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Erasmus+ intern in UCL Special Collections

IbolyaJurinka21 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 SHale15 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

Rebecca JSims20 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

KathrynHannan3 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.

Many days in the Life of Nicholas Hans – translating and cataloguing Russian magazines

KathrynHannan31 August 2017

It might be a repeat from my last post but I don’t think I can emphasise enough how much added value our volunteers bring to our archive collections and how much we enjoy having them working with us. We have been very lucky to have a volunteer, Sara Abou El Ella, working on a catalogue enhancement project with the Nicholas Hans Papers at UCL Institute of Education Archives. The Nicholas Hans Papers have been catalogued since 1999 but there were two boxes of additional papers that had been added at a later date.  These boxes included correspondence, photographs, postcards and some very special magazines written in Russian by Nicholas Hans.  I catalogued what I could and with some help from one of our researchers was able to write a brief overview for the Russian magazines but could not describe the content of them.   Luckily for us, and future researchers, Sara is fluent in Russian! Sara has written up her experience of translating and cataloguing these magazines.

 

Front page of the first issue, NH/10/8/1 ©UCL IOE Archives

Front page of the first issue, NH/10/8/1 ©UCL IOE Archives

Many days in the Life of Nicholas Hans

post written by Sara Abou El Ella

This title is very similar to a famous Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. For me my Wednesdays were absorbed in the reading of Nicholas Hans magazines.
I started cataloguing a small part of the Nicholas Hans Collection in the Institute of Education at UCL. As a volunteer my task consisted in reading and then summarising the contents of five magazines written and hand drawn by Nicholas Hans ‘in 1920 while interned on the island of Principo in 1920 with other refugees leaving from Russia’ (quote from a note written by Grace Hans & included with the magazines).

NH/10/8/3 ©UCL IOE Archives

NH/10/8/3 ©UCL IOE Archives

All his magazines follow the same structure. Nicholas Hans rarely included articles or pieces from other authors. Hans hand-drew every single issue focusing on the front and back covers as well as adding decorations and other drawings inside the magazines. The issues would start with a letter from the editorial staff followed by a brief introduction of the issue’s topic. The main article would follow the topic of the introduction and discuss it in depth. In the final pages of the issue Hans would draw and write rebuses and charades. Moreover, in a couple of issues he also included fairy-tales or poems, for example: Cinderella.
Typically, I would start my work on the collection by reading the different articles and simultaneously translate and summarise them. Each section was divided according to its title. One of the biggest challenges was to decipher Nicholas Hans’ handwriting. Besides, the magazines required careful handling since they are very fragile. In some cases they were stained and the colours of the drawing faded, but it was still possible to discern both the words and the drawings.

It was extremely fascinating to be able to handle and work on such a fine archival specimen. I believe I was particularly stricken by the profound longing that Hans had for his country. This feeling was partially suppressed by the awareness that it was impossible for him to go back to Russia. In my opinion the ability to transpose these feeling through satirical articles and aggravating drawings was very enriching and interesting to analyse.


 

The catalogue records for these magazines are now online and there is more information about the collection on our libguide.