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CERL Grant - 2018 reports

From Beatrice Alai and James Misson, CERL Internship and Placement Grant at the Beinecke Library, July-August 2018

The two-month internship at the Beinecke Library was a great experience, since we were able to work on an amazing collection, the provenances of which had hitherto not been thoroughly analysed. Before presenting the highlights of the library, a few words about our host: the Beinecke was the perfect environment in which to contribute to MEI, since the staff had a deep knowledge of the collection and provided us all the materials needed to catalogue, such as acquisition records and documents related to the provenances; the director, curators and librarians were always ready to help us with stamp identifications, for instance, and explained the most complicated knots of the history of the library. They arranged meetings with senior librarians who could clarify some issues related to the books we were working on, and even organized a meeting with one of the booksellers involved in a purchase. Last but not least, they were all so kind and welcoming and did everything they could to accommodate us – our thanks go especially to Todd Fell and Ray Clemens for their expertise and hospitality. The Beinecke itself was a very stimulating place, engaging us with weekly talks with other researchers and providing us the ideal conditions to deepen our studies of the incunabula.

The MEI project suited the Beinecke collection perfectly: we were able to figure out a general context in which we subsequently located each incunabulum under consideration, linking it with a peculiar moment and with a specific donor or collector. Moreover, there was enough evidence to encourage us to dig further and allow us to create consistent, clear entries for almost all the books we studied. We could also rely on a conservation room and we were able to take pictures of the books. A part of our job focused on parchment incunabula or on incunabula with some parchment waste in the bindings. Some of these were lavishly illuminated, or decorated with fine woodcuts. The most spectacular of these were a Florentine book of hours with elegant decorated margins, a copy of a Cicero Epistles bearing the coat of arms of the Venetian Priuli family, a Ferrarese breviary commissioned by Ercole d’Este, and two copies of a book of hours with woodcuts painted by Jean Pichore and his workshop.

Secondly, we worked on 13 extraordinary volumes originally part of the Pilloni library in Belluno. This was one of the most renowned Renaissance libraries, holding about 200 books, with each fore-edge painted with a portrait of the author. The library was split up by the end of the nineteenth century, passing through the hands of many booksellers and collectors, until a small group was bought by an American bookseller and resold to the Beinecke. The finest quality of these, still with the original bindings and with notes of the former owner, Antonio Pilloni, together with the several witnesses of the other owners, revealed to us a satisfying amount of information to add to MEI’s provenance records. These highlights will be described and presented in an article, which, thanks to the generosity of the curators, we will be able to publish in the next months. We also added all of the Beinecke’s English incunabula in MEI. This includes several landmarks of English printing: a leaf from Caxton’s Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, the first book printed in English, and several copies of the Book of Saint Alban’s, the earliest instance of colour printing in England. Most interesting in terms of provenance were several books of Chaucer’s works, including a well-loved copy of The Canterbury Tales, which had been thoroughly annotated to reveal a seventeenth-century reader’s interest in the book’s bawdiest passages.

Furthermore, we concentrated on a big group of German incunabula, whose provenances were interesting to track down, such as Minorite convents or monasteries in Bavaria or from the east border, once belonging to Germany and now part of Poland. We observed that the majority of these books arrived at the Beinecke between October 1945 and 1946, from donors or purchased by the Yale biggest funders.

We were also able to create a lot of new owners records, mostly describing American businessmen collecting books in the early twentieth century, or great scholars related to Yale. One of the most famous donors was Louis Rabinowitz, followed by the brothers Beinecke and Charles Sterling. A new record was dedicated to the New York bookseller responsible for the Pillone purchase. On several occasions we had the chance to update older owner records with valuable information. Many of the records we have created will be updated and completed in the coming months. Towards the end of our stay at Yale, we gave a presentation to the Beinecke staff, demonstrating the applications of MEI and how an entry is constructed. We also consulted with the curators at the Center for British Art on the possibility of adding their collection of English incunabula in the future. The CERL internship at the Beinecke was very positive experience, and we hope that it will be continued!

[124 copies are now in MEI]

From Ester C. Peric, CERL Internship and Placement Grant at Cambridge UL, August 2018

The CERL Internship and Placement Grant 2017/18 allowed me to work as an intern at the Rare Books Department at Cambridge University Library from 1 to 31 August 2018, under the supervision of Dr. Emily Dourish.

The task I’ve been assigned consisted in updating MEI records for the incunabula owned by the Library. Since I had the chance to select a section I was particularly interested in, I choose to work on Italian incunabula and I began with books printed in Padua (I’m more familiar with these editions because of the topic of my MA thesis, a list of printed books sold in this city in 1480). Then, I went on with incunabula printed in Treviso, Mantua, Verona, Parma, Cremona and Vicenza, updating roughly 120 records.

The existing descriptions of Italian incunabula, available on the Library online catalogue (iDiscover), are already very accurate and detailed, since they were written a few years ago by a scholar like Dr. Laura Nuvoloni. Comparing these descriptions to the books I was able to hold in my hands has been an incredibly useful training for me, as I improved a lot my knowledge in dating and locating evidence. I’ve learned for example how a decorated initial in a 16th century English hand looks like, and I perfected my skills in reading and dating handwriting. I’m confident I will be able to apply this valuable expertise to the books I will be seeing from this moment onwards.

The catalogue records have been imported into MEI, but this rich amount of data has been altered in its order and structure. Especially the volumes containing multiple editions have created some issues, since only the first item has been successfully recognised and its description imported in the database. This resulted in inconsistencies between the number of editions actually owned by the Library, and the number registered in the database. It was therefore necessary to re-structure the data, following MEI guidelines, paying specific attention to link the provenance evidence to time, people and places, and to create new MEI records for the editions that have been left out.

I was also able to correct some minor mistakes in the catalogue descriptions and to add a few new provenance information, as well as, for each edition, the measures of the leaves and the description of watermarks. This kind of evidence is essential: as Paul Needham has always remarked, recognising the size of the paper leaves used to print a specific edition is fundamental for a proper bibliographical analysis and since it can only be obtained by comparing the measures of multiple copies, all of which have been differently trimmed and bound, the contribution of (possibly) every holding institution is important.

The evidence offered by watermarks patterns and designs can also be very useful to scholars that are trying to find cancellans, variants, or to gain a deeper insight into the practices of Renaissance printing presses. I tried therefore to be as accurate as possible, noting the presence of particular designs used in just few gatherings, or the great variety of watermarks inside one single copy.

While updating MEI records, I was also learning about the Library collections and the people that helped to build them, such as George Dunn, Samuel Sandars, or John Couch Adams. Some of the MEI records for these former owners were very poor, therefore I updated them with basic information taken from the DNB (Dictionary of National Biography), trying also to solve some inconsistencies with the presence of multiple records for a single owner.

I also paid special attention to the shelfmarks I came across, in the attempt to recognize historical patterns: though I had just a limited insight into the Library collections, I was able to link some patterns to owners like Francis Jenkinson and Stephen Gaselee (who used to assign their books a framed Arabic number), as I became more familiar with the Library old shelfmarks.

During my stay in Cambridge I was also able to visit other libraries: Queen’s College Library, the Wren Library at Trinity College, the Whipple Library, the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College and the Pepys Library at Magdalene College. This was a wonderful addition to my daily work at the CUL, and a great opportunity to learn about different kind of collections, as well as to meet amazing people. I didn’t miss the wonders of the Cambridge University Library, and I was guided by the Library staff through the Rare Book stores, up into the Tower, in the Digital Library Unit and in the Conservation and Collection Care Department.

Finally, I spent some time working with prof. Neil Harris on the McLeod collator, collating copies of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. This has been a good excuse to get this interesting machine out of the storage, which then attracted the interest and the curiosity of the staff. On my last day we held therefore a little session about how to set up and use this instrument.

From Krisztina Rábai, University of Szeged, CERL Internship and Placement Grant at Edinburgh NLS, June 2018

I would like to thank for the opportunity to participate on CERL internship and work with the collection of incunabula of NLS. I hope you and the members of the committee (who supported/accepted my application) were satisfied with my work in Edinburgh. I felt very fortunate to be there, study and work in a friendly and supportive environment with that unique collection.

From Robert Betteridge, Edinburgh, NLS

It was a pleasure to work with Krisztina who brought both knowledge and enthusiasm to the internship and we were very happy to work with her. She was able to decipher some previously unrecorded provenances and to apply a critical eye to some of our existing ones. We’d certainly like the opportunity to take another intern next year to continue the work. If you need a more detailed report please let me know but otherwise I’d just like to say thanks again for providing us with the opportunity to contribute to MEI.

[278 copies are now in MEI]

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 collaboration/internship/2018alairabaimissonperic.txt · Last modified: 2018/12/13 16:08 by lefferts



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