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London History Maps

Harriet S14 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.

Finding London University in Cruchley’s New Plan of London, [1829?]

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.

Panorama of London

I think we’re going to need a bigger floor!

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.

A sparsely populated Camberwell and Peckham in Cary’s New Plan of London, 1839

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.

Erasmus+ intern in UCL Special Collections

ucyliju21 November 2019

My name is Ibolya Jurinka. I am spending 3 months in UCL Special Collections as an Erasmus+ intern. Erasmus+ is not only a student exchange programme; it also provides overseas opportunities for all employees wishing to gain practical learning experiences from partner organisations in higher education.

I come from Hungary. I have been working as a librarian at the University Library and Archives of the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE).

The main reading room of University Library of ELTE

I catalogue journals, especially retrospective cataloguing. I mostly work with materials from 19-20th century, but I have also catalogued periodicals from 17-18th century and also from the 21st century. This summer I catalogued the oldest journals of our library with one of my specialist rare-book colleagues. These are from the 16th century:

Mercurii Gallobelgici, tom 1 (1598)

Cover of Mercurii Gallobelgici

I like this work and find it interesting, so wanted to gain more experience in this area abroad. This autumn I am cataloguing Little Magazines here at UCL Special Collections, and I have organized an exhibition about the most interesting magazines.

Little Magazines Collection

Basic information about Little Magazines

(source: SOAR, Geoffrey: Little Magazines at University College London)

‘Little Magazines are those that publish creative, often innovative work, with little or no regard for commercial gain. They sometimes have very small print runs and may last for relatively few issues. Most of them are from 1960s-1970s. The library of University College London started to collect Little Magazines from 1964’. It is a subsection of Small Press Collection.

Most of the Little Magazines are literary journals; they focus especially on modern, 20th century poetry and prose.

We can find colourful art magazines too in the Little Magazines Collection:

Cataloguing of Little Magazines

Cataloguing of little magazines is hard, because:

  • volume numbers and dates are often absent;
  • it is often hard to tell if a magazine is current or not;
  • many are published irregularly and often at widely spaced intervals;
  • many do not appear in official current bibliographies;
  • they are often visual and it is hard to identify the title.

Cover of Amaranth, no. 2 (1966?)

Visual Poetry in the Little Magazines exhibition, Main Library Donaldson stairs

Some of the Little Magazines contain visual and concrete poetry. This type of poetry appeared in the 20th century and became very popular. The exhibition focuses on little magazines containing visual poetry, whose title begins with the letter ‘A’. If you are interested in this exhibition, you can visit it from 24th October 2019 to 11th of December 2019 in the Main Library, either side of the stairs to the Donaldson Library. For more information, see the leaflets next to the exhibition cases.

Case 4 in the Main Library with 3 displayed items

One of the displayed items: Houedard, Dom Sylvester (D.S.H.): 12 dancepoems from the cosmic typewriter, no.11. In: Aplomb Zero, no. 1 (1969)

 

Cataloguing Mysteries: Engravings of the Electors of Bavaria

Harriet S15 November 2018

Retrospective cataloguing can be a great way of unearthing treasures in UCL’s extensive collections. Few other librarians will be so systematically working through a subject or donation from many years ago, and many of the texts are hidden until cataloguing, with only the bare bones of an online record or in some cases nothing at all.

The most recent mystery comes from the unlikely source of 20th century art books being catalogued for storage. Amongst the unremarkable, modern volumes was a small book of engravings. The only text included in the book is instructions from the bookbinder in German (“An den Buchbinder”), and nothing about the text gives much of an idea of its publication or provenance.

An afternoon with UCL’s conservators revealed some probable dates, as the book uses rag pulp paper so would likely have been produced before the widespread adoption of wood-pulp paper (circa 1837), and the binding has many 18th century features such as red bole edges and French Style laced boards, alongside some more recent elements. Already the book was looking to be much older than its shelf-mates.

Perhaps the most unique identifier at this stage was a watermark of the coat of arms of Bavaria, and a letter (M? W?) visible below it. The database of watermarks at Memory of Paper described a similar watermark on a music manuscript at Bayerische Staatsbibliothek but without any image available, the only option to verify the watermark was to contact the library directly and request one.

By some coincidence, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek was conducting watermark research at the time and were kind enough to send an image, verifying that this was indeed by the same paper-maker: Matthias Weitenauer, active 1763-1773. However, as the final engraving is of Karl Theodor, who only became Elector in 1777, the book as a whole would have had to come together after Weitenauer’s presumed working period. So, other than the knowledge the book was not created before the paper it’s printed on, an exact date was still not forthcoming.

To get a more concrete date, the priority was to identify the engravers. 2 out of the 62 engravings were signed: Weissenhahn Sc[ulpsit], likely to be Georg Michael Weissenhahn (1741-1795) who engraved portraits in this period, although none of this book’s portraits seem to be discoverable online. It is likely that the other 3 engravings in a similar style are also by Weissenhahn, which left a mere 57 unaccounted for!

Searching for specific engravers of these very popular subjects is no mean feat, and it wasn’t until a Google Image matching search on the engraving of Carolus Crassus (“Charles the Fat”!) that the rest of the portraits could be reasonably ascertained to be by German 17th century engraver Wolfgang Kilian. Once identified, his engravings could be found in a number of works, including Excubiae Tutelares Serenissimi Principis Ferdinandi Mariae Francisci Ignatii VVolfgangi (Monachii : Leysser, 1637) and Ain und sechtzig Königen und Hertzogen auß Bayern Bildnussen (Munich : Johann Wagner, 1655). None of these also contained the Weissenhahn engravings, however.

An exhaustive search for both engravers, and a trawl through sales records of books finally led to the book itself: Geschichte von Baiern: (zum Gebrauch des gemeinen Bürgers, und der bürgerlichen Schulen) by Lorenz von Westenrieder, 1786. The instructions to the bookbinder appear to tally with the plates’ location in the text, and all plates from both engravers are accounted for. Again the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek is conspicuous as the only public institution holding another copy of the work.

The provenance of the book was also initially unclear – presented “by two old students to commemorate their association with the college” it seemed to give no indication of who these students actually were. Only by examining other books with the same label could the donors be discovered to be Adolf and Nellie Wohlgemuth, early 20th century psychology students at UCL (and Adolf, later, a lecturer).

To go from no information at all to knowing both the plates’ origin and the book’s most recent provenance feels like a huge achievement. Yet on some level the book remains a mystery. Why did this particular group of plates never reconcile with the text? How did Adolf Wohlgemuth, born in 1868, come across this 1786 volume? Maybe Wohlgemuth or his family only ever purchased the plates. Or perhaps a former owner decided to get text and plates bound separately, but if so the text volume has never been found at UCL.

 

The Flaxman Manuscripts – a volunteer’s experience

utnvweb20 July 2018

Posted on behalf of Euan Guckian, a UCL student volunteer with Special Collections.

During the final term of this year I have had the opportunity to work with a couple of John Flaxman’s journals and notebooks for the UCL Special Collections team. Flaxman (who most reading this will recognise from his works in UCL’s main library) was a famous sculptor, and leading figure of the neoclassical movement, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The collection was split into two books. The first comprised Flaxman’s journal from his time spent in Naples in 1788 and was filled with sketches and watercolours, as well as brief descriptions, of the various sculptures he saw and ruins he explored while there. The second contained notes on lectures he gave on the role, features, principles and history of sculpture, and was also interspersed with quick yet still interesting pencil sketches. My main role centred on summarising each page so that a visitor to the collection could quickly find whatever topic most interested them, either paraphrasing Flaxman’s notes or lifting them straight from the page.

Never having studied sculpture, or even art more generally, it was fascinating to see the thoughts and considerations of a master of the craft. Of particular interest to me were his lecture notes on how art underpinned the entire “circle of Human Knowledge” which to Flaxman included everything from astronomy to philosophy and religion. Beyond this there is loads that would be appeal to those with an interest in art both classical and neoclassical, but also in the life and thought of an artist so central to UCL’s identity and history.

You can find out more about the collection on our online catalogue – search for MS FLAXMAN. For more information about using our collections, please see our webpages.

 

The Tiny Furniture Project

utnvkh23 January 2018

This is a guest blog post by one of our archive volunteers, Sara Abou El Ella, who was working in the IOE UCL Archive department with items from the collection of David and Mary Medd.

 

The Tiny Furniture Project

blog post by Sara Abou El Ella.

For a few weeks now, I have been busy cataloguing and sorting scale models of school furniture used by David and Mary Medd in 1976. They were at the forefront of public architecture and design and created an inextricable bond between architecture and social progress.

This archive project required particular attention and care since many of the furniture pieces were detaching from their main bodies. Despite this, I enjoyed unpacking all the objects and grouping them together, since many of them were spread in different boxes and they had never all been itemised. I would say that a particular challenge involving this project was comparing all objects to the furniture handbook. Some of them presented very similar characteristics and appearance making them hard to locate in the handbook and some of the objects were not listed therefore I had to catalogue them separately.

After this very rough introduction, I would like to give the readers a taste of a typical day volunteering at the UCL Archives. I arrive around 1.30pm and stay until 3.30pm or 4pm. This project required more attention and time to be dedicated to it. The first task is to gather the special conservation paper sheets to protect the objects. On my first day, I read a book written by Catherine Burke to become more acquainted with the project and with the architects. Secondly, I carefully read the index and catalogue in the handbook to compare the numbers, characteristics and type of every object which should be contained in the collection. The third task, the most crucial and important of the project, is to open all paper wrappings in the different boxes, group together all items of the same nature and write their number, short description and wrap them all individually for better conservation purposes. One of my favourite objects was the reproduction of a small piano and wardrobes which had little hangers attached to them. For this blog I tried to recreate a small classroom and include some of the most iconic pieces of furniture present in the collection.

Model school furniture

Because of the small damage and the rust which accumulated on the objects I hope to volunteer with the UCL Special Collections Senior Conservator to clean and conserve this collection. This is a very exciting opportunity to improve the access to this archival material and be able to present it to different researchers and for object handling sessions in schools.