Wednesday 10 June 2015

GUEST POST: Annotated treasures at the Library of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

This months guest post is from Jennifer Evans the Assistant Librarian at the Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. She also keeps a beautiful blog of gems from their collection which is definitely worth looking at:

The Library at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

The Library at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales primarily holds collections that reflect the museum’s curatorial departments; Art, Archaeology & Numismatics, Industry and the Natural Sciences. However, over the years we have been the welcome recipient of several generous loans and donations and have built up a collection of some very unusual and eclectic early books.  

Special Collections in the Library at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

However, today I’d like to share a selection of items we hold that are absolutely unique. These are annotated books, and whereas normally this would fill any decent Librarian with dread, these items were annotated long ago and one always hopes, by the owner. 

Instructions for collecting and preserving insects; particularly moths and butterflies by William Curtis [1771]

This 1771 edition of Instructions for collecting and preserving insects; particularly moths and butterflies by William Curtis [1771] has been annotated with the most exquisite watercolour insects. We do not know who added these drawings but we think we know why; another edition we hold, has a plate of illustrations but this one does not and therefore someone has copied the illustrations [plus many others] into the margins. 

We have a strong collection of early natural history books greatly enhanced by the Willoughby Gardner Donation bequeathed to the museum in 1953. Included in this collection are our only two incunabula [pre-1501 books], as well as writings by Conrad Gesner and other 16th and 17th century writers. Gardner’s interests were varied, but he had a most particular penchant for bees, wasps and butterflies, evident in the exceptional insect and Aurelian works by, among others, Moses Harris, Benjamin Wilkes and Thomas Moffet. 

Cambria Depicta by William Pugh [1816] is an observant and amusing account of a walking tour of North Wales

We also have a strong collection of Welsh topographical books; these late 18th and early 19th century tours of Wales are mostly accounts written by well-to-do early tourists, mainly from England, and together with some very interesting illustrations, they provide an invaluable picture of the country at this time. And within this collection is a copy of Cambria Depicta [1816] by Edward Pugh.

This is an observant and amusing account of a walking tour of North Wales; the book contains 68 various engravings, and gives very detailed descriptions of a journey that took the author almost 10 years to complete. It offers a unique insight to the history and poetry of the time, and is therefore considered to be a true representation of North Wales two hundred years ago.

Before this book ever came to us, someone had written extensive notes and sketched exquisite drawings in the margins. These are no random doodles, all drawings and written notes relate specifically to the text itself.

This two volumed work, Memoirs of Lord Bolingbroke  by George Wingrove Cooke [1836]  is an example of fore-edge painting

This last example of annotated books concerns fore-edge paintings; images painted onto either of the three fore-edges of a book.

This two volume work, Memoirs of Lord Bolingbroke, by George Wingrove Cooke, [1836] is an example of “single disappearing fore-edge painting”. Single, because the painting appears only on one edge of the book. Disappearing, because the painting was done when the pages of the books were slightly bent over, thereby allowing the image to be painted along the very edge of the pages. When the image dries the book is allowed back into its original state and the image effectively disappears.

Memoirs of Lord Bolingbroke  by George Wingrove Cooke [1836] Volume I showing fore-edge painting of Caernarfon Castle

Memoirs of Lord Bolingbroke  by George Wingrove Cooke [1836] Volume II showing fore-edge painting of Conwy Castle

The earliest fore-edge paintings date as far back as the 10th century and were mostly symbolic designs. Early English examples, believed to date from the 14th century, presented heraldic designs in gold and other colors. The first known example of a disappearing fore-edge painting like these, where the painting is not visible when the book is closed, dates from around 1649. The earliest signed and dated example is from 1653. These books were purchased specifically because of their fore-edge paintings, the two volumes have watercolour images depicting Caernarfon Castle and Conwy Castle

To conclude, and still on the subject of unique books, the following photographs show some surprising items we have found nestled between the pages: 

Hayward's Botanist's pocket book by W.R. Hayward [this edition 1930]

Insectorum sive minimorum animalium theatrum [Theatre of Insects] by Thomas Moffet [this edition 1634]

The Fern Paradise by Francis George Heath [1876]

We are resigned to the fact that we will probably never know who painted the marginalia and fore-edge images and most certainly will never know who placed the butterfly wings, scorpion sketch and ferns between the pages of these books. But, this very fact makes these mysterious and wonderful additions to our special collections.

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Jennifer Evans
Assitant Librarian
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

All photographs taken by the author
Copyright Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

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