that it is today. This set of Notgeld aims to show the special spirit of Kaunas by including elements unique to it: the green trolleybuses, the bison statue in the Oak Park, and the smiling sundial all with a backdrop of Soviet blocks of flats that make up the suburban areas of Kaunas.

Travelling Images: Venetian Illustrated Books 2

This week our Venetian illustrations turn theatrical, with an illustrated copy of the plays of Plautus, and we welcome as guest blogger, the exhibition curator, Laura Moretti, of the University of St. Andrews. 

 

Titus Maccius Plautus (c.254-184 BC), Comedies, edited by Bernard Saraceni, and Giovanni Pietro Valla. (Venice: Lazzaro de’ Soardi, 1511).  Edinburgh University Library JY 1082.

The comedies by the Roman dramatist Titus Maccius Plautus (c.254-184 BC) were the subjects of a period of rebirth during the course of the fifteenth century. This was due – along with the favor that theatrical plays by Roman authors saw as a genre during the Renaissance – to the fact that twelve comedies by Plautus were rediscovered in the first half of the Quattrocento. Together with the eight already known at the time, the group of twenty comedies came to constitute a fundamental corpus for the theatre in the following decades, being represented with great success in Rome, Milan and Ferrara. They were reworked, modified, and translated into vernacular. Besides being copied in several manuscripts, from the beginning of the 1470s also printed editions started to appear. The texts were edited and commented by various authors, including Giorgio Merula, Ermolao Barbaro, Angelo Poliziano, Giovan Battista Pio, Filippo Beroaldo.

The present edition was published in 1511 by Lazzaro de’ Soardi. Active as a printer in Venice between 1490 and 1517, he published about fifty editions, especially Latin classics, religious texts, and works of ascetic, theological and philosophical character. The commentary by Bernardo Saraceni and Giovanni Pietro Valla had already been published in Venice in 1499 by Simone Bevilacqua. The Soardi edition, though, was the first one fully illustrated, presenting a full-page woodcut of a theatre and numerous woodcuts throughout.

 

A theatre seen from the viewpoint of the actors

This illustration already appeared in a previous edition of comedies by the Roman dramatist Terentius (c.195/185- c.159? BC), published in 1497 by the same Soardi. It is a rare image of a theatre seen from the unusual point of view of the actors. The audience sits on semicircular stalls, and is dressed in contemporary fashion. One actor is performing at the centre of the scene, while another oneis entering from a lateral door on the right.

The 1511 edition is completed by 316 woodcuts of scenes from the comedies. The illustrations are not designed individually, but composed assembling smaller blocks. The resulting images generally present the names of the characters in scrolls aligned at the top – also repeated underneath – and normally four, but sometimes up to six elements combining: one to six characters, one to two doors, one or tree trees, and one to four thin rectangular floral borders. It is possible to notice many repetitions of the individual elements, although the resulting illustrations are always different.

Detail of illustrations from the comedy Amphitryo

Opening from the comedy Aulularia

 

The above-mentioned 1497 edition of Terentius also presented woodcuts illustrating the scenes, but they were crafted individually.

 

From 1497 Lazzaro de’ Soardi’s hand-coloured edition of Terentius comedies, digitised by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München.

 

 

Opening with illustration from 1497 Lazzaro de’ Soardi’s hand-coloured edition of Terentius comedies, digitised by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München.

These illustrations might look more coherent and better manufactered to our eyes than the ones from the 1511 edition, but in the latter, perhaps less refined and accurate, we can notice some elements of extreme relevance for the history of the printed book. In a period in which the industrialisation of the printing process was still in its infancy, these images represent the sign of a tendency and a way of thinking in terms of reproducibility, reuse, and flexibility.

Something similar, although more elaborated, already appeared in the edition of the comedies by Terentius published in Strasbourg in 1496 by Johannes Grüninger. This particular edition also presented in the titlepage the representation of a “theatre”, and might have inspired Soardi.

 

Johannes Grüninger’s 1496 edition of Terentius comedies, digitised by the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, Technische Universität Darmstadt.

 

Titlepage from 1496 Johannes Grüninger’s 1496 edition of Terentius comedies, digitised by the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, Technische Universität Darmstadt.

 

In the 1551 edition, while the characters often simulate some sort of stage action, the trees and – especially – the doors confer a sense of spacial recession, giving to the illustrations a three-dimensional effect and a stage-like appeareance, even if still pretty schematic. The page is composed presenting the original text in the central section, together with the illustrations, while the commentary unfolds around them.

Title page with previous ownership inscription

The book formed part of the collection of Dugald Stewart (1753-1828), who studied at the University of Edinburgh and was Chair of Moral Philosophy there from 1785. His library included the books of his father Matthew (1717-85), Professor of Mathematics at the same institution. The collection passed into the hands of Dugald’s son Matthew (c.1784-1851), who bequeathed it – along with many of his own books – to the United Service Club in London. In 1910 the whole collection was transferred to the University of Edinburgh. It contains 3,432 titles in some 4,000 volumes, covering many topics, but is particularly strong in political economy, moral philosophy, and mathematics. There are a large number of presentation copies reflecting Dugald’s wide circle of acquaintances and admirers. The younger Matthew Stewart added some early printed books (there are 33 incunabula in the collection) and works on oriental subjects. A signature of a previous owner is visible on the titlepage; the Rare Books staff think it may be an institution – S[ancti] Ip[politi?] … but at the moment I am not able to identify it.

Dr Laura Moretti (University of St Andrews)

Further reading:

Fully digitised copy of the 1511 Lazzaro de’ Soardi’s edition of Plautus comedies, digitised by the Bavarian State Library is available here.http://reader.digitale-sammlungen.de/resolve/display/bsb10195815.html

The 1496 Johannes Grüninger’s edition of Terentius comedies, digitised by the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, Technische Universität Darmstadt, is available here.http://tudigit.ulb.tu-darmstadt.de/show/inc-iv-77/0001?sid=094bbe50d4659af0b4134f5d1d57ff78

The 1497 Lazzaro de’ Soardi’s edition of Terentius comedies, digitised by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München, is available here.http://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/~db/0005/bsb00058998/images/index.html?id=00058998&groesser=&fip=eayaxdsydyztsxdsydeayawxdsydsdasqrsxdsydewqxs&no=2&seite=1

The 1499 Simone Bevilacqua’s edition of Plautus comedies, with commentary of Saraceni and Valla, digitised by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München, is available here.http://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/~db/0006/bsb00064398/images/

The full catalogue record for the Edinburgh University Library copy is here: https://discovered.ed.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=44UOE_ALMA21104958570002466&context=L&vid=44UOE_VU2&search_scope=default_scope&tab=default_tab&lang=en_US

Early Library Records

Our intern, Nathalie, is reaching the end of the project, working on the earliest of the library records.  She has achieved a great deal in the weeks she has been with us: we have a set of descriptions of the documents ready to transfer into the Archives cataloguing software, and the draft of a research guide to the early records ready to go onto the CRC web page.  These have already helped us answer enquiries about the early library collections.  We presented a short paper about the project and the records at the recent conference of the CILIP Library and Information History Group conference in Dundee. 

Nathalie reflects on the project and what she has learnt.  We wish her well as she goes back to her studies for the new academic year, and hope we have given her the bug for old library records!

 

The Early Library Records Project began as a project aimed at opening up a series of early records to make them easier to navigate. With just under 55 items to examine in 10 weeks, the project had clear objectives: the flagging up of items needing conservation work, or to prioritise for digitisation, the update of the information available on the online catalogue for early library records and the creation of a research guide to enable researchers, members of the public and CRC staff to understand early library records better. It is hoped that the results of the project will have far-reaching benefits. To enhance the data on the online catalogue, the type of information gathered from the records needed to be consistent, despite their being very varied in kind. The focus has thus been on: their approximate period of use, their purpose, their potential compilers and users and the language they are written in.

The diversity of these records is worth mentioning. The library possesses early press and author catalogues, account books, matriculation registers, borrowing registers, accessions books and subject catalogues. Some periods in the library’s history are richer in certain types of records, but overall, there is some record to be found for every half century up to now. These records not only give us precious general information about the management of the library, but also give us information about the university at large. They also contain numerous precious details which are at times surprising, comical, confusing or enlightening.

The project had its share of surprises. Scientific instruments such as telescopes, microscopes, globes and quadrants appeared from time to time, either in a list of instructions on how to use them, or in an account book when money had been spent to mend or purchase them. Equally, I met with volumes which had unexpected contents. Da.1.5 is such an item, as it is a collation of three different inventories: a manuscript author catalogue, followed by a printed version of the Nairn catalogue, itself followed by a manuscript list of pamphlets and other titles belonging to the library of the College of Surgeons. I was glad to come across a few references in Gaelic, such as the Gaelic translation of Dodsley’s work The Economy of Human Life and a few other entries, all in the 4-volume author catalogue compiled in the 1750s. Some of the earliest volumes exhibited physical conventions of early book production such as catchwords and folio numbers, while item Da.1.15 is a fantastic illustration of stationary binding, only used for certain types of records, especially ledgers. While working on the project, I became acquainted with several librarians through their observations, especially the Hendersons. Together, the father and his son were librarians to the university library for 80 years (1667-1747). Both left numerous notes in the catalogues and account books, and their comments, sometimes stern, allow us to get a glimpse into the day-to-day management of the library.
What is more, the outcome of the project goes further than suggested above. As a range of sources is now better known, new routes for future enquiry have emerged. As we know more about what kind of information can be had in these records, we can be bolder in our research questions. Interesting research could be done on the borrowing registers still surviving, and a study of the donations to the library could also be valuable. Beside these potential routes for future research, the project’s results have also challenged some previously-held beliefs. For example, it has been discovered that what was thought to be a 1636 author catalogue is in fact more likely to be a late 17th century author catalogue.

There have been challenges, for sure. Deciphering 17th century script was not always easy for me, as I did not have any previous experience in palaeography. Formatting the data I was compiling so that it would be easily transferable to Archives Space was also something I had to get my head round. Equally, I had to acquire some elementary knowledge about the university’s early history, its buildings and running, since these elements impacted on the library’s administration and evolution. Yet, these challenges have only had valuable outcomes, most likely because I was working in a particularly supportive environment.
Beside the benefits of the project’s results for CRC staff, researchers and members of the public, a significant outcome of the project is what it has brought to me, as an intern. I have not only learnt a great deal about the library’s management and history in the pre-Enlightenment and Enlightenment periods, but also gained experience in working with archival material. I have absorbed the basics of cataloguing, found out about digitisation projects, shadowed several people’s work and all this has given me an acute sense of what the CRC is about. This internship was a truly unique opportunity which has given me insight into the library and museum professional sector.

Alice’s Adventures in the Rare Book Stacks

Happy 150th anniversary of the second edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!

(This week’s blog post has been contributed by Tess Goodman, a doctoral student in the Centre for the History of the Book, who has been volunteering with us.)

Alice h
The second edition? Wait—what about the first edition? Well, the first edition of Alice, printed in 1865, was suppressed before publication. But don’t get too excited: this isn’t a tale of censorship. It’s a tale of quality control.
The 1860s are now sometimes called the golden age of book illustration. Cheap illustration technology was relatively new, and illustrated books were very, very popular. Even fiction for adults was usually illustrated: the first editions of works by Dickens and Thackeray, for example, were full of pictures. In the 1860s, even well-reputed painters like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Millais were producing work for books, and the average quality of illustration was higher than ever. Illustration could make or break a title.
Alice was illustrated by John Tenniel, a well-known cartoonist for Punch. The first copies were printed in the summer of 1865, and Charles Dodgson (who went by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll) began sending presentation copies to his friends before the official release.
But then Tenniel saw a copy. He thought that his illustrations had been badly printed. In fact, he found the printing so poor that he complained to Dodgson, who complained to the publisher, who canceled the entire edition. Macmillan reprinted all 2,000 copies. Dodgson sent letters to friends who had already received copies, apologizing for the quality. The rejected sheets were sold to a publisher New York, who published them in America with a new title page.*

Alice a
The second edition, published in 1866, was the first to appear in Britain. The pictures in this post are from Edinburgh’s copy of this edition, which is bound with a first edition of Through the Looking-Glass. Hopefully these pictures demonstrate what the fuss was about: these illustrations are spectacular.
Tenniel did forty-two illustrations for Alice. They were so popular that for Through the Looking-Glass, he did fifty. These pictures brought, and bring, joy to everyone who sees them—except their creator. Tenniel found Dodgson so pernickety and difficult that he almost refused to work on Looking-Glass; it took Dodgson and Macmillan years to convince him. Afterwards, he wrote: ‘with Through the Looking-Glass the faculty of making drawings for book illustration departed from me… I have done nothing in that direction since…’. ** (60). And he never did again.

Alice b
Nevertheless, we’re glad to have these books at Edinburgh. As you can see from these pictures, our copies are in slightly poor condition. But most children’s books are very hard to find in good condition: the children reading them don’t worry about preserving them for future generations. In the case of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, the binding might be rubbed and the joints might be shaky, but the printing is still impeccable.

Alice d

*That makes them the second issue of the first edition, if you are bibliographically-minded enough to care. The presentation copies that still had the British title page were the first issue of the first edition. Only fifteen are extant.
** Quoted in Sydney Herbert Williams and Falconer Madan. The Lewis Carroll Handbook: being a new version of A handbook of the literature of the Rev. C. L. Dodgson. Revised by Roger Lancelyn Green. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. P. 60.

The Greatest Gaelic Book Collector? Professor Donald MacKinnon (1839–1914), the University of Edinburgh, and the MacKinnon Collection

We have recently completed the online cataloguing of the MacKinnon Collection, of books of and about Scottish life and literature, and rich in books in Gaelic.  Our colleague and expert in Gaelic, Donald William Stewart, has contributed this guest blog about Donald MacKinnon and his books:

The Greatest Gaelic Book Collector? Professor Donald MacKinnon (1839–1914)

Donald-Mackinnon-Celtic_Review10-p97(Jun-1915)

Donald MacKinnon was born in 1839 in Kilchattan on the Argyllshire island of Colonsay. He was the first Professor of Celtic Languages, Literature, History, and Antiquities at the University of Edinburgh, and he made substantial contributions to every one of the fields listed in his title. MacKinnon occupied the chair from 1882 until he retired in summer 1914. He died a few months afterwards, on Christmas morning, at his home at Balnahard in his native island.

As a student at Edinburgh, MacKinnon enjoyed a dazzling career crowned in 1869 by the Hamilton Fellowship in Mental Philosophy, a grant of £100 allowing him three years’ further study at the university. Ironically, it was the Education Act (Scotland) of 1872, that ruthless destroyer of Gaelic schools, which was to give him his big break. After the Act was passed, Donald MacKinnon was appointed as the first Clerk and Treasurer of the School Board of Edinburgh.

Admirers of Donald MacKinnon – and, it has to be said, on occasion Donald MacKinnon himself – have made much of his humble beginnings, but we should remember that talent often attracts sponsors. MacKinnon was fortunate to have caught the attention of two of the most influential figures in Scotland, men who just happened to be from Colonsay like himself. Advocate and judge Duncan McNeill, first Baron Colonsay (1793–1874), was the pre-eminent Scots lawyer of his time; while his younger brother Sir John McNeill (1795–1883), chairman of the Board of Supervision in charge of the operation of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, was the most powerful civil servant in the country. Long before the Edinburgh Chair of Celtic was finally established in 1882, MacKinnon’s patrons were unobtrusively promoting the merits of their candidate.

MacKinnon was certainly an ideal contender for the professorship: an excellent Gaelic prose stylist, an industrious contributor of columns to newspapers and periodicals, a man who participated to the full in the lively Gaelic-speaking community in the capital – and who would soon undertake arduous service on the parliamentary Napier Commission travelling around the Highlands enquiring into crofters’ and cottars’ rights. MacKinnon was also a popular teacher of a generation of Gaelic students, including the first women Celtic scholars in Scotland. In particular, as the pioneer Celtic Professor in Scotland, Donald MacKinnon had to lead the way and lay the foundations for future scholarly study of Scottish Gaelic. This he did with aplomb. His lectures defined and delineated Gaelic literature and history, as well as elucidating Gaelic place-names and personal names. His Gaelic Reading Books laid down a syllabus for elementary and advanced students in the language. Most enduringly, his Descriptive Catalogue of Gaelic Manuscripts in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, and Elsewhere in Scotland(Edinburgh: T. & A. Constable, 1912), the fruits of five years of research generously sponsored by John Crichton-Stuart, fourth Marquess of Bute (1881–1947), remains a crucial work of reference for both classical and vernacular Gaelic manuscripts in Scotland – including four then in MacKinnon’s own possession – more than a century after its publication. But, as the new online library catalogue to Professor Donald MacKinnon’s collection demonstrates, he should also be remembered as a great collector of books, Gaelic and Celtic.

At a complimentary dinner held in MacKinnon’s honour by friends at the Waterloo Hotel on 7 November 1883, marking the beginning of his professorship, the Rev. Dr Norman Macleod ‘presented to Professor Mackinnon a cheque for a sum subscribed by a few friends, who begged him to apply it in the purchase of books bearing on the subject of his Chair. (Applause.)’ [Edinburgh Evening News, 8 November 1883, 2]

The minister’s remark suggests that even before he became a professor, Donald MacKinnon was already well-known as a Gaelic book-collector. This is borne out by the Rev. Donald Maclean’s remarks in the introduction to his magnificent catalogue, financed by the Carnegie Trust, Typographia Scoto-Gaedelica or Books printed in the Gaelic of Scotland (Edinburgh: John Grant, 1915):

The late Professor Donald Mackinnon placed at my disposal very valuable bibliographic material which he had collected for many years before he became the first occupant of the Celtic Chair in Edinburgh. It is not possible for me to acknowledge fully my indebtedness to this collection. (viii)

In making MacKinnon the Typographia’s dedicatee, Maclean pays tribute to the professor’s assistance and encouragement – and to the breadth and scope of his Gaelic library.

MacKinnon’s collection had already been at the heart of a major Gaelic books presentation, one of the attractions, along with quaichs, silverware, tartans, and regimental uniforms and colours, shown in the Highlands and Islands display in the Fine Art Galleries at the great Scottish National Exhibition in Saughton Park between May and September 1908. During this time of the Scottish Celtic Revival, Gaelic culture, sports, and costumes loomed large in the Exhibition programme, alongside the helter-skelter tower, the switchback railway, the water chute, the Irish cottages, the Senegal village, the display of baby incubators, and diverse other attractions intended to educate, entertain, and astonish.

Among the books Professor MacKinnon donated to the exhibition, as listed by The Scotsman on 22 August 1908, were:

• the Irish translation, by Uilliam Ó Domhnuill, of the New Testament, first printed in 1681;
• the first edition of the New Testament in Scottish Gaelic, 1767;
• the first edition of the Old Testament in Scottish Gaelic, printed in four parts, in 1783, 1786, 1787, and 1801;
• a very rare copy of the Apocrypha translated into Scottish Gaelic for Prince Lucien Bonaparte by the Rev. Alexander MacGregor in 1860.

It should be pointed out here that MacKinnon was one of the scholars who revised the Gaelic Bible for the SPCK in 1902. The professor probably also contributed:

• James Macpherson’s Fragments of 1760;
• Ais-eiridh nan Seann Chánoin Albannaich, the Resurrection of the Ancient Scottish Language by Alexander MacDonald, Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, the first purely literary publication in Scottish Gaelic, printed in 1751;
• Comh-chruinneachidh orranaigh Gaidhealach, the Eigg Collection, songs edited by Alexander’s son Ronald and printed in 1776;
• An Sùgradh, a small popular song collection from 1777;
• Gillies’ collection Sean Dain, agus Orain Ghaidhealach of 1786;
• the blind poet Allan MacDougall’s song collection Orain Ghaidhealach of 1798.

Now, not all of the major works listed above are found in the MacKinnon Collection today. This raises the possibility that the professor’s books arrived at Edinburgh University Library in two tranches. Whether during his later years as professor, or after his retiral, Donald MacKinnon may have donated to the Celtic Departmental Library at Edinburgh the canonical works of Gaelic literature on which his courses were principally based, works such as those mentioned above. His personal library, on the other hand, was bequeathed to his friend and fellow islander Dr Roger McNeill (1853–1924), Medical Officer for Argyllshire, a man whose remarkable research and tireless campaigning was instrumental in founding the Highlands and Islands Medical Service in 1913, one of the main forerunners of our National Health Service today. After McNeill’s death, MacKinnon’s volumes, probably augmented by those from the doctor’s own collection, were bequeathed to Edinburgh University Library. It would be an interesting and useful exercise to see how far we can relate the books in the MacKinnon Collection, and others in the university collections probably once owned by Donald MacKinnon, with the listings in Maclean’s Typographia.

In Professor Donald MacKinnon we have a scholar signal for the range of his interests and expertise even in an era noted for polymaths, a man celebrated by his colleagues and students, and remembered today for a number of crucial works of scholarship and reference. The MacKinnon Collection is one of the professor’s greatest legacies, allowing us to gain a clearer picture of one of Scottish Gaeldom’s most eminent scholars, and also, through him, a deeper understanding of Gaelic culture itself.

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).

IMG_2760 Continue reading

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