Category Archives: Book Collections

The Gaelic Liturgy; the only copy in Scotland

This unassuming little book is of the greatest national importance: it is the only copy in Scotland of the first book printed in Gaelic (Gaelic Liturgy; year 1567; shelfmark Dd.10.44.).  After the Reformation there was a strong impetus, sponsored primarily by the Campbell Earls of Argyll, to evangelise the Highlands and Islands, where Gaelic rather than Scots was spoken.  John Carswell, Bishop of the Isles, adapted John Knox’s Book of Common Order into Scottish Gaelic.  It was a hugely ambitious undertaking, particularly considering it would be another two centuries before the New Testament was finally published in vernacular Gaelic.  This copy has clearly been well-used.

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Scottish Court of Session Papers; digitisation pilot

At present I am working on a pilot project, digitising the Scottish Court of Session Papers. The collection is held across three institutions; The Advocate’s Library, The Signet Library and the University of Edinburgh’s Library and University Collections. The collection itself consists of circa 6500 volumes, comprising court cases which span the 18th and 19th century.

The aim of the pilot is to determine the most effect digitisation methods for these materials with a view to a potential mass digitisation project covering the entire collection. The digitisation tests and experiments I have been undertaking have raised the many challenges that such a large project would present, namely around the issue of recording metadata and which digitisation practices to employ in relation to the condition and size of any particular volume.

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Celebrating Shakespeare

0023593dWith the 400th anniversary this year of the death of one of our greatest and most influential playwrights, William Shakespeare, I found myself cropping images of some of his first printed quartos for the creation of an e-reader as part of the Shakespeare image collection. Now existing as high quality e-readers are the plays Love’s Labours Lost (1st Quarto Edition) and Romeo and Juliet (2nd Quarto Edition), both of which are used as part of the collaborative project concerning Shakespeare’s printed quartos, The Shakespeare Quarto Archive (http://www.quartos.org/index.html). These works themselves have very unique histories and are important in Shakespearean studies for many reasons. Their place in the Special Collections in the University of Edinburgh Library is invaluable.

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Dating a Book

For the last couple of months I have had the pleasure of both volunteering with the DIU and now working a bit more seriously through my work placement as part of the MSc in Book History and Material Culture. My undergraduate degree is in Creative Writing and I primarily focus on Children’s Literature in my current studies, so the Digital Imaging Unit might seem like a strange fit for me at first glance. The exact opposite is true though. In the world of Children’s Literature, illustrations and images in general are essential to the construction and survival of texts. During my time here I have been working on compiling the metadata for our ECA Rare Books Image Collection. This project is dear to my heart for two reasons. 1) I am exposed to images and illustrations of every variety, both artistically and mechanically. 2) I learn something new every day. There are many books in this collection that are far out of my expertise and for that reason I am forced to research all sorts of things I have never even heard of. Because of this I have become a huge fan of nature lithography, Italian architecture and handmade books. The latter is what I would like to discuss today.

As I was researching the ECA Rare Book Collection, I found that many of the materials I was working with had no author and no date. Because of the nature of these type of handmade scrapbook-like works, there is no imprint or page of information on the piece. In this way, dating a work becomes a bit of a guessing game. If there is an attributed author or illustrator one can narrow down the production date to the lifetime of this person. If it is known to be made in a certain region by this person, for example, that can also narrow down the search for the date. It becomes a Sherlock Holmes kind of exploration to put all the pieces together and decide on a more narrow range of dates that a book could have been produced.

In this collection there are many examples of successful dating as well as some cases that have proved to be a bit trickier to pin down. I first noticed this when looking at a page from a hand created book titled by the cataloguer as ‘Album of printed initials, ornaments, illustrations and title pages, cut from books: collected as examples of typographical design, woodcut, engraving, illustration and ornament’. The particular page (see below) is of printed initials that have been cut from another book and then rearranged and adhered to the page as part of a collection of typographical designs, woodcuts, engravings, illustrations and ornaments. The book itself, or rather portfolio because the leaves are not bound together, has not been dated. The reason we know anything about the age of this book is from the age of the books in which were borrowed to create the new one. From some identified works, the collection of images comes from sometime around 1490 all the way to 1715. The pages themselves seem to have been compiled around 1880 to 1920.

 

Collection: ECA Rare Books; Persons: -; Event: N/A; Place: N/A; Category: Art; Design; Description: -

 

A second example of dating from context is a curious photo album from Lord Elgin’s diplomatic missions to China. Unlike with the printed initials, these images have names attributed at points and even dates in the case below. Because of these acknowledgements, it becomes much easier to place this piece in history. Oddly enough though, some photographs are heavily annotated and others sit alone without any clues to what exactly they represent. We cannot be entirely sure when these were taken and if found out to be earlier or later than the other images, it could skew the data on the item as a whole.

 

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A third very interesting undated book is that of calico samples that have been neatly cut and arranged, much like the printed initials from our earlier example. The manufacturers of these fabrics have been identified by the creator, which narrows down the date to the time in which these were all in business. The most helpful bit for this work though is a racehorse. One of the fabrics shows an image of ‘Gladiateur’, a racehorse who was accomplished from 1865-1866. This unsuspecting clue is mighty helpful when trying to confirm the time in which these fabrics would have been made and collected. If this particular horse had gone unnoticed, situated next to many other animal designs, we would know much less about this funny little collection.

 

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One thing I didn’t expect to gain out of my work placement at the DIU was detective skills but it seems that I now know a bit more about how to date a book than I did a month ago. Unfortunately, there is one book that has no date and also has no catalogue information. This unique piece is a book of shawl designs that have been labelled and neatly placed on paper. There are some clues on these pieces that help us date it to a certain point (most noticeably the stamp from the Trustees for Manufacturers) but even with this it seems to remain quite mysterious. If you feel like testing your skills, feel free to check out the images of ‘Shawl Design’ at http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/UoEwmm~3~3 and let me know if you find anything.

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-Caitlin Holton, MSc Book History and Material Culture

Monsters & Maps Printed under the Watchful Dog

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Last week Mercator’s beautiful Atlas sive Cosmographicae found its way into the DIU, only after it arrived did we discover that it was actually his 503rd Birthday, a fact celebrated by google with a Google Doodle http://www.google.com/doodles/gerardus-mercators-503rd-birthday.

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3 Additions to the LUNA Book Reader Collection

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We kick off 2015 with the addition of 3 new Book Readers added to LUNA. The first two are both music manuscripts that came down to the DIU as part of the Readers Orders trolley. It is not often that we receive volumes to be digitised in their entirety this way, so it seemed a good opportunity. As a result we spared a bit of time to do the additional work to prepare them for the book reader software after the High Resolution images had been delivered to the customers. Continue reading

The Most Beautiful Book in Scotland and the Oldest Scottish Manuscript?

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The new Ms 39 Book of Hours available in LUNA Book Reader

We are delighted to announce that 2 manuscripts have been added to our growing collection of Book Readers in LUNA!

The first is Ms 39, an amazing early 15th century Book of Hours, with rich gold work, detailed miniatures and vibrant colours. See http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/d4wx22 for the Book Reader. A note in the front of the book claims this is the most beautiful book in Scotland, what do you think? What are the other contender’s? Continue reading

Iconic Photography

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Clement Litill’s 1580 bequest charter

Part of our remit in the DIU has been to work through a list of ‘Iconic’ Items from the collection in our spare time. Over the years we have completed the digitisation of some outstanding manuscripts and collections in this way, from the Hill and Adamson photographs (a personal favourite- see http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/jl5w63) to the wonderful Laing Album Amicorum (see http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/6oh338 ). Continue reading

RANDOMS

I wanted to share some fantastic images that have come through the Digital Imaging Unit via general random digitization requests. This material is bound for individual researchers and would normally pass under the radar. We have enough amazing material passing through DIU to make this a monthly blog feature. First up is from “Zoology of Egypt, Reptilia and Batrachia” by John Anderson Shelfmark : L*.17.93. The whole book is packed with outstanding images and worthy of digitisation in its entirety.

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Colophon and Logotype

Having a background in Fine Art through study at Glasgow School of Art I am very aware of the striking visual content that passes through the Digital Imaging Unit on a daily basis. Of particular interest to me over the years of working with rare books is Colophon and Logotype. “This originated in Renaissance printing shops, where a title page would feature the printer’s mark (colophon) near the bottom of the page, usually above the printer’s name and city.” This early form of branding is fascinating in its use of imagery and the expert hand skills used to convey a meaningful message. The tree of knowledge is a popular symbol often appearing with broken branches. The level of thought over the imagery and the care taken over the execution is a remarkable investment in brand and product. The Colophon was eventually replaced by printers statements in a more legal and business like text form. Colophon have begun to re-appear for websites and online content publishing, this is a nice nod of the head over centuries of time to the continuation of a craft persons expertise and skill set.

Malcolm Brown, Deputy Photographer.

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