Untold lives blog

62 posts categorized "Rare books"

17 March 2020

Mr. Coryate’s shoes

I have come across an intriguing 17th-century book titled Coryats Crudities, written by Thomas Coryate (1577?-1617), and illustrated with satirical prints.  Coryate (also spelt as Coryat) was an entertainer to Henry, Prince of Wales, eldest son of King James I of England (James VI of Scotland).  In 1608 he undertook a five-month journey in continental Europe, and this book, published in 1611 and dedicated to the Prince, gives a detailed account of his travels.

Frontispiece engraving from Coryats CruditiesThomas Coryate, Coryats Crudities, printed by William Stansby for the author, London, 1611, shelfmark 152.f.19; frontispiece, engraving Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The text on the frontispiece illustration informs the reader that Coryate visited France, the Duchy of Savoy, Italy, Switzerland, Rhaetia (the canton of Graubünden, now in Switzerland), Germany and the Netherlands.  It features the author’s portrait at the age of 35, engraved by William Hole, flanked by eleven amusing images of his adventures.  These included being sick on board of a ship (top left), being carried in a chair on poles upon the shoulders of two men in the French mountains (centre left), and a Venetian courtesan hurling eggs at him from a window as he passes by in a gondola (centre right).

Woodcut of shoes from Coryats CruditiesThomas Coryate, Coryats Crudities, printed by William Stansby for the author, London, 1611, shelfmark 152.f.19; Coryate’s shoes, woodcut, leaf k 4 recto Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Even more unexpected is the second illustration: a pair of shoes, encircled by a laurel wreath.  Printed above and below are prose and a verse in Latin by Henry Peacham, commemorating Coryate and the iconic shoes he wore while walking for 900 miles of his 1,975-mile journey across Europe.  This type of ‘lachet’ shoe had two leather tongues with holes in them for shoelaces.  Coryat’s shoes were strengthened with pieces of horn, and he tells us in the book that he had them mended only once - in Zurich.  Humorous verses, printed at the start of the volume and written by numerous authors in response to Coryate’s request, mention his shoes 32 times!

After returning to his beloved home village, Odcombe in Somerset, Coryate asked for permission to display his shoes inside the local Church of St Peter and St Paul, as a sort of thanksgiving for his safe trip.  They hung there until 1702, went lost in the 1860s, but have been replaced by a replica pair, carved in stone.

The book was popular with contemporary readers, and the British Library holds four copies, with shelfmarks C.152.e.5., C.32.e.9., 152.f.19 and G.6750.  This last copy was presented by Coryate himself to Henry, Prince of Wales.

The ‘Odcombian Legge-stretcher’ (as he referred to himself) embarked on further travels in 1612, spending time in Turkey and the Holy Land.  In 1615 he travelled from Aleppo in Syria to India, walking over 3000 miles.  He kept recording his experiences during these journeys, periodically sending back manuscript notes to England.  He died of dysentery in Surat, Gujarat, India, in December 1617.  His surviving notes were published, providing a unique insight into the lives of people in these countries through the eyes of an early English traveller.

Marianne Yule
Curator of Prints & Drawings
British Library Western Heritage Collections

Further reading
Frederic George Stephens, Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Division I. Political and Personal Satires. Vol. I. The Trustees, 1870, Satires No.75 and 77, pp. 39-42; shelfmark 1572/628
Biographical entry for Coryate, Thomas (1577?-1617), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Farah Karim-Cooper, Strangers in the city: the cosmopolitan nature of 16th-century Venice, 2016
Description of the Jewish Ghetto and the courtesans of Venice in Coryate's Crudities, 1611

 

03 March 2020

A ‘Full House’ of Brut English Chronicles

Libraries are renowned for being quiet places but you should have heard the excited cries of 'Housey Housey!' when we recently acquired a copy of the Saint Albans Chronicle printed in London by Wykyn de Worde in 1520.  Its acquisition means the British Library can now, uniquely, provide access to the complete sequence of printed editions of this English Chronicle.

The distinctive Printer’s Device used by Wynkyn de Worde on the last printed leaf of the Descrypcyon of Englande The distinctive Printer’s Device used by Wynkyn de Worde on the last printed leaf of the Descrypcyon of Englande bound before his 1520 edition of The English Chronicle.
British Library shelfmark: C.194.b.430. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Originally Anglo-Norman, the ‘Brut chronicle’ refers to a collection of medieval works on the history of England that incorporate the mythological founding of Britain by Brutus of Troy. It became the most popular vernacular historical chronicle and its wide circulation in manuscript made it an obvious contender for the early printing press.  It saw thirteen editions between 1480 and 1528, the first by William Caxton, and the last by Wynkyn de Worde.
 

'Here come Normans'! The book’s decorative start to the Norman conquest in the 1520 edition.'Here come Normans'! The book’s decorative start to the Norman conquest in the 1520 edition of The Chronicle. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Just as its many scribal forms were embellished and supplemented, the English Chronicle’s printed versions were treated to additions also.  In just the two years between Caxton’s first and second editions the vocabulary of the text was modernized and punctuation increased.  Spacing was improved and the breaking of words was avoided (i.e. gen- | till became Gentille; des ||| turbaunce became dysturbbauce).  Caxton introduced additions using ‘many dyverse paunflettis and bookys’ he had at his disposal and so the Brut was brought up to the times of Edward IV.  Caxton also responded to the growing interest in geography amongst ordinary readers by printing a Description of Britain but his information was lifted from Ralph Higden’s Polychronicon, a 14th-century text badly in need of updating.  The Chronicle and the Description became frequently bound together or printed together in later editions.

Caxton’s second edition (1482) with 35 cuts inserted from the 1577 edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles This copy of Caxton’s second edition (1482) has a lovely feature of intervention by a past reader; 35 cuts from the 1577 edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles have been inserted in the margins at an early date. British Library shelfmark C.10.b.4. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1486 the work was edited and expanded by the so-called ‘Schoolmaster of St Albans’.  It was given a new prologue, a summary of the lives of the Popes (pre-Reformation of course and destined, as with the newly acquired copy to have occurrences of the word ‘Pope’ censored and scored through) and was generally made more readable.  It also saw the introduction of woodcut illustrations; Biblical and topographical: Tower of Babel, Rome and London.  In 1497 the St Albans text was selected by Wynkyn de Worde for a new edition.  Using more popular illustrations like battle scenes, Kings, and mythological curiosities such as the fabled wrestling match between the giants Gogmagog and Coryn, de Worde published five editions of the Chronicle.  Another London printer, Julian Notary, introduced eye-catching illustrations of Adam and Eve, Noah, and Abraham in his 1504 and 1515 editions.  These illustrate developments in how books were becoming tailored for a wider, more popular audience.  Yet no more than a dozen copies of this 1520 edition survive.  The copy acquired comes with noteworthy English provenance having been in the Library of the Earls of Macclesfield at Shirburn Castle in Oxfordshire since the 17th century.
 

Battle between Coryn and Gogmagog 'How Brute arryued at Totnesse in the yle of Albyon / And of the / bataylle that was bitwene Coryn / and Gogmagog.'  This battle is believed to have took place on Plymouth Hoe (where commemorative figures of the two giants were cut into the turf up to medieval times). Coryn defeated Gogmagog by tossing him upon the rocks below. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

For library workers it is an especial pleasure to be able to provide readers with examples of the entire printed representation of a particular work - all in one place under one roof – a ‘Full House’ so to speak in Library Bingo lingo!
 

Woodcut illustration depicting violence and shipsA glorious woodcut illustration depicting violence and ships, both of which feature prominently in the English Chronicle!  Printed by Julian Notary, in 1504. British Library shelfmark: G.5994 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Table of thirteen printed editions of the Brut chronicle 'Eyes down for a full house!' All thirteen printed editions of the Brut chronicle held at the British Library. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Christian Algar
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

28 January 2020

Sir Francis Drake: the deluded history of an English Hero

The anniversary of Drake’s death on 28 January 1596 seems an appropriate time to share news of an interesting heritage acquisition, a 16th-century Italian 'avviso' (newsbook), New and Latest Report from Portugal concerning the success of the English Armada led by Dom Antonio and Drake

This newly discovered account of the calamitous English Armada of 1589, co-commanded by Drake and Sir John Norris, is likely the unique surviving example of the report.  It appears to be entirely unknown to bibliography and scholarship.

Pages from 'New and Latest Report from Portugal'Nuovo et ultimo avviso di Portogallo, per il quale s’intende il successo dell’ Armata d’Inghilterra, condotta da D. Antonio, & dal Drago in quei paesi. Con altri particolari d’importanza. ['New and Latest Report from Portugal concerning the success of the English Armada led by Dom Antonio and Drake in those countries. With other important particulars']. Ferrara: per il Baldini, 1589.  British Library shelfmark C.194.a.1452. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

'Avvisi' news media circulated by letter or in print have a reputation for being factual, concise and reliable.  They did not seek to exaggerate, impress, or sensationalise for effect.  This avviso is an eyewitness account from a Spaniard in Lisbon with the English at its gates.  It describes the frustrating wait for Spanish or Portuguese reinforcements and the losses suffered by their enemy.

The objectives of the English Armada were to hammer home the advantages gained from the failure of the Spanish Armada the year before.  Elizabeth sought to facilitate Dom Antonio’s claim to the Portuguese throne and so undermine the Spanish Monarchy and its Empire.  The largest English expeditionary force ever assembled - 25,000 men - would finish off the weakened Spanish navy left in port.

The ragtag English forces, largely made up of jail birds and beggars were more interested in pillaging than military glory.  They lacked proper funding (as usual), organisation and discipline.  With no baggage train or cavalry, Norris needlessly marched an army across country instead of sailing up the Tagus to take Lisbon.  Sickness and starvation began to deplete their vast numbers.  Frustrated by the absence of a Portuguese rising in favour of Dom Antonio, the English waited for Drake to sail up the Tagus; but Drake’s ships did not turn up instead busying themselves taking rich prizes from ships in the Roads off Lisbon.  The approach of Spanish reinforcements led the English to retreat.  Sick, starved and dying of wounds, no more than 5,000 returned to England.

The Queen was furious; it was clear that Drake’s and Norris’s thousands had failed.  Disgruntled demobbed survivors brought only plague back and the recently emboldened reputation of the Tudor State was in peril across Europe.  Drake’s reputation eclipsed with accusations of cowardice added to his well-known avarice.

The main contemporary English source describing the expedition was written by a participant, Captain Anthony Wingfield, immediately upon the survivors’ return to England.  It is an expert piece of spin and propaganda.  Written in a heroic literary style, it played down the heavy losses and amplified the ‘glory’ of taking the fight to 'offend' the King of Spain 'in his neerer territories'.

Page from A True Coppie of a Discourse written by a Gentleman, employed in the late Voyage of Spaine and Portingale Wingfield’s apology spent much time condemning “false prophets gone before us”, “telling strange tales” and “sectaries against noted truth”.  Page from A True Coppie of a Discourse written by a Gentleman, employed in the late Voyage of Spaine and Portingale [under Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norris]: sent to his particular friend, and by him published, for the better satisfaction of all such, as, hauing been seduced by particular report, haue entred into conceipts tending to the discredit of the enterprise, and Actors of the same. British Library shelfmark 292.e.7. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Illustration from a 1590 Frankfurt edition of Ephemeris Wingfield’s account in English (for influencing opinion at home) formed the basis for Latin translations printed in Frankfurt and Nuremberg designed to affect informed opinion further afield on the continent.  Illustration from a 1590 Frankfurt edition of Ephemeris (based on Wingfield’s True Coppie of a Discourse) Brevis et fida Narratio, et continuatio rerum omnium a Drako et Norreysio (post felicem ex Occidentalibus insulis reditum) in sua expeditione Portugallensi singulis diebus gestarum. British Library shelfmark G.6516 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 
It is significant that Wingfield’s account has prevailed. Drake’s posthumous reputation steadily revived.  The self-congratulatory, self-exonerating poltroonery of Wingfield’s ‘true’ copie makes for a deluded national history.  The existence and discovery of this Italian newsbook shows the importance of paying attention to wider sources.  Its acquisition adds a new source from a traditionally reliable genre - the avvisi - a counterbalance to facts concealed from English historiography and perpetuated national mythologizing of the Drake Legend.
 

Illustration from The English Hero; or, Sir Francis Drake, reviv'dThe English Hero; or, Sir Francis Drake, reviv'd. was first published in 1681 by Nathaniel Crouch, updating The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake (Drake’s nephew) written in 1625 in an attempt to revive his reputation and status.  Published in many editions, a 1750 edition can be seen online.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Christian Algar
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

We are very grateful for the contribution made by the British Library Collections Trust towards the cost of acquiring the avviso.

Thanks to Stephen Parkin for providing a translation of the Italian newsbook.

Further reading:
One of the best accounts of the 1589 English Armada can be read online The year after the Armada, and other historical studies by Martin Hume (1896)

A reliable English language biography of Sir Francis Drake is Sir Francis Drake: the Queen's pirate by Harry Kelsey (1998)

A stimulating examination of the English treatment and understanding of the events is given by Luis Gorrochategui Santos in The English Armada: the greatest naval disaster in English history (2018)

 

23 December 2019

A Christmas entertainment

I was browsing the British Library catalogue for appropriate collection items to share on the blog over Christmas.  When I came across a play called The Christmas Ordinary published in 1682, I decided to investigate.

Title Page of The Christmas OrdinaryTitle page of The Christmas Ordinary (London, 1682) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Imagine my delight when I saw that the first character listed was my namesake, a Mr Make-Peace.  And as I have a son named Phil, I was thrilled to discover that Mr Make-Peace has an astronomer son called Astrophil. 

Here is the full list of the play’s characters:
‘Dramatis Personae
Mr. Make-Peace, A Countrey-Justice
Astrophil, An Astronomer, his Son
Humphry, The Justice’s Man
Drink-Fight, A Jovial Souldier
Austin, An Hermit
Shab-Quack, A poor Chyrurgeon
Roger, An Apprentice to Shab-Quack
Win-all, An Host of an Ordinary’.

Well, I was hooked!  What sort of story could connect a justice of the peace, an astronomer, a jovial soldier, a hermit, a poor surgeon and the host of an ordinary (an inn).

This is the synopsis of the plot:

‘Roger escaping from his Master Shab-Quack, at Christmas Time, meets with Drink-fight, and joyns with him in a Knot of Merriment.  They also inveigle the Hermit and Astrophil.  Mr. Make-peace being pensive at his Son’s Departure, sends Humphry to enquire him out, who, in the Disguise of a Traveller, finds them frolicking at an Ordinary; who insinuates himself into their Mirth.  Afterwards, with false Dice, cheats them, and escapes.  They afterwards, wrangling about the Reckoning, beat their Host, who summons them all before the Justice, and runs to Shab-Quack for Cure.  Mr. Make-peace, perceiving his Son Astrophil amongst them, joyfully entertains him and the rest. Shab-Quack pardons his Servant’s Christmas Merriment, and the Hermit, in a jolly Humor, is bound Apprentice to the Host’.

What fun! 

Drunken frolics of 17th-century menDrunken frolics of 17th-century men from John Ashton, Humour, Wit, & Satire of the Seventeenth Century (London, 1883) Shelfmark 11621.h.7. BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

I instinctively focused upon Mr Make-Peace’s devotion to his son.

‘O this Astrophil doth so Banquet me with joy, that I am almost cloy’d with my Felicity, and I grow hoarse in Gratulatory Praises.’

‘Not yet return’d my Son? Then let me weep my Body dry to Dust, and make this Chair my Coffin.’

And when Astrophil returns home safely –
‘Methinks there is a young Spring in all my Limbs, my Blood trips Coranto’s in my capering Veins… Come, follow me all, and I will satisfie you with a pleurisy of Delights’.

And so I wish you all a Happy Christmas, cloyed with felicity and a pleurisy of delights.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

18 June 2019

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library III – The Collection of Lucien Graux

There is a book-stamp on the front pastedown of Davis 692, Johann Carion, Chronica Carionis…Auffs neuve in Lateinischer Sprach beschrieben, und…vermehret…durch Herrn Philippum Melanthonem, und Doctorem Casparum Peucerum, Wittenberg: H. Krafft, 1573.  This indicates that the volume was formerly in the collection of Lucien Désiré Prosper Graux (1878-1944).  Graux’s name appears on a report listing French Private Collections compiled in 1943 by the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (The Roberts Commission), as part of their identification of cultural property at risk on the European continent.

  Record of American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historical MonumentsRecords of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historical Monuments in War Areas (The Roberts Commission), 1943-1946, National Archives, College Park, Maryland, M1944, Record Group 239, Roll 0021

Dubbed the ‘Prince of Bibliophiles,’ and collecting over two decades, Graux amassed one of the largest and most spectacular private collections of books and manuscripts in the first half of the twentieth century in France.  Consisting of over 10,000 volumes, the collection excelled in  French, German and Italian literature, fine-bindings, historical and literary manuscripts, music, and illustrated books, amongst others.  Housed in his mansion at 33 Avenue Kleber in Paris, books were not the only pursuits for which Graux was noteworthy: as a doctor, entrepreneur, writer and publisher, Graux crossed disciplinary boundaries, and contributed widely to medical, social, political and literary fields.
 

Ex-libris of Doctor Lucien-Graux on the front pastedown of Davis 692Detail, Ex-libris of Doctor Lucien-Graux on the front pastedown of Davis 692 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Graux received his early training in medicine, finding success in his position as editor of the Gazette Médicale de Paris, and shortly thereafter wealth in filing a patent for the drug Urodonal.  At the end of the First World War, Graux turned his attention toward the founding of Arys, a perfume company.  He became an advisor to a number of French ministries during the 1920s, including the foreign trade, for which he oversaw a number of diplomatic missions.  His work for the French state ultimately earned him the title, Knight of the Legion of Honour.  Another venture, Graux’s publishing house Les Amis du docteur, published bibliophilic booklets, original engravings, and his own historical and biographical essays, fantastical novels, and topics including, medicine, science, and the occult, further reflecting his vast, varied and interdisciplinary interests.

With his interests in the occult and supernatural, some have referred to him as a spiritualist.  But his response to the depredation of man during the Second World War might characterize him as a humanist.  In June 1940, shortly after the German occupation of France, Graux joined the resistance.  Discovered and arrested by the Gestapo in the spring of 1944, he was deported to the Dachau concentration camp in June, where he was murdered on 10 October 1944.

Despite the wide-scale confiscation and looting of property throughout France under the Nazi occupation, and the Roberts Commission’s identification of Graux’s collection being at risk, Graux’s collection remained intact.  Retained by his widow, Mme Lucien Graux (née Léontine de Flavigny), Graux’s library was sold through the Galerie Charpentier at Hotel Drouot Auction house, Paris, in nine sales between 1953 and 1957.

Davis 692 is presumed to have been purchased from the sale on 26 January 1957 by antiquarian book-seller Bernard Breslauer, from whom it was purchased by Henry Davis on 6 August 1959.  In addition to Davis 692, many works under Graux’s authorship can be found in the British Library Catalogue.

Antonia Bartoli
Spoliation Curator, British Library Printed Heritage Projects

Further information:
The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries public lecture given by Antonia Bartoli.
Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research I - The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries
Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library II - the Collection of Jean Furstenberg 

 

04 June 2019

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library II - the Collection of Jean Furstenberg

Included in the Henry Davis Gift at the British Library is Davis 874: Ordinarium missae pontificalis, Venice, 1595, MS with a named scribe: Fr. Cyprianus Mantegarrius.  This manuscript is recorded in Répertoire des biens spoliés en France durant la guerre 1939-1945, an inventory compiled and published between 1947 and 1949 documenting the loss of French collections during the Second World War.  Described as ‘Ordinarium — Мissæ pontificales. Venise, ms. italien de 1595 copié par Fr. Cyprianus Montegarius (no. 396 32.069)’, the manuscript is listed as missing from the collection of Мonsieur Jean Furstenberg.

Page from Répertoire des biens spoliésRépertoire des biens spoliés en France durant la guerre 1939-1945, tome VII Archives, Manuscript et livres rares, no 396 32.069 British Library General Reference Collection S.F.925 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Jean, formerly Hans, Furstenberg (1890-1982) was a prominent German-French banker and book collector, with a vast collection excelling in French and Italian editions dating between the 16th and 19th centuries.  In 1938, as a Jew living in Nazi Germany, Furstenberg was forced to flee his home in Berlin.  By paying a punitive Reichsfluchtsteuer (flight tax), he was able to salvage his collection and transport his library with 16,000 volumes.  Settling in France, he took French citizenship, changed his name from Hans to Jean, and moved to the Renaissance castle Beaumesnil in Normandy.  However, in 1940, following the German occupation of France, Furstenberg was persecuted by the Gestapo, and fled to Switzerland.  Shortly afterwards his collection was confiscated by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, a Nazi looting task force, and brought back to Germany.  There it was transferred to the Zentral Bibliothek der Hoch Schule, the central library of a projected elite academy of the Nazi party.

Scratched out ex-libris of Monsieur Jean Furstenberg on the front pastedown of Davis 874 Detail, Scratched out ex-libris of Monsieur Jean Furstenberg on the front pastedown of Davis 874  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Towards the end of the war, as the Third Reich’s loss became apparent, Nazi forces transferred their holdings of confiscated cultural property to depots throughout Germany and Austria.  Following liberation by allied forces, many items from Furstenberg’s collection were recovered at two castles in Annenheim and Tanzenberg, Germany.  Davis 874 was one of the items recovered postwar by Furstenberg.  It was offered for sale in London in 1958 by antiquarian bookseller Bernard Breslauer, the son of the German antiquarian bookseller Martin Breslauer and another German-Jewish émigré, who fled as a result of Nazi persecution.

Martin’s bookshop in Germany had been in Unter den Linden and subsequently in the Franzosenstrasse, areas very close to the young Fürstenberg’s family’s business.  The catalogue advertising Davis 874 was issued to mark the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the firm Martin Breslauer.  In a preface by Bernard Breslauer called ‘1898-1958,’ he discusses the life and career of Martin Breslauer, and mentions Hans Furstenberg amongst his father’s friends.  Bernard describes how the young Furstenberg made the acquaintance of his father, and how this developed into a genuine friendship.  Martin had evidently helped the young Furstenberg to form his bibliophilic tastes.

Antonia Bartoli
Spoliation Curator, British Library Printed Heritage Projects

Further information:
The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries public lecture given by Antonia Bartoli.

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research I - The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library III – The Collection of Lucien Graux

 

21 May 2019

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research I - The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi regime was responsible for the confiscation, destruction, looting, and coerced sale of hundreds of millions of art objects and other items of cultural, historical and religious significance from public and private collections throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.  While stories of paintings and art collections have received academic, institutional and public attention, the history of the Nazi looting of books, manuscripts, and other printed material, from public and private collections, is lesser known.

The exact numbers accounting for total loss and destruction can only be estimated, due to the widespread nature, and sheer volume of the plunder and destruction.  Recent studies, however, have indicated that 22 million volumes from 37,000 libraries, not including private libraries, were affected.  While many volumes were either burned, or sent to paper mills and re-purposed, others were retained for study, or sold to profit the Third Reich.  Likewise, numerous private collectors as well as book-dealers and antiquarian businesses were forced to liquidate their collections and either abandon their stock or sell them for below market value.

An American soldier amongst cultural property looted by the Nazis and stored in a church at Elligen, Germany in 1945. An American soldier amongst cultural property looted by the Nazis and stored in a church at Elligen, Germany in 1945.
Credit: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

At the end of the war, the western allies came across numerous repositories throughout Germany, and recently liberated territories within Europe, filled with the cultural property the Nazis had systematically plundered.  Specialist units of the armed forces were tasked with sorting and classifying the material, and where original owners could be identified, restituting the items, or returning them to their country of origin.  The post-war restitution and repatriations were not always comprehensive, however, nor were original owners able to be identified.  Likewise items that were sold on the market or changed hands between 1933 and 1945 have continued to circulate, ending up in public or private collections, or on the market, necessitating further research.

In 1998, the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art developed a consensus of non-binding principles to which forty nations signed on in a pledge to research Nazi confiscated cultural property, and achieve just and fair solutions for object restitutions.  With the UK as a signatory, and as a national institution, the British Library take its duties seriously to identify collection items that might have been confiscated, lost, sold under duress, or otherwise displaced, between the period 1933-1945.

Most recently, investigations have focused on the Henry Davis Collection of Bookbindings: an encyclopaedic collection of cloth, panel, painted, paper, embroidered, and leather-bound bindings spanning from the 12th through 20th century, made across the globe, and acquired from dealers and at auction between the 1930s and 1970s.  Gifted by Henry Davis, O.B.E, (1897-1977) to the British Museum in 1968, the collection came to the British Library in 1972.

The present blog post is the first in a series of five to highlight these investigations, share our most recent findings, and to illustrate provenance research methodology that is conducted on a daily basis within the library.

Antonia Bartoli
Spoliation Curator, British Library Printed Heritage Projects

Further information:
The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries public lecture given by Antonia Bartoli.

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library II - the Collection of Jean Furstenberg

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library III – The Collection of Lucien Graux

 

02 May 2019

Sloane’s annotations

We’ve all had the experience: you request a library book and open it up excitedly…  only to find the signs of someone else’s reading, note-taking or even eating. They got there first, and they’ve left their mark all over it. Looking at the section on notetakers in the Writing: Making Your Mark exhibition led me to think more closely about some of the different ways annotations and notetaking worked in an earlier library collection, that of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753).

The first type of annotation is that which uses the book as paper, without interacting with the text – although it is interesting to think about the way this changes the reading experience. Sloane’s title-page of Sir Robert Dallington’s The View of Fraunce, for example, shows two boys vying for ownership and testing out pens:

Title page of Sir Robert Dallington’s The View of Fraunce,596.f.28 Sir Robert Dallington, The View of Fraunce Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Most books which contain this sort of annotation probably ended up in Sloane’s collection as the result of the secondhand book market: these copies may have been the only ones available… or the cheapest! Either way, although other people’s scrawlings clearly didn’t bother him, we assume things like this probably didn’t hold much interest for him either.

However, there is evidence that Sloane was sometimes interested in annotations as much as the printed text which they commented upon. For example, he owned at least eight copies of John Ray’s Catalogus plantarum, all of which are annotated by different people. This often gives local information: people wrote down where they came across the plants, so when the book came into Sloane’s possession, he had that knowledge too.

Manuscript note in John Ray’s Catalogus plantarum968.f.3 Manuscript note reading ‘at the Haven side at Boston Lincolnshore by St Anton Irby’s House in Dolwich-Common not far from the Windmil on the left hand of it a little short of the Tyle-kill as you goe from the Town to the Wood that leads unto the Wells. plentifully.’ Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

However, when it comes to Sloane’s own writing in books, we see something very different. This is the third type of annotation: administrative. And it challenges many of the assumptions we might make about what it means to write in books.

This sort of writing is usually about organization and ownership. Sloane had a particularly complicated system: his earliest purchases contain spy-like codes which, decoded, reveal the year of purchase and the price. He was probably recording how much he paid in case he ever had to sell these books, as the practice seems to falter as he gains financial security. Some books also have a Latin inscription, Bibliothecae Sloanianae, meaning “from Sloane’s library” – these books are usually particularly attractive or otherwise important, which makes sense as the ones you’d most like to claim!

 
Title page of Icones stirpium, seu Plantarum tam exoticarum quam indigenarum 443.a.5. Icones stirpium, seu Plantarum tam exoticarum quam indigenarum Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The main identification for us, however, is the Sloane numbers – a letter followed by a number usually written on the flyleaf of the book. The one here is ‘Pr DXLV’. These were a form of shelfmark, just like the ones used by the British Library today.

These codes were recorded in the catalogues compiled by Sloane and his librarians and help nuance the idea of writing as an administrative tool. It is tempting to think of marking books as something personal. When you write your name in a book it is usually to tell people you own it. It would defeat the purpose if someone else was to do that job – unless, of course, they were giving it to you! (This is sometimes the case for Sloane’s books, too.)

Here, though, it doesn’t matter who is writing the codes: they are not a mark of personal expression. Instead, this is writing with a purpose, very different to the scribbled reactions of individual readers. It shows how broad the idea of annotating can be.

Alice Wickenden
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student, Printed Heritage Collections

 

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