Rare books collection

To celebrate the completion of our work with our rare books, we want to provide an introduction to this remarkable collection.

First of all, just how “rare” are these books? Some which have found their way into this collection are more commonplace, such as Charles Booth’s Life and Labour, which has been reprinted many times and is a social study of poverty- the one in our collection is a 2nd edition copy. And then there are volumes such as Oeuvres morales et meslees, a translation in French of Plutarch’s essays about morals which was originally written in Greek. This latter item is from the 16th century, and has subsequently been rebound due to its age.

The topics these books cover include art, history, sculpture, photography, religion, architecture and engineering. The dates of publishing range from the 1500s to the 1900s and some are first editions as well as some which are facsimiles- a copy of a book that is supposed to emulate the original. There are scrapbooks, manuscripts, printed texts and musical scores. Here you can see a small sample of what lies within the pages.

The books themselves can be visually astounding, with covers featuring antique designs and the pages within featuring illustrations. One of my favourites was Great Flower Books 1700 – 1900: A Bibliographical Record of Two Centuries of Finely-Illustrated Flower Books which is a heavily illustrated book featuring a variety of flora. Here we can see a classic marbled book cover, the prominence of the use of the colour gold for decoration and text and the lack of titles being printed on the cover.

The purpose of our recent work was to make this collection accessible to the public. The work undertaken by our Archive Assistants included preservation tasks, e.g. cleaning the books and arranging them to avoid further damage to spines, and sorting the list we had of the books, which detailed publication dates and authors, so that this can be added to the catalogue. If you wish to take a look at the collection search for HUD/LB/2/9/3 in the reference box at http://heritagequay.org/archives or click this link http://heritagequay.org/archives/HUD/LB/2/9/3/. And if you want to see one of these books in person, email us to book an appointment.

Archivist’s Toolbox-Palaeography

The focus of this blog is the tradition of palaeography, i.e. the study of historical handwriting. This skill is important for transcription of ancient, medieval and post-medieval texts and for understanding the development of writing itself. This blog attempts to introduce the topic by covering some of the key ideas that are relevant to palaeographers as they attempt to decipher a post-medieval text.

Throughout the centuries different styles of handwriting have become popularised. The modern handwriting style was founded with the italic style in the 14th to 16th centuries. This image shows some of the ways in which letters have been written in different styles of handwriting. This expresses why palaeography is a learned skill, since without knowledge of these letter shapes their presentation might be quite confusing to someone trying to read a document.

From looking at handwriting we can often see stylistic flairs that it helps to learn when interpreting an individual writer’s text. This example from our gas company collection (20th century) demonstrates that the scribe often joins words together and exhibits the different ways they write the letter ‘t’. Whilst it is useful to familiarise yourself with a writer’s style, it is also important to recognise that it may change throughout their life. Therefore, alongside learning the popular styles of the time, it is helpful to also pay close attention to specific individuals and the way they write.

Spelling could also differ, e.g. said being spelt sayd, and scribes often used abbreviations to shorten words, e.g. ‘wch’ for ‘which’ uses superscript letters. It is these historic ways of writing that have fallen out of fashion. If we consider modern language we notice that it changes all the time, whether that is the invention of a new slang term, a word to describe a scientific idea or abbreviations popularised via social media.

Transcribing a text can often feel like solving a puzzle. Making decisions about what handwriting style, date and individual letters are present discloses the content and, occasionally, context of historical documents, allowing you to glimpse aspects of life from centuries ago. We run palaeography courses here at Heritage Quay for students and researchers, so if you are interested please send us an email at archives@hud.ac.uk. If you want to read more about the topic and practice some examples, check out The National Archives pages at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/default.htm.

If you fancy having an attempt at transcribing, make sense of the image below from a 17th century Indenture which is one of the earliest legal documents we have at our archive. This is just a snippet of the document so the sentences aren’t complete. The answer will be in the comments below so don’t scroll till you’ve had a go.

If you’re a University of Huddersfield student the archive runs regular classes on how to pick up skills in palaeography 1500-2000! Just contact the archive for more information – archives@hud.ac.uk