By Tabitha Tuckett, on 9 July 2020
The winner – Alexandra Plane – and six other finalists have been announced for this year’s Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize, which aims to encourage students at an early stage of collecting physical books, manuscripts and printed material.
The competition is open to any student studying for a degree at a London-based university, and this year received a record-breaking 64 applications – the largest number in the prize’s history. Universities represented included Birkbeck, Queen Mary University of London, Goldsmiths, SOAS, King’s College London, and UCL which hosted the prize for the first time this year.
Collectors under lockdown
Despite the pandemic, students applied from wherever they found themselves during lockdown, from Norway to Texas, Bulgaria to China, Vienna to North Wales, with many applicants unexpectedly reunited with, or separated from, their collections.
The range of collection themes was similarly wide, from Singaporean debut poets to Slovakian Beat poetry, Norfolk history to a 20th-century novelist who used eight different pseudonyms, photobooks and queer manga to bilingual parallel texts and women’s genealogical health.
Finding the collectors of the future
The guidelines of the competition specify that ‘the intention is to encourage collecting and we expect that applicants’ collections will be embryonic, so their size, age and value are irrelevant. What is much more important is the enthusiasm and commitment of the collector, the interest of the theme and the vision of how the collection will be developed’. But selecting a winner from so many applicants was a challenge.
After a process of longlisting, shortlisting and interviews, the judges have chosen Alexandra Plane for ‘Books that built a zoo’: her collection of works by Gerald Durrell. Alexandra is studying for an MA in Library And Information Studies at UCL.
The other finalists were:
- Imogen Grubin for her collection of early 20th-century editions of Victorian literature
- Blake Harrison who collects material on James Joyce’s Ulysses
- Jiayue Liu for a collection of early 20th-century English Private Press editions
- Naomi Oppenheim who collects editions produced by Black British publishers in the mid 20th century
- Bori Papp for her collection of Hungarian translations of English literature illustrated by the artist Piroska Szántó
- Kit Rooney for a collection of hand-written inscriptions in books.
See the finalists present their collections online
Join us for this summer’s UCL Rare-Books Club Online, every Tuesday lunchtime, to hear the winner and finalists discuss their collections and present some of their books, starting on 14 July with Alexandra Plane, introduced by Anthony Davis.
The judges included representatives of the UK’s Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, the UK’s Bibliographical Society, and Senate House Library who hosted the prize last year, as well as UCL Special Collections.
For the Special Collections team, it was also a great pleasure to collaborate this year with the founder of the prize, Anthony Davis, and to share his inspiring enthusiasm for books and collecting with the students. We hope many of them will continue to develop and cherish their collections long into the future.
By Angela Warren-Thomas, on 29 May 2020
UCL’s Special Collections contains UCL’s collection of historical, academic and culturally significant works. It is one of the foremost university collections of manuscripts, archives and rare books in the UK. Included in its holdings is a collection of Islamıc manuscripts, Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan (“Romance of the Sultan Akbar”), (MS PERS/1), is one of the manuscripts in this collection.
The conservation of this manuscript was carried out by Fatma Aslanoglu, Project conservator
The Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan by Mír shams al-Dín Faqír Dihlavi originally written by Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273), is a copy of part of the Mesnevi poem collection. Written in Persian using carbon ink and Ta’liq calligraphy, the manuscript contains a poem written for Sultan Akbar in 1749. Bound in an Islamic style using the Lacquer technique, the book came to the conservation department because the binding was very tight, causing restricted opening and making access and handling for any purpose unsafe.
A preliminary examination of the manuscript determined that it had undergone previous repairs, the binding was now too tight compressing the textblock preventing free opening, causing distress and damage. It was decided to rebind the manuscript thus alleviating these problems, and ensure safe access to this important collection item. It appeared that during previous repairs, the original covers were reused but the leather on the spine had been replaced. Figure 2 shows the extent to which the manuscript opened without undue force. In addition to the problems created by the spine repair, superficial dust, separation of the text block and cover, tears, and stains were noted, along with fragility of the end leaves due to the acidity present in their paper, these conditions contributed to different but significant deteriorations in the manuscript.
The first step was removing the cover from the text block. The leather covering of the spine consisted of two pieces of leather, one attached to the left board and one attached to the right board. This is a typical characteristic of Islamic bindings and made it easier to separate the covers from the text block. The spine leather removal was carried out using Methylcellulose to hydrate the adhesive, allowing easy mechanical removal.
It became obvious as the removal of the binding progressed that the manuscript had not been fully disbound during the old repair. The original leather spine covering was still present under the new leather added during the repair. The sewing appeared untouched but the original primary endband sewing and endbands had been renewed.
The original leather and adhesive – probably ciris, a traditional paste made with the root of a yellow asphodel -were still preventing the manuscript from opening fully. Using Methylcellulose, the spine was hydrated, and the residue removed. The original spine lining, a typical characteristic of Islamic bindings, and adhesive was then removed from the text block. After removing all the original leather adhesives and lining from the spine, the text block started to open fully. This allowed the original sewing of the text block to be preserved.
With spine cleaning complete, the tie-down sewing and endbands added during the repair were removed. The text block had three sewing stations, in some of the gatherings; some threads were detached or broken. New thread was attached to the existing thread and the sewing repaired using the original sewing holes.
During the old repairs, new end papers were attached; the paper used for these is now known to be highly acidic therefore, a decision was taken to remove them from the textblock. Fabriano paper was used to create new end leaf papers.
The original textile spine lining was not strong or wide enough to hold the text block because its width had been trimmed during the old repair. A new textile lining was adhered to the text block with excess left along the front and back joints, for later reattachment of the boards.
Following the repair and stabilisation of the textblock spine, it was now possible to proceed with the dry cleaning of the textblock using a soft hake brush.
Paper repairs were carried out using re-moistenable Japanese tissue paper (Japico 0.02/3.8g – Using 4% (w,v) Methylcellulose). These two processes were completed after the spine-lining repair because the spine and sewing were so sensitive to opening and closing.
Another form of paper repair undertaken was the removal of paper layers adhered to the folios from the adjacent pages. The delaminated pieces were removed mechanically with local humidification and a spatula. They were then reattached to their original places using 4% Methylcellulose.
The new spine lining was trimmed at the head and tail of the textblock. An additional traditional leather core was added to the head and tail of the spine to further stabilise the structure. The primary endbands were sewn through the spine lining. It was decided to not re-use the endband created during the old repair. An endband with a chevron pattern was added.
A barrier between the spine and the text block, using the hollow back method, was created using Japanese tissue and pasted with wheat starch paste (1:6). This technique ensured that the manuscript would be able to open comfortably and therefore prevent any further damage to the gilded decorations present on all the pages.
After the textblock treatments, the boards were reattached to the text block. The spine lining extensions were positioned within the original board layers using wheat starch paste.
The spine leather was then pasted onto the hollow back present on the spine with wheat starch paste. Japanese tissue appropriately toned using Schmincke acrylics was added to the inner joint, the final process carried out to complete the conservation.
Working on The Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan manuscripts was a rare occasion to work on non-Western binding structures and a first-hand learning experience under the expert guidance of Fatma, for the conservators at the Conservation Department.
For more information about this manuscript please visit the UCL Special Collections page. (https://ucldigitalpress.co.uk/Book/Article/2/9/48/)
NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we are unfortunately unable to provide an image of the final state of conservation. We will update this article with a photograph as soon as possible.
By Harriet S, on 14 May 2020
The retrospective cataloguing team recently embarked on a project creating records for London History Maps, ca. 300 Special Collections maps, atlases and panoramas of London and the surrounding area.
The size of some of the maps was a little problematic (see images!), and finding appropriate locations to safely examine them was difficult in the busy Science Library. With a little planning, however, we were able to schedule map cataloguing time for when the office is at its emptiest, and at times (carefully) use floor space as well as any available desk space.Maps also require extra fields in catalogue records, such as scale and coordinates, and there are elements of vocabulary that cataloguers are not usually accustomed to using, for example identifying whether gradient is marked by hachures or bathymetry.
Thankfully, there are a number of helpful internet tools out there (such as this one to discern scale), and we discovered the “Bounding Box,” a website by Klokan Technologies, a Swiss company specialising in online map publishing. The bounding box tool gives approximate coordinates when adjusted to contain the area of the individual map. This is particularly helpful when many of the older London History maps do not operate on coordinates at all, but rather have numbered or lettered grids for reference to that map alone. Those that do, often have St. Paul’s, the centre of historic London as the meridian, not Greenwich. In fact, it was not until the 1880s that maps had any consensus as to what meridian to refer to, and many chose the centre of their respective cities/countries rather than settling on an international standard.
Finding their objective coordinates would have been a very arduous task if we had needed to relate to other maps, so the Bounding Box has been an invaluable resource to help us provide as much detail as possible. The site even helpfully provides coordinates formatted specifically for MARC cartographic fields 034 and 255. Alongside these websites, we also shared expertise and created standard phrases for common occurrences, such as the way the maps have been cut and mounted, and cartographic detail extending beyond the neat line (border) of the map.
With the nitty gritty out of the way, we had space to focus on the content of the maps. Many are beautifully engraved and hand-coloured, with parks showing detail up to the individual tree or flowerbed and the individual docks labelled along the Thames. Some maps emphasise railways, hackney carriage routes or walking distances, some even show the network of sewers! What is most striking is how different London was, and how quickly its expansion occurred. Up to the late 19th century, the land North of Regent’s Park dissolves into fields and farms, and South of the River is even less urbanised. Some maps even split boroughs into landowners’ estates. On a personal level, seeing UCL campus slowly emerge on the maps was particularly interesting.
The retrospective team began cataloguing London History Maps in February 2020, and almost half the collection is now online. Further map-related posts to follow when we regain access to our physical collections.
By utnvwom, on 27 April 2020
The WEF was founded in 1921 as the New Education Fellowship, later changing its name to the World Education Fellowship. The central focus of the organisation has been child-centred education, social reform through education, democracy, world citizenship, international understanding and the promulgation of world peace.
Its foundation can be traced back to 1915 with the establishment of the ‘Fraternity of Education’, led by a group of educators who believed the aim of education was to enable teachers to understand the factors involved in developing of human beings and their relationships to tackle the problems which were seen to be threatening civilisation.
The Fellowship’s work quickly spread around the world; with biannual international conferences and the publication of its journal ‘The New Era’, both of which continue to this day. The journal is now published online here http://www.newera.ijkie.org/
We have digitised our copies of the ‘The New Era’ from 1921-1999 (with some gaps in the collection). http://digital-collections.ucl.ac.uk/R/?func=collections-result&collection_id=8545
You can also view them at the Internet Archive https://archive.org/search.php?query=the+new+era+institute+of+education&sort=-date&and=mediatype%3A%22texts%22&and=collection%3A%22ucllibrary%22
The WEF published articles on a wide variety of subjects, and, covering almost the whole of the 20th century, we hope will be a useful resource for the study of education in this time period. Here is a sample index page from 1937;
Further resources on the WEF;
This digitisation project was funded by the Friends of the Newsam Library and Archives, we thank them for this generous contribution which will enable world wide access to this fascinating journal.
By Helen Biggs, on 17 April 2020
This year, UCL Special Collections is hosting the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize, to be awarded to a current student studying towards a degree at a London-based university. For many students, the label of ‘book collector’ is a grandiose one, and while the tiny space on their bed-side table may be crammed with text books and novels these don’t seem to match the image conjured up by the words ‘book collection’.
However, the Anthony Davis Prize does not require you to own first editions, or signed manuscripts, or books so old they are crumbling to dust. So if you’re interested in a £600 cash prize and a chance to talk about the books that you own and love, read on to learn how you can be a book collector – and then apply for the Prize.
You’re actually already a book collector
‘Collecting’ as a hobby is often seen as something for the rich, or the obsessed, or both. Whether it’s stamps or classic cars or Pokémon cards, the idea that a collection is prized for its rarity and monetary value above all else has become standard, as has the image of collectors as always collecting, always trying to one-up their rivals. This image is not untrue of every collector, but ignores the real reason many people collect: the love they have for their chosen collectable, and the joy they experience in finding something new to them, and sharing it with others. It ignores, too, that collections do not have to be rare and expensive to be enjoyed. It ignores that you probably, entirely unintentionally, already have a collection of your own.
If you’re a lover of books then you probably have a good number of them. They may not have been amassed with any particular purpose beyond reading them, but the pile of unread paperbacks on the floor next to your bed, the childhood favourites stacked on top of your wardrobe, and the romance novels stuffed in shoe boxes that you can’t quite bring yourself to give away are a collection of books. That makes you a book collector.
The first question is: what books are you collecting?
Turning your collection of books into a book collection
For the Anthony Davis Prize, it is not enough to own books. We’re asking that your collection ‘consists of no fewer than 8 printed and/or manuscript items reflecting a common theme, which the collector has deliberately assembled as the start of a collection and intends to grow’. So you’ll need to find a common theme among your book collection, one which you’d like to expand on as you buy more books.
A good place to begin is looking at subject, genre, or author. If you have an interest in baking cakes, you may have amassed a good number of food magazines. You may have a good collection of graphic novels. You might have every book written by J. K. Rowling.
Some book collections have links that are less obvious but perhaps more intriguing, and it might help to remember why you bought the book or were given it in the first place. Do you own more than one Booker Prize winning novel? Were you drawn to some of your books because of the art on the front cover? Did you at some point decide that you were going to read every book on Wikipedia’s list of ‘novels considered the greatest of all time’, or that you were going to focus on reading sci-fi written by BAME authors?
Once you’ve got a broad theme for your book collection, you may need to narrow it further. Think about the books you have and what links them together, what really appeals to you, or makes them different from the books that your friends have. It could be that you have a really good collection of manga, but your particular interest is magical girls, and most of your collection has been translated from Japanese into Spanish. Or your cookbooks are all written by 21st century TV chefs and focus on Italian cuisine. Or the book covers you are most drawn to in second hand book shops were all designed in the 1970’s. Or maybe your collection is very narrow indeed, consisting simply of different editions of exactly the same book, showing the different ways it has been published, marketed and interpreted through the years.
And voilà! You have your book collection. You should be able to describe it in a sentence – “I collect autobiographies of women who grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles”. But for the Anthony Davis Prize, the sentence needs to be a little longer. “I collect children’s picture books on space exploration because…”
Why is your book collection interesting?
Part of your application for the Prize will include ‘an essay of not more than 500 words explaining the coherence and interest of your collection, and why and how it was assembled’. ‘Interest’ in this case means not just why it’s of interest to you, but why it may be of interest to other people. Don’t panic – there’s a good chance that what is interesting to you is of interest to other people. Children’s picture books on space exploration are of interest to you because they show how we, as a society, view space as scary/exciting/a potential utopia. Northern Irish women’s autobiographies interest you because their voices are often missing in films/novels/school curricula.
So far I’ve mostly described the content of books as the reason for collecting them, but it’s worth noting here that it may be the physicality of a book collection that makes it interesting. If you’re someone who buys your books second-hand or loves browsing used-book stores, then you may find that you’re drawn to books that have been made or bound in a particular way. The history of individual books can also be intriguing – you may find you are interested in collecting books that have bookplates from past owners, or inscriptions from past gift-givers. In these cases, you’ll need to be able to explain why these bindings, these book plates, or these inscriptions are interesting.
It’s worth noting as well, that the Anthony Davis Prize is for ‘book collecting’ but isn’t only restricted to books – collections of sheet music, manuscripts, magazines, booklets and other ephemera are all admissible for the Prize. The selection of music here is from the collection of Vicky Price, Head of Outreach at UCL Special Collections, who has been collecting (and playing!) music for the French horn for over 20 years.
Adding to your book collection
I made the point at the start of this post that book collecting does not need to be an expensive hobby. Unfortunately, it is seldom a completely free hobby either. If you are going to grow your collection (and the Anthony Davis Prize asks you to list five items you could realistically add to it) then you are going to need to spend some money. It does not, however, have to be a lot.
Here I’m speaking from experience. The adjacent image shows my own collection – books in the ‘Chalet School’ Series by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, originally published between 1925 and 1970. If you click to enlarge the photo, you’ll see these books have a variety of different histories. Some of them I bought new, as recently republished books. Some of them came from scouring second-hand book shops, or visiting sales at public libraries (a great source of pre-loved books!). More relevantly for this time of lockdown and self-isolation, some came from purchasing used books through sites like Amazon, eBay, and the more specialist AbeBooks.
If my focus had been just on collecting first editions, then I could easily have been spending hundreds of pounds at a time to build this collection. Instead, my focus has always been on ‘completing’ it – that is, owning every title in the series – which often meant spending only a couple of pounds on a cheaply made paperback. But it has also meant finding undervalued hardbacks, with or without the dustjackets, which has always given me a nerdy thrill. And it has meant connecting online with other people who collect the series, swapping titles that I’ve doubled up on with titles that they don’t need.
What happens next
Putting the Prize to one side for the moment, what happens next to your collection is up to you. If you are like me, then the size of your collection will be limited by the size of your bedroom, flat or house. My Chalet School collection still resides with my parents, as I have less living space as an adult than I did as a teen, and I have to have a strict one-in-one-out policy with new book purchases (well, strictish).
But you may also find that, as time goes on, you have fewer limits, and your hobby grows into a passion. In contrast to the smaller collections I’ve discussed above, here’s one from UCL Special Collections’ Project Conservator, Laurent Cruveillier. His intent was to create a collection of cookbooks signed by their authors, and over 25 years he has put together a collection of over 500 books, from the 19th century to today. His collection is vast enough to include a sub-collection, of recipe booklets produced by American food and appliance companies.
Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself what it is about book collecting that you find fulfilling. Whether it’s the hunt for a title your collection is ‘missing’, the chance to connect with other people who share your interests, or simply owning books that you find special, book collecting should bring you joy.
Applying for the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize
If you’ve got this far, you’re excited about book collecting, and you’re a student studying for a degree at a London-based university, you should absolutely consider entering the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize. In brief:
- Applications are due by May 25, 2020
- The winner will receive £600, an allowance of £300 to purchase a book for UCL Special Collections (in collaboration with library staff), and the opportunity to give a talk on and/or display of their collection as part of the UCL Special Collections events programme.
- Applicants must fill in the Application Cover Sheet, appending an essay of not more than 500 words on their collection, a list of items in their collection, and a list of five items to add to their collection. More details on the requirements are listed in the cover sheet.
For more information on the Prize, including more information on how to enter and who qualifies for entry, please visit our website.
- The Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize
- Prized Book Collections – on a budget
- Classic Textbooks Win Collecting Prize (Anthony Davis Prize winner 2019)
- Power Inside & Out (Anthony Davis Prize winners 2018)
With thanks to Laurent Cruveillier, Vicky Price and my parents for providing images of their own collections!