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Advent Definitions: All that glitters

By Vicky A Price, on 7 December 2017

‘Gold’ in R 221 DICTIONARIES WORCESTER 1855 – Worcester, A universal critical and pronouncing dictionary of the English language (London, [1855])

There is much to be celebrated about gold in its many forms. From the most precious jewellery to the cheapest golden glitter pen, for me gold always brings about a giddy fascination.

As the definition suggests, it’s a material and colour that usually denotes value, beauty, godliness or importance.  When I see it in art I often think of the adoring artist, unashamedly displaying admiration and enchantment with someone – think Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I – or a pious artist creating an icon intended to glow with luminosity above an awe-struck congregation.

 

Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

The same is the case when I happen upon gold in UCL’s Special Collections.  We hold many manuscripts and rare books that feature gold leaf – either on the pages’ edges, the binding or within the text and illustrations themselves. Perhaps the most staggering example is a copy of the Persian poet’s Masnavi-I Akbar Sultan (‘Romance of the Sultan Akbar’) from 1749. The cover is gilded and ornately decorated, while the leaves inside radiate a dazzling richness only possible through the use of gold leaf:

 

The beginning of the Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan poem

This tome, along with other manuscripts and manuscript fragments were the inspiration for a community art project in the Summer with with Sidings Community Centre. They host regular adults’ colouring in sessions, during which local residents for whom social isolation is a high risk come together to enjoy some light-hearted art.  I brought them copies of UCL’s most glamorously golden items, and together we had a go at doing some of our own gilding, inspired by the collection.

Some members of the group brought in a chosen fable or poem:

 

A gilded chicken!

Others preferred to stick to colouring in, tackling copies of some ornate lettering:

 

A slightly psychedelic take on an image from Biblia Latina, an illuminated bible from the 13th or 14th century (MS Lat 9)

We even experimented with ‘aging’ the gold leaf:

 

Not a bad first try with using gold leaf!

We look forward to more community and school projects that explore the incredible collection of manuscripts and manuscript fragments at UCL – especially if it means we get to bring the glamour of gilding to more workshops!

Advent Definitions: Domestic angels?

By Helen Biggs, on 4 December 2017

‘Angel’, in: R 221 DICTIONARIES WEBSTER 1869 : Webster, The people’s dictionary of the English language (London, [1869?])

It’s fascinating to see that in Webster angels are defined as both godly and evil spirits, but what really piqued my interest is the idea of being angelic – “partaking of their nature or dignity”. It immediately brought to mind one of the other items in our collections:

A is the Angel woman should be

Waiting to pour out her husband’s tea:

“Better than man” the Antis say-

But the better half has got to obey

These words may sound like they’re promoting woman as a domestic figure, but in fact they’re from the satirical Anti-Suffrage Alphabet, which playfully imitates a rhyming children’s alphabet book to ridicule the arguments used by anti-suffrage campaigners. One such argument was that a wife and mother was the moral centre of a household, and that this role would be diminished or corrupted if she took a more active role in public life. The Alphabet’s creators contend that this supposed moral purity was already compromised, as a husband was meant to be the final decision-maker in all non-domestic matters, whatever a woman’s own beliefs and values were.

The Alphabet is held as part of the Laurence Housman Collection, which will feature heavily in next year’s Main Library exhibition “Dangers and delusions”? Perspectives on the woman’s suffrage movement, set to open February 2018.

For more daily Advent-inspired definitions from our Rare English Dictionaries collection, follow @UCLSpecColl on Twitter.

Advent Definitions: Don’t be a goose!

By Helen Biggs, on 1 December 2017

December begins today, and with it we welcome you to Advent Definitions.

Each day this month, UCL Special Collections will be tweeting a festive word, together with a historical definition from our Rare English Dictionaries Collection.

Linked to the tweets will be regular blogposts highlighting aspects of the department’s work with UCL’s treasure of archives, rare books and records.

To get you into the spirit, we start with a traditional food around Michaelmas time: the poor goose:


‘Goose’, in: R 221 DICTIONARIES SHERIDAN 1800: Sheridan, Sheridan’s pronouncing and spelling dictionary (London, 1800)

But while the goose might have suffered from a reputation for foolishness in 1800 and having its name used as a general term of abuse in 1869, there were other more respectful applications of the word:


‘Goose’, in: R 221 DICTIONARIES WEBSTER 1869: Webster, The people’s dictionary of the English language (London, [1869?])

And this is the kind of comparison for which the Rare English Dictionaries Collection was put together. When I started as Rare-Books Librarian at UCL, I was immediately interested in a small collection of English-language dictionaries gathered by my predecessor. I had worked in the past as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary, and knew how helpful former dictionaries could be for researchers tackling the challenges of tracing English usage through time.

As my colleagues and I worked through various other collections of books at UCL, I came across more and more English dictionaries, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. Individually these books were not as significant as treasures we already kept in some of our more famous named collections, such as the Ogden Collection with its strength in language and communication. But gradually it became clear that, put together and used as a single resource, the less prized dictionaries could enable research that simply wouldn’t be possible using single editions of titles we already held, so the Rare English Dictionaries Collection was formed.

Most of the dictionaries in the Rare English Dictionaries Collection were published as ordinary household or student reference books, often intended to help with spelling or pronunciation. The title of Webster’s famous dictionary (which was to run into many editions over generations) indicates this: The people’s dictionary of the English language.

As a consequence, it is rare for copies in multiple editions to have survived, but in our collection, you can trace the appearance or disappearance of individual words across 50 or even 100 years of publication of dictionaries by lexicographers such as Bailey, Ash, Dyche or Entick. Former definitions would often simply be reprinted in later editions until the point was reached when the discrepancy between the old definition and current usage of the time became too stark. Being able to trace this in our collection gives C21st readers invaluable insight into how the language has changed.

Forming a usable collection takes a lot more than picking appealing books and putting them together. Our Conservation team, with the help of our invaluable volunteers from UCL and elsewhere alongside our placement students from Camberwell College of Arts, surveyed and cleaned the books. Our long-serving rare-books cataloguer Bill Lehm catalogued the collection before retiring after many years of wonderful work in UCL Library Services. I worked with academic staff to integrate the collection into UCL students’ curriculum, and we now hold regular classes with the collection for MA students studying English language.

For the Advent Definitions project, I would like to thank two student volunteers – undergraduate Odile Panette and MA student Christopher Fripp – who researched and read selected dictionaries to produce a shortlist of their favourite dictionary entries related to advent, Christmas or the holiday season. Finally Steve Wright, head of our Enquiries Team, photographed the entries you will see in our tweets, and Helen Biggs has managed the process of bringing you your daily word.

We hope you enjoy your daily advent definitions. To find out more about the dictionaries available, browse our catalogue by the shelfmark R 221 DICTIONARIES. And if you need convincing of the extraordinary power of keeping such material together in a classified collection, or just want a good library drama for the holidays (admittedly more 20th-century than, I hope, our 21st-century approach), try Stephen Poliakoff’s 3-part BBC drama, Shooting the past. (Viewers from UCL or other subscribing institutions can view this on Box Of Broadcasts.

For more daily advent-inspired definitions from our Rare English Dictionaries collection, follow @UCLSpecColl on Twitter.

Contributed by Tabitha Tuckett, Rare Books Librarian

 

UCL Rare-Books Club: John Evelyn’s Contribution to Restoration Bibliophily

By Helen Biggs, on 6 September 2017

What: UCL Rare-Books Club
When: 1.15-1.45pm, Tuesday 12 September
Where: UCL Special Collections Reading Room, South Junction

After a very successful launch event, we’re excited to bring you the second talk in our series of Rare-Books Club talks.

This will talk will take place on Tuesday 12 September, 1.15pm–1.45pm, in the UCL Special Collection Reading Room, South Junction (next to the UCL Shop!). Jacquie Glomski, UCL Honorary Senior Research Associate, will present a talk on John Evelyn’s Contribution to Restoration Bibliophily.

John Evelyn’s Instructions concerning Erecting of a Library (London, 1661) was a translation of Gabriel Naudé’s Advis pour dresser une bibliothèque (Paris, 1627, 1644), the most famous and influential early modern treatise on book collecting. Evelyn’s translation shows that he kept up with French trends and was concerned that English Restoration bibliophiles should not lag in their enthusiasm for establishing great libraries.

This is a chance not only to hear about Jacquie’s research, but also to see UCL Special Collection’s copy of this fascinating volume, which will be on display in the Reading Room.

 

UCL Rare-Books Club launch

By Helen Biggs, on 30 August 2017

Posted on behalf of Dr Tabitha Tuckett, Rare-Books Librarian.

What: UCL Rare-Books Club
When: 1.15-1.45pm, Tuesday 5 September
Where: Science Library Rm 417 (*meet at library entrance 1.10pm if you don’t have a UCL library card*)

You are warmly invited to a new series of half-hour talks in which researchers will introduce individual items from UCL’s rare-books collections.

These talks will give our researchers an opportunity to share ongoing discoveries and new observations about the selected item, while audiences will be able to share their expertise and find out a bit more about the larger collection to which the item belongs. Booking is not required: just turn up!

The first talk will take place on Tuesday 5 September, 1.15pm–1.45pm, in UCL Science Library Room 417. Cerys Jones, PhD Student in Medical Physics, will present a talk on Seeing Beyond the Visible: Multispectral Imaging applied to Heritage Artefacts.

Detail from a humidity-damaged letter, Karl Pearon Papers.

Detail from a humidity-damaged letter, Karl Pearson Papers.

Multispectral imaging consists of capturing images of an object illuminated under ultraviolet, visible and infrared light. This technique enables faded text and pictures on historical artefacts to be recovered and reread. Cerys will be discussing the process of multispectral imaging and image processing, and present results from multispectral imaging applied to artefacts from UCL Special Collections and other heritage institutions.

 

Our next speaker will be UCL Honorary Senior Research Associate Jacquie Glomski on Tuesday 12 September. More information on her talk, John Evelyn’s Contribution to Restoration Bibliophily, will be forthcoming.

Volunteers’ Week – A Day in the Life

By Vicky A Price, on 2 June 2017

Volunteers-Week-Logo_colour

Today is the second day of Volunteers’ Week , during which we are saying an emphatic THANK YOU to every single person who has offered their time and expertise over the past year to UCL’s SCAR department, without whom many a project would have been difficult or even impossible to complete.

There is a wide range of roles that volunteers can take up within SCAR: helping with events, sorting through new collections, enhancing cataloguing, assisting in exhibition preparation, helping with our media and online communications.  Throughout Volunteers’ Week we intend to share a snapshot of some of these roles with you.  Each week day from 1st June to the 7th June, a guest volunteer writer will bring you a ‘day in their life’.

The second installment comes from Chris Fripp, who has been volunteering with SCAR for about six months:

Chris Fripp – Research Volunteer

As a master’s student on the UCL Library and Information Studies programme, I’ve become really interested in scholarship associated with the history of the book. Following a workshop I attended with UCL Special Collections in the autumn of last year, I contacted Helen – Senior Library Assistant (Exhibitions and Outreach) – to ask about the possibility of undertaking some voluntary work with the department. I was looking to gain some practical experience in rare books handling, and thought I might be able to provide support in some way.

Since joining as a volunteer, I’ve been involved in an exciting new project to help create the forthcoming UCL Special Collections advent calendar for 2017. My task has been to conduct research on a series of rare nineteenth century dictionaries, looking specifically for seasonal words and definitions to present to an online audience during the Christmas countdown. When searching for the best definitions, the bigger the anachronism, the more interesting the former tends to be.

Webster, The people’s dictionary of the English language (London, [1869?])

Webster, The people’s dictionary of the English language (London, [1869?])

Normally I arrive at the Reading Room at the beginning of the day to collect the requested materials I wish to consult. The dictionaries are typically found in a fragile condition, so the use of book supports and snake weights help to prevent any further damage being done to the bindings and textblocks. One example, Webster’s The People’s Dictionary of the English Language, is illustrated with attractive copperplate engravings (figure 1), which adds a fun element to the project. I’ll be attending the forthcoming Treasures of the Written Word day on June 6th to answer any questions people might have about the dictionaries or volunteering in general. I hope to see you there!

Gone but not forgotten: Fred Bearman, Preservation Librarian

By ucylgmf, on 27 January 2017

Fred Bearman obituary photo

The moving piece below was written jointly by Fred’s partner, Fred himself, and Tabitha Tuckett, and has been made available for us to share here, along with the image.

Fred Bearman (13 December 1949 – 11 December 2016)

Fred Bearman was a leading educator in rare books and archives who, in a remarkable career that spanned half a century, inspired generations of conservators, librarians, archivists, students and members of the public in the UK, across Europe, in the USA and beyond.

Born in 1949 in Essex, he began his career at the age of 16 as a trainee conservator at the Public Record Office in London (now The National Archives). Taking courses on day-release at Camberwell College Of Arts and the London College Of Printing, in addition to the in-house training programme, he soon became Senior Conservator. He was to work there for 26 years, for many of which he supervised the central London conservation studio, focusing on the conservation needs of The National Archives’ pre-1800 books.

Fred’s work involved some of the UK’s most iconic manuscripts: he was part of the team that rebound Captain Bligh’s log-book from HMS Bounty, not to mention the conservation of Magna Carta, and he was presented to HRH Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his work on the Domesday Book for its 900th anniversary. He also began, at The National Archives, to demonstrate the skills as a leader and communicator that were to distinguish his later career: he devised a new conservation-training programme, and set up a survey of historic book-bindings and book-structures, the result of which was the establishment of a handling and preservation policy for The National Archives.

From 1990 Fred acted as Preservation Advisor to the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. There he conserved the Folger’s renowned collection of Shakespeare’s first folios (all 92 of them), and catalogued many of the library’s fine bindings, work that culminated in his co-curating a significant exhibition and co-authoring its catalogue.

In 1992 he moved to the USA full-time as Head of Conservation and Collections Care at Columbia University Libraries, New York, where he took responsibility for conservation across all twenty-nine of the University’s libraries, and was also involved in a major conservation project of early bibles and the historic Hussite Gradual Hussitussite graduat Chelsea Theological Seminary, NY, as well as acting as consultant for Christie’s and many other organisations.

Returning to the UK in 1997, Fred Bearman became Director Of Conservation at Camberwell College Of Arts. As Course Director for BA and MA courses, his authoritative but warm and encouraging teaching style inspired a new generation of book conservators in the UK, as it had earlier at The National Archives and in the USA. He was to maintain his links with fresh intakes of Camberwell conservation students for the rest of his career.

It was during this period that Fred established the preservation programme for the library of the Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai, Egypt, the world’s oldest continuously operating library, work that Nicholas Pickwoad subsequently took on. Fred was also engaged as a preservation adviser to several EU-funded projects, including at Mekerere University Library and Archive Collections in Kampala, Uganda. There, in addition to giving advice, he provided on-site training for staff. Back in the UK, Fred maintained a serious commitment to supporting training in the profession, and became Assessor for the Professional Accreditation for Conservator-Restorers (PACR) of Icon, the Institute of Conservation.

He also maintained his work at the bench. From 2004 until 2006, he worked as Rare-Book Conservator in the Book & Paper Conservation Studio, Dundee University Library, treating material of great international significance that came into the studio from libraries, archives and private collections across the UK. Fred also worked with book conservator Lizzy Neville at her Kentish Town studio, acted as consultant on the Iveagh Bequest at English Heritage’s Kenwood House in London and for the library of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and worked as Head Of Conservation at Shepherds in London, one of the oldest bookbinding companies in England.

In 2007 Fred moved to University College London as Preservation Librarian across the University’s many libraries. These included one of the foremost university collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives in the south of England, and Fred spent the rest of his life researching, teaching and writing on these historic collections, while managing the Library Services’ preservation and conservation needs. The latter included the move of over 600,000 rare items into temporary storage at The National Archives to facilitate building plans. This project illustrated Fred’s prodigious gifts as a natural leader and communicator: only he could have persuaded over 100 volunteers that wrapping seemingly endless quantities of books in archival paper – a requirement of the move – was both important and a privilege. And he did so with such fascinating insights into the unique historical collections being wrapped, and took such an interest in everyone working on the project, that it inspired career decisions and a love of rare books in many of those volunteers. It was while at UCL, close to his 65th birthday, that he was diagnosed with the cancer from which he died in December 2016.

Fred Bearman was both a naturally gifted public speaker and a superb teacher, having the ability to turn any apparently stuffy or arcane field into an exciting and accessible subject, whether lecturing for the National Archives in Washington, USA and the Bibliographical Society of the UK, or teaching early-profession conservation students at West Dean College and guiding undergraduates at UCL in their first ever encounter with a medieval book. His own outstanding achievements, combined with his refusal to be restricted by his dyslexia and partial deafness, inspired confidence in students and colleagues dealing with their own adversities.

Sometimes Fred compared teaching to performing. Indeed, in his youth he showed a remarkable ability as a performer of early dance, ranging with ease from the medieval period to the eighteenth century. As a young man he worked as a dancer for Nonesuch Dance Group and the Renaissance Dance Company, both associated with the early-music revival of the 1970s, and helped run workshops in early dance for schoolchildren in some of the most challenging inner-city schools under the auspices of the former Inner London Education Authority.

His skill in linking the historical context in which books were made with a professional’s understanding of their physical construction, together with having the courage to ask deceptively simple but entirely new questions, led to ground-breaking publications such as those on girdle books and chemise bindings, and on laced overbands and stationery bindings. He had a keen sense of wit, but also a remarkably down-to-earth ability to hit the proverbial scholarly nail on the head.

Fred had a great love of Classical music, stretching from Bach to the Romantics and beyond, with a particular passion for Beethoven. He was a keen gastronome, an ardent museum-goer, and a staunch socialist and trade unionist. His warmth and generosity in encouraging those around him to fulfil their own talents, while reminding them to enjoy every minute of it, will be sorely missed. He is survived by his partner of four decades, the modern-art historian and preeminent scholar of Abstract Expressionism, Dr. David Anfam.

Graduate Open Day

By Helen Biggs, on 12 December 2016

With the brand new South Junction Reading Room just opened, a team from Special Collections, Archives and Records were able to put on a display of captivating rare and unique items for UCL’s Graduate Open Day on November 23rd.

Current and future students – as well as interested staff – heard our librarians and archivists talk about a diverse range of materials from our collections, across many fields of study:

  • Records staff shocked visitors with “Counsel’s advice to UCL in the matter of the Brown Dog”, part of the story of a clash between animal rights activists and vivisectionists at the turn of the 20th Century
  • Geologists and geographers alike were entranced by the superb illustrations of Hamilton’s Campi Phlegraei, showing Vesuvius erupting. This book is also featured in our own publication, Treasures from UCL; more illustrations from the Campi Phlegraei can be found in Digital Collections.
  • Proving that libraries are about more than just words on paper was Thomas A. Clark’s poem, A small subtraction from the River Add, which, as the title suggests, is a tiny bottle of water.
  • Not above aiming to impress, our archivists showed off a folio from the manuscript draft of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species

Nazlin Bhimani, Research Support and Special Collections Librarian for UCL Institute of Education, writes about the two tiny books she chose to display:

“The Baines Collection consists of 200 books dating from the 1700s to 1920. This is a collection of children’s books that originally belonged to the Baines Family (many of them have inscriptions providing names of family members to whom the books belonged) and were given in 1955 to the Ministry of Education. The collection was eventually donated to the IOE in 1992.

These two tiny books (volumes 4 and 5) I chose (Baines 104) were both published around the 1780s and belong to a series of work published in ten volumes entitled The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum. The success of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels early in the century led to publishers to draw on this popularity by associating subsequent children’s publications on Gulliver and Lilliput. The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum is an example of one such publication that uses this marketing ploy.

The frontispiece confirms that when first published the complete series cost five British shillings and each volume six pence for the following reason:

“…[it is ]but for the convenience of those little Masters and Misses, whole finances may not admit of expending to capital a sum at once, they may be supplied with one or more volumes, weekly or monthly, till the whole work is completed, at Six-pence each.”

The small size (the books fit in the palm of my hand!) appealed to children who could more easily hold the books in their hands. We often think of miniaturisation as something that is a modern concept with computer devices getting smaller and smaller but in the 18th century, this was a growing phenomenon most evidenced in the trend towards designing dolls houses with smaller and smaller and more intricately designed furniture including book shelves and tiny books that sat on the shelves.”

For more about these miniature marvels, check out Nazlin’s original post at Newsam News.