Many minds and hands

Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch project year 2

Our Wellcome Trust funded project to catalogue and conserve Nicholas Crouch’s Library has just entered its second year. Let’s look at what has been achieved so far.

Conservation

All planned conservation has been completed. Nikki Tomkins, from the Oxford Conservation Consortium, cleaned and, where appropriate, made protective boxes for just over 400 books. A further 159 received more in-depth treatments, from minor binding repair to complete re-backing. All treatments were sensitive to the integrity of the original binding. So although Nikki’s work has stabilized the bindings to the point where we can use them without fear that they will crumble apart in our hands they will never be as good as new. Nikki reflected on how best to make future readers aware of the limitations of the bindings and encourage good handling practice in order to ensure their preservation. She came up with this augmented shelf mark label with clear information about where the binding is weak and how to handle it sensitively:

One of Crouch's Sammelband (Balliol Shelf 915 g 9) with conservation slip

Nikki also gathered together detailed information about the construction and decoration of the bindings she worked on. This, together with Crouch’s notes of the binder and the cost of binding, will be a rich resource for discovering more about how the collection was used and about seventeenth-century binding in Oxford more generally. Nikki presented her work at talks for a Book History Research Network Study Day on 21 April 2017 and Balliol’s Unlocking Archives series on 24 May 2017. Nikki will also be talking at the Copenhagen Care and Conservation of Manuscripts conference next April.

Cataloguing

Our project cataloguer, Lucy Kelsall left Balliol in March 2017 to take up the post of Florence Fearrington Rare Materials Cataloger at the Rare Book School based at the University of Virginia. This was not before she had made catalogue records for a staggering 3,076 items bound in the 413 sammelbands in the collection. As she worked, Lucy brought together information about the collection in a variety of formats, taking images of interesting annotations and recording statistics about the volumes in a comprehensive spreadsheet. Some of her discoveries were presented in an Unlocking Archives talk on 9 March 2017 and others in posts for the Library’s Historic Collections blog. Lucy and Nikki discussed their work on a University of Oxford Podcast in conversation with Balliol Fellow, Adam Smyth.

Lucy’s cataloguing revealed that Nicholas Crouch wrote shelf marks in his books. So staff turned detective and identified around 106 more volumes on our shelves that bear Crouch’s probable provenance.  Finding a cataloguer to finish off the project at short notice could have been difficult but Sophie Floate, who is cataloguing collections at Brasenose, Corpus Christi and Harris Manchester, kindly made some time for to help us out. She has currently made around 300 records.  This leaves around 70 bibliographic items left to catalogue before the end of the year.

One of the most interesting finds of the project has been the identification of several lists of books in Crouch’s handwriting.  These include a list of books he lent and who borrowed them, running from 1653-1689.

IMG_3727

James Howarth, Assistant Librarian, made a transcription of this list and a comprehensive attempt to identify the individuals and the books that Crouch noted. Nicholas Crouch’s entry in the Donation Register has also been transcribed and many of the titles matched with books in Balliol’s collections.

Thanks to our Archivist, Anna Sander, images of all of the manuscripts in Crouch’s collection are on the Balliol Archives Flickr page and descriptions of many of them are now available through the Archives Hub.

The Future

Though the project funding has allowed us to go a long way towards making this fascinating collection accessible, there is still more to do. In terms of conservation, Nikki has identified a further 92 of the sammelbands that ideally would have some form of treatment to allow us to handle them without causing damage. The conservation of Crouch’s books will continue, feeding into our ongoing program of conservation. This has already begun with a condition survey of the 106 newly identified volumes.

With conservation and cataloguing nearing completion, we can move to the next stage in making Crouch’s Library accessible. We will actively promote it through an exhibition and related talks planned for Autumn 2018. We also hope to hold an academic conference around the project and to find ways to fund future academic research into the collection.

Coming towards the end of the project, it seems as if we have uncovered lots of fragments of a historical artefact – Crouch’s library (or libraries). Now we need to hold them out to be viewed from different angles, pieced together and made sense of. It is also likely that there are still more pieces of the puzzle to discover: books belonging to Nicholas Crouch offered in his bequest but not put into the College Library; documents relating to Crouch and his family in other archives; traces in the landscapes Crouch inhabited such as his family house at Higham Gobion.

As you can see from the number of contributors mentioned in this report, this has been a truly collaborative project. In Nicholas Crouch’s reconstructed library, there is still further work to be done by many more minds and hands.

By Naomi Tiley,
Librarian, Balliol College

Cataloguing Crouch: detective work

Much of Nicholas Crouch’s library exists as bound volumes which include between two and fifty distinct bibliographic works. These Sammelbände have been kept together in Balliol College Library since at least 1799, shelved among other tract volumes with varied provenance. Within this collection, Crouch’s books are frequently easy to identify due to his meticulous hand-written contents lists; other typical stylistic features of a Crouch binding are described here.

Many of Crouch’s donations to the college were recorded in the Library Benefactions Book, which provides a list of 319 volumes acquired by the library upon Crouch’s death in 1690. However, we know from comparing the records in the Benefactions Book to the items catalogued so far that not all of Crouch’s books were bequeathed at this time. In particular, many of the Crouch volumes composed of 16th century texts are not listed in the Benefactions Book.

Crouch’s name and bequest are recorded in elaborate calligraphy (Balliol College Library Benefactions Book, page 194)
Crouch’s name and bequest are recorded in elaborate calligraphy (Balliol College Library Benefactions Book, page 194)

At present we don’t know precisely when these unlisted items arrived in the library. A small gift of two volumes is recorded in 1656 as ‘P. Fronseca Metaphysica’, but other than this we haven’t found evidence of additional donations from Crouch. One possibility is that Crouch was also purchasing texts for the college library, and that certain volumes were chosen by him but not intended for his personal collection.

From the descriptions, around half of the Crouch items listed in the Benefactions Book appear to be Sammelbände. These volumes are frequently listed as ‘A Collect. of Tracts’, followed by a description of the first (or ‘ye 1st’) item in the volume.

Many items in the Crouch bequest are listed as ‘A Collect. of Tracts’; others are entered under author and title (Balliol College Library Benefactions Book, page 195)
Many items in the Crouch bequest are listed as ‘A Collect. of Tracts’; others are entered under author and title (Balliol College Library Benefactions Book, page 195)

The remainder of the Crouch books are listed under author and title. These works are scattered throughout Balliol’s collections, frequently uncatalogued. Because they contain only a single bibliographical item, they lack Crouch’s distinctive contents lists and are often more difficult to definitively identify.

One characteristic of many of the Crouch volumes catalogued so far is an early shelfmark in the style:

[format] [capital letter] [number]

These shelfmarks appear to be inscribed in Crouch’s distinctive hand:

Shelfmarks side by side with Crouch MS
(Balliol College Library shelfmarks 910 b 8, 300 i 9, 905 c 1, 915 c 7)

Seeking out these shelfmarks will allow us to confirm the Crouch donations recorded in the Benefactions Book, and to identify volumes not listed there. The shelfmarks may also give us clues as to how Crouch arranged his personal library. It’s estimated that there are between 100-200 Crouch books to be located in this way. These volumes will be gathered together and catalogued as part of the current project, and kept with the Sammelbände. In this way, the majority of Crouch’s library will be reunited for the first time in 300 years.

By Lucy Kelsall
Project Cataloguer

Cataloguing Crouch: Dates, Errata, and ‘charta nuda’

Further explorations of collecting, correcting and marginalia from the ‘Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch’ project

Most of the items which constitute Nicholas Crouch’s library were published in his own lifetime. His collection is weighted towards works published in the latter years of his life, in the 1670s and 1680s. Crouch died in 1690, and we find him collecting right up to the end: the latest item catalogued so far is Walter Harris’s De morbis acutis infantum, printed in London in 1689. The contents list for this volume shows Crouch’s handwriting, and his maths, to be as sharp as ever.

MS contents list from the end of Crouch’s life (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 f 3) (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
MS contents list from the end of Crouch’s life (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 f 3)

Crouch also collected earlier material, from the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century. There tend to be fewer of his annotations in these older texts. Sometimes other hands are visible; this too is less common in the texts printed during Crouch’s lifetime, many of which he likely obtained upon publication. The volumes containing earlier items still include handwritten contents lists, but often lack a record of prices paid.

So far, around 40% of the collection consists of works printed on the European continent, with particularly strong showings from the Netherlands (14%) and Germany (13%). The majority of this continental material is Latin medical texts, whereas Crouch’s British collecting ranged more widely.

Crouch would often have additional blank leaves bound into his volumes; this is particularly true of works that included lists and records, such as William Dugdale’s The antient usage in bearing of such ensigns of honour as are commonly call’d arms. With a catalogue of the present nobility of England (1682). He would use these leaves to inscribe his own careful additions to the text, or to create handwritten indexes of content that interested him.

At times, his ambition appears to have exceeded his energy, and we find unused blank pages or contents lists that trail off before completion. In one notable example, Crouch paid 3d. to have a significant amount of blank paper bound in at the end of one of his books. This has been methodically added to the contents list (‘charta nuda’), but was never used. The two printed works in this volume are bibliographical in nature, so it’s possible Crouch had plans for annotation that were never realised. The blank leaves are clearly visible below in the unstained right-hand portion of the fore-edge.

Above left: Crouch is charged 3d. for ‘charta nuda’ (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 a 2)

Above right: The blank paper is visible at the right-hand side of the fore-edge (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 a 2)

Crouch’s character continues to be revealed via his marginalia. Below are two of my favourite Crouch-isms discovered so far.

Here, Crouch disavows all responsibility for a misbound leaf (note the characteristic ruled lines for this expostulation):

Crouch makes his feelings known (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 i 4 (9))
Crouch makes his feelings known (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 i 4 (9))

And here, even in the list of errata, Crouch spots a mistake:

Crouch makes a correction to the errata (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 i 2 (6)) (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Crouch makes a correction to the errata (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 i 2 (6))

I am especially fascinated by this latter example, as there is really no need for Crouch to correct the errata: he could have simply amended the text at the correct point. Is he venting his frustration in a more subtle manner than at the ‘ignorance of the Binder’, above? Or could he just not stand to leave a mistake uncorrected?

Despite the terse and factual nature of Crouch’s marginalia, hints of his personality can still be glimpsed behind the black ink.

By Lucy Kelsall
Early Printed Books Cataloguer

Cataloguing Crouch: an introduction

The cataloguing side of the project has now been underway for two months, and over 100 volumes, containing more than 750 items, have been catalogued.

One of the initial surprises with this material is how varied it is in terms of subject matter. Most of the volumes have gold-tooled leather spine labels; these are not contemporary with the bindings but were added at a later point after their arrival in the college library. However, a glance across the spines provides a useful ‘rough guide’ to the collection.

Many of Crouch’s books in the second half of the collection are labelled ‘Medical’, as one might expect from the collection of a physician. In contrast, most of the early volumes are labelled ‘Miscellaneous’. Crouch collected on subjects including (but not limited to!) religion, science, politics, language, travel, poetry, philosophy and mathematics.

 

Tractatus miscellanei: the early part of the collection is varied in subject matter (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Tractatus miscellanei: the early part of the collection is varied in subject matter
Tractatus medici: many of the later books in the collection are related to medicine (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Tractatus medici: many of the later books in the collection are related to medicine

One of the most striking features of Crouch’s library is his meticulous hand-written contents lists. Crouch would frequently inscribe on the endpapers of a volume a list of the titles inside, often including individual prices, the price of binding and the name of the binder. This makes the collection a fascinating source for the history of the book trade.

Occasionally these contents lists will span four or five pages; Crouch would often include details of the title, author and price of each item, and sometimes imprint dates. In none of the works catalogued so far has he noted the date of purchase or binding.

Above left: contents list for an item bound by Doe (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 4)

Above right: contents list for an item bound by Ingram (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 3)

Crouch would often annotate his texts, usually with factual information: bibliographical references, corrections, hand-written indexes. So far the tone of his marginalia appears to be brisk and pedantic. The MS contents lists are carefully laid out, using a grid of ruled lines to assist. Crouch even drew lines to ensure his marginal notes were level. Sometimes these ruled lines appear without corresponding marginal notes. This seems a curious oversight for one so thorough: did he intend to return and annotate at a later point?

Above left: an example of Crouch’s factual marginalia (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 i 1 (7))

Above right: ruled lines without marginalia (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 4 (3))

Crouch’s keen mathematical eye is evident in his careful calculations and corrections. He will often step in to improve or clarify a computation.

In the example below, a 1678 text with the title Artificial versifying enthusiastically promises that ‘any one of ordinary capacity, that only knows the A.B.C. and can count 9 (though he understands not one word of Latin, or what a verse means) may be plainly taught (and in as little time, as this is reading over) how to make thousands of hexameter and pentameter verses which shall be true Latine, true verse, and good sense’.

A further claim that such a person may make ‘Six hundred thousand different Latine Verses’ is swiftly disproved by Crouch, in a note that will not fit in the margin: ‘That is, there may be made 531,441 verses, which is the Cube=cube of 9, and noe more, I suppose.’

Above: Crouch is affronted by a vague estimate (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 d 2 (3b))

These initial glimpses of Crouch’s character will, we hope, be supplemented by further finds as the cataloguing continues. It will be particularly interesting to see how Crouch’s annotations in these early ‘miscellaneous’ texts compare with his notes in the later medical works. With between two and three thousand individual items yet to be catalogued, much remains to be discovered!

By Lucy Kelsall
Early Printed Books Cataloguer