Rochester Cathedral Cataloguing: The mystery of the missing title page

The book cataloguing for Rochester Cathedral has been going very well and has been a fairly smooth process to date, but sometimes a book presents itself that turns out to be a bit of an enigma.  Sometimes it can be something small that stops you in your tracks for a short time, but on the odd occasion something bigger turns up, and the need to don a proverbial deer stalker hat whilst bearing a spy glass in one hand may indeed be necessary.

I always start, with every book that passes though my hands, by running a series of checks using a range of databases to find out if any other organisations or institutions hold the same copy.  These organisations can range from universities from around the world, to libraries such as those at Lambeth Palace and the British Library.  This not only helps me to work out if the copy I have in front of me is what I think it is, which is especially useful when my book lacks a date of publication, but also allows me to see if my copy has any unique attributes, such as bindings that vary from other copies or editions. This is for the most part a successful process.

However, the problem with rare book cataloguing is that the book I am looking for isn’t always available anywhere else. They are not always held by other institutions and are not held on any of my usual ‘go-to’ databases.  Even my back-up checks of auction houses fail to generate results in some cases. This is never a huge problem as I tend to be able to work with what I have in front of me, until I met this inconspicuous little number.

Front cover

From the outside it offers very little in the way of aesthetically pleasing design or any clues as to what may lay within.  It is somewhat plain and quite unremarkable in appearance, particularly when compared to other ornate bindings within the collection.

I opened the front cover not expecting anything out of the ordinary, and was greeted by what appeared to be a dedication to Her Majesty Queen Anne, as well as a preface to the reader and an engraving.  Not an unusual grouping of items in themselves, but where was the title page?

First few pages

Finding a place to start was going to be difficult, but I had to start somewhere.  After checking the entire book for supplementary title pages (of which there were none), I began reading the text within the first two pages to look for clues as to what this book may be.

My first clue came from the dedication to Queen Anne.  One sentence stated that “It is (Madam) The History of the Holy Bible.”  I also noted that the dedication was signed by Richard P…. so kept in mind that this was most likely going to be the author or publisher of the work.

Title and author clue

I started exploring all the usual databases and uncovered a few close matches, but nothing concrete.  As a cataloguer, my need to source the most accurate information available needs to be satisfied before I share it with the world.  So, although still lacking the full knowledge as to the definite identity of this book, I set off on a page by page exploration.  This text is very fortunately full of Biblical images created by a range of well known engravers. This, I hoped, would help me on my way to discovering the true identity of the text, and to start building a catalogue record containing the details of every single engraver with responsibility for one of these beautiful illustrations.

Engravers

This process helped me to identify nine engravers.  Although I still lacked the title, author and publication, it was a reliable start.

I then worked on building a catalogue record where the information I could source about my book was easily available.  Sometimes even the simplest of details, such as how the page numbers are structured within the text (which isn’t always straight forward with rare books), can help in identifying a particular edition or imprint of a publication.

Engravings and provenance

I was well on my way to completing my record. I’d referenced everything from the page numbers and subject matter, to the condition of the item, its binding, provenance and the presence of any inscriptions and signatures. But still without a title, I returned to the drawing board, optimistic that my metadata was sufficient to cross-reference with my favorite data sources. I used the information that I had gathered so far and started my search once more.  Here I had a breakthrough and sourced several versions of the same title, ‘The history of the Old and New Testament extracted out of sacred Scripture and writings of the fathers‘ by Nicholas Fontaine, and was delighted with this discovery.   However, I needed to establish if it was indeed the given title and if so, which edition.

I headed over to EBBO (Early English Books Online) to view their digitised content of rare books. Here I found five potential matches, but after thorough checking I concluded that these were not exactly the same in every way (variant dedication, note to the reader and frontispiece image).  However, I had concluded that the above title was correct in its basic form and that this would be sufficient for my catalogue record. I also had an author I was certain was correct.

My record was almost complete. However, one mystery remains even to today. When was it published and who published it? Because I’ve not been able to source any absolute confirmation that my copy is exactly the same as any other copy, it would be inappropriate to rely on other sources for the name of potential publishers,booksellers, or a date of publication. To overcome this, the best that can be done is to calculate the likely date of publication based on all other evidences, ensuring this is appropriately referenced as an estimated date in the catalogue record.

For the most part, the majority of the books within this collection have had in tact title pages, making life much easier from the cataloguing perspective. But becoming a detective for a while adds another level of interest to the job.  When you love rare books as much as I do, getting to discover more along the way that you wouldn’t have otherwise encountered is an added bonus.

An intriguing precedent

As you might expect, there are all sorts of unexpected and intriguing materials held in Special Collections. What you might not expect, is that we don’t often have the time or opportunity to delve into them in as much detail as we might like to. This post is the tale of one of those intriguing items, and how I finally got to explore it!

Spine of the item, reading 'Selection of Precedents'The book itself is rather unassuming: in a plain, half leather binding, with gilt edging and title which reads ‘Selection of Precedents’. Inside, it’s rather more interesting, with manuscript list, contents and index in a late eighteenth or early nineteenth century hand. So far, you might think, so archival, and I must admit to not having much expertise in legal history, with which this tome is so heavily concerned: ‘precedents’, in this case, referring to the legal sense. Something else, however, caught my eye: amongst the names listed on the first few pages, beneath their respective kings, are some key players in medieval politics including Hugh Despenser, Alice Perrers and Thomas Monatcute, the Earl of Salisbury.

Book plate for the volumeThough I knew this item was interesting, it wasn’t until we looked at cataloguing it that we really began to look at it in more depth. As I sat with Rachel, looking at the provenance suggested by the unusual bookplate (a Knight of the Garter, and most likely a Scottish earl), my enthusiasm for all things medieval got the better of me. With Rachel’s background in Classics, we thought that it might be best for me to take a look through, to find out just what this book was!

Initially, I was intrigued to see the name William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, under the reign of Henry VI. If you didn’t know, Henry VI proved a rather ineffectual king, and became overly reliant on various favourites. One such unlucky favourite was de la Pole, who successfully negotiated a Henry’s marriage to Margaret of Anjou, but ended up ceding the regions of Maine and Anjou back to France in return, after they had been conquered by the English during the Hundred Years’ War. This made Suffolk hugely unpopular with the Commons (both in Parliament and in the wider country) and so, according to the Selection of Precedents, he demanded that the ‘infamous charges rumoured against him’ should be openly exhibited, so that he could offer a defence. What followed was wrangling between Lords and Commons, and between rivals: although the Commons did eventually impeach the Duke, the king refused to have him executed and instead banished him. According to the Selection of Precedents, the Commons launched a protest as soon as the new Parliament opened in 1451, demanding that the Judgement of Attainder should stand. Their only slight obstacle was the fact that Suffolk was already dead. A laconic note adds:

N.B. Between the time of his banishment and of the above petition, the Duke was murdered

In fact, he took a ship to France but was met en route by ‘pirates’ (although many English gentlemen and soldiers were at this time engaged in piracy as warfare against France) and beheaded. His body washed up on the beach at Dover shortly afterwards.

Details of Thomas de Berkeley's caseWith my interest piqued by this sorry tale, I have been spending time looking through other cases detailed. On such details the complaints of Edward III’s mistress, Alice Perrers, about her loss of land and liberty, towards the end of Edward’s reign, and the beginning of Richard II’s. Thomas de Berkeley was examined in 1330 on suspicion of the murder of Edward II; although cleared of committing the crime himself, he was considered culpable since the king was in his custody at the time. In the reign of that unfortunate Edward II, Hugh Despenser came to Parliament to claim lands from the deceased Earl of Gloucester and Hereford, by right of his wife. In terms which would have been headline news in the later Victorian law courts, the debate was whether the Earl’s wife had been pregnant when the Earl had died: if not, and the child was illegitimate, then Despenser stood to gain. Other cases detail extortion, treason and pardons of the basis of having been impeached ‘by the hatred of his neighbours’, in one Hugh Fastolf’s case. Following this case, in 1376, the Commons requested that the king should not pardon anyone impeached in that Parliament, ominously identifying ‘any one great or small who have been of his privy Council’. The king in question was Edward III, identified by many as the greatest medieval monarch. His answer rather sums up the relationship between the king, justice and the Commons at this point:

The King will do as shall seem best to him

Later, following the Civil War and Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, members of the Commons were once again pondering the power of the king to pardon or intervene in legal matters. By that stage, Parliament was a far more powerful force than it had been three centuries earlier, and there was concern that any judgements could effectively be halted and the accused set free by the prorogation or closing of that Parliament by the king. This would protect the king’s favourites and, far from Edward III’s motto of doing as he saw best, the idea was no longer acceptable to the Early Modern Commons.

Opening list of casesThe Selection of Precedents records that in 1673, under Charles II, a Committee reported:

…“That businesses depending in one Parliament or Session of Parliament have been continued to the next session of the same Parliament, and the proceedings thereupon have remained in the same state in which they were left when last in agitation

This meant that no-one would be set free or allowed to enjoy assetts removed while under judgement even between Parliaments; it removed from the king the power to halt such proceedings. Of course, this was not the end of the matter. New cases came forward over the years and during the reigns of successive monarchs. In 1791, the Lords were again debating this issue, pointing out that laws did not lapse between Parliaments, and questioning why judgements be any different.

In each of these debates, according to British law, precedents were sought to bolster the cause for the contiuation or cessation of judicial proceedings between Parliaments. Drawn from the Parliamentary Rolls and the Journal of the House of Lords, the accounts in this Selection of Precedents are just such an excercise: detailing cases which continued between Parliaments from the reign of Edward I, right up until that of George I and the impeachment of the Earls of Oxford and Mortimer for high treason.

Annotations on the precedents in red inkIt is not clear why this book was put together: its extracts evidently come from learned sources, and the notes in red on some verso pages comment on the proceedings with an expert knowledge. In the case of Salisbury and Peterborough, in 1690, the commentator writes:

The report in this case is in several instances inaccurate and unintelligable – and untrue

I haven’t yet got to the bottom of this mystery, and it would probably take someone more expert in legal history than I am to give a full account of this item. But I like to think that this books was part of a gentleman’s legal training, looking into precedents and commenting upon the processes used in the arguments. Stretching to 73 handwritten pages, it would have been a considerable undertaking and the care taken in rebinding the pages suggest that it was a valued item. Although the content may be duplicated elsewhere, in official government sources, perhaps the owner treasured this volume for the study he remembered and the enjoyment in his meticulous research.

Perhaps he even enjoyed putting it together as much as I have enjoyed reading it!

Rochester Cathedral Rare Books: All that glitters – gold tooling, gilding and engraved illustrations

Link

As I waited  to begin working on the Rochester Cathedral collection, I found myself excited with the anticipation of getting to work with so many beautiful handcrafted bindings and ornate illustrations.

Including information about the bindings of a book in the catalogue records I create is relatively new practice for me.  I was lucky enough to visit Canterbury Cathedral Library before the start of this project, where I received some expert guidance in recognising different elements of book bindings.  I was struck by the beauty of even the most ‘basic’ historical book bindings, and couldn’t wait to start seeing what the Rochester Cathedral collection had in store for me.

‘Sancti Bonaventurae ex Ordine Minorum S.R.E. Episcopi Card. Albanen. eximii Eccles. doctoris Operai’ is one such book that offers both beautiful bindings as well as artwork.

Full gilt edges from the book 'Sancti Bonaventurae ex Ordine Minorum S.R.E. Episcopi Card. Albanen. eximii Eccles. doctoris Opera'

Full gilt edges from the book ‘Sancti Bonaventurae ex Ordine Minorum S.R.E. Episcopi Card. Albanen. eximii Eccles. doctoris Opera’

I was initially struck by the full gilt edges that seem to glow in the picture above.  This is the finest example of gilt edges that I have as yet come across in this collection. However, I have learned to not be fooled by this type of decoration, as all that glitters is not gold.  It was common for cheaper editions of books to be decorated with gold coloured paint, but this can quickly dull in appearance.

Gilt edges were not always applied to all sides of a book, and there are many examples of others within the collection that are gilt along only the top edge. This is because gilding book edges is as equally practical as it is beautiful, and when the gold leaf is applied with glue, it can help to protect the pages from the damage that can be caused by dust and moisture.  By gilding the top edges of the pages, the books are protected from dust when shelved upright.

Gilding was not only applied to the edges of this particular book, as it has also been applied to this crest, which adorns the front cover.  I recently discovered a very interesting blog which shows how gold tooling and gilding is applied to a bookbinding. Take a look here to find out more: https://lilbookbinder.wordpress.com/bookbinding-portfolio-2/gold-tooling-and-gilding/

Gold tooled coat of arms on the front cover of 'Sancti Bonaventurae ex Ordine Minorum S.R.E. Episcopi Card. Albanen. eximii Eccles. doctoris Opera'

Gold tooled coat of arms on the front cover of ‘Sancti Bonaventurae ex Ordine Minorum S.R.E. Episcopi Card. Albanen. eximii Eccles. doctoris Opera’

The engraved title page and frontispiece (the image facing a books title page) are both as interesting to me as the binding itself, and I was initially struck by the extent of decoration across these two pages, which have been created by printers Anton (Antonius) Hierat (active 1597-1627) and Balthasar Lipp (active -1623).

Title page and frontispiece from 'Sancti Bonaventurae ex Ordine Minorum S.R.E. Episcopi Card. Albanen. eximii Eccles. doctoris Opera'

Title page and frontispiece from ‘Sancti Bonaventurae ex Ordine Minorum S.R.E. Episcopi Card. Albanen. eximii Eccles. doctoris Opera’

The images across the title pages appear to have been created using an intaglio printing technique.  Armed with only a very basic knowledge about this method of printing, I decided to go on a journey to find out more, and have made some fascinating discoveries along the way:

  • ‘Intaglio’ comes from the Italian, meaning ‘to carve.’
  • Intaglio printing was the main method of book illustration between the late 16th century and early 19th century.
  • The earliest form of intaglio printing could date back as far as the 1430’s.
  • This style of printing uses a variety of techniques, such as engraving, etching, stipple and aquatint. All are based on the same principle of making an impression into a metal plate.
  • Illustrating books with engravings didn’t start becoming popular until the 16th century.  The results can often be seen, as with this book, in the form of engraved title pages and frontispieces.
  • The art of illustrating books with intaglio prints began to lose popularity in the 1800’s, mainly because of the expense involved in this process.

Although there are great many useful resources that offer advice on this topic, it can still be tricky identifying precise traits to help with verifying the printmaking technique used. However, there are a couple of things that I have picked up over the course of this project that are proving helpful.

I always now check to see if there is a plate mark. Plate marks tell us that the image was created by either engravings, etchings, and other styles of printing associated with intaglio.  The arrows on the image below point to the plate mark that surrounds the engraving from the main title page.

The faint line around the edge of the impression helps us to identify the intaglio technique.

The faint line around the edge of the impression helps us to identify the intaglio technique.

I also try to look at the style of cross-hatching used in the creation of the image.  I have learned that smooth flowing intersecting lines, like those shown in the hand of Saint Bonaventura, have been made using singles cuts.  This helps me to identify the intaglio technique of engraving.

Close up of a small section from the frontispiece image. The larger image depicts Saint Bonaventura.

Detail from an image depicting Saint Bonaventura.

It isn’t always easy to identify the style of printing used to create the images, but it has been interesting to learn more about the methods used.  I feel I have a new-found appreciation of the craftspeople of the day who would have applied a great deal of time, skill and care to their creations.

Today we live in fast paced society, with printing presses that have been able to respond to demand by utilizing technology, producing thousands of bestselling paperbacks to a disposable society.  By stark contrast, I see rare books everyday such as this, that I regard as unique pieces of art, owing to the level of skill, time, and labour put into creating these masterpieces.

My hope is that this unique, historic and culturally fascinating collection is also appreciated for its art and for the skill used in the creation of the books, and that we can all enjoy them to their fullest, from the words, to the art works and the bindings that hold all of these together.

Rochester Cathedral Rare Books: Librarians of yesteryear

When I unwrapped my next book to catalogue for the Rochester Cathedral collection, I came across a rather surprising feature that made me feel a little nostalgic about the many years I spent working in public libraries.

I opened ‘Essays on subjects connected with the reformation in England,’by the late Samuel Roffey Maitland (printed in 1899), and I was greeted with a date label from Leeds Free Public Libraries.  These were once a regular sight for me, having stamped thousands of date labels over the years. So I was genuinely surprised to see a book from this unique and rare collection with an obvious history of being lent from a public library.

A date label placed inside the book by Leeds Free Public Libraries.

A date label placed inside the book by Leeds Free Public Libraries.

The ‘return-by’ dates stamped on the label, which range from October 31st 1898 to August 21st 1925, allowed my mind to become immersed in the journey this book must have taken over the last 116 years, the homes it would have been temporarily taken to by the library borrowers of the day, and the librarians of Leeds Free Public Libraries who would have catalogued and shelved this somewhat ordinary book of its day, ready for the next customer.  As this book sits comfortably upon a support cushion at my desk, next to my multi-screened computer and a wealth of other technologies, I think of the librarians before me who over a century ago, catalogued this book by writing all the information on a small card, so that the book could be easily retrieved for future lending.

Front  cover of 'Essays on subjects connected with the reformation in England.'

Front cover of ‘Essays on subjects connected with the reformation in England.’

Further evidence of this publications time spent as a lending library book are, the embossed stamps marked on several of the rear and front pages and a purple ink stamped accession mark emblazoned on the back of the title page (the ink so penetrating that it has bled through to the title page). For me, this all adds to the history of this book as an object. It’s that tangible sense of the journey, the history, the life of the book that so fascinates me.

Many may regard this book to be defaced because of its time spent in a public library, but to my mind, these markings make this book all the more unique and special. Unlike many of the books in this fascinating collection, these markings provide us with a very tangible sense of history and also allowed me some happy recollections of my previous life working in public libraries.

This works continues to be endlessly fascinating for me and I very much look forward to uncovering the next treasure from the collection.

Clockwise from the left: Title page with accession stamp markings on opposite page that have penetrated through ; Embossed Leeds Public Library stamp marked on several of the front and rear pages ; 'City of Leeds Free Public Libraries' date of acquisition stamp marked on the last page of the book.

Clockwise from the left: Title page with accession stamp markings on opposite page that have penetrated through ; Embossed Leeds Public Library stamp marked on several of the front and rear pages ; ‘City of Leeds Free Public Libraries’ date of acquisition stamp marked on the last page of the book.

Rochester Cathedral Rare Books

My name is Josie Caplehorne and I am currently working on a very exciting project in partnership with Rochester Cathedral to catalogue over 2000 of their rare books!

I have been a cataloguer since early 2013 when I began my role as a Metadata Assistant with the University of Kent.  After a short time I began to work with the Special Collections & Archives teams to catalogue undiscovered materials, all the while continuing to undertake my day-to-day duties as a member of a growing team.

Excited conversations started to take place in the office (around mid 2014), that the University of Kent would work in association with Rochester Cathedral.  This certainly caught my ear and I was very eager to be part  of this.  I had so far really enjoyed working with the university’s special collections, and was very excited about the opportunity to work with another rare, unique and culturally significant collection.  In early 2015 I applied for the role of Rochester Cathedral cataloguer and, as you’ve probably worked out, I got the job!

Another rare book cataloguer was also recruited along with me and the collection will take us approximately six months to catalogue, with the work being undertaken at the University of Kent’s Templeman Library.

Rochester Cathedral

The collection is a fascinating one, and with the oldest book believed to be dated from 1498, the books I am cataloguing are rich in the history of the Church, Diocese and it’s Bishops.

I am constantly fascinated by the journey the books themselves have taken through their long lifetimes, and with the presence of  bookplates, handwritten inscriptions and letters held within the pages for hundreds of years, I feel like history is literally in my hands.  I feel extremely fortunate to be involved in this work.

Once my colleague and I have finished the cataloguing, the collection will return to Rochester Cathedral Library.  The library itself is currently being renovated to resemble its original form, where the books will be housed on handcrafted replica medieval wooden shelving.  I am very much looking forward to visiting Rochester Cathedral in the future to see the books in a home that befits their history and beauty.

I look forward to telling you more about this collection as we uncover more of these fascinating books.