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Exploring Women Owners of UCL’s pre-1750 Rare Books

Erika Delbecque16 August 2021

This guest blog post was written by Dr Steph Carter, who spent six months volunteering at UCL Special Collections as part of the Liberating the Collections project

The initial phase of the ‘Liberating the Collections’ project at UCL Special Collections has begun to highlight under-represented and marginalised voices in the collections. One area of research has been women owners, contributing not only to the existing narrative of pre-1750 books in the UCL Special Collections but also to the growing scholarly interest in early modern women book owners.

Working primarily with the UCL library catalogue, 5000 provenance statements were examined for evidence of women owners and straightaway provided ample data to pursue research on the lives of these former book owners. However, research into women book owners brought to the fore the intensely acute disparity that is so common between men and women when it comes to historical documentation and searching for biographical details. Biographies of identifiable women tend to be tied into the biographies of their fathers, husbands or brothers, typically comprising little more detail than a wedding date and how many children were born. An added complication is the repeated use of the same first name through successive generations of a single family.

[Seder berakho] (Amsterdam, [1687 or 1688]), front endpaper [STRONG ROOM MOCATTA 1687 B2]

A Hebrew text from the 1680s includes the inscription ‘Rebecca Mocatta’ on the front endpaper. This is undoubtedly part of the surviving Mocatta Library, the majority of the collection having been destroyed by bombing in 1940. The Mocatta family were established in London by 1671 with the merchant and diamond broker Moses Mocatta. At his death in 1693, Moses identified a niece called Rebecca; his son Abraham later had a daughter also named Rebecca. Rebecca also continued to be an important female family name in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the book remained in the Mocatta family collection until at least the early 19th century as there are manuscript notes on the front flyleaves detailing information about births in the family between 1797 and 1809.

John Harington, Orlando furioso in English heroical verse (London, 1591), title-page [STRONG ROOM OGDEN B 2]

Of course, even with a family name it is not always possible to identify the correct lineage. The Countess of Warwick, Mary Rich (1624-1678), is a known author and book owner. She was addicted to plays and romances in her youth, so it is not ridiculous to assume that she is the author of the inscription ‘Mary Rich’ on the title-page of Sir John Harington’s 1591 translation of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso – the Italian poem that is a source for Much Ado About Nothing.

However, another ascription, ‘Margarit Riche’, is also present on the title-page and an inscription on p. [186] of the main text refers to a note on the marriage of Robert and Elizabeth Riche in 1616.

John Harington, Orlando furioso in English heroical verse (London, 1591), title-page [STRONG ROOM OGDEN B 2  

These details do not match with the genealogy of the Earls of Warwick, suggesting that this book may have been owned by a completely separate family and passed down through female members of that family.

Despite the limitations of researching and identifying women book owners, the Mocatta and Rich examples contribute to a growing narrative of what the editors of Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern England describe as ‘the myriad ways in which women bought, borrowed, accessed, wrote in, made, recorded, cited, and circulated books’ (p. 4). Such research on women book owners will also contribute to a broader engagement with the UCL Special Collections.

Dr Steph Carter, Associate Researcher, Newcastle University

References

Orbell, J. (2004) ‘Mocatta family (per.1671-1957), bullion dealers and brokers’, Dictionary of National Biography Online. Available at: oxforddnb.com [Accessed on 27 July 2021].
Cambers, A. Godly Reading: Print, Manuscript and Puritanism in England, 1580-1720 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 48-50.
Knight, L. and White, M. ‘The Bookscape’ in: Knight, L., White, M. and Sauer, E. (eds.) Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018, pp. 1-18.

Announcing the winners of the 2021 Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize

Erika Delbecque28 June 2021

French translations of Beatrix Potter, English testimonies to the Holocaust and women of the South Asian Diaspora – these were just some of the collecting themes amongst the applications for this year’s Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize, which is open to all students at London-based universities. The prize, which is generously funded by Anthony Davis, aims to encourage collectors who are at an early stage of collecting books, printed materials or manuscripts.

Because the standard of applications was particularly high this year, the panel made the exceptional decision to award two prizes.

The winners

Books from Daniel Haynes’ winning collection

This year’s winner is Daniel Haynes for his collection ‘The money earned by herself’: women artists of the Roycroft Press. This printing house was founded by Elbert Hubbart in New York State in 1895. It became the most influential Arts and Crafts press in America and a commercial success. Following the trend to revive 15th-century printing techniques and skills started by William Morris’ Kelmscott Press, the Roycroft Press produced books that were hand-printed and illuminated. Daniel’s collection focuses on books that contain evidence of women illuminators, highlighting the contributions made by artists whose role has often been overlooked. Daniel, who is a studying for an MA in Library & Information Studies at UCL, will receive a cash prize and the opportunity to work with a member of staff to select a new item for UCL Special Collections. He will also be entered into the national book collecting competition that is organised by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association.

The runner-up winner is Erick Jackaman with their collection Read My Genders: A Trans for Trans Collection. They collect a wide range of contemporary material that is published by trans people for trans people, including self-published novels, zines and leaflets. Erick is currently studying for an MSc in Digital Humanities at UCL.

Pink spines on a book shelf

The pink spines in Erick’s collection

“The whole experience of applying for the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize has been such a joy for me”, they said. “When I started writing my application back in March, it didn’t occur to me how valuable the application process itself would be or how much I would learn throughout. Speaking [to the panel] filled me with a sense of wonder for the potential of my collection.” Erick will also receive a cash prize and the opportunity to select a new item for UCL Special Collections.

The other finalists were:

  • Humphrey Price for his collection of works by Clare Leighton
  • Howard Kordansky for his collection of books and pamphlets on the role of the German Jewry in the First World War
  • Jemma Stewart for her collection of floriography or the language of flowers

See the finalists present their collections online

Join us for special sessions of the 2021 UCL Rare Books Club Online to hear some of the finalists speak about their collections and show some of the items. These lunchtime sessions are free to attend and open to all.

 

Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize: Collecting with Intention

Sarah S Pipkin12 April 2021

The Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize is an opportunity to celebrate student collectors and the diverse collections they build and nurture. Last year we wrote about how you can be a student book collector without even realising it. But what is the difference between a book collector and someone who just owns a lot of books? For us, and the judges on the Book Collecting Prize panel, the difference is collecting with intention.

What is Collecting with Intention?

Collecting anything is about building a collection of material around a common theme for a specific purpose. You could be collecting because you really love the subject, author or artist. Or it might be about raising awareness or preserving a history you believe is important. But it becomes a ‘collection’ when it forms a cohesive whole. Think of books or items that if you would give away as a unit rather than one item at a time.

The intention behind your collection can be academic or it can just be something that you are passionate about. Some of last year’s finalists collected in areas that overlapped with their studies, while the 2020 winner submitted a collection of books she had since her childhood. You can also submit material such as letters, postcards, and comic books.

It’s all well and good talking about this in the abstract, but what exactly does an intentional collection look like? Let’s look at some examples:

Vicky’s Collection of Music for the French Horn

Potential Collection Title: Milestones for a Music Student

Vicky, our Head of Outreach, has a collection of sheet music for the French horn. Her sheet music cover different milestones of a student’s journey to learning how to play the instrument. The music was primarily bought when she was learning the instrument herself as a child. None of the music in the collection are particularly rare, but some of them are now out of print.

Selected items from Vicky's music collection

Selection of sheet music from Vicky’s French Horn collection.

When Vicky started the collection, it was music that she needed to proceed to the next milestone of learning music. It wasn’t really a collection at the time – it was just the assigned sheet music for learning the French horn. However, over time she filled her books with annotations that documents her journey as a musician. This includes names of music teachers, recitals and more. They now serve as a history of her progress as a music student. Once she finished her studies, she kept the collection as a single unit. They have a certain amount of sentimental value – they represent the journey she took when learning the French Horn and remind her of the teachers and concerts that helped her along that journey. But it also represents what the musical journey of most French horn players – the music pieces that she has are very popular amongst people learning the French Horn and become more technically difficult over time. If she was to give the collection away, she’d give it to a music student at the beginning of their learning journey as, in theory, they then wouldn’t need to buy another piece of music until they finish their studies. But it’s also a collection that’s still in use. Vicky returns to old music to practice her skills and finds that the music she learned years ago is still challenging for different reasons. Why she isn’t actively adding to the collection, it serves as a physical representation of a learning journey.

Notations inside music book

Notations inside of one of Vicky’s music books.

What does this mean for you, a potential applicant to the Anthony Davis Book Prize? Books that you may have purchased over the course of learning something new, but then changed in significance to you overtime, may be a great thing to submit to the Book Prize. When looking at your collection, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What does this collection represent to you?
  • What about it tells a story that I think is important?
  • What about my relationship to these items has changed that makes me think of them as a cohesive whole?

Sarah’s collection of modern science fiction and fantasy written by women

Potential Collection Title: Imagined Feminist Futures

I collect science fiction and fantasy novels written by women. These are primarily books published in the past five years, but I am also actively seeking earlier works. A few years ago I realised that despite the fact that I love the science fiction and fantasy genre, almost all of the authors I’ve read were men and the authors I had on my shelves were entirely men. So, I decided to change that by intentionally reading and buying science fiction and fantasy books authored by women. It started out as just a reading project – I read primarily library books or ebooks. But as I realised how many authors I had been ignoring, my purchasing patterns started changing as well. The moment I started seeing it as an intentional collection was when I bought a special edition of the collected Binti novellas – a series of novellas that had initially been published online but were re-issued in a physical format.

Selection of books from Sarah's collection

Selection of books from Sarah’s science fiction and fantasy collection.

As my collection has grown, it has become a reference library for suggesting authors to friends who are also looking at expanding the authors they read. It now serves as a reference library for myself and other people in my social circle. I also am more likely to buy a book by an author that I haven’t read if I believe it will fill a gap in my collection. While my collection is also dependant on the books I enjoy – part of it has been regifted to friends when I didn’t enjoy the story – there is a core set of books that I would be very reluctant to part with and serve as a representation of women’s contributions to the genre.

Book cover of Binit Collected Novellas

Binti: The Complete Trilogy. While tracking down this edition, I started to see my books as a collection.

If you, like me, started a collection to fill a knowledge gap or encourage better buying habits, these questions might help you think a bit more deeply about your own collection:

  • Why do you buy the books you buy (beyond them being required reading)?
  • Why do you buy particular editions?
  • What have you learned from building your collection?

Final Thoughts

Even though Vicky and I both collect printed material, your collection doesn’t have to be limited to printed books or sheet music. Instead, it can be a collection of letters or diaries, postcards or greeting cards. The items you collect do not have to be old or historically valuable – modern material is welcome. What we want to see in applications to the Anthony Davis Book Prize is intention and purpose. If you can tell us why these items serve as a cohesive whole and the story they tell, then you’ll be the ideal applicant to the Book Prize.

 

We are now accepting applications for the 2021 Anthony Davis Book Prize! The prize is open to all students at a London based university and applications close on 30 April 2021. For more information, visit our main page for the Anthony Davis Book Prize.

The Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize is now open for applications

Erika Delbecque9 February 2021

Calling all budding book collectors studying at London universities! Would you like to win a £600 cash prize to grow your collection, a chance to present your collection to an international online audience and the opportunity to work with library and archive staff to select an item for UCL Special Collections? The 2021 Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize is now open for applications.A student studying an item from UCL Special Collections

To many, the term book collection conjures up the image of shelves groaning under the weight of century-old leather-bound volumes, but that is not what this prize requires. The size, age and the financial value of your collection are irrelevant, because we expect these collections to be embryonic. Queer comics, debut Chinese poetry, books by Black British publishers, post-war architectural books, and Slovakian Beat poetry; this selection of themes from the shortlist for last year’s Prize gives a flavour of the broad spectrum that the Prize covers.

Your collection should consist of at least eight printed and/or manuscript items that reflect a common theme. It’s worth noting that despite its name, the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize is not only restricted to books – other paper items such as collections of sheet music, manuscripts, magazines, booklets, and other ephemera are all admissible for the Prize. For more inspiration, have a look at our blog post explaining how you can put a collection together.

To apply, you need to submit an essay of not more than 500 words explaining the coherence and interest of your collection and why and how it was assembled, a list of items in the collection, and a list of five items that you would like to add to their collection. You can find full details and an application form here. The deadline for applications is 30th of April 2021. Good luck!

The New Curators Project is Open for Applications!

Vicky A Price18 January 2021

The New Curators Project is a new programme by UCL Special Collections and Newham Heritage Month. It will offer 10 young people in East London the chance to develop the skills and experience needed to start a career in the cultural heritage sector.

 

UPDATE: The application deadline has been EXTENDED to midnight on 5th March 2021.  If you’d still like to apply, please do!

 

What will the project entail?

Successful applicants will receive training from industry experts in key areas such as carrying out historical research, creating an exhibition and engaging with cultural heritage audiences. Participants will also work together to create an exhibition for Newham Heritage Month. Using historical material from UCL Special Collections and the Archives and Local Studies Library in Stratford, the exhibition will be an opportunity for participants to gain real life curation experience for a public heritage festival audience.

We expect the entire project to take place online, with the possibility of face to face sessions towards the end of the project (this will depend on national and local restrictions.  Any face to face activity that does take place with be compliant with government guidelines).

Who can apply?

Applications are open to people who:

  • Are aged 18 to 24 at the time of making their application.
  • Are living, studying or working in Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
  • Are not a university graduate.
  • Have less than 6 months paid experience in the cultural heritage sector.

As this project is a part of Newham Heritage Month, there are 5 places available to individuals who live, work or study in the borough of Newham. The remaining 5 places are available to those who live, work or study in Tower Hamlets, Hackney or Waltham Forest.

When is it happening?

Application close midnight on 12th February 2021.  There will be two online sessions per week, the first will be during the week of 1st March 2021 (date and time to be agreed with participants).  The final week of activity will be the week of 24th May 2021.

What’s in it for me?

We will be providing training in essential skills for working in the cultural heritage field, including:

  • How to carry out historical research.
  • How to use an archive.
  • How to create an exhibition.
  • Presentation and public speaking skills.

We are also offering a £200 bursary, paid in instalments, to support participants in attending as many of the workshops as possible.

Do I need to have any specific A Levels or GCSEs?

Absolutely not. We want to recruit participants who have a passion for local history, regardless of their qualifications.

What is Cultural Heritage?

The cultural heritage field is an area of work focused on preserving history and culture and making it available to the general public. Among other things, it includes:

  • Museums.
  • Arts organisations and charities.
  • Libraries and Archives.
  • Historic Buildings and heritage sites.
  • Archaeology.
  • Conservation.

How do I apply?

You can apply online via our online form. If you have difficulty using the form, please send us an email and we can find an alternative way for you to apply.

The due date for the application has been extended to midnight on 5th March 2021.  We aim to reply to applicants by 5pm on 8th March 2021.

A student looks for resources in a library. Shelves laden with colourful books line the edges of the photograph as she reads a book.

Among other skills, The New Curators Project will train participants in carrying out research, creating exhibitions and public speaking.

Questions?

You can send us an email at: library.spec.coll.ed@ucl.ac.uk.
Or, if you’d prefer to give us a call, you can call Vicky Price, Head of Outreach, on 07741671329.

If you think this project is a good fit for you, apply now!

The Foundation for Future London logo The logo for Newham Heritage Month