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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!

The Power of Print

ucylppr19 February 2020

The Outreach team at UCL Special Collections have spent a great six weeks delivering an after school club to Year 7, 8 and 9 pupils at William Ellis School. Pupils attended in their free time to explore how written texts have been produced through the ages and to learn about some of the ways printing has influenced western society.

Each session involved a hands on art or craft activity, producing manuscripts complete with calligraphy and gold leaf, block prints of historiated initials and lino cut illustrations. We are proud to share the end results of this final task with you – pupils were asked to choose a poem from a selection and to create an image they felt represented the poem in a lino print.

A black and white lino cut depicting a cactus, a hand reaching towards it and a porcupine looking on.

Porcupines

By Marilyn Singer

Hugging you takes some practice.

So I’ll start out with a cactus.

(Poem taken from the Poetry Foundation)

A black and white lino cut depicting a personified cactus with feet and a geometric criss-cross pattern across its body.

Trees
By Joyce Kilmer

Two black and white lino cut prints, side to side, depicting the same close-up pattern of wood grain.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

(Poem taken from the Poetry Foundation)

 

Extract from The Cloud
By Percy Bysshe Shelley

A black and white lino cut of a personified cloud (with a smiley face), distributing rain.

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.

(Poem taken from The Poetry Foundation)

 

To Catch a Fish
By Eloise Greenfield

It takes more than a wish
to catch a fish
you take the hook
you add the baitA black and white lino cut print showing a fish swimming towards a fishing hook on a rod.
you concentrate
and then you wait
you wait you wait
but not a bite
the fish don’t have
an appetite
so tell them what
good bait you’ve got
and how your bait
can hit the spot
this works a whole
lot better than
a wish
if you really
want to catch
a fish

(Poem taken from The Poetry Foundation)

 

A black and white lino cut print of the profile of an eagle, standing a the edge of its nest.

The Eagle
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

(Poem taken from The Poetry Foundation)

Printing and protest at Special Collections’ summer schools

Helen Biggs13 August 2019

Librarian Liz Lawes discussing the Small Press Collections with summer school participants

While many of our colleagues have been enjoying (much deserved!) holidays over the past few months, it has been business as usual for UCL Special Collections’ outreach team. We have been lucky this year to be able to offer not one, but two summer schools for secondary school students, both taking their inspiration from our amazing Small Press Collection.

Protest in Print: Year 12 Non-residential Summer School (funded by Widening Participation)

This week-long summer school was co-led by artist David Blackmore, 2018-19 Honorary Research Associate at the Slade. The project aimed to give participants an opportunity to explore the ways in which artists, activists and writers have used and continue to use print to communicate a message of protest or political activism.  David was already familiar with much of the protest material in our Little Magazines collection, having taken part in the 2019 Small Press Project, Visions of Protest. With his encouragement, our students were quick to outline the many issues that they believe are worth drawing more attention to (including mental health, Islamophobia, the Extradition Bill in Hong Kong, and data protection) and staged their own demonstration on UCL’s Portico steps.

Summer school students stage a demonstration on UCL’s Portico steps

Our students then spent some time immersing themselves in archival and print collections, exploring ways in which some marginalised voices have found platforms in small press and self-published works. As well as viewing some of the wide range of titles held in Little Magazines, curated for them by Liz Lawes, they visited the May Day Rooms on Fleet Street, and had a tour of the Bishopsgate Institute Archives.

Putting their newfound knowledge into action, each of our students then created a work of art, using collage that incorporated copies of items they’d seen, and screen printing taught and facilitated by the Slade’s Lesley Sharpe.

The week ended with a ‘soft crit’ of their work, and a well-attended public exhibition. While many of our students had arrived anxious that they weren’t ‘art students’, they all showed a remarkable amount of skill and creativity, and a real passion to explain what was important to them through the medium of print.

A ‘soft crit’ of students’ artwork ahead of their exhibition.

 

Paper, Press, Print: East Education Summer School

With barely a pause to breathe, we launched straight into our second summer school, a free three-day course based at UCL Here East, as part of the Olympic Park’s education programme for local 13-to-16 year olds. It was wonderful to be able to host our project at UCL’s own campus at Here East, where our colleagues made both us and our students feel welcome.

Summer school students creating their own zines.

We were once again looking at protest in print, but with a different twist: this time, we focused on the ‘grassroots’ nature of many of the magazines in our Small Press collection, and invited Lu Williams of Grrrl Zine Fair to run a zine-making workshop. While our students differed in ages and abilities, they were all able to use photography, collage, block printing and a photocopier to create their own zines, allowing them to disseminate their ideas almost instantly.

And if that wasn’t enough…

…we’ve had plenty of other workshops to keep us busy! This year Sarah Hutton of UCL Culture invited us to take part in her Year 8 and Year 12 summer schools, both of which saw us discussing morality through 19th Century scientific archives and 16th Century religious texts, and July’s Paper Trails Conference was followed by a two-day workshop for Year 12s from Newham Collegiate Sixth Form College, led by Andrew Smith, on how to use primary sources in history research.

We will shortly be looking ahead to the new school and academic year – but first, we’ll finally be taking a well-earned summer holiday of our own!

As Making East London Comes to a Close, New Projects Beckon…

ucylppr28 June 2019

28th June 2019 marks the end of a Heritage Lottery Funded project between UCL Special Collections and Newham libraries, Archives and Local Studies Library.

We have been working for a year and a half on developing new collaborative exhibitions, creating a collection of oral history interviews and developing a programme to enable local people in Newham to be a part of the project.

It’s been a busy, bustling, fun filled project and we’re so proud of the result; two exhibitions, 30 hours’ plus of workshops and interviews with 103 participants and 11 oral history interviews.

You can hear the interviews here, but if you would just like to get a feel for the project, why not watch our animated video, which uses clips from the interviews and images from the collaborative exhibition Making East London (which uses UCL Special Collections and Newham Archives and Local Studies Library items):

‘Making East London’ in Stratford Library

The Saturday morning group in full swing

Our second collaborative exhibition ‘Visible Women’ was shown at London Borough of Newham’s International Women’s Day Celebrations.

We have ambitions for further collaborative projects with Newham Libraries and with other community organisations in the four neighbouring boroughs of the Olympic Park as we continue to lay the foundations for a full and far-reaching engagement programme.  Watch this space!

UCL Special Collections Launches Lates Programme

Helen Biggs11 March 2019

We are excited to be launching a series of evening talks for 2019, starting this month and running through to the next academic year.

We’ll be hosting sociable, relaxed after-work events,  perfect for anyone who is interested to come into UCL to learn about the wonderful rare books, archives and manuscripts that we hold here.  Each evening will present a particular topic or theme; talks and collection displays with wine, soft drinks and nibbles for all.  What more could anyone want?!

Our first Late will be ‘Protest!  Voices of dissent in art and text’.  Guest speakers Egidija Čiricaitė and Susannah Walker will join us to explore this theme through their fascinating research and corresponding collection items.

Although all of our Lates events will have academic research at their core, they will be accessible and are open to all aged 16+.  We hope you can join us for the first of what will be a regular series of talks and evening events to inspire, intrigue and amuse!

Get your ticket now!

Protest! Voices of dissent in art and text

Date: Tuesday, 26th March, 6.15-8pm
Venue: UCL Haldane Room, Wilkins Building, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT

The Small Press Project: In Conversation with Egidija Čiricaitė and Liz Lawes

The Small Press Project from Slade School of Fine Art takes inspiration from UCL Special Collections’ small press collection each year. This year’s project, Visions of Protest: BLAKE THE MARCH, has been used as a critical lens through which artists, academics and students can focus on what connections exist between the democracy of print, their aesthetics and the autonomy of artists’ books and publishing. The project is formed through a programme of workshops, performances, screenings, talks, collaborations and interdisciplinary practices involving non-academic institutions and the public.  Egidija Čiricaitė will be in conversation with Liz Lawes, our very own small press collections expert (and UCL’s Subject Liaison Librarian: Fine Art, History of Art and Film Studies).

Egidjia Čiricaitė publishes books, exhibitions, and book related projects.  Although firmly based within contemporary artists’ books practice, her varied interests can be loosely divided between book history and contemporary metaphor theories (in linguistics).  Egidija is co-curator of Prescriptions project of artists’ books and medical humanities (University of Kent). She is co-curating Artists’ Books Now events at the British Library and is currently studying for her PhD at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL.

Printing Peterloo

On the 16th August 1819, a peaceful protest for electoral reform at St Peter’s Fields Manchester was suppressed. The large crowd, assembled to hear the orator Henry Hunt, were charged on by the local yeomanry cavalry resulting in casualties and injuries. The events became known as “Peterloo”, an ironic reference to the Battle of Waterloo of 1815. This was a pivotal moment in the histories of democracy, protest and “working class politics.” Peterloo inspired political pamphlets, poetry and caricature and most recently Mike Leigh’s film of 2018. This session will consider the memory of Peterloo in print using objects from UCL Special Collections and The British Museum.

Susannah Walker was a Teaching Fellow in History of Art at UCL from 2014 to 2018 specialising in Print Culture and Romanticism, and is currently working as a curator in the British Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings. Her recent work has involved cataloguing and researching a range of political pamphlets produced in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.

Wine (or a soft drink) and nibbles are included with your £3 ticket. Click here to book your place.