A golden hind

Martin Bucer’s Scripta Anglicana (1577)

Our copy of Martin Bucer’s Scripta Anglicana (1577) came via the large bequest of Sir Thomas Wendy in 1677. The gold-tooled centrepiece on the boards of this book shows a ‘hind statant’. It is believed this is the armorial device of the Hatton family, politicians and bibliophiles of the 16th and 17th century. Books from their collections can be found in a number of college libraries in Oxford.

Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-1591) helped finance Sir Francis Drake’s voyages of circumnavigation from 1577-1580. In 1580 Drake changed the name of his vessel mid-voyage from The Pelican to The Golden Hinde to honour Hatton.

Identification by Paul W. Nash

Piranesi in Balliol

Works by Giambattista Piranesi (1720-1778)

Giambattista Piranesi (1720-1778) was arguably the finest intaglio printmaker of the 18th century. He worked essentially as an etcher, but also employed engraving and drypoint techniques, and experimented with the inking and printing of his plates to achieve the complex, multi-textured images he wanted. As a draughtsman his architectural training was rather overwhelmed by his flamboyant, romantic, exotic and at times chaotic imagination. His depictions of buildings are beautiful, but inaccurate, and peopled with ragged, miniature human beings (partly to emphasise the scale and grandeur of the architecture). Piranesi’s ‘archaeological’ works are a great deal more valuable as art than as archaeology.

He was also a great controversialist, and engaged in bitter disputes with several contemporary historians and potential patrons, some of which gave rise to publications in defence of his (often quite untenable) position. Visitors to Rome, including British grand tourists, would often stop at Piranesi’s shop and buy a selection of his etchings or, if they could afford it, a complete set of what was then available. Piranesi’s works were expensive in their own time, and have long been regarded as high points among plate books, with good and complete copies commanding high prices.

Detail from Piranesi print

The ‘set’ of Piranesi’s works at Balliol is substantially complete for the period in which it was collected. The provenance is uncertain, but the ten physical volumes containing 18 separate works date from the same approximate period and were probably acquired together in Rome around 1770. A few of the works are in earlier states, datable to the earlier 1760s, but it is likely that all were acquired at the same time. There is a full set of the archaeological works of the period, including an excellent early example of Le antichita Romane (4 vols, 1757). Piranesi’s two great imaginative works, the Carcere d’invenzione and `Grotteschi’, are also present in contemporary states, and his earliest plates are represented by copies of Antichita Romane de’tempi della Republica (dated 1748) and the Opere varie di architettura prospettive grotteschi antichità (first published in 1750).

Among his works on interior design and decoration, there is a fine copy of Diverse maniere d’adornare i camini (1769) and an interesting set of eighteen plates from Vasi, candelabri …, which probably represents the state of this work at the time the plates were acquired (the Vasi was an open-ended series, not completed until after Piranesi’s death in 1778). Also present is the artist’s Osservazioni di Gio. Battista Piranesi sopra la lettre de M. Mariette aux auteurs de la Gazette littraire de l’Europe (1762), one of his controversial publications, in this case attacking Pierre-Jean Mariette.

The only major work of this period not found in Balliol is the Vedute di Roma, a group of large views published as an open-ended series from around 1748 (and completed after the artist’s death by his son Francesco; the series ultimately consisted of 137 plates). Also absent are two later works, the Trofeo o sia magnifica colonna coclide di marmo … fatte da Traiano (1774) and Differentes vues de quelques restes … de Pesto (1778). The Vedute may never have been present in this set, or it may have been broken up and the individual plates framed (as was sometimes the fate of copies of this work in the nineteenth century). The Balliol set was uniformly bound in half calf, probably in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The final volume in this set (925 a 10) is damp-stained, but the rest of the set is in excellent condition.

Paul W. Nash, 2011

The Balliol ‘set’ of Piranesi’s works

  • 925 a 1-4 Le antichita Romane (1757). 4 vols. Third/second state of 1760s?
  • 925 a 5(1) Le rovine del castello dell’Acqua Giulia (1761). Roman edition. Probably an early copy
  • 925 a 5(2) Carcere d’invenzione. Roman edition, early state, probably of around 1762/1763
  • 925 a 5(3) Guercino. Raccolta di alcuni disegni del Barberi da Cento detto il Guercino (1764). Includes one plate by Piranesi, and was probably sold by him as part of his `works’
  • 925 a 5(4) Opere varie di architettura prospettive grotteschi antichità. Roman edition, probably of 1760s
  • 925 a 5(5) [Grotteschi]. Roman edition, probably of 1760s
  • 925 a 6(1) Antichità d’Albano e di Castel Gandolfo (1764). Early state, probably datable to between 1764 and 1766
  • 925 a 6(2) Descrizione a disegno dell’ emissario del Lago Albano (1762). Probably an issue of around 1765
  • 925 a 6(3) Di due spelonche ornate dagli antichiemissario del Lago Albano (1762). Probably an issue of around 1765
  • 925 a 7 Diverse maniere d’adornare i camini (1769). Roman edition. An early state, with incomplete plate-numbering
  • 925 a 8 Ioannis Baptistae Piranesii … Campus Martius antiquae urbis (1762). Probably an issue of the 1760s or 1770s
  • 925 a 9(1) Della magnificenza ed architettura de’ Romani (1762). Probably an issue of the 1760s or 1770s
  • 925 a 9(2) Osservazioni di Gio. Battista Piranesi sopra la lettre de M. Mariette aux auteurs de la Gazette littraire de l’Europe (1762). An issue of around 1770, with the additional plates but unnumbered
  • 925 a 10(1) Trofei di Ottaviano Augusto. Roman edition of between 1767 and 1778.
  • 925 a 10(2) [Vasi, candelabri …]. Roman edition of 18 plates, all in early states, issued by Piranesi during the late 1760s of early 1770s
  • 925 a 10(3) Antichita Romane de’tempi della Republica (1748). Roman impression of around 1770
  • 925 a 10(4) Lapides Capitolini (1762). Roman issue of around 1770?
  • 925 a 10(5) Anthichità di Cora (1764). Roman issue of around 1770?

Caxton fragment

A single leaf from one of the very earliest books printed in Britain, Caxton’s 1477 Canterbury Tales

The leaf was donated to the Library in 1965. There are traces of earlier provenance on the front pastedown (it was bound between gold-printed paper-covered boards in the 19th century) but they do not shed much light on the fragment’s pre-19th-century history.

This fragment, leaf 191, is slight in itself but represents a landmark of early English printing history, and inspires several questions about authenticity and origins.


The leaf’s authenticity is not certain. The print is still remarkably black: Caxton’s ink quality is well-known and weathers well.

Caxton leaf type detail

The paper, by contrast, betrays its age. Its discolouration is not surprising given its detachment from protective neighbouring pages. Our fragment spans the end of the Clerk’s tale and the Franklin’s prologue: not an especially desirable passage to forge. The profile of line endings exactly matches the equivalent leaf in a British Library copy (which is digitised and online).

Forgery or facsimile?

It is conceivable that our leaf may be the work of a facsimilist. Some facsimilists were lauded for their skills in producing reproductions of early printing. John Harris (1791-1873), for example, received commissions from celebrated collectors Earl Spencer (1758-1834) and George III (1738-1820). These men, along with respectable institutions like the British Museum, commissioned facsimile leaves to replace absent leaves in their copies of valuable editions. Harris’ processes for creating facsimiles, far from being a shameful secret, were described by him for publication in 1852 with details of both his hand-drawn and lithographic methods. Indeed, among other copies of this edition, those at the British Library, John Rylands and Folger Libraries contain pen-and-ink facsimiles of missing pages (see the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue).

Theories of detachment

If this is not a facsimile, why does only one leaf survive? It is a little grubby, true, but there is no sign of water damage or buckling. The survival of this single leaf, in good condition, suggests that the rest of the text block did not disintegrate around it, but was severed from it.

Is it the legacy of a form of early print trophy-hunting, such as the fashion for leaf books at the turn of the last century? E. Gordon Duff’s William Caxton (1905) was issued with single leaves from this very edition. The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) records that many other European and North American libraries hold one or a few leaves of the same edition.

Or perhaps our single leaf is related to the practice of completing or ‘sophisticating’ incomplete books? Among the half-dozen copies of the 1477 edition of Chaucer in British Libraries according to ISTC is another Oxford copy, at Merton. Merton College is blessed with not only a superb library but a thorough antiquarian catalogue. In their record we find a suggestive explanation for the detachment of individual leaves. Merton’s copy was rebound in 1815 by Charles Lewis of London ‘on the recommendation of Lord Spencer’ (probably the same Earl Spencer who was John Harris’s client). The record quotes from Merton College’s Register for 17 May 1815:

It is agreed that the Warden be requested to thank Lord Spencer for his great kindness to them, in permitting them to take from His Lordship’s mutilated duplicate of Caxton’s 1st edition of Chaucer, any leaves that might supply the deficiencies in the copy belonging to the College Library, and which upon collation, did supply them with one leaf, out of the three that are wanting …

Earl Spencer was a recipient of leaves for incomplete books as well as a donor. In 1810, the antiquary Francis Douce had agreed – unhappily – for leaves to be removed from his copy of another Caxton, the Golden Legend, for insertion into the Earl’s own copy. This ‘gift’, Douce estimated, increased the value of the Earl’s copy by £100.

This practice is now frowned on by most bibliographers because it disrupts this historical evidence of a book’s production. It was common before the 19th century, though. Extensive collections of ‘orphan’ leaves still surface from time to time, relics of an age in which the completion of almost-perfect copies using collections of fragments was commonplace.

Bibliography and further reading

  • Freeman, A. (1982). ‘The workshop of T.J. Wise.’ Times Literary Supplement, 17 September 1982: 990
  • Freeman, A. (2008). ‘Everyman and others, part I: some fragments of early English printing, and their preservers.’ The Library, 7th series, 9(3): 267-305
  • Harris, J. (1852). ‘Account of creating facsimiles of early printing’. In Reports by the juries on the subjects in the thirty classes into which the exhibition was divided. London: Royal Commission, p. 405
  • Jensen, K. (2011). Revolution and the antiquarian books: reshaping the past, 1780-1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Silver, J. (2004). ‘Beyond the basics: leaf books.’ Fine Books and Collections, September/October 2004. [Online journal article]. Accessed 2 May, 2012

Rare books @ Balliol

About Balliol Library’s early printed books

The Library’s collections include c.5-7,000 early printed books mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as a large number of collected tracts from around the English Civil War period. A small number of incunabula are also in the collection. Many of the books were received as individual donations from students and Fellows when they became members of the College, or when they left, but the most notable tranches of early printed books were bequests: of the book collector and College benefactor Sir Thomas Wendy, in 1677; that of Nicholas Crouch, student and Fellow of the College from 1632 to his death in 1690; and the bequest of the clergyman and antiquary George Coningesby, in 1766.