As well as packing the Library, a lot of Jacqui’s recent work on extending RUSI’s asset register, which originally was focused on fine art, but now includes a much wider range of materials.
This range was increased recently upon the discovery of a “secret” (previously unknown in recent times) cupboard containing some wax seals, as well as candlesticks and some binding tools.
This isn’t the first sent of items to be “lost” by RUSI. In the 19th century, despite spending its acquisitions budget only on military models for teaching purposes, the Institute received so many donations from across the British Empire that its public museum became a popular attraction in London’s burgeoning tourist market. Objects were listed in its original documentation under the headings Ethnology, Natural Science and Military. It came as no surprise to Jacqui to read that in its sale in the 1860s many of the materials were bought by Augustus Henry Lane Fox, who later changed his name to Pitt Rivers and whose collection was foundational to the Oxford Museum.
Jacqui is investigating the RUSI Museum and its history as part of an AHRC-funded PhD at the University of Westminster. She is currently researching whether the museum’s objects can be seen as “an authorized biography of Empire.” Her results should be significant in terms of the decolonization work that is so important for us to understand our national past and its impact on the wider world and, indeed, Britain’s own citizens.
New art practices from the 1950s onwards moved away from traditional media, exploring language, performance and new technologies. Concrete poets, Fluxus or conceptual artists, among others, used the book as a medium for (distributed) art, as well as a vehicle for documenting it. These experiments with the form and function of printed matter fundamentally changed our understanding of both contemporary art, and of books and other publications,in ways that still resonate today in our digital/postdigital culture.
Gustavo Grandal Montero is a librarian and special collections curator at Chelsea College of Arts and Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London (UAL). Trained as an art historian, he writes and presents regularly on art and librarianship topics and has contributed to a range of academic and professional journals (Artist’s Book Yearbook, Blue Notebook, Communications in Information Literacy, Print Quarterly, etc.) and monographs (Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship, Please come to the show, etc.). He is a PhD candidate at Central Saint Martins (UAL) and Editor of the Art Libraries Journal (Cambridge UP).
As with all our seminars, this one was live-only, and this event report highlights some things that struck me from Karen’s wide-ranging and detailed presentation. If you have a chance to hear her speak on the topic, please do – this blog post is no substitute for the information she shared in her talk.
From the point of view of librarians at the coal face of cataloguing book collections, one of the most important messages came in response to a question about identifying bookbinders. The British Library’s online database, https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/bookbindings/Default.aspx, is a fantastic free resource, but sometimes there is no substitute for inspecting a binding in real life. Karen reminded us that the British Library has a collection of rubbings of bookbindings that its staff can access, and so encouraged us to contact them if we have tried all the online resources and come up empty. It’s certainly true that this is an area of Bibliography and Book History in which there is no substitute for seeing many, many examples in order to be able to make an identification with any level of confidence.
Karen herself has studied bindings over a long career, and those she presented today were mainly from her work on the Grenville Library at the British Library. This provided her the opportunity to see first hand the range of luxury bindings produced by German nationals in London for Grenville, and sparked an interest that took her to explore those in the libraries of other well-known collectors.
Famous binders for whose work we should look out include Johann Andreas Linde, Johann Ernst Baumgarten, Christian Samuel Kalthoeber, Charles Hering, and, of course, Charles Lewis. The last of these was responsible for many of the bindings in Grenville’s collection and became the pre-eminent bookbinder of his day.
Our March Book History Seminar will be led by Jacqui Grainger, the Librarian of the Royal United Services Institute, which is currently undergoing a major move.
Jacqui writes, “Learned societies – and think tanks – in historic buildings periodically get to the point where a complete refurbishment has to happen. This involves a lot of planning and preparation for packing up and moving collections to storage that I won’t bore you with; it also creates an opportunity for finding ‘stuff’ that adds to the greater whole of the heritage and legacy you are managing. This talk will focus on the things I have found in dank basement corners, secret cupboards in paneling, and cupboards within cupboards.”
We are delighted to welcome Dr Karen Limper-Herz to lead our Book History seminar in February.
Dr Karen Limper-Herz is Lead Curator, Incunabula and Sixteenth Century Printed Books at the British Library. She is the Hon. Secretary and a Vice-President of the Bibliographical Society and a faculty member of Rare Book School at the University of Virginia.
A number of German nationals or craftsmen of German origin worked in the London book trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, as bookbinders, publishers or booksellers, and they were often rather successful. This talk will look at some of the most important German binders in London during this period and their influence on the binding trade at the time. It will be richly illustrated with examples of their work.
This is an entirely synchronous seminar: no preparation in advance (except for the speaker, obviously), no recordings afterwards, just an expert speaker talking on Zoom for around half and hour followed by group discussion and chat.
On 13 January, I attended the Book History Seminar on UK LGBTQ+ Publishing History.
The speaker was Christopher A. Adams, a writer, bibliographer, and doctoral student whose dissertation subject is British queer fiction publishing from 1945 to 1967 (when homosexuality was partially decriminalised in British legislation). This was a really fascinating talk on the hidden history of queer books in Britain. We were given lots of examples which were immediately added to my reading wish list, and we had ample opportunity to ask questions as well.
Curiosity about the holdings of the National Museum of Malta aroused my interest in this seminar. I’ve been to many talks on print techniques over the years, so was expecting to come away as baffled as ever about how the ink ended up on the paper in most cases. It is very difficult taking someone’s spoken or written description and turning it into images of how the processes work in your head. Letterpress I can imagine, but it gets more complicated when the speaker is trying to describe the various different offset techniques.
I was pleasantly surprised to come away feeling much more enlightened. As background introduction, Krystle took us clearly, but rapidly, through the many centuries of printing history, from Chinese woodblocks, through the various hand-presses, to modern photographic printmaking. Each phase was accompanied by close-up images of the finished product, plus supporting material on individual techniques. Both were extremely useful in showing the difference between copperplate and intaglio for example.
In her day job, Krystle is in the process of cataloguing c. 4,500 prints. As she demonstrated, use of a microscope or the zoom feature on a modern phone allows her to investigate the images more closely in order to identify the technique used. This must be invaluable as many of us have struggled in the past to be confident in our assessment of images when the maker has been a master of their technique. I do hope that Krystle will do more talks or seminars on printmaking techniques. Although images of her slides are imprinted on my brain, I’m sure a refresher will be required at a future date. One day, perhaps, a good excuse to visit Malta.