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


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:

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.

Discover more from the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection

We are delighted to announce that the full collection of printed materials from the Reading-Rayner Theatre Collection is now available to discover in Special Collections & Archives.

The Reading Rayner collection is an expansive selection of items, largely consisting of theatrical material. This includes books pertaining to the history of theatre and film, biographies and memoirs, and play texts, as well as a large number of theatre programs spanning the 1930s to the 1980s. Alongside this is the Play Pictorial, a series of early theatre magazines, bound together, containing reviews and photographs from popular productions of the time, spanning the years 1902 – 1939, when the magazine was merged with Theatre World due to the paper rationing of the Second World War.

The collection is named after Jack Reading and his partner Colin Rayner, who began donating their material to the University of Kent in the 1980s. They initially started their collections separately, but brought them together to form one super-collection. Jack was a founding member, and later Secretary General, of the International Federation for Theatre Research, and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Kent in 2000.

Personal ephemera often lay within the pages of many of the books themselves, undiscovered until we pulled back the pages to reveal personal hand written letters, travel documents and even a receipt for potato seeds!

New discovers in the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection.

New discovers in the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection.

Discovered by Josie

Having been a cataloguer of rare books and special collections at the University of Kent for around nineteen months, I have grown accustomed to handling books many centuries in age, with beautiful hand painted illustrations and delicate bindings that cover a diverse range of subjects.  I was initially struck by “The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre” due to the visually compelling front cover.  There are many books within the collection that offer an insight into all aspects of theatre and performance, many with generically designed book covers, but this screamed what it was all about from a distance.  Written by Laurence Senelick, director of Graduate Studies, Fletcher Professor of Drama and Oratory at Tufts University in Massachusetts, “The Changing Room” explores the history of cross-dressing in theatre from ancient times to the modern day, offering to take “readers on a colourful, lavishly illustrated tour of the stages and dressing-rooms of history, from tribal rituals to sacred prostitution, to contemporary musical comedy and performance art.”  I was impressed at this book’s ability to pull the attention of someone whose interest in theatre and performance is minimal and which has subsequently left me with a little bit of a thirst to find out more about the performing arts.

Our Discoveries (clockwise from left):  "Jesus Christ Superstar: the authorised version" ; The Changing Room:  sex, drag and theatre" ; "Macbeth" ; "The Merchant of Venice."

Our discoveries (clockwise from left): “Jesus Christ Superstar: the authorised version” ; The Changing Room: sex, drag and theatre” ; “Macbeth” ; “The Merchant of Venice.”

Discovered by Rachel

Of the items I catalogued, the oldest was from the first half of the 17th century, the smallest was a 7cm tall copy of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, (published in Venice, with accompanying Italian inscription from the buyer), and the most aesthetic, (in my opinion), was a copy of Macbeth with a hand decorated cover, complete with gold leaf. In terms of subject matter, the books I encountered varied from the traditional theatre of Shakespeare to 19th century burlesques (the precursor to pantomime rather than the exotic shows of today), to modern gay plays. One item that particularly stood out for me on a personal level was The Authorised Jesus Christ Superstar.

Musicals have been an interest of mine since I was about ten. I have seen Joseph, Evita, Cats and the Phantom of the Opera, and in 2012 I was at the O2 for the second performance of the Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. This book, never reprinted, records the development of the musical, from its conception by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, to the album and original Broadway production.

The book resembles an album of memories, following the first few years of Superstar’s life. Running continuously along the bottom of the pages are interviews with various people involved in the production, alongside a more in-depth interview with Lloyd Webber and Rice. There are plenty of photographs, predominantly black and white, but also several pages of colour plates of a higher quality, featuring images from the Broadway production, a facsimile of a highly decorative piece of sheet music for the title song and, bizarrely, a colour facsimile of “…And Through Him Save a World,” an issue of the Green Lantern magazine, featuring a modern messiah crucifixion scene. The book also contains facsimiles of posters and magazine covers, reviews and articles, letters from fans and cartoon strips. What I find hugely interesting however, is that it doesn’t just focus on the success of the production. It also considers the controversy that surrounded the show from the word go, featuring both positive and negative reactions from the religious community of the time, from the news that the Vatican was to broadcast the show in full, to letters informing the record company that they will have to pay for using the Lord’s name to make money.  This is a hugely intriguing book for any musical lover, theatre historian or person with an interest in religious culture. The sheer variety of material this book contains is sure to enthral the reader.

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

The cataloguing of the theatrical material is now complete, but the rest of the collection also contains fiction, poetry and rare books, yet to be discovered.

To explore all of this and more from the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection visit to search our catalogue or contact us for more information.

By Josie Caplehorne and Rachel Dickinson

Adventures of an Amateur Archivist

Mmmmm. Cake.

Mmmmm. Cake. (Edsel Little – Flicka)

I didn’t grow up wanting to be an archivist. My one clear ambition, around the age of eight, was to be a baker in the morning and an author in the afternoon. When it came to choosing a degree I was fairly lost, after all who really knows what they want to do when they’re seventeen. I decided to do Classical and Archaeological studies, like most people simply because I liked the subject at school, and chose the University of Kent as I knew Canterbury well and found the course contained many uniquely interesting modules.

The idea of becoming an archivist came to me about halfway through my second year at Kent. I have always been fascinated by history, even as a young child, but struggled working out how to use it in my career. I couldn’t be a history teacher, neither could I see myself as a lecturer in history – I was terrified of speaking to groups of people. I couldn’t picture myself as a career historian. Despite archaeology being part of my degree title, I followed more of an Ancient History pathway, deciding archaeology was not the right fit for me.

Bizarrely I think a large influence was the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ I have always primarily been more interested in social and religious history than any other sphere, and I think the initial idea I had was to become a genealogist, but WDYTYA showed me archives could hold a wealth of hugely interesting and varied material, and to be working with that material, and maybe even be in charge of what happens to it, is what pulled me towards the career. I also hold a firm belief that anything of historical value should be preserved and made available for anyone who wants to see it.

So, after a couple of years of job hunting, and a year stint as a casual and Saturday girl at my local council libraries, I managed to get a job as a Metadata Assistant at my old university. I hadn’t expected to return to Kent, but I was exceedingly happy to do so. I viewed this job as more or less perfect in terms of transitioning between libraries and archives, the wealth of experience I would gain, and the direction I wanted to be going in. Needless to say I could hardly believe my luck.

My co-workers of happiness (and me)

My co-workers of happiness (and me)

My first task was to conquer cataloguing. I had no previous experience and so have learnt everything from scratch. Initially I was focussed on regular academic books, and then I was introduced to Special Collections book cataloguing. Initially the experience was incredibly confusing. The empty catalogue record looked to me a little like a small Excel spreadsheet with a list of, (then meaningless), numbers at the side. Now it makes perfect sense to me, but at the time I found it challenging.

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

Later I was moved on to cataloguing for the British Cartoon Archive (BCA), which doesn’t just involve books. My principle duty is cataloguing modern political cartoons from the daily newspapers. This uses a different program to book cataloguing, so, just as I was adjusting to the first program, I was given another, totally different, one to master. Cartoon cataloguing is definitely a skill that improves with practice. The point is to enter search terms in the record that describe the cartoon, but working out what is going on in any given cartoon isn’t always straightforward. What I struggled with most was approaching this with little diverse political knowledge. I had no idea who most of the people in the cartoons even were. Now I can recognise caricatures of people, despite not knowing what they look like in reality.

A hugely important collection within the BCA is that of Carl Giles, and as part of this we have stacks of blank Christmas cards, designed by him. My first non-cataloguing job was to count these, and put them in boxes. The novelty soon wore off. Unsurprising when you consider I counted over thirteen thousand of these. However I did eventually get through them, and the sense of triumph when they were done was palpable. My work at the BCA has become more diverse, although boxes continue to play a remarkably large part in my life.

Many many Giles annuals (without attendant boxes)

Many many Giles annuals (without attendant boxes)

A few months into my work at Kent the BCA received a new and highly significant collection of the political cartoonist Leon Kuhn. He was an anti-war cartoonist, who campaigned alongside George Galloway’s party Respect in the 2005 general election. His work, I have learned, is unique, hard hitting, and often fairly disturbing. It is also large. I was given the task of unrolling and relocating his political posters, many of which were taller than my five feet two inches. I appreciate that for a human five foot two is not especially tall, but for rolls of paper it is pretty big, not to mention unwieldy. I also had to relocate the rest of the collection, including boxes of campaign leaflets, photos and books. I did enjoy this work, especially as it was my first real opportunity to see some of the collections, but I felt a little like a removals lady.

The work that I am proudest of taking on is of a more social nature. I have always struggled to talk to people, be they in groups, or just one person I don’t know particularly well. I often find my nerves get the better of me to the point of panic attacks. So when I was asked if I wanted to supervise volunteers in a rare book cleaning project and help out in seminars run for students using Special Collections and Archives material, my first response, both times, was panic and a distinct sense of ‘no way,’ after all I had only been in the job three months, surely there was no way I was prepared for this. I ignored my brain screaming wordlessly at me, and agreed to give both a go.

The volunteering was the easier of the two to deal with. Initially I only had one volunteer to supervise cleaning rare books in preparation for our move to the Templeman extension next year, and I was lucky that she was a happy, friendly and chatty sort of person. It went a lot better than I anticipated and I actually enjoyed doing it, which is what surprised me the most. This project has allowed my confidence to grow substantially.

Before and after - volunteer cleaning

Before and after – volunteer cleaning

The seminars were harder. There would be a group of students who would all be listening to, and for the most part looking at, me whilst I gave a run down on what Special Collections and Archives was, how to order items and how to use the material we had out in the seminar. I was shaking at the time, but I overcame my nerves, and found presenting became easier with each seminar. This came with a great sense of achievement, as I overcame my initial concerns.

I think it’s easy to say the most interesting thing that has occurred in my brief time here was the Reading Room leak. I came in on a Monday morning to be informed it was basically raining in the reading room. Over the course of the day tiles fell off the ceiling and the carpet was soaked through, however all staff pulled together to ensure there was no major damage to any collection items. Throughout the day, and over the course of the next couple of days, I helped various other staff members remove items from the room, such as reference books, old playbills from our theatre collections, and the Indonesian shaman’s staff. (You get some weird looks when you carry that through the library and into a lift). Basically the entire of that week was a little frantic. I regularly had to leave my usual work to go and help deal with the disaster. I spent a lot of time scurrying around the building, and found I was exhausted at the end of it. But oddly I almost enjoyed the experience. Especially after we managed to save everything.

My colleague Josie in the leaking reading room

My colleague Josie in the leaking reading room

My experience has been invaluable. I have huge variety in the work I do, with ample opportunity to push myself further. I have a much clearer idea of the work archivists do, and most importantly for me I have confirmed to myself that this is the area in which I want to work. I absolutely love the work I do, although that may not always come across. Even tasks that I didn’t necessarily find easy are an important experience, and I think it’s good for archivists to be involved in their collections with work at every level. My experience of working with a variety of collections, in a variety of functions has prepared me to commit to a postgraduate course in archive management. I work in the happy knowledge that I am incredibly lucky to be working here. It took me two years following graduation to get a full time job, but now I know that it was worth the wait, and I am unbelievably happy to be back at Kent.

Rachel Dickinson

Thou shall not leak!!

Thou shall not leak!!