Early printed books cataloguing project

Rare Books Cataloguer Sophie Floate introduces Balliol’s new project to make all of Balliol’s c.20,000 early printed books fully discoverable, and shares some of the highlights so far.

A new project to catalogue the early printed books collection at Balliol to a high standard began in January 2020. Over the years many books have been catalogued onto the University’s shared catalogue, SOLO, but very often these were lacking in the information now considered standard for early printed material, such as more detailed bibliographic information, provenance and binding descriptions. Following on from the Wellcome-funded project to catalogue the library of Nicholas Crouch, it is hoped that the cataloguing of the remainder of the extensive holdings at Balliol will bring new information to light on many aspects of the collection.

As with Crouch’s books, many of the historic bequests to the Library are now dispersed amongst the collection; while there are many sources relating to these bequests in the archives, such as the donations register, it will be much easier to bring this information together once the books are catalogued, allowing the collection to be researched more thoroughly.

Beginning with some of the smallest items in the library I have already encountered books which cover a wide variety of subjects, bindings and previous owners, the latter indicative of many of the discrete collections within the shelves. Books from the collections of Nathaniel Crynes (-1745), George Coningesby (1693-1766) and Henry Norris (whose son, also Henry, matriculated at Balliol in 1828 and who donated the collection) are much in evidence, as well as those given by Edwyn Birchenough (Balliol 1929) and his father, Charles (Balliol 1902) to name but a few. Interesting details are appearing relating to these previous owners: many of Coningesby’s books have manuscript notes and inscriptions by other members of his family, including his mother. He wrote extensive notes on the texts of many of his books, which is another useful way to identify them where they lack more obvious identification such as bookplates.

Tracing the ownership of a book prior to its donation to Balliol also throws up interesting connections, often linking now long-dispersed collections. For example, the Library has a volume (30 a 36) previously owned by Edward Gwynn, whose books have very distinctive bindings and have been reported by many other libraries across the world as detailed by the Folger Library.

The front of Edward Gwynn's distinctive binding with his name gold stamped on brown leather

 

Working along the shelf, book by book, can provide a fascinating glimpse into the wide range of subjects within the collection, since in many early printed collections the books have remained shelved by size, rather than by subject. You might find travel in Jerusalem in the 17th century next to a tract about Waldensian Protestants, or a curious collection of religious texts that purport to have been found inside a fish, John Frith’s Vox piscis:, or,, The book-fish : contayning three treatises which were found in the belly of a cod-fish in Cambridge Market, on Midsummer Eue last, anno Domini 1626. (London, 1627) [30 a 30].

 

Engraved title page of A Journey to Jerusalem
A Journey to Jerusalem: or, a relation of the travels of fourteen English-men, in the year, 1669. : From Scanderoon, to Tripoly, Joppa, Ramah, Jerusalem, Bethlem, Jericho, the River Jordan, the Dead Sea; and back again to Aleppo. (London, 1672) [30 a 22]
Even within the first hundred or so books catalogued, a wide variety of bindings is already apparent, from the plainer sheepskin or calfskin, to more ornately decorated goatskin. Or this example of gilt brocade paper with a design of birds and foliage:

Brocade paper binding with gold birds and leaves on a red ground faded to pink

Somewhat incongruously, inside these covers are two theological works by the controversial Scottish Archbishop Patrick Adamson, printed in the late 16th and early 17th century, but bound a little later and given to the College by Coningesby (30 a 62).

An important part of the cataloguing project is contributing to the ESTC (English Short Title Catalogue) database. The ESTC is a union catalogue which aims to cover letterpress items printed before 1801, in British Isles, Colonial America, USA (1776-1800), Canada or territories governed by Britain in all languages. It also includes items printed in any other part of the world wholly or partly in English (or other British vernaculars) and items with false imprints claiming publication in Britain or its territories.

Any item catalogued which fits into any of the above categories is checked against the catalogue and any discrepancies reported. In the first few months of our project, six items were found not to have Balliol holdings reported, and one item not previously listed on the ESTC at all. This was the third part of the French writer and Protestant exile Pierre Bayles’ “Commentaire philosophique sur ces paroles de Jesus-Chrit [sic] contrain-les d’entrer; Troisiéme partie …” (30 a 16) printed a year after parts 1 and 2 in 1687. Although this part was not reported until now to the ESTC, there are a few other copies worldwide though apparently none in the UK. Its inclusion in the ESTC relates to the false imprint of “Cantorbery” which is probably why it has not appeared until now, as it is not an obviously “English” item. It has apparently long since been considered scarce, as the Balliol copy has a note in a 19th- or early 20th-century hand:
“Very rare 3rd part to go with my other 2 parts in one vol”.

The library also has parts 1 and 2, so is the only library in Oxford to hold a copy of this important work on religious toleration.

Another rare item is a volume of three bound tracts by religious and political controversialist William Sedgwick. Sedgwick studied at Pembroke College in the 1620s and went on to become rector of Farnham, Essex during the civil war period. Although he had impressed Cromwell with his evangelical style, there were doubts relating to his sanity in the following years, leading to his nickname “Doomsday Sedgwick”. However, his tracts about the outbreak of war were fairly balanced in assigning blame to both sides, though some accused him of being a Royalist. The tracts in this volume record his reflections on the whole period of the Civil War and Protectorate but copies are fairly scarce now, with the second bound item “Inquisition for the blood of our late soveraign, in an humble addresse to His most sacred Majesty” (printed in 1660) being one of only three known copies listed in the ESTC.

As the project progresses, it will be fascinating to see what other discoveries lie on the shelves and what we can learn about the history of the collection.

A Balliol find from the library of Christopher Gardyner (c.1596–c.1662)

610 b 04 - title page-detail

Sue Hemmens, Deputy Keeper at Marsh’s Library, writes about her research discovery at Balliol:

In my home institution, Marsh’s Library, Dublin, there is an edition of Euclid in Arabic, printed at the Medici Press in Rome in 1594, which came to the library in the collection of the founder of the library, Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713). On the title-page is a signature, ‘Chr. Gardyner’, and a Greek motto.  The book was to be displayed for the Seeing Euclid networked exhibition in Summer 2018, so I decided to see whether this former owner could be identified. One of the search results was an article by Vera Keller on the alchemy of the Royalist Sir John Heydon (1588–1653) [Vera Keller (2012) The Authority of Practice in the Alchemy of Sir John Heydon (1588–1653), Ambix, 59:3, 197-217, DOI: 10.1179/174582312X13457672281740] where an alchemical letter from Christopher Gardyner to Heydon was transcribed from a manuscript now in the State Papers and digitised in the State Papers online.

Vera Keller had identified the writer of the letter as Sir Christopher Gardyner, Heydon’s brother-in-law, who turned out to have been a colourful character, to say the least. Imagine my delight on finding that the signature on the letter matched the signature on the Euclid, and on three other books in Marsh’s (there is one more, which bears a slightly variant signature).

Even on the evidence of the books in Marsh’s, Gardyner was well-educated, and able to read Latin, Greek, and Arabic. I have now set out to trace his library, which has been widely dispersed. In Prague, there is a 1619 copy of Robert Abbot’s De Suprema Potestate Regia; a 1592 Kāfiya by li-Ĭbn al-Ḥāǧib is held by the UniversitätsBibliothek in Basel; and a Copernicus De Revolutionibus is to be found in Chatsworth. In Oxford, books with Gardyner’s signature are in University College (a 1560 Morel Leitourgiai Tōn Hagion Paterōn), in Christ Church (a 1620 London Euclid, with parallel Greek-Latin text), and in Corpus Christi (a 1549 Greek Etymologikon which once belonged to John Dee: the alchemical associations alone make this book of interest). Many thanks are due to Elizabeth Adams at University College, Julie Blyth at Corpus Christi, and Cristina Neagu and her colleagues at Christ Church for their help with the other Gardyner association copies in Oxford.

While in Oxford on a two-month David Walker Memorial fellowship in the Weston Library, I attended the stimulating Nicholas Crouch research day organised by Balliol’s Librarian Naomi Tiley, where I was delighted to meet again her colleague Amy Boylan, who had volunteered with us at Marsh’s before starting her library career. I told them the story of this rather naughty knight, with his irregular lifestyle and unusual reading, and emailed a note of thanks including a link to a blog post on Marsh’s website which included an image of Gardyner’s signature and motto, on the off-chance that he might turn up among the books at Balliol. I got an email almost by return showing the signature, this time on a beautiful 1525 printing from the Aldine press of a collection of Greek texts attributed to the 15th-century philosopher George Gemistos Plethon (Balliol classmark 610 b 4) . What is even better about this book is that we know its history shortly after it left Gardyner’s hands as Thomas Wendy (1614-1673) included it in his bequest to Balliol. Is it possible that they knew each other in Royalist circles?

I look forward to being able to find more information about Gardyner’s library and reading, and perhaps about his alchemy, of which his correspondence with Heydon gives such a tantalising glimpse.

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Thomas Wendy’s bequest in the Library’s donation book
610 b 04 - title page
Christopher Gardyner’s inscription on the title page of a collection of Greek texts attributed to  George Gemistos Plethon (Balliol classmark 610 b 4)
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Portrait of Thomas Wendy which hangs in Balliol’s Library

Hobbes’ Leviathan: editions in disguise

The head, the bear and ‘the ornaments’

Balliol’s copy of the first edition of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan has recently returned from conservation by the Oxford Conservation Consortium. The front board has been reattached and several leaves cleaned.

In addition to the iconic engraved title page, the first edition was issued with a letterpress title page. Three distinct editions would eventually appear with this imprint between 1651 and 1680.

The first edition of Leviathan had sold for a mere 8s 6d in 1651. By 1668, Pepys records that a secondhand copy ‘was mightily called for’, and was going for 24 shillings.

The second edition, printed by John Redmayne in 1670, copied the imprint of 1651. Noel Malcolm notes that it also contained text reprinted almost page-for-page from the first edition. After the Restoration and the 1662 Printing Act, powers of censorship were returned to the bishops. Charges of atheism against Hobbes led to the banning or suppression of many of his works.

Malcolm suggests that the 1670 edition may have been designed in this way to minimise attention to Leviathan’s republication.

The undertaking attracted attention nonetheless. Printed sheets were seized from Redmayne’s workshop on the orders of the Stationers’ Company in the autumn of 1670. They were taken away for ‘damasking’ (obliterating the text), although many sheets were probably salvaged and eventually issued.

The 'head' word cut ornament from the title page of the 1651 edition of Leviathan (Photo: Paris O'Donnell)

At first glance, the one obvious difference among the three ‘first editions’ is the printer’s ornament on the title page, above the imprint. The copy in Balliol library carries the woodcut ornament known as ‘the head’, while the 1670 edition carries ‘the bear’ and the 1680 edition ‘the ornaments’. This is how we know that ours is from the genuine first edition of 1651.

Balliol College Library shelfmark 30 d 139

Sources

Noel Malcolm, ‘The printing of the “Bear”’. In Aspects of Hobbes. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ‘Thomas Hobbes’