Counting books

I’m taking the easy route over Easter and will be blogging about removing mould from books in the next instalment. However, here’s an interesting short post on “counting books” in a library collection as part of the nation-wide effort to update the Directory of Rare Books and Special Collections, edited by Karen Attar, Rare Books Librarian at Senate House Library in London. Although in this case the quantification of the collection was limited to what has already been catalogued, it is also a very useful tool to pull together, relatively quickly, a statistical breakdown of items in a collection that still await cataloguing (so-called “hidden collections“).
Two years ago, I did a report for the Angus Library in Regent’s Park College, Oxford, which concentrated on their hidden collection of several thousand books. They were not entirely sure how many uncatalogued items they had, from what period the books dated and where they had been printed. In addition, I recorded languages, provenances, interesting bindings and checked pre-1800 books against national STCs. The advantage of looking at each book was that I could also make some general observations about the physical state of this part of the collection.
Without cataloguing the individual items to antiquarian standards (which is what is currently happening), I was able to present a relatively detailed overview of the Angus’s hidden holdings.

Interesting bindings from the Angus Library

Angus 1In Spring 2012, when I did an assessment of the “hidden collection” in the Angus Library (Regent’s Park College, Oxford), I came across a number of interesting bindings. Although some of these books are in need of conservation, their current state gives us an insight into the materials bookbinders might use to cover books. In the first example (above), a piece of textile has been glued on to the centre of the spine – I’m not entirely sure about its purpose.  Was it to strengthen the text block or to hold it together before it was sewn? The thick cords would not have been visible once the spine cover was added. The spine cover of this “quarter binding” was made out of vellum reinforced with printer’s waste. The board covers are out of so-called “Buntpapier” (a German term for paper which is hand-coloured). The book is an eighteenth-century Leipzig publication and this is a contemporary binding.

Angus 2

The second example (on the right) shows a book-length strip of manuscript waste which is used as a sewing support. Normally, it would have been invisible behind the pastedown, which is evidently no longer there in this seventeenth-century publication.

Angus 3Personally, I quite like this one: it is probably an eighteenth-century publisher’s (temporary) binding of felt over paper boards. The felt has evidently been subject to some insect activity and part of the spine cover is lost as a consequence.

The Angus Library was recently awarded Heritage Lottery funding to increase access to its collections. The Library maintains a blog, for which their Antiquarian Cataloguer regularly contributes information on exciting finds. The staff also occasionally mount small exhibitions of books from their collection. To find out more, follow this link. A selection of their treasures is also accessible via this online exhibition.