Wednesday 25 August 2010


Chetham's Library has been included in the Guardian's latest TwiTrip! In this series, Guardian journalist Benji Lanyado journeys around England, guided by tweeted suggestions from Twitter followers, and live-blogging about his experiences.

Although we were delighted that Benji stopped to say hello, we were not too sure about his description of our books as 'dusty'... A lot more vacuuming goes on here than you might think Benji, honest.

Monday 23 August 2010

A pressing situation

The wooden hand printing press which has stood for many years at the top of the Library stairs was this week dismantled and removed to Alan May's workshop in Stone, Staffordshire.

Years of use as a working press and demonstration model coupled with poor quality nineteenth-century alterations mean that the press is extremely unstable and not safe for use. Alan, who was seen last year creating a working replica of the Gutenberg Press on BBC Four with Stephen Fry, will restore the press to working order, allowing printing processes to be demonstrated to Library visitors.
The press is believed to date from the early seventeenth century, and was donated to Chetham’s in 1900 by George Falkner and Sons, printers of Deansgate, Manchester, along with some additional equipment including a type-casting mould, printing ink balls, a number of typecases in an old random, and a compositor’s stick. The press is one of only five seventeenth-century presses in England, and the only specimen in the North West. Fewer than seventy survive globally, and there are no surviving examples of presses produced before the seventeenth century.

The wooden hand press, which is also known as the common press, is operated by a heavy iron screw held in a wooden frame. It was first developed in the fifteenth century and continued with only slight variations until the nineteenth century when wooden presses were gradually replaced by metal ones. The Chetham’s press is of special interest to the Library since all the books housed in the part of the library where the press and equipment are displayed were made on wooden hand presses of similar construction. It is believed to have been in actual use in Manchester until the nineteenth century.

Friday 20 August 2010

Fountains galore!

Among the library's early printed German books can be found the Nova architectura curiosa or Bau und Wasser-Kunst by Georg Andreas Boeckler, printed in Nuremberg in 1704.

This lengthy work on palace and monumental architecture pays particular attention to the construction of every possible kind of fountain.

Numerous engravings illustrate the patterns and designs for many hundreds of public fountains, more than enough to keep a race of water engineers busy for many decades.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Norman wisdom

The BBC's excellent Norman Season continues to explore ways in which the Normans influenced our civilisation, beginning of course with the invasion of William of Normandy and his subsequent coronation as King of England, pictured here by Matthew Paris in his Flores Historiarum.

The Flores Historiarum is an epitome of Matthew Paris's Chronica Majora and was intended to provide lighter reading. The printed edition, however, still extends to three thick volumes in royal octavo. Chetham's Library copy of the Flores is that which was written in part in Matthew Paris's own hand in the Benedictine house of St Albans in the mid-13th century. The volume was presented to Westminster Abbey as part of the commemoration of the rebuilding of its church to house a new shrine to King Edward the Confessor. It contains continuations of the history written by Westminster monks that take the narrative until the fall of Edward II.

Friday 13 August 2010

Some unusual bindings

These two illustrations are examples of the ingenious ways in which books have often been bound.

The first is often known as a dos-à-dos binding (from the French meaning 'back-to-back') but is more properly termed tête-bêche (from the French meaning 'head-to-toe'). Here two separate books, a 1633 New Testament and a 1629 Book of Common Prayer, have been bound together with the text of one text rotated 180° relative to the other, so that one text runs head-to-tail, the other runs tail-to-head. Technically this volume doesn’t have a back cover but rather has two front covers. When a reader reaches the end of the text of one book, the next page is the last (upside down) page of the other. The two works have been bound in red morocco. Both boards have a gilt floral stem border and a gilt floral centrepiece stamp, with all edges gilt.

The second example consists of a single work, a Bible of 1756, which has been separated into two equal parts part way through the Book of Psalms. These have then been bound side by side, so that the second part opens back-to-front. The effect is of two separate books, bound fore-edge to fore-edge, on a common lower board, with separate spines. The front cover opens in two halves from the centre, rather like a cupboard. The left-hand label reads: 'Oracula sacra William Freemantle's 1765'. The right-hand label reads 'Si quis loquitur, loquatur ut eloquia dei I. Peter. 4. II.' The join on the upper board(s) is fastened by two metal clasps, with heart-shaped clasps and catches. The binding is 18th-century English black goat, with a red morocco label in the centre of each half of the upper board, lettered lengthwise in gold.

Monday 9 August 2010

Make do and mend

We sometimes tend to equate early printed books with ‘fine printing’, but often books printed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries exhibit all the flaws of a handcraft practised carelessly, whether from inexperience, rushing to finish a job, or even the need to save money - paper, ink and time all being expensive commodities.

Pierre Chouët was an established printer in Geneva in 1675, the year he produced the first edition of Pierre Mussard’s Historia deorum fatidicorum, vatum, sibyllarum, phoebadum…, the first edition of a book which argued that Roman Catholic customs were derived from paganism. The book includes fifty engravings showing portraits of gods and hermetic writers including Apollo, Jupiter, Pythagoras, Hermes Trismegistus, Iamblichus, and the sibyls.

But combining letterpress and engraving is no easy task, and even in the most experienced of print shops things can go awry. The plate on page 48 looks like all the others, but unlike the others it has not been printed directly on the page but has been printed separately, and then pasted onto the page. Why wasthis print treated differently? Holding the page to the light reveals the answer: underneath the plate, another image of Trophonius - this time upside down! Paper was too valuable to waste, and this was a rather clever way to fix a mis-fed sheet.

It was easy enough to repair that mistake, but unfortunately pages 232 and 237 show working practices that were less easy to hide. These sheets display what printers sometimes call set-off, when the still-wet ink from a printed sheet transfers onto another sheet producing a reverse image of the printed page. Again, perhaps, to save paper, the letterpress text was simply printed over the set off, and the page then treated as good.

Mistakes like these help to explain the practicality of how printing was done. It is clear from these errors that the engravings were printed before the letterpress, and that rather noticeable errors were not necessarily a cause for waste.

Thursday 5 August 2010

De monstrorum caussis, natura, et differentiis

Among interesting works catalogued this week is this remarkable work on monsters published in Padua in 1634 by Paulus Frambottus.

The author Fortunius Licetus, a physiologus or medical researcher, offers to tell the reader about such deviations from the natural order as women becoming men, a sow who gave birth to a human head, hermaphrodites, the remarkable fertility of castrated persons, a boy who turned to stone and 'many other remarkable things'.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

The return of Matthew

Long-term readers of the Library website will remember TV's Matthew Yeo, who spent three years at Chetham's working towards his PhD, as well as taking time out to appear as captain of last year's winning University Challenge team. For a limited time only, Matthew has returned to the Library to prepare his thesis for publication, and already the quality and frequency of the tea has improved enormously.

Matthew's book, The acquisition of books by Chetham's Library, 1655-1700 is to be published by Brill and will shortly be available to pre-order.