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Liberating the Curriculum – A New Remote Volunteering Project

ucylppr24 November 2020

We are excited to announce a new remote volunteer project, starting in January 2021 at UCL Special Collections!

The project is part of our team’s work towards Liberating the Curriculum and is our first foray into digital, remote volunteer work. If you are interested in being a part of a project that widens all of our knowledge of, and access to, voices that might otherwise be under represented or under highlighted in our collections, please read on (and register here to attend an induction event)!

The Challenge

Four visitors and a member of staff stand over a table in UCL Special Collections' South Junction Reading Room, looking at collection items from our Poetry Store collection. The items are colourful and vary in format, some folded and with bold print, others non-standard sizes.

Staff and visitors inspecting items from our Poetry Store collection.

The Special Collections team are always working towards enabling access to the collection. This usually involves the acquisition, preservation, conservation, digitisation and cataloguing of rare books, archives and manuscripts. We also use the collection in teaching and outreach, deliver a reader and an enquiry service and provide as much digital access to the collection as possible.

Despite this work, we are aware that there are still many barriers (both physical and ‘invisible’) that prevent some users from accessing the collection and that prevent lesser heard voices in the collections coming to the fore: Historically, society’s most privileged have been most able to write and publish work, to collect rare materials and to create archives. The result is that stories from less privileged people – those of non-white ethnicity, women, those living with a disability or people who are LGBTQ+, for example – can be obscured or lost in the narratives mined from the special collections at UCL.

We know that we could do better, and want to make a start in this effort. A more focussed approach to researching the collection, and on communicating this research to collection users, could result in more diverse representation and in these lesser heard voices being more visible to collection users. However, our challenge is routed in the sheer size of the collection at UCL – we need your help to make this happen!

How to get involved

If you have an interest in historical research, librarianship, archives, representation in historic collections, or are simply curious about the project, please consider registering for one of our induction events.

Following one of these induction events, volunteers will be invited to sign up to a specific area of research – some examples could be searching for representations of non-European people and cultures in the Jewish & Hebrew rare books and pamphlets, Small Press collections and Folklore Society, or searching for early modern female book owners that are connected to our rare books.  Volunteers will be trained and supported throughout the project by a UCL Special Collections team member.

How much time do volunteers need to give, and what equipment will they need?
We are very flexible with regards to how much time volunteers can offer, and as this is a remote project, the required equipment amounts to a computer and internet access. If you would like to be a part of this project, but don’t have access to this equipment, or have further questions, please let us know by emailing library.spec.coll.ed@ucl.ac.uk, as we can offer further support for those who need it.

Register to attend an induction event here!

Some historical sources on intelligence testing, eugenics and the special education needs of children

Nazlin Bhimani24 August 2020

I have been studying key texts on the history of schooling during the interwar period for my research. In this post, I highlight some of the sources from the late 19th century to the end of the period between the two wars that are relevant to the history of special education needs or, more precisely, the history of intelligence testing and eugenics and the exclusion of children with learning difficulties in state-funded schools. Many of the labels used to describe children with disabilities are offensive to us now and it is, therefore, important to consider the use of these within their historical context.

Sandlebridge Schools at Warford

Sandlebridge Schools at Warford

The history of education is replete with references to mental health issues in the legislative acts and books dating from the first half of the 19th century to the recent past. The first piece of legislation that deals with the issue of provision “for the care, education and training of idiots and imbeciles” was the 1886 Idiot’s Act of Parliament. It was the first time that the UK government had differentiated between those with mental health problems (‘lunatics’) and those who had learning disabilities (‘idiots’ and ‘imbeciles’). In 1902, the first facility that included children with special needs, and differentiated between the ‘mentally subnormal’ and the ‘ mentally ill’, was Mary Dendy’s Sandlebridge Colony in Great Warford, Cheshire. Dendy (1885-1933) was a typical feminist educator who showed compassion and humanity but from the vantage of one who wanted control in preventing social degeneration.  She was an advocate of Francis Galton’s (1822-1911) eugenic theories and her address at the Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics in Manchester in 1902 confirms the similarities of her views with Galton’s. Galton (who was the half-cousin of Charles Darwin) had published his book Hereditary Genius in 1862 and by the early years of the 20th century had begun to question the ‘civic worth’ of the ‘feeble-minded’. Dendy believed that the ‘feeble-minded should be segregated in order that their deformities were not perpetuated through marriage into future generations – forced sterilisation was actively promoted by the Eugenics Education Society which many eminent educationalists of the day belonged to. In Dendy’s opinion, the ‘degenerate children’ were incapable of being educated in the normal schoolroom and these children should be sent to special residential homes where they would be taught a livelihood to make them useful members of society. Her views are expressed in the 1911 publication Schooling of the Feeble-minded Children

The debates about eugenics, social responsibility, ethics, religion or the ‘biosocial’ (genetic dispositions) aspect of race continued during the early part of the 20th century and several reports were published by the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded (set up in 1904) which culminated with the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act. This Act ensured the institutionalisation of the “feeble-minded’ and “moral defectives” such that they were removed from the institutions established as part of the Poor Law – thus incorporating the ideas the eugenicists, including Dendy, had been advancing. John and Samuel Wormald’s Guide to the Mental Deficiency Act, 1913: containing a legal and general exposition of the Act, with suggestions to the local authorities, managers and others for the organization and administration of the work dealing with the mentally defective is in the IOE’s special collections. The Wormalds, father and son, were active in the eugenics movement. John Wormald was a solicitor and for many years the Chairman of the Schools and the Special Schools, Boarding-out and Care Committees for the Mentally Defective in Leeds. The guide was written for those who are “actively concerned about the welfare of feeble-minded or defective persons”:

Imprisoned in our jails, confined in our Industrial Schools and maintained in the wards of our Workhouses are a large number of people who ought not to be there at all, and who are too often only injured by their present treatment, which is both costly and ineffective….The new powers of guardianship will be welcomed by those who are familiar with after care work in connection with these children. Very often such children will never need institutional treatment if these powers be wisely exercised but they will need the guiding and protecting hand whose continued presence the Act makes possible. … They will afford scope for the noblest exercise of the religious spirit, in training, tending and cheering lives, which at present are needlessly darkened, but which are capable of a real, though it may be a limited development; and are keenly sensitive to many simple joys of which they are now deprived (Wormald & Wormald, 1913, p. vii).

The above gives the impression of being quite caring but Wormald’s son Samuel, a member of the Eugenics Society, later became the notorious Executive Officer of the Mental Deficiency Meanwood Park unit in Leeds. He is remembered today for his often ruthless removal of more than 2,000 people (children, unmarried mothers and factory workers) considered to have a disability from society because he believed that “…by being allowed to repeat their type, the feebleminded are increasing the ranks of the degenerate and wastrel classes with disastrous consequences to the entire community”(Digital Archives of the Meanwood Park Hospital).

George E. Shuttleworth, a pioneer psychologist and Medical Examiner for the School Board in London, and did much to promote an understanding of differences between the different types of children deemed to be ‘subnormal’. It was through his persistent efforts that provision was made for children with disabilities. He devised teaching methods and set up “special” schools for children considered to have ‘mental deficiencies’. His book, Mentally Deficient Children was the standard text on the subject and ran to five editions from 1895 to 1922. The British Medical Journal suggested that the book was so widely read that “there can be few psychiatrists throughout the civilised world to whom his name is not familiar”.

In the preface to his book, Shuttleworth explains the various terms used to describe these ‘feeble-minded’ and ‘backward’ children suffering from ‘retarded mental development’. Shuttleworth included in the 2nd edition of his book two additional chapters that give an account of an inquiry on the educational training of children with learning disabilities by a Committee under the Education Department of which he was a member. The School Board for London adopted the recommendations for practical measures proposed by the Committee as did several other school authorities. His advice was that the “mentally-feeble child is specially incapable of comprehending abstractions: all instructions, therefore, must be presented in a concrete form, which it can not only see, but when possible grasp in the hand as well as in the mind” (p. 100). Shuttleworth’s papers are held at the Wellcome Library.

Schooling children with special education needs was also considered by educationalists and psychologists on the Continent. In the early part of the 20th century, the French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857-1911) had been commissioned by his government to find a way to measure intelligence as a way to find out which children needed additional assistance. His theories, and those of his collaborator Dr.Theodore Simon, are included in The Intelligence of the Feeble-minded which was translated into English and published in 1916. In this book, we get a glimpse of Binet’s discoveries which he obtained by observing children. Binet and Simon developed the Intelligence Quotients or IQ tests to determine the mental age and ratio of a child’s intelligence. These tests were also used to gauge the intelligence of the men recruited to fight in the First World War. Later in the mid-1920s, ratios for each group of ‘mental defectives’ were set out – idiots had an ‘Intelligence Quotient’ or IQ of under 20, imbeciles were those with a mental ratio of between 20 and 40 and feeble-minded were those that had a ratio of up to 60 – these were published in the British Journal of Psychology (July 1926, pp. 20-53).

Other relevant books in the Special Collections include the Feeblemindness in Children of School Age by C. Paget Lapage published in 1911. Lapage was a medical doctor at the Children’s Hospital in Manchester and a lecturer in School Hygiene at Manchester University. His book was aimed at school medical officers, teachers and social workers who deal with feebleminded children. In Lapage’s view, effective methods of dealing with the feebleminded were of immense importance to the national welfare of the community as “feeblemindedness is an inherited taint handed on from generation to generation, and that every feebleminded person, who is a free and unrestrained agent, may, by becoming a parent, transmit and taint and so affect tens or hundreds of future generations” (p. viii).

The Education of Mentally Defective Children: Psychological observations and practical suggestions by Alice Descoeudres (translated from French into English by Ernest F. Row) was published in 1928. In the previous year, an amendment to the Mental Deficiency Act enabled those who had mental health problems through illness or accident to be included in the group that could be supported in specialist institutions. The book acknowledges the difficulties of working with ‘defective children’ stating that “WE have to contrive in a variety of ways to arouse their [these children’s] interest, to awaken and hold their attention, or develop their will power, to gain their confidence, and to strengthen their characters” (p. 7).

Image of Cyril Burt

Cyril Burt (1883-1971)

Lastly, no list on this subject would be complete without reference to the work of Cyril Burt who influenced the structure of the schooling system in the interwar years with his work on psychometrics or the science of measuring mental capabilities. Burt was the first part-time school educational psychologist to be appointed by the London County Council (LCC) in 1913. From 1924, he was a part-time lecturer at the London Day Training College (which became the Institute of Education in 1932) and in 1931 Burt was appointed to the Chair of the Psychology Department at UCL, taking over the position from Charles Spearman. Burt had been introduced to Galton’s work at an early age and developed mental testing in schools in 1909 whilst working as Lecturer in Psychology and Assistant Lecturer in Physiology at Liverpool University. This work continued whilst he was at the IOE and at UCL. His belief that the innate intelligence of children could be measured to judge their capabilities is demonstrated in the book  Mental and Scholastic Tests published in 1921. His initial report for the LCC on The Backward Child was published in 1923 but the most influential work was his The Young Delinquent (1925) which established the acceptance of psychometrics and its hegemony for pedagogy for the future decades.  Evidence of his thinking is presented in The Subnormal Mind which was published in 1935.

The above sources are examples which illustrate that eugenics was prevalent and permeated educational thinking in the early 20th century. The  marginalisation of children continued in the interwar years (albeit in a less draconian manner) for if children did not fit the norm in terms of their mental or physical capabilities, they were segregated in the schools or excluded altogether.
If you would like to view any of the texts mentioned above, please contact us when the libraries open.

Results announced for Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize 2020

Tabitha Tuckett9 July 2020

Books on shelves

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.

Judges

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.

 

 

Conserving the UCL Islamic Treasures: Masnavi-I Akbar Sultan: MS Pers/1

Angela Warren-Thomas29 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 

Figure 1 UCL Special Collections The Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan

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.

 

Figure 2 Opening limit due to tight binding

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.

Figure 3 Removing the cover and spine from the textblock

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.

Figure 4 Original spine residue (left) old repair primary endband thread (right)

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.

Figure 5 Spine leather residue (left) textile lining (mid-left) residue cleaning process (mid-right) spine diagram (right)

Figure 6 Spine after residue clean

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.

Figure 7 textblock sewing consolidation

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.

Figure 8 Paper repair

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.

Figure 9 Primary endband (left) chevron patterned endband (right)

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.

Figure 11 Reattaching covers to the textblock

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.

Figure 12 Attaching leather to spine (left) adding inner join with coloured Japanese tissue (right)

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.

 

How to be a student book collector (and apply for the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize)

Helen Biggs17 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.

A shelf full of books, shelved in no apparent grouping or order.

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?

A collection of Giles annualsOnce 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.

a collection of printed music for the French hornIt’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.

A collection of 'Chalet School' hardbacks and paperbacks in various states of repairHere 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).

wooden shelves crammed full of books from Laurent Cruveillier's cookbook collectionBut 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.

Further Reading:

With thanks to Laurent Cruveillier, Vicky Price and my parents for providing images of their own collections!