rare-book-library

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Not So ‘Strange’ After All

Like many people, I saw the new Doctor Strange movie in theaters this weekend. I expected a fun, visually exciting film (which I got); but I wasn’t expecting a lot of library screen time, so needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised! Without spoiling anything, the library is the scene of some important plot developments, and features some very interesting set pieces, including books chained to a honeycomb-like sliding rack alongside the more traditional bookshelves.

While the sliding rack may not have been recognizable to librarians of old, the practice of chaining books certainly was. From the Middle Ages to the late 17th century, books were expensive and precious objects that weren’t allowed to be removed from the library willy-nilly. However, due to both their value as objects and as containers of knowledge, books were under a very real threat of being borrowed for reference and never returned. Initially, books were kept in large locking chests for security, but as libraries began to expand, the chests no longer provided enough room for storage and the books had to be moved onto open shelves. And so, much like dogs kept on a leash to prevent them from running off, the books were chained to the shelves.

It is unclear exactly when and where the first books were chained, but the practice caught on all over Europe.The chains were linked to a metal rod that ran the length of the shelf, which meant that in order to reference the books, readers were literally “chained” to the spot! To remedy this, desk areas were often placed in front of the chained shelves, such as these in the chained library of Hereford Cathedral.

There are some lovely examples of chained libraries that survive today, such as that of Hereford and a smaller one in Chetham’s Library in Manchester. If you get a chance, pay one a visit! It’s amazing to see a snapshot of what a medieval reader would’ve been faced with when entering a library. However, if you can’t make it to Europe, at least you can get a peek of the concept and feeling in Doctor Strange!

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I got to attend the New York Antiquarian Book Fair for the first time on Friday! It was so lovely to see all of my booky friends, as well as to see the wonders everyone brought to sell– from the very small to the very large, from gorgeously tooled leather to embroidered cloth, and from fore edge to spine, everything was dazzling! If you can ever get to an antiquarian book fair, even if you don’t have the money to buy anything, I highly recommend it! It’s such a treat to see the wide variety of books that are out there, and to wonder at their beauty.

With thanks to @maggs-bros , Sokol Books, Quaritch, Jonathan A. Hill, @justincroft-blog and everyone else ♥

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It took at least 14 full cow skins to make the Voynich Manuscript. Here is some of the rest of what we know about this mysterious book.

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Cover of The May Queen and other poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Rubricated and illuminated.
Colophon: “This manuscript, selected poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson, The May Queen, The sea fairies,The beggar maid, Hero to Leander, and Dora was designed, written out, and illuminated by Alberto Sangorski for Messrs. R. Rivière & Son bookbinders & booksellers to H.M. King George V. London. This manuscript will not be duplicated. This manuscript was executed by me [signed] Alberto Sangorski London A.D. 1912.”– P. [63]
“The miniature illustrating the poem of The beggar maid was taken from the painting done by Sir Edward Burne-Jones in the Tate Gallery London. The miniature illustrating the poem of Hero to Leanderwas taken from the painting done by Lord Leighton, P.R.A. The miniature in the title page of Lord Tennyson was taken from the painting by Sir Hubert Herkomer, R.A. (and is copyright)”– P. [65]
Miniature of Tennyson, three miniatures of the May Queen, miniature of the Beggar Maid, miniature of Hero, two miniatures of Dora are initial-signed by Sangorski, and some are dated 1912.
Full blue morocco, inlaid and gilt in an over-all design with semi-precious stones and seed pearls, mounted on upper cover. Beige morocco doublures, inlaid with red, white and green morocco and gilt. Silk protective guards interleaved between some pages. All edges gilt. Stamp-signed on upper doublure: “Bound by Riviere & Son”. In silk-lined green morocco folding case.

  • Courtesy of Rare Book Collection, Detroit Public Library
The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in the University of Toronto

Inaugurated in 1973, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in the University of Toronto is named after Thomas Fisher (1792-1874), who played a significant role in the public life of the community from Yorkshire to Upper Canada. (Photo by Casey Maggs)

The library houses rare collections of Shakespeare, and various twentieth century authors. Since 1973, it has acquired 700,000 volumes and 3000 linear metres of manuscripts.