X Close

UCL Special Collections

Home

Updates from one of the foremost university collections of manuscripts, archives and rare books in the UK

Menu

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.

Eleven pipers piping

Christopher J Fripp21 December 2018

Eleven pipers piping: a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses depicts Mercury lulling Argus to sleep with his enchanted reed pipe.

STRONG ROOM OGDEN 177

Seven swans a-swimming

Christopher J Fripp13 December 2018

Seven swans a-swimming: well just about, with the assistance of ultra-high-tech imaging trickery. Eleazar Albin’s A Natural History of Birds appearing once again.

STRONG ROOM E QUARTO 920 A5 (1)/1-2

Six geese a-laying

Christopher J Fripp11 December 2018

Six geese a-laying: bean, white-fronted, Egyptian, barnacle, brant, red-breasted (with some of their eggs to tie things together), all courtesy of 19-century ornithologist, Francis Orpen Morris.

R 920 MOR

R 920 MOR

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.