04 January 2022
In European Collections, where we focus on printed books post-1850, many of our acquisitions come through regular contracted suppliers. These suppliers are equipped to provide the breadth of publications the Library needs to stay relevant as an international research organisation. Occasionally, however, we acquire by different means, perhaps when the publication is more niche, or second-hand, or when we have a connection to a publisher or author, amongst other reasons. As we enter a new year, I wanted to reflect briefly on the quirkier material that has entered the BL’s Nordic collections in just such ways in 2021.
Valtatiet (‘Highways’) is an early example of the Finnish avant-garde, an illustrated poetry collaboration between Mika Waltari, Olavi Lauri Paavolainen and the artist Sylvi Kunnas, who provided its striking front cover.
Cover of Valtatiet (1928) by Sylvi Kunnas, awaiting shelfmark
Waltari and Paavolainen were prominent members of the Tulenkantajat (‘Torch Bearers’) group of artists and writers, who introduced the trending movements of European modernism to Finland. Valtatiet was itself inspired by Filippo Marinetti’s Futurism in its manifesto-like poetry of ‘machine romanticism’ (Kaunonen), while Kunnas’s cover certainly betrays an interest in Cubist style. Both poets increasingly became more politically engaged, despite their early preference for the aesthetics and experience of modernity and modern life, and both visited Nazi Germany in the 1930s, with Paavolainen producing perhaps his most famous work as a result, Kolmannen Valtakunnan vieraana (‘Guest of the Third Reich’, 1936). This acquisition complements an extensive European avant-garde collection at the Library and importantly expands it to incorporate an example of its unique Finnish expression.
Illustration by Sylvi Kunnas accompanying the poems entitled ‘Credo’ by Olavi Lauri Paavolainen
Our Finnish collections also recently welcomed a much more contemporary literary work, Fun Primavera by Elsa Tölli, which we kindly received directly from the author. Elsa won this year’s Tanvissa karhu (‘Dancing bear’) prize for poetry, the first time it has gone to a self-published work. Thrilled to be asked for a copy by the Library, Elsa sent us a beautiful note along with the book, which she described as her “wild and extravagant poetry explosion”. Thank you, Elsa! And for those of us still needing to hone our Finnish, an English translation by Kasper Salonen is available.
From Fun Primavera by Elsa Tölli (awaiting shelfmark)
Reaching out to creators has been an interesting way to learn about contemporary publishing in the region. I came across the work of Johannes Samuelsson through conversations around Swedish art books and projects centred on social action. Samuelsson, an artist and photographer, has developed an art practice that is directly concerned with uplifting his community in Umeå, making books that document but also form part of that social action. Johannes generously sent his work to the Library and I was particularly struck by the book Skäliga anspråk på prydlighet: En bok om kampen för en korvvagn (‘Reasonable claims for neatness: A book on the fight for a hot dog stall’).
Cover of Johannes Samuelsson’s Skäliga anspråk på prydlighet, featuring hot dog stall owner, Helmer Holm
When the Umeå authorities introduced new regulations for the design of hot dog stalls, Helmer Holm fought to retain his stall, which contravened the new rules. Samuelsson documents what he calls the “hot dog war”, amplifying Holm’s campaign, which was eventually successful, and the project is brought to life in the photobook. Attempting to represent the cultural life of the Nordic region, our collections need to be broad and relevant, identifying projects that also speak to universal issues and therefore that cut across the Library’s collections. With this Swedish perspective on local activism, on gentrification of common urban space, on art as social practice, we are hopefully adding richness to collections that interrogate similar ideas.
Cover of Art of Welfare, (Oslo, 2006) YD.2021.a.1210
We are always keen to incorporate independent publishing and smaller presses, especially where the publications complement the collections we already hold and the themes central to them. Art publishing tends to be produced with an international market in mind, with many books from the Nordic region appearing in English. After acquiring the Office for Contemporary Art Norway’s recent trilogy of new Indigenous writing, following a survey of contemporary publishing related to Sámi culture, we were fortunate to receive all outstanding issues of the publisher’s Verkstad series from them directly. Exhibition catalogues are often the place for leading thinkers to be creative, and there are unique essays throughout this series. Take, for example, Art of Welfare, produced for Elmgreen & Dragset's exhibition, ‘The Welfare Show’ – initially produced by Bergen Kunsthall, – at the Serpentine Gallery in London in January 2006.
As we constantly shape our collections to reflect the worlds they represent, working with authors, artists and independent publishers is an indispensable way to get at the heart of these cultural landscapes and to broaden the perspective of our own. We hope to continue to supplement our Nordic collections in this way, developing this unofficial “acquisitions through conversations” approach.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Leena Kaunonen, ‘Avant-Garde Moments in Nykyaikaa etsimassa by Olavi Paavolainen’, in A Cultural History of the Avant–Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925–1950 (Leiden, 2019) Avant-garde critical studies; 36. pp. 746-760. 1837.116580
17 December 2021
I am sure that every bibliophile can recall the feeling of excitement that accompanies us when we take a new book into our hands. The sensation of moving fingers along the surface of the cover, flipping through pages, the distinctive scent of a new book. However, what is even more rewarding and satisfying, is to find a book that has lived well and aged beautifully bathed in genuine interest and love received from its readers.
There are many special books in the British Library collections. However, for me there is one which evokes the very feeling of joy I felt as a child visiting a bookshop or a library. It is Vaclav Havel’s Pokouseni (‘Temptation’). Havel, Czech writer, dissident and former president, who passed away ten years ago this month, wrote this play inspired by the story of Dr Faust.
Vaclav Havel, black-and-white photograph of the author mounted on the cover's verso of Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark
His intellectual interest in the tale was ignited by Goethe’s and Thomas Mann’s literary adaptations that he read while being imprisoned. This prompted him to consider philosophical questions on the relativity of truth and how it can be transformed into a lie. Olga Tokarczuk once said that to write a book she needs to get obsessed with the story first. It was definitely the case with Vaclav Havel and Pokouseni. In published letters written from prison to his wife Olga, Havel explains: ‘As you know, I’m a man obsessions, and I hate giving anything up before I’ve exhausted all (my) possibilities. And so, in fact – though at a distance – I remain with the theatre.’
Cover of the samizdat edition of Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark
Eda Kriseova in her authorised biography of the Czech writer describes the creative process that lead to the birth of Temptation. It took Havel ten nights to finish the work. He was physically and mentally exhausted and ended up falling down the stairs and hurting his head. He was staying in his country house in Hradecko at the time. Feverish, hurt, trembling the playwright was cut from the world by a sudden snow storm without any food and no way out. Once Havel came back to the world he felt like he had got away from the devil himself. This strenuous yet cathartic creation process resulted in a play that many found disturbing. Presenting the clash of a metaphysical view of the world with a rational one – inflated to surreal and absurd – the play reflected a contemporary Czechoslovakian existence.
Title leaf designed by Viktor Karlik, Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark
Havel wrote Pokouseni in 1985, after he had been released from prison. He was imprisoned three times for a total of almost five years under the communist regime. Following his incarceration, Havel became an even more internationally recognisable public figure. His works, banned in Czechoslovakia, were smuggled out of the country to be read around the world. Pokouseni was promptly translated to German and premiered in Vienna in 1986.
An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik
It is actually fitting that the literary work whose conception took such a toll on Havel’s body and mind was published as samizdat. The physicality of the copy we are lucky to have almost mirrors the process the writer went through to create it. It is not the clinical, perfectly cut and immaculately bound product of a mass manufacturer, but rather a raw body of paper turned with love and care into an artefact testifying to the tender effort of a craftsman. Every little detail adds to the story. Were it not for it, the book would look like a plain, boring file folder. Original and unique tape binding has the author’s name typed directly into the fabric before it was closed. What makes this edition exceptional is a collage on the cover and hand-printed linocut illustrations by another Czech dissident Viktor Karlik. Both the artist and the writer were a part of a close-knit circle of friends forming anti-regime opposition in Czechoslovakia. Although Karlik later fell out with Havel over his engagement in politics, his illustrations to Poukuseni complement and enrich the story. The linocut technique fits perfectly Havel’s imaginary universe achieving it through the otherworldly look, stark lines and abstraction. Rarely in samizdat publications that relied on fast printing can we find such a beautiful companionship of imagery and text – the book is a work of art itself.
An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik
Vaclav Havel’s most prolific years as a writer came before his presidency. Although his political legacy is sometimes contested, he was committed to all the roles he came to play in his life. One may speculate that he was able to achieve this thanks to his very personal understanding of hope, which according to Havel’s conviction is ‘this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed’. See the book Disturbing the peace: a conversation with Karel Hvizdala (London, 1990; YC.1991.a.1826)
When I hold the Havel-Karlik copy of Pokouseni in my hand, I am taken back to this place of hope once occupied by those who wanted to change the world by the sheer power of words and art.
An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik
Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Collections
Vaclav Havel, Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark
Vaclav Havel, Letters to Olga: June 1979-September 1982 (London, 1988). YC.1989.a.2933
Vaclav Havel, Disturbing the peace: a conversation with Karel Hvizdala (London, 1990). YC.1991.a.1826
Eda Kriseova, Vaclav Havel (Prague, 2014). YF.2015.a.17320
18 June 2021
England has a proud history of taking in political refugees, as readers of the British Libray's publication Foreign-Language Printing in London will know.
London was the focus of foreign-language printing in Britain, but we have cases of Dutch refugees in Norwich (see Anna Simoni in FLPIL) and Portuguese in Plymouth.
Dom Pedro IV granted a constitutional charter in 1826 and renounced the throne of Portugal (he remained Emperor of Brazil) in favour of Dona Maria da Glória (Maria II), his seven-year-old daughter. On 13 March 1828 Pedro’s reactionary brother Dom Miguel seized power and abolished the constitutional charter, causing the flight of at least 2000 liberals into exile. They sailed from the Peninsula at Corunna and El Ferrol, landing at Falmouth, Portsmouth and Plymouth.
Dom Pedro had sent Dona Maria from Rio to Porto, but when it was learned that Dom Miguel was in control she changed course for England. She landed at Falmouth on 24 September 1828 and travelled to London, where she was presented with a copy of the Constitution and a sceptre.
The exiles lived in squalor in a refugee camp in Plymouth, the so-called Depósito Geral, but they managed to build a stage at their own expense. The camp’s governor closed the theatre down, and the actors decamped to the Theatre Royal. This was probably the theatre built in 1813 in the city, although da Sousa says that it was based in Saltram House in nearby Plympton, owned by the first Earl of Morley, a supporter of the liberal cause.
The arrival of the princess in England was the occasion for a production of Catão, by the major liberal literary figure, Almeida Garrett, imitated from Addison’s Cato. (It had previously been staged in Lisbon.) It was played four times at the Theatre Royal in October and December 1828.
During the performance of 24 October 1828 the death of Dom Miguel was announced, and the Portuguese Constitutional Hymn and God Save the King were sung with “frantic excitement and vivas etc.” The announcement was, however, premature, and civil war dragged on in Portugal until 1834, with the liberals triumphant and the exiles repatriated.
The BL has a number of small publications printed for the exiles on the south coast of England:
Aviso aos portuguezes, leaes defensores da Augusta Rainha a Senhora D. Maria Segunda, da carta constitucional, e gloria da sua patria (Plymouth: Law, Saunders e Heydon, [1828?]) HS.74/2237(38)
C. Xavier, No: 28. Plymouth, 24 de Setembro de 1828 (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, ) HS.74/2237(39)
A Few words on the subject of the “Denominated Act” of the three estates of the Kingdom of Portugal, assembled in Cortes, in Lisbon, on the 11th of July, 1828. Translated from the Portuguese (Plymouth, 1828) 1141.i.18.(2.)
Marcos Pinto Soares Vaz Preto, Sermão pregado na Capella Catholica de Stonehouse… = Sermon on the birthday of Pedro IV., Emperor of the Brazils, in thanksgiving for the arrival of Dona Maria 2nd, Queen of Portugal. (Plymouth: W. W. Arliss, 1828) 1358.i.20
Acaba de receber-se a seguinte Proclamação, pelo Paquete Lord Hobart vindo do Rio de Janeiro, e chegado hontem ao Porto de Falmouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, 1828) RB.31.b.151/3
José Pinto Rebelo de Carvalho, Hymno dos emigrados portuguezes, em Plymouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton,  HS.74/2237(37)
Refutação dos sofismas empregados por alguns jornalistas ingleses sobre Dom Miguel em Portugal e os Portuguezes em Plymouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, [1829?] 8042.cc.22.(2.)
Requirimento feito pelos Voluntarios Academicos de Coimbra, existentes em Plymouth, e dirigida á Junta encarregada da Administração, fiscalisação, distribuição dos subsidios applicados aos emigrados portuguezes, installada em Londres; a sua informação, e despacho (Plymouth: W. W. Arliss, 1829) RB.23.a.20687
José Bento Said, Remedio d’amor, e queixumes de Dido contra Eneas: traducções livres das obras de Ovidio. Tres sonetos, e garantias dos direitis civiz e politicos dos cidadåos portuguezes, outorgados na Carta Constitucional de 1826 (Angra: Imprensa do Governo, 1831) Includes: Descripção das tres magnificas Cidades Plymouth, Ston-House, e Devonporth, a qual o Auctor offerece gratuita aos Illms. Snrs. Academicos, Officiaes Militaes, Ecclesiasticos, e mais Snrs. que subscerevêrão. RB.23.a.17999(1)
The three shown below have recently been added to the collection:
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Barry Taylor, ‘Un-Spanish practices: Spanish and Portuguese protestants, Jews and liberals, 1500-1900’ , in Foreign-language printing in London 1500-1900, ed. Barry Taylor (London: British Library, 2003), pp. 183-202. 2708.h.1059
João Baptista da Sousa, ‘Catão em Plymouth: controvérsias acerca da representação da tragédia em Inglaterra – 1829’, in De Garrett ao Neo-Garrettismo: actas do colóquio ([Maia?], 1999), pp. 75-90. YA.2001.a.41366
04 June 2021
Translating the French Revolution: Italian printing culture during the revolutionary Triennio, 1796-1799
The British Library holds the largest collection of printed material on the French Revolution outside of France. As we know the French revolution was not limited to France but affected the historical trajectory of numerous countries in Europe and around the world. One of the first European areas where French revolutionary ideals found a fertile soil was the Italian peninsula. In 1796 the French Army, led by the young general Napoleon Bonaparte, defeated Austrian and Sardinian troops. On 15 May 1796 Bonaparte entered Milan, which rapidly became the most active political laboratory of the peninsula.
Giovanni Antonio Antolini, plans for the Foro Buonaparte in Milan, city side, c. 1801. Part of Napoleon’s ambitious but unfulfilled plan for remodelling the city of Milan (Image from Wikimedia Commons
During the revolutionary Triennio, the period between the arrival of the French troops led by Bonaparte and the French defeat in 1799, there was a veritable explosion of print culture: 40 new periodicals in Milan, ten newspapers printed in Venice in 1797 alone; 20 serial publications in Genoa, and smaller centres such as Brescia or Ferrara also produced their own revolutionary newspapers. The British Library holds two periodicals that are exemplary of this Italian revolutionary press: the Giornale della società degli amici della libertà e dell’eguaglianza (‘Journal of the Society of Friends of Liberty and Equality’) and the Osservator piemontese (‘Piedmont Observer’).
Giornale della società degli amici della libertà e dell’eguaglianza (Milan 23 May 1796) [PENP.NT309]
The first newspaper was the work of the physician Giovanni Rasori, a vocal supporter of a democratic republic. Rasori had travelled to Britain and France, and his newspaper reflected his familiarity with the two countries. Translations of French or English works appeared frequently, such as Volney’s Ruines or tracts by radicals, such as William Morgan’s Facts Addressed to the Serious Attention of the People of Great Britain Respecting the Expence [sic] of the War and the State of the National Debt (London, 1796; RB.23.b.7561). In a similar vein the Osservatore piemontese published long extracts from Joseph Priestley’s Lectures on History and General Policy (Birmingham, 1788; 580.h.16).
Both newspapers presented the Italian translations of British works through the intermediary of a recent French translation. Rasori translated Morgan’s work as it appeared on the columns of the Parisian Moniteur Universel (Gazette nationale, ou, le Moniteur universel France, Paris, 1789-1810; MFM.MF17), while the authors of the Piedmontese newspaper commented and published large excerpts of Priestley’s work which had been translated into French in 1798.
First issue of Osservator Piemontese (Turin 1798) P.P.4175
The arrival of the French armies in the Italian peninsula favoured the publication of works that were previously forbidden. The translations of these texts appeared in periodical publications thus making more difficult for researchers to find them. These texts were partially reprinted in periodical publications, as those presented above, or were collected in anthologies such as the Biblioteca dell’uomo repubblicano. The British Library holds the prospectus for this anthology published in 1797 in Venice (awaiting shelfmark). The ambitious plan was to print 15 volumes containing the main works of philosophers like Rousseau, Voltaire and Mably. However the Peace of Campo Formio (27 October 1797), when France ceded Venice to the Austrian Empire, put an end to this effort of creating a first comprehensive compilation of political thinkers crucial to understanding the political basis of the French revolution.
The brief interlude of the Italian republics was not an ephemeral season in the Italian history. On the contrary the last years of the 18th century served as the basis of the development of new kinds of Italian political thinking, rooted in a lively exchange with other European traditions such as the French Enlightenment and the British radical movement.
Niccolò Valmori, Postdoctoral research associate at King’s College, London, working on the AHRC funded project ‘Radical Translations: The Transfer of Revolutionary Culture between Britain, France and Italy (1789-1815)’
Valerio Castronovo, Giuseppe Ricuperati, Carlo Capra (ed.), La stampa italiana dal Cinquecento all’Ottocento (Rome, 1976). X.989/90090(1)
Giorgio Cosmacini, Scienza medica e giacobinismo in Italia: l'impresa politico-culturale di Giovanni Rasori (1796-1799) (Milano, 1982). X.329/20279
Katia Visconti, L’ultimo Direttorio: la lotta politica nella repubblica cisalpina tra guerra rivoluzionaria e ascesa di Bonaparte, 1799-1800 (Milano, 2011). YF.2012.a.13963
Carlo Zaghi, Il Direttorio francese e la repubblica Cisalpina (Rome, 1992). YA.1992.b.2989
18 March 2021
This is the first in a series of blog posts marking the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical, popular led government in power between 18 March and 28 May 1871.
Parisians woke up on 18 March 1871 to a military operation well underway. Incited by fear of insurrection after a desolate winter of siege, starvation and eventual capitulation to the Prussians, Adolphe Thiers sought to render Paris impotent by removing the cannons littered around the working-class districts of the city.
The sortie to prise away the arms of Belleville and Montmartre would be an utter failure. Arriving at Montmartre at 5:30am, a 6,000-strong force under the direction of General Claude Lecomte overran the National Guardsmen watching over the cannons. However, the troops had not brought a sufficient number of horses to help haul the arms away, and rather comically, were rendered impotent themselves.
By the more reasonable hours of the morning, Parisians had gathered in large numbers. They implored the inert soldiers to ignore their superiors’ orders to fire upon the crowd. Some handed over their rifles and sang ‘arm in arm’ with civilians. When what was happening became apparent, Thiers departed from the Invalides and headed to Versailles, but not before decreeing the army’s complete withdrawal from the capital.
A mass exodus followed, but not everyone got out of Paris. General Lecomte had been seized, as had General Jacques Léon Clément-Thomas. The latter, a prominent figure though the government’s repressions in 1848, had been recognised near one of the newly-erected barricades thrown together across the city. Both men were summarily executed by a crowd which included Lecomte’s former soldiers, National Guardsmen, and local civilians, though not in the solemn manner depicted in the staged photo below by Ernest Eugène Appert, which was not taken until June, 1871.
Staged photo depicting the assassination of Generals Clément-Thomas and Lecomte. Picture by Ernest Eugène Appert. Source: Wikipedia Commons
This tumultuous period inspired a boom in the production, distribution and consumption of visual imagery and art of all forms. The British Library holds a rich collection of caricatures and images (14001.g.41, Cup.1001.i.1, Cup.648.b.2 and Cup. 648.b.8) produced during l’année terrible. Most are of French provenance, but the collections include prints from other European locales, most significantly Germany. The illustrations are impressive in terms of their artistic quality but also their sharp critique of a wide range of topics, as no social mœurs, political moment or figure escapes their remit.
The volumes are especially marked by the existence of similar collections across different libraries, including digitised collections at Cambridge and Heidelberg. The bindings and title pages of these collections imply they were each collected and curated by German-born Frederick Justen, who moved to London in 1851 and worked as a bookseller for Dulau & Co, one of the British Museum Library’s suppliers of foreign books at the time.
Though the production of satirical prints had been dominated by journals such as Le Charivari through the 19th century, the fall of Napoleon III and the subsequent winter of despair in the city meant that feuilles volantes, or single sheets, became the premier mode of printing illustrations. Despite this, prints were often produced in sets, and collected together in the years following. Here we see a lithograph, published as the first of a set a three in March 1871, from a printing house on rue du Croissant in the second arrondissement.
'Theirs le Dompteur!!!!', Heidelberg University Library: Collection de caricatures et de charges pour servir à l'histoire de la guerre et de la révolution de 1870-1871, [s.l.], [ca. 1872], Bd. 4, S. 133.
Approaching Paris, here depicted as a majestic lion, resting amongst its weaponry on Montmartre, Thiers looks down at the ground in a deferential manner. He tells Paris that ‘he’s not like the other trainers’ (“je ne suis pas Dompteur comme les autres”). However, behind his back he holds a decree, perhaps a reference to the document of surrender to the Prussians, but more likely to the laws passed by the National Assembly which harshly affected Parisians. For instance, a law passed earlier in March mandated the end of moratoriums on rent and overdue bills accrued in the city during the four months of the Prussian siege. The eagle-eyed amongst you will see that in his right hand, as well as poorly-hidden chains, his trainer’s whip is detailed with the word ‘armée’. No translation necessary.
Paris sees through this vain attempt at nullification. In the final two images of the set, the lion savages Thiers, forcing him to flee to Versailles bloodied and screaming for allies to come to his aid. The whip and decree stay firmly underneath the lion’s paws, and in the final image, a red flag flies next to the victorious Paris, who warns Thiers that next time he will not escape the lion’s claws.
Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London
Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, (2005), pp. 1-19, Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune - Morna Daniels (bl.uk)
Irene Fabry-Tehranchi, ‘Cambridge caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-1871), European Collections, (2019), Cambridge caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-71) | (wordpress.com)
Gay Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, (Ithaca, 1996), YC.1997.a.1077
Bettina Muller, ‘The Collections of French caricatures in Heidelberg: The English connection’, French Studies Library Group: Annual Review issue 8 (2011-2012), pp. 39-42, annual-review-issue-8-2011-12-current.pdf (wordpress.com)
David A. Shafer, The Paris Commune, (Basingstoke, 2005). YC.2006.a.16941
Bertrand Tillier, La Commune de Paris: Révolution sans images? (Paris, 2004). YF.2004.a.14526
Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune, 1871, (London, 1999). YC.1999.a.3641
08 December 2020
The culture of hand printing, the neoclassical aesthetic, considering the typeset as an art form in dialogue with its times: these aspects of 18th-century typographer Giambattista Bodoni’s work are still meaningful and constitute the core of his legacy, inspiring generations of Italian designers and typographers. Here are four examples:
Like many printers of the olden days, Hans ‘Giovanni’ Mardersteig came from Germany and established his hand press in Italy. In 1922 the Italian government granted him permission to use Bodoni’s original matrices and Officina Bodoni started, operating in Verona until Mardersteig’s death, in 1977. Mardersteig’s extreme care for detail is shown in his re-edition of Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico, 1788 and many more alphabets using his own typesets, like his Alphabetum Romanum.
Giovanni Bodoni and & Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968) L.R.413.h.17.
Alberto and Enrico Tallone
Alberto Tallone and his son Enrico have worked since the 1930s to honour the book in its material and spiritual aspects. Engravers, typefounders, hand printers and publishers, the Tallone family takes from Bodoni the idea of manuals, describing in their four volumes of Manuale Tipografico centuries of typography, watermarks, original characters, frontispieces, inks used from the 18th to the 20th century. Tallone’s idea is to convey the spirit of the author by choosing size, characters, papers and spacing, in a dialogue between the text and the content, so that every book is unique.
Manuale Tipografico. 2, Dedicato All’impaginazione, Ai Caratteri Da Testo E Ai Formati.(Turin, 2008) Cup.937/992.
Tallone’s books are set by hand in traditional foundry types, which derive from hand-cut steel punches engraved with a burin by great artists. This video shows the process and it was filmed in their typographic studio in Turin:
Franco Maria Ricci
Born in Parma in 1937, bibliophile, publisher and designer Franco Maria Ricci grew up in an aesthetic and cultural background that stemmed directly from Bodoni’s tradition. Ricci studied and collected Bodoni’s works for his entire life, helping rediscover and promote Bodoni and making his types part of Italy’s everyday life. Ricci’s art magazine, FMR (in French it appears to read éphémère, transitory) had a reputation for being the world’s most beautiful magazine.
Ricci shares with his master the great respect for proportions, distance, and white spaces.
Cover of Franco Maria Ricci (ed.) Bodoni, 1740-1813.(Parma, 2013) LF.31.b.11849. The cover shows a photograph of Bodoni’s original books, from the Bodoni Museum in Parma. The title is set in a digital font by Franco Maria Ricci, which is true to Bodoni’s original typefaces.
Designer Massimo Vignelli takes from Giambattista Bodoni an interest for Italian letterforms. A modernist by choice, Vignelli became famous for creating the iconic New York City Subway Map in 1972 (using Helvetica), a landmark in graphic design. His preference was always for four typefaces that he considered perfect, including Helvetica and Bodoni. Vignelli says: “In the new computer age, the proliferation of typefaces and type manipulations represents a new level of visual pollution threatening our culture. Out of thousands of typefaces, all we need are a few basic ones, and trash the rest.”
Vignelli Associates, Our Bodoni, from Archivio Grafica Italiana
In 1989 Vignelli revisited the Bodoni typeset creating Our Bodoni, commissioned to him by World Typeface Center (WTC) of New York: “When Bert Di Pamphilis (…) asked us to design a new typeface, we told him we do not believe in ‘new’ typefaces, but that there was room for improvement on existing, classic typeface designs. We consider the ratio between upper- and lower-case Helvetica letters to be the best there is. We wanted to redesign Bodoni using a similar ratio between the cases, with short ascenders and descenders, and articulate the type in four weights: light, regular, medium, bold.” (Massimo Vignelli).
Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections
Giovanni Mardersteig, The Officina Bodoni: an Account of the work of a Hand Press 1923-1977. Edited and translated by Hans Schmoller. (Verona, 1980) Cup.510.ee.50.
F. Feliciano and Giovanni Mardersteig, Alphabetum romanum. Edited by Giovanni Mardersteig (Verona, 1960) Cup.510.ee.58.
Alberto Tallone, Manuale Tipografico Dedicato Ai Frontespizi E Ai Tipi Maiuscoli Tondi & Corsivi (Alpignano, 2005) LF.31.b.1808.
Pablo Neruda and Alberto Tallone, La Copa De Sangre. (Alpignano, 1969) RF.2017.b.76
FMR (Milan, 1982-2009?) P.2000/1106
Michael Bierut,. ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Typeface’. Design Observer.
04 December 2020
The world into which Christophe Plantin was born in 1520 was in great flux. Less than 40 years before, Europeans had landed in America; 50 years before that Gutenberg printed the first books using movable type. More new inventions made some time before became established, such as spectacles, the windmill and gunpowder. Martin Luther had just unleashed the Reformation which would result in a wider spread of literacy. What better time for setting up a printing business?
Cities flourished, including the port of Antwerp, a busy commercial hub on the Schelde. 80 percent of the Low Countries’ maritime trade landed there. Ports not only processed goods, but also knowledge and culture, so it is no wonder that ports like Venice, Antwerp and Deventer became centres of printing.
Plantin fitted perfectly within that world. He was dynamic and adaptable. He possessed good business sense and good organisational skills. So it was no wonder that he and his family moved from Paris, where he had originally established a bookbinding business, to Antwerp in 1548.
No institution tells the story of that history better than the Museum Plantin Moretus, based in the very house where the Plantin family lived and ran their hugely successful printing business for 300 years. The Museum had planned a year of celebrations, when COVID threw a spanner in the works.
Portrait of Christophe Plantin by Peter Paul Rubens , ca. 1630. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Plantin’s phenomenal success as a printer has somewhat overshadowed the achievements of his earlier life as a master bookbinder. He was apprenticed to Robert Macé II in Caen, where he married Joanna Rivière. The Plantins set up shop in Paris in the mid 1540s before relocating to Antwerp, where in 1550 Christophe became a citizen and member of the Guild of St Luke, which regulated the work of painters, sculptors, engravers and printers. He also sold books, prints and decorated leather items in his shop, while his wife sold draperies. The quality of his work as a bookbinder was exceptional and attracted many important patrons (the binding pictured below was probably made for Queen Mary I of England).
Front cover of Jan Christoval Calvete de Estrella, El Felicissimo viaie d’el ... Principe Don Phelippe ... (Antwerp, 1552.) C.47.i.4
His decorative style, particularly the delicacy of his gold tooling, was influenced by the finest Parisian workshops. The way Plantin incorporated colour into the designs, however, was all his own, as we can see from the image below.
Front cover of Juan Boscán, Las Obras de Boscan y algunas de Garcilasso de la Vega repartidas en quatro libros (Antwerp, [1550?]) C.46.a.23
Why did Plantin abandon bookbinding? There are several theories. The version written by Plantin himself and later clarified in a letter by his grandson Baltasar Moretus is the most dramatic (if at the same time rather odd!). In 1554 or early 1555, a Spanish royal secretary, Zayas, then resident in Antwerp, asked Plantin to personally deliver a leather jewel casket he had made as a royal commission. On the way, Plantin was attacked by some masked and inebriated men. Apparently they mistook him for a zither player of their acquaintance who had behaved insultingly. It is said that the knife injury Plantin sustained meant that he was no longer able to bind books and needed an alternative career.
According to an account in the 19th-century British journal The Bookbinder, “As he no longer felt strong enough for a trade in which there is much stooping and movement of the body, there came to him the idea of setting up a printing-press. He had often seen printing carried out in France, and had done it himself.” Founding such an establishment required investment. Financial support from several sources have been suggested. These include Plantin’s assailants who were legally required to pay him damages; the aforementioned Zayas and Alexander Graphaeus (both important figures in Antwerp commerce) and the non-conformist religious sect the ‘Huis der Liefde’ (‘Family of Love’). Whatever the truth, Plantin “started the business, guiding and directing it with such understanding, with God's help, that even the earliest beginnings of this press were admired, not only in the Netherlands but throughout the world.”
In 1576 Plantin set up a second printing shop in Leiden and served the new university there for two years, before returning to Antwerp.
The British Library holds 835 titles and editions that have Plantin as publisher on the record. Amongst these is a catalogue of titles published by Plantin up to 1575, available online via our Universal Viewer, or Google Books. Other titles have been digitised too and are available in the same way.
M. A. Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections, and P J M Marks, Curator of Bookbindings
‘Plantin the Binder’, The Bookbinder, v. 5, 1891-92, p. 215
De Boekenwereld , v. 36 (2020) nr 1
24 August 2020
The date of 24 August is often claimed as the anniversary of the Gutenberg Bible, the first European book printed with moveable type. The date is not in fact the anniversary of the printing being completed, but is based on a rubricator’s inscription of 24 August 1456 in a copy of the Bible held by the French National Library. It’s the earliest dated evidence of a complete copy being in existence, but obviously made when the rubrication was completed rather than the printing (thought to be the previous year). But it’s become well established as a date to commemorate the Bible’s completion.
In fact this is not the only anniversary date connected with Gutenberg that is somewhat tenuous. Few exact dates in Gutenberg’s life (and little precise chronology of the Bible’s printing) are definitely known. However, since the 16th century, various years have been chosen and commemorated as Gutenberg anniversaries, and the two most common (1400 and 1440) are based on guesswork.
The most frequently commemorated Gutenberg date is 1440, claimed as the anniversary of the invention of the printing press. This is based on documents from a legal case brought against Gutenberg in 1439 in Strasbourg, which implied that he was working on some new innovation and used terminology similar to that later used to describe parts of the printing process. But it is not until the early 1450s that we have any evidence of Gutenberg, back in his native Mainz, actually producing printed texts.
Nonetheless, 1440 was the anniversary date that stuck. As early as 1540 the printer Hans Lufft of Wittenberg is said to have held a commemorative feast, although no primary evidence of this survives. A Latin poem published in 1541 has been described as the first Gutenberg centenary publication, but can only claim the title by default since the author, Johannes Arnoldus doesn’t actually mention an anniversary, stating that a visit to Mainz inspired his work. He calls the printing press a new wonder of the world, and praises Gutenberg and his colleagues Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer as divinely inspired.
In 1640 a handful of scholars and printers produced celebratory publications for the bicentenary of printing. One such was Bernardus Mallinckrodt, apparently the first writer to use the term ‘incunabula’, from the Latin word for cradle, to refer to books from the ‘infancy’ of printing’, now used for western books printed before 1501.
Mallinckrodt’s chief aim was to defend Gutenberg’s reputation as the inventor of printing against Dutch claims that Laurens Janszoon Coster of Haarlem had first perfected the art. This debate continued for generations, becoming particularly fierce in the 19th century. It even inspired a play, staged in London in 1856, which depicted Gutenberg’s ‘theft’ of Coster’s idea.
Playbill advertising The First Printer, a play by Tom Taylor and Charles Reade, as performed at the Princess’s Theatre in March 1856 (Playbills 161)
In the Netherlands Coster was long celebrated as the inventor of printing, with 1428 commemorated as the date of his breakthrough. The modern consensus has come down in favour of Gutenberg, and contemporary debates focus more on whether or not knowledge of older East Asian printing technologies influenced developments in Europe.
Laurier-krans geflogten om’t hoofd van Laurens Koster, eerste uitvinder der boekdrukkunst binnen Haarlem (Haarlem, 1726.) Koning. 13. The scroll superimposed on the church spire may be intended to reflect the shape of an early press
1740 saw anniversary festivities in many German towns, usually organised by local printers and booksellers, but also involving scholars and clerics, whose lectures, speeches and sermons accompanied more entertaining events such as processions and firework displays. These celebrations often emphasised the role of printing in spreading Christianity. In a work commemorating the celebrations in Wernigerode, the printer Michael Anton Struck proudly claims to have printed 50,000 Bibles in 40 years.
Decorative title page of Michael Anton Struck, Wernigerodisches Danck- und Jubel-Fest, welches wegen der vor 300 Jahren 1440 erfundenen Buchdrucker-Kunst … celebriret worden ([Wernigerode, 1740]) 9930.ccc.59.(5.)
In the 16th-18th centuries, Gutenberg commemorations emphasised the invention of printing more than the inventor. Gutenberg was praised, but there was little interest in his character or motivation. 19th-century Romantic notions of the hero were among the factors that helped move Gutenberg himself into the limelight in 1840. For the first time, fictional and dramatic portrayals of his life and work were presented, as well as biographies aimed at a wider popular audience.
A tormented Gutenberg confronts the spirit of the past. From Franz Dingelstedt, Sechs Jahrhunderte aus Gutenbergs Leben: kleine Gabe zum grossen Feste (Kassel, 1840) 839.m.11.
The Gutenberg of 1840 appeared in many different guises, often with a particular political colour. To some he was still the man who had brought God’s word to the masses and facilitated the Reformation. To others, and particularly to radicals who used the anniversary to call for freedom of the press, he was a more secular apostle of enlightenment, pushing aside mediaeval darkness and superstition, and creating a technology to unite the peoples of the world.
Printing unites the peoples of the world. From Heinrich Meyer (ed.) 1840: Gutenbergs-Album (Braunschweig, 1840). 819.l.15
1900 saw the first major celebrations of Gutenberg’s supposed birth date (as determined in the previous decade) of 1400. By this time Germany had become a strong unified state and the emphasis was more on Gutenberg as national hero. A spectacular pageant in Mainz placed him and his achievement in the specific context of German culture and history alongside figures such as Luther, Goethe, Schiller and Frederick the Great.
Frederick the Great and his army as depicted in the 1900 celebration pageant, marching past the Gutenberg Statue in Mainz. From, Gutenberg-Feier, Mainz 1900: Offizielle Darstellung des historischen Festzuges ... (Mainz, 1900) 1858.a.6.
With the advent of cheap mass-production, popular souvenirs such as postcards, ornaments and pictures were another feature of the 1900 celebrations. However, the anniversary also gave rise to a number of serious scholarly publications on the early history of printing which had become an important area of research in the previous century.
The idea of celebrating Gutenberg as a German hero was, of course, taken to extremes by the National Socialist regime, which instituted annual ‘Gutenberg Celebration Weeks’ in Mainz. However, with the country at war, plans for grandiose celebrations in 1940 were replaced by more modest events. It was among academics and bibliographers in the USA that the anniversary received perhaps the most attention. Their serious studies of early printing were complemented by humorous offerings such as M.B. Cary’s The Missing Gutenberg Wood Blocks (New York, 1940; 12332.bb.15.), purporting to be newly-discovered 15th-century illustrations of Gutenberg’s early life and work, and A.W. Rushmore’s ‘The Mainz Diary’, which portrays Gutenberg’s wife as the true inventor of the press.
Mrs Gutenberg at work. From: A.W. Rushmore, ‘The Mainz Diary: 1437-1440. In which new light is shed upon the cradle days of the art and mystery of printing.’, in Print: a quarterly journal of the graphic arts, Vol. 1 no.3 (December 1940). PP.1622.bfg.
It was not until 1968 that Gutenberg was commemorated on a verifiable historical date: the 500th anniversary of his death. Wider commemorations were held for his ‘600th birthday’ in 2000, again with a mixture of scholarly and more frivolous activities. Alongside exhibitions, conferences, and printed and digital facsimiles, there were new fictional retellings of Gutenberg’s life, and such souvenirs as Gutenberg chocolates and candles.
It will be interesting to see if 2040 is marked as the 600th anniversary of western printing. It wouldn’t necessarily be historically accurate, but it would continue centuries of tradition. As for today, 24 August, surely even the most hard-nosed pedant can at least say, ‘Happy anniversary of a Gutenberg Bible rubricator laying down his pen’. After all, he too was making history in his own way.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies
19 August 2020
Rijeka (Croatia) and Galway (Ireland) are the joint European Capitals of Culture in 2020. Rijeka (in Italian Fiume) is one of the most important cities in Croatia, the largest port, and a cultural, educational and scientific centre. It is a major Croatian publishing centre and the seat of the University founded in 1973. Geographically and culturally Rijeka and the Bay of Kvarner connect the Istrian peninsula with mainland Croatia.
To mark the first Croatian European Capital of Culture, and to showcase some rare items from the British Library Croatian collections, we team up with a Library user, Marko Grba a poet and PhD student at the University of Rijeka. Coincidentally, he has the same surname and initials as the curator of Southeast European collections in the Library.
Rijeka’s cultural programme motto is “Port of Diversity”, and in this blog post we will try to revive the memory of the people, events, tradition, identity and culture that created the city and this region. To highlight a succession of eras in this beautiful city and the surrounding Bay of Kvarner we are presenting, in addition to the selected collection items, a poem in Croatian and in its English translation by the poet, together with a selection of personal photographs taken recently.
This book is a translation from Miracoli della gloriosa Vergine Maria and other popular religious works of the period. It is the last of at least seven Glagolitic books from the Senj press, printed there between 1494 and 1508. A digital copy is available from the Digital Library of the Croatian Academy in Zagreb.
The printer of this early Glagolitic book was Grgur Senjanin, the first known printer in Croatia, who printed the Glagolitic Missal (1494), among other books, in the Senj printing press founded by Silvestar Bedričić. The British Library copy is one of the five known copies in existence worldwide.
Only six Glagolitic books have been identified so far from the Glagolitic printing house in Rijeka founded by Šimun Kožičić Benja, Bishop of Modruš, and the Croatian Missal of 1531 is regarded as the most beautiful work of the press. The book is printed in Church Slavonic, in Croatian Glagolitic script in two columns, in liturgical black and red letters, and decorated with woodcuts and initials in Gothic and Glagolitic uncial fonts. Bartolomeo Zanétti (b.ca. 1487), a typographer, is named as the printer of the book. The British Library copy is one of 15 copies identified in libraries around the world. A digital copy is available from the Digital Library of the National and University Library in Zagreb.
Alfred Fest, Fiume zur Zeit der Uskokenwirren (Fiume, 1893). 10210.ff.9. A History of Rijeka in the 16th and early 17th centuries in the time of Uskoks, Christian rebels against the Ottomans who operated from the Habsburg border garrison in Senj and the Croatian Military Frontier in the Habsburg Monarchy.
Giovanni Kobler, Memorie per la storia della liburnica città di Fiume (Fiume, 1896) 10201.ff.7. A history of Rijeka in three volumes, with two appendices: chronological notes on the history of Rijeka from the year 395 to 1875, and a register of useful historical records from 803 to 1839. The author, Giovanni Kobler (1811-1893), was a lawyer and historian from Rijeka and the work was posthumously published by the city of Rijeka in 1896.
Facsimile of the emblem granted to the city of Rijeka by Emperor Leopold I on 6 June 1659. From Memorie per la storia della liburnica città di Fiume.
We turn now to some images of Rijeka and the Bay of Kvarner past and present. In one such a photograph (below) the memory of old tradition of fishing is preserved. Tuna-fishing was an important source of income in the city and the ‘tunera’ – wooden poles used as observation points for spotting the schools of tuna fish coming up the coast of the Bay of Kvarner – used to be a familiar sight, but are now long gone, as reflected in Marko Grba’s poem.
Stare tunere kod Bakarca
(Prema razglednici M. Clementa Crnčića)
Od Kostrene, malog mjesta velikih obitelji kapetana,
Uokrug zaljeva Bakra,
Mjesta škole kapetana,
Koji je i Halley od kometa
Premjeravao za potrebe brodova Kraljevske mornarice,
Pa do tunera bakaračkih,
I još dalje prema Kraljevici,
Gdje se kovala urota zrinsko-frankopanska,
Plivale su, do ne tako davno, tune:
Moć i ponos Jadrana.
Ne plove više –
I ne vrijede više tunere,
Spomen zanosu Jadrana.
Old Tunera poles near Bakarac, Kvarner Bay
(After a motive by M. Clement Crnčić*)
From Kostrena, a small town with widely known families of seafarers,
Around the Bay of Bakar,
The place of a well known school of seafarers,
Which bay the famed Halley of the Comet
Gauged for the needs of the Royal Navy fleet,
All the way to the old Tunera poles of Bakarac,
And farther still, towards Kraljevica,
Where the plot of Zrinski and Frankopan was forged,
Until not so long ago, tuna were swimming:
The pride and might of the Adriatic.
They sail no more –
And the Tunera poles are of no worth any more,
But as a memory to the rapture that once was the Adriatic.
(Poem and translation © Marko Grba)
* Menci Clement Crnčić (1865-1930), Croatian painter, graphic artist and co-founder of the Academy of Fine Arts
The Rijeka City Library, housed in Palace Modello built in 1885 (photograph by Marko Grba)
Rijeka University Library, housed in the former School for Young Ladies built in 1887 and converted first into the Scientific Library in 1948, then into the University Library in 1979 (photograph by Marko Grba)
Korzo, Rijeka’s main promenade decorated with red and white ‘Rijeka 2020 European Capital of Culture’ flags (photograph by Marko Grba)
A view of Rijeka in the distance across the Bay of Kvarner from Ičići a popular beach near Opatija (photograph by Marko Grba)
Milan Grba, Lead Curator of South East European Collections & Marko Grba, poet and PhD student at the University of Rijeka
Jakša Ravlić, Rijeka. Geografija, etnologija, ekonomija, saobraćaj, povijest, kultura. (Zagreb, 1953). Ac.8967/23
Günther Tutschke, Die glagolitische Druckerei von Rijeka und ihr historiographisches Werk (Munich, 1983) 11879.aa.2/169
Wendy Bracewell, The Uskoks of Senj (London, 1992) YA.1994.b.2298. (Limited preview available from Google Books)
28 July 2020
This post is part of our ‘Inheritance Books’ series with the Americas blog, where colleagues choose an ‘inherited’ item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to ‘pass on’ to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they’re important to us. This week, Susan Reed, Lead Curator of Germanic Collections, shares her selections.
The book I have inherited is one that I have never actually read in the form in which I have inherited it, but which was indirectly responsible for my interest in the German language and, by extension, for my choice to study German at university and the path of my career ever since. It is a 1930s adaptation of Emil Kästner’s children’s classic Emil und die Detektive, simplified for English-speaking learners of German. Why have I inherited it? It’s a slightly long story.
Erich Kästner, Emil und die Detektive, adapted and edited by Dorothy Jenner (London, 1933). W.P.8659/4
On the outbreak of war in 1939 my mother Jean, then 12 years old, was evacuated from her home in North London. Like many early evacuees, she returned home after a few months as the feared attacks on cities failed to materialise, although ironically the family house was in fact bombed early in the Blitz. Thankfully the whole family – including Tanner the dachshund – survived, but that’s another story. The point of this story is that, while Jean and others were away, the pupils at her school who had not been evacuated had started learning French. Those returning were simply given a textbook and told to catch up. It was Jean’s first experience of learning a language and she did not enjoy it. She always remembered being baffled by the teacher repeatedly saying what she heard as ‘on cauliflower’ – in fact ‘encore une fois’, the request to repeat a sentence.
So when Jean started learning German from scratch in the following school year, it was a bit of a revelation. Her textbook was the long-lived Deutsches Leben by A.S. Macpherson (first published 1931-34; 12964.de.4.) but what really stuck in her mind was that, as early as they were able, they started reading the simplified Emil und die Detektive. Even in a much abridged and simplified form it made her realise that it was possible to read something in another language that was a real story and genuinely entertaining.
Although Jean never pursued language studies beyond school, her stories of the difficulty of French and the relief of learning German must have planted a seed in me. Although I actually found French initially easier to learn at school, I was far more excited about starting German, and German was the language that I pursued and still love. In a strange and indirect way, the Second World War, with help from Emil und die Detektive and my mum, made me a Germanist.
After 27 years in the BL there are many books I could pass on, and the one I have chosen is perhaps over-familiar, having often been featured in blogs, in exhibitions and on the website, but it remains the most memorable and exciting acquisition of my career.
When I started researching the history of German-language printing in 19th-century Britain, I was surprised to discover that the first edition of the Communist Manifesto was published in London by a group of German radical exiles and immigrants in February 1848. I was less surprised (although disappointed) that the BL didn’t have a copy: it was after all a clandestine publication and none of those revolutionaries in neighbouring Fitzrovia would have thought of dropping a copy off at the British Museum Library to comply with legal deposit legislation (then not particularly rigorously enforced even for mainstream publications). Also, the Manifesto quickly faded from view after its first publication following the outbreak of European revolutions based on more moderate calls for change and largely led by middle-class liberals rather then the united proletariat. It was only in the 1870s and 80s that European socialists rediscovered the Manifesto and started to spread its message.
First edition of the Communist Manifesto (London, 1848). C.194.b.289
Ironically, by the early 21st century the few surviving copies of the first edition of the Manifesto were highly expensive and sought-after items – potentially luxury purchases for rich collectors. The then Lead Curator of 19th-Century British printed books and I kept our eyes open for copies on the market, and in late 2008 we spotted one that fulfilled all our requirements regarding condition, printing and provenance. It was to be sold at auction in Paris and, by a fortunate coincidence, I was travelling to Paris shortly before the auction date for a work-related visit, so was able to go to the auction house and meet the agent who was going to bid on our behalf in order to inspect the book together. Auction houses near the Champs-Élysées are not my usual stamping-ground and I had mixed feelings of excitement and heavy responsibility as we examined the book and agreed that the BL would go ahead with our bid.
On the day of the auction I was back in the office doing routine things when my 19th-century British collections colleague came rushing in to say “We’ve got it!” Uncharacteristically for two rather restrained Brits, we hugged each other for joy, and I remember feeling thrilled that this important piece of world history and Anglo-German publishing history was finally going to find a home in the BL. And I was the one who got to catalogue it!
Since then my path has continued to cross with the Manifesto. It was featured in the British Museum’s 2014 exhibition Germany: Memories of a Nation, and readers in the UK can hear me (among other more expert voices) talking about it in the accompanying radio series here. And of course it had to be part of our own Russian Revolution exhibition in 2017. There it was displayed at the start of the exhibition between two large maps showing the extent of the Russian Empire at the start of the 20th century. We wanted to illustrate the fact that this flimsy, obscurely-published pamphlet was like the pebble that started the avalanche that would destroy that vast empire.
Whatever you think of the Communist Manifesto and its legacies, it was probably the most influential (for good or ill) foreign-language work ever printed in Britain, and I will always remember the excitement and pride I felt at bringing a copy of the original, London-printed edition to the BL.
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- From Binding to Printing: Christophe Plantin
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- The City of Rijeka: European Capital of Culture
- Inheritance Books: Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections