Thursday 27 June 2013

To cut or not to cut...

It's always depressing, when cataloguing, to find that the copy of the book you're describing is imperfect, or missing something important or interesting. Often a folding plate has been lost, or a map is no longer where it once was. In these circumstances, all we can do is to describe what's missing and move on: it's irritating but hardly something to get het up about. After all, we are librarians, not collectors, and imperfect books are often more interesting than ideal or perfect copies. What does get us rather more worked up, however, is finding examples of mutilation and vandalism in books, although even here the deliberate vandalism of text and image for political, moral or religious motives can be of enormous significance. Censorship in books might be regrettable but it's always interesting to find examples. Here are four from our collection:

The works of Lucian of Samosata, printed in Venice by Aldus Manutius in 1503 was the first Aldine edition of Lucian and only the second printing in Greek, following a Florence edition of 1496. Our copy, along with several others, has certain sections missing, including this crude attempt to cut out a title heading. Ironically, much more salacious content has been left untouched.

The Chronicles of England, printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1502 has also suffered the attentions of the censors, with every occurrence of the word 'Pope' having been inked over. Unfortunately for their efforts, the ink has now faded to such an extent that the additions serve more as a highlighter than as censorship.

Giustiniani's edition of the Mishneh Torah, printed in Venice in 1550-51, has been censored throughout in black ink. Jews were not allowed to own printing presses in Venice but non-Jews were willing and even eager to print Jewish texts. Giustani's edition was brought out in the same year as that of his rival printer Alvise Bragadini. Giustiniani attacked his rival and the ensuing war between printers grew so fierce and bitter that the case was put before Pope Julius III for arbitration. The Pope issued a Bull banning the printing of Hebrew books and ordering the confiscation and burning of those already in existence. In the towns of northern Italy, Hebrew books were burnt in public squares and it would be another ten years before Hebrew books would be printed again in Venice. Giustiniani, who had instigated the quarrel, was forced out of business. Bragadini survived and resumed Hebrew printing with the death of the Pope and the end of the ban.

Jacob Rueff's De conceptu et generation hominis of 1554 has been savagely attacked by a Victorian, J. Frederick Becon of Beaumaris, who decided that images of birth and newborn infants were obscene and hacked out great chunks of the book, destroying many pages. You can read more about this book in our former blogpost on the subject.

However, just when we are in danger of getting too depressed by all this mutilation, we encounter an extraordinary image which somehow managed to escape the attentions of the censors. In many copies of Discours sure les medals et graueures antiques, principalement romaines, by Antoine Le Pois (printed in Paris in 1579), the full page woodcut of Priapus was often removed. In our copy, however - and those of a sensitive disposition may wish to look away now - the image is still there in all its remarkable glory.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Don't give up the day job...

Tate Britain's major retrospective of the work of L.S. Lowry opens in London today, a welcome event which is largely regarded as long overdue. Here in Manchester we have long appreciated the work of this talented artist, whose subject matter was often much wider-ranging than is sometimes thought.

Lowry supported himself by working as a rent collector for Pall Mall Properties from 1912 until his retirement in 1952, painting at the weekends and in the evenings after work. Pall Mall Properties were based at Brownsfield Mill on Great Ancoats Street, which was part-owned together with the Leech family of Manchester. We have a large archive of material relating to more than four generations of the Leech family here at the Library and you can find out more about it here.

Friday 21 June 2013

Incline Press


This week's 101 Treasures page about the Incline Press collection is a real gem so don't waste time reading this, click on the link straight away! If you love books, paper, type and beautiful design you're in for a real treat.

The old scriptorium

This little room off the Reading Room has always been known as the Scriptorium, although we have no idea why - it's unlikely to have ever been a place where manuscripts were copied due to its very poor light. The photo above is taken with flash but this one gives a more accurate feel of the place:

The room is traditionally used as a store room, but has recently been emptied apart from an old binding press, half a gate and the top of the C17th Marx desk. Work on the Reading Room will allow us to heat and upgrade this room, turning it into a small digitising workshop.

An interesting feature of the room is the addition of two quatrefoil spyholes in the stone wall, which allow a view of the Baronial Hall below (just visible above the tabletop in the first photograph). When these photographs were taken, the ethereal sounds of a harp recital were wafting into the room, one of the perks of working in a medieval building shared wtih a music school!

The photo below shows the opposite side of the room with its tiny windows looking out onto Fox Court.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Heart of oak

The Reading Room floor has now been taken up and the beams exposed ready for repair and conservation. These photos show the sheer size of the two main beams, which stretch the entire width of the room and measure over eighteen inches across - effectively two whole mature oak trees. You can also see how the beams have been strengthened in the past with heavy steel plates, as well as the deterioration that has taken place over the centuries.

According to the engineers who have surveyed the beams, it's possible that earthquakes in the city in recent years may have accelerated the damage to the beams. It's equally possible that the sheer number of visitors to the Library haven't done it any good, or it might even be down to the fact that the librarians are getting heavier….

Wednesday 19 June 2013

The strange case of the Galway salmon fishery

Last week, we posted a series of mysterious nineteenth-century photographs of Galway on our Flickr page. We had no idea why this album, containing about 120 prints of coastal scenes of rural Galway, had found its way to Chetham's. A few are dated 1879 and some have pencil annotations, but its provenance was a mystery. Over the years the Library has acquired large quantities of material outside the remit of our collection policy, occasionally due to the enthusiasm of Librarians with niche interests, but sometimes for no good reason whatsoever.

So, we were curious to know if anybody knew anything about this album of photographs. We wondered if they came via the collection of Joseph James Phelps, a noted photographer who donated many thousands of lantern slides and glass plate negatives to the Library, but there is no evidence that this album was ever his. We waited.

Within twenty-four hours we began to piece together an answer. Dr Jackie Ui Chionna from the National University of Ireland in Galway, who has completed a PhD on the Galway Fishery, revealed that the photographs were likely to have been in the ownership of the Ashworth family of Egerton, near Bolton. The Ashworths, a Quaker cotton milling family, had bought the fishery in 1852 for five thousand pounds. They developed the site to become the world's first commercial salmon fishery, pioneering the science we now know as aquaculture. The album of photographs, which shows various stages of the salmon farming process, is probably their own personal record of the business, supplemented by photographs of the local area.

The Bolton connection makes sense, although we still can't be sure exactly how the album reached us here at the Library, but it does seem likely that it may indeed have come as part of the Phelps collection. We have sent photographs of the handwriting to Jackie in the hope that she is able to identify it as belonging to members of the Ashworth family, and look forward to working with Jackie and other historians on this exciting material.

Friday 14 June 2013

Thank you James!

Today we say 'goodbye' to James Avison, who has done sterling work here at the Library for the last few months. James has been working at Chetham's as part of his MA work experience placement on Manchester Metropolitan University's Library and Information Management course, and has been a real asset to the team. James has spent many hours digitising and uploading some of our historic photograph collection to the Library's Flickr page, including a wonderful album of historic photographs of Galway. Have a look at his hard work here.

Thanks James, and the very best of luck for the future!

A new view of the Reading Room

Work has begun on preparing the Reading Room for the structural works to the floor. Most of the furniture and all of the books and paintings have been carefully removed, and the tympanum and oak panelling has been screened to protect it from damage when the floor is lifted next week.

Watch this space for more news!

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Fish and ships

We have recently been exploring some of the delightful decorative details on Christopher Saxton's 1579 atlas (previously featured as one of our 101 Treasures).

A number of different engravers, mainly Dutch or Flemish, produced the plates from Saxton's original drawings. Although none of his working notes exist, Saxton must have provided clear guidelines for them, to ensure consistency in the design elements. However, there is still considerable variety in the decorative detail of each map and it is intriguing to speculate how much of this is may be directly attributable to Saxton, and how much to the artists and craftsmen who transferred his drawings to the copper plates. Colour was added later to reflect the taste of individual owners.

Strange fish and sea monsters crest the waves between galleons in full sail and fishing vessels trailing their nets and one map features a particularly buxom mermaid frolicking with Neptune.

Each map includes one or more 'cartouches' in a style which is known as 'strapwork' because it resembles the 'snipped, rolled and curled' edges of leather saddlery and shields. Many of these are lavish combinations of Italian and Flemish motifs, caryatids and cherubs swagged and swathed with fruit and flowers, ribbons, birds and bees. The cartouche for the map of Cornwall features some rather malevolent-looking birds which are possibly Cornish choughs.

One other fascinating detail is that every map includes a pair of compasses or dividers featuring Saxton's name, and every single one is different.

Friday 7 June 2013

The drama of Belle Vue

In recent months we are pleased to have welcomed Theatre and Performance MA students from Manchester University to the Library as part of their placements with the Institute for Cultural Practices. The students produced a drama which was performed at Gorton Monastery and have been blogging about their experiences here.

John Bradford's Bible

Congratulations to Bishop David Walker, whose appointment as the next Bishop of Manchester was announced on Wednesday. When the Bishop is eventually installed (the Cathedral will be a building site until later this year), he will swear the oath of Allegiance and Supremacy holding a Bible that is held in Chetham's Library.

The Bible is a quarto Vulgate, printed in Paris in 1552. As Bibles go this is not particularly interesting or important, although has some rather attractive illustrations, not least some ninety-two woodcuts by Hans Holbein in the Old Testament. What makes this particular Bible significant is that our copy was owned by John Bradford (1510?-1555), the Protestant martyr of Manchester. Bradford, born in Blackley, was educated at the Inns of Court and then at Cambridge. In 1550 he was ordained priest and returned to the North West preaching in churches in Lancashire and Cheshire. On the accession of Mary he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower and was burnt at the stake alongside an apprentice called John Leaf at Smithfield in July 1555.

It might strike us as odd to find a Protestant reformer owning a Latin Bible, but the book is inscribed on the title page in Bradford's neat and tiny hand and there are marginal notes by him throughout. The book was presented to Chetham's in 1855 and has been used ever since as the Bible for all installations of the Bishops of Manchester.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

What's hidden in your tea leaves?

Here at the Library we like nothing better than a proper cup of tea made in the pot with tea leaves, so we were thrilled to stumble upon a copy of The Cup of Destiny: How to Tell Fortunes with Tea Leaves, written by the exotic and mysterious Mistress Zodiah and published in the early twentieth century by Manchester's Daisy Bank Press (and available to view in its entirety on the website).

Mistress Zodiah (who writes in a style remarkably similar to that of a middle aged gentleman) introduces the art of 'tea-leafistry', as she so eloquently calls it, by explaining that she herself, whilst in north Wales en route to a business meeting in Dublin, happened upon a lady by the name of Mrs Evans. This lady, who was known to the author as 'highly educated, intelligent, and … perfectly truthful', succeeded in foretelling a terrible rail crash, missed only by a hair's breadth by our intrepid businessperson. Astounded, the author begins an earnest investigation of the subject, the findings of which she (or he) shares with us in this little book.

The book is set out alphabetically, with almost every possible arrangement of leaves accounted for. The attention to detail is impressive, although it has to be said that the modern eye might have some trouble distinguishing between, for example, a fox ('beware a false and cunning friend') and a dog ('a faithful friend closely watches over your interests'), not to mention problems identifying the difference between a pelican ('look after your business better') and a joint of meat ('what you are striving for is not worth the trouble').

Whether it would be possible to make out some of the more unusual arrangements is also open to question, but Madame Zodiah's suggestion that the leaves might form themselves into the shape of an ankle, a lobster, a weasel, a guinea pig, a naked person or a set of bagpipes has certainly motivated us to put the kettle on.