Book Excerpt



New Castle, Delaware and London, UK: Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2007. 6 x 9 inches. cloth, dust jacket. 180 pages. First edition. Movements of books, both as individual volumes and as collections, have sometimes covered long distances across many centuries. Subject to the vagaries of war, shipwreck and personal ruin, as well as the intervention of the book trade and of collectors, the travels of books often have an intricately detailed and..... READ MORE

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WHEN A BOOK has been written and printed, the copies of the edition begin what might be called 'a dance to the music of time'. Anthony Powell uses the image of the painting by Nicolas Poussin, a specialist in rhythm and design, to emphasize the way in which the apparently random experiences of his characters are held together in a structure which embraces both space and time. Within it the patterns of coalescence and dispersal are instantly renewed and, though local circumstances are forever-changing and individuals drop in and out, the dance continues with its own internal logic. With books the scale and complexity of movement is much greater and yet the elements of a coherent pattern may sometimes be discernible within the apparent chaos of detail.

The acquisition of a copy of a book - whether by gift, purchase, theft or any other means - provides a fixed point whereby the book becomes, often briefly, part of a present accumulation of material which is seldom recorded or preserved. Nothing can guarantee the collective survival of a group of books, though individual libraries created by extreme wealth or the most persistent kinds of scholarship can sometimes take on a unity of form which enables them to move through time. This may be no more than a virtual process, based on the survival of catalogues, lists or descriptions. Sometimes it is a real transmission, particularly when personal collections have been absorbed into public or private institutions better able to resist the disruptive elements of family disaster, commercial intervention or political upheaval. Even then, the identity of individual collections may be lost and sometimes can only painfully be reconstructed from fragments of information available through marks on the books themselves. The history of collections, as well as the history of individual titles caught up in the vortex of events which follow publication and acquisition, forms the subject of the essays in this volume.

How can the movement of books through space and time become the subject of bibliographical investigation? As James Raven has pointed out in his introduction to Lost Libraries (2004), 'How books and libraries have been lost is often surprisingly unclear.' He might have added that how they have been preserved is often equally mysterious. In these essays, contributors consider examples from the sixteenth to the twentieth century to chart some of the paths followed by books through the European networks of acquisition and dispersal. This is sometimes a gripping story involving pirates, shipwreck and international conflict. Sometimes it is centred on quieter aspem of human activity, such as the marks of ownership and reading on individual copies, or annotations in auction catalogues, or the business of buying and selling itself. One of the most interesting areas of current research in book history is concerned with interpreting the clues from copies and piecing together the documentary evidence to provide a narrative. In attempting to capture this elusive process, in which books, events and people are continuously in motion, Books on the Move provides a glimpse of the shifting interactions over time between libraries, collectors and the book trade.

Peter Beal describes some of the mysterious ways in which printed and manuscript material can appear, disappear and reappear again. Manuscripts lost through war, fire, flood, theft, vengeance, state censorship or mere negligence have been known to reappear in very strange circumstances. Dr Beal also draws attention to the importance of facsimiles which, in the case of a manuscript which has subsequently been lost, can provide a valuable record for scholars and may even prove to be useful for identifying fragments of the lost original.

David Pearson chooses three English translations of Julius Caesar, published at approximately 50-year intervals between 1590 and 1695, to test a methodology which has been used to good effect by incunabulists but has rarely been applied to later books. Having located almost 90 copies of the three editions, he compares information from as many copies as possible, looking at readers' annotations, marks of ownership, decoration and binding, to try to identify common features and changes over time in how the three editions were marketed, owned and used. This approach, Pearson suggests, may become one of the most fruitful future directions for book history.

In 'The Creation and Dispersal of the Library of Gian Vincenzo Pinelli', Angela Nuovo tells a sad tale of a gradually disappearing library of great rarity and magnificence. She explains how Pinelli was able to build up a collection in Padua of classical and scientific books, and scientific instruments, its walls adorned with portraits of illustrious men, intended to attract and support a circle of visiting scholars. Following Pinelli's death, it was decided to send the collection to Naples by sea, on a long circular voyage around the Italian coast, to avoid the delays and uncertainties of numerous frontier crossings on land. One of the ships was intercepted by Turkish pirates, plundered and sunk. The remaining two thirds of the library were bought at auction in Naples by Cardinal Borromeo and sent to Milan. Borromeo's vision was entirely different from Pinelli's and he sold off what did not fit in: Angela Nuovo has recently discovered some strays from this collection in Rome. The rest of Pinelli's books were absorbed into the Biblioteca Ambrosiana where, in August 1943, most were lost in the flames of an air raid.

Astrid Balsem selects a single book from the collection of Andreas Dudith, known as 'the Hungarian Erasmus', to show how chance controls the fate of libraries. She describes how Dudith's copy of the second edition of Agostino Steuco's De perenni philosophia (Basel, 1542) survived 150 years of war and destruction. Looted by the soldiers of Queen Christina of Sweden, it found its way into the personal possession of her librarian, Isaac Vossius, possibly as part-payment for his services. With the aid of early library and sale catalogues, Astrid Balsem plots this copy's circuitous route from 'the bookseller's counter' through Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, England, and finally back to the Netherlands to find its resting place in the library of the University of Leiden.

The complex 'odyssey' of the manuscripts belonging to Gerard and Johan Meerman is traced by Jos van Heel. The most important part of this collection had come from the Jesuit College de Clermont, following the ban on the Jesuit order in 1762. Gerard Meerman purchased more than 850 manuscripts en bloc in Paris in 1764, but these were seized by the French authorities and only released after much negotiation and bargaining. He later destroyed or discarded some of the manuscripts, as Jos van Heel shows, because they did not match his criteria for collecting. It had been intended that Meerman's library should remain in the house bequeathed by his son to the city of The Hague, but the books and manuscripts were put up for auction in Amsterdam in 1824, attracting booksellers and collectors from all over Europe. One of the main purchasers was Sir Thomas Phillipps, whose death in 1872 led to a further diaspora of manuscripts during the long series of Phillipps sales, spanning almost a century. Meerman manuscripts are now to be found in libraries in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague, Leeuwarden, Leiden, London, New Haven, Oxford, Paris and elsewhere.

Cristina Dondi draws on her extensive study of fifteenth-century books of hours printed in Italy to investigate the reasons for their rarity today, by comparison with examples printed in France. Looking closely at the patterns of ownership of the surviving copies, she suggests that they disappeared from circulation very early, probably owing to a change in reading habits in the second half of the sixteenth century. Convent and monastery libraries gave shelter to a few copies for two or three centuries after their common use had stopped, and it was the suppression of religious institutions that brought copies on the market and into the hands of collectors in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The library of the Belgian aristocrat Gustave van Havre (1817-92) included a rich and specialized collection of early printed books, particularly rare Antwerp imprints, as well as an important collection of books on the history of the city. When van Havre's son Albert died in 1904, his heirs tried to dispose of the library by public auction in Amsterdam. Pierre Delsaerdt describes the battle to retain the library for Antwerp, detailing the City Librarian's struggle with short-sighted bureaucratic and trade interests, which finally, with the help of a group of wealthy, public-spirited bibliophiles, saved much of the collection for the City Library and the Plantin-Moretus Museum. As Dr Delsaerdt concludes, the history of van Havre's library illustrates perfectly what has been called 'the shift from private to public book collecting in Belgium'. A detailed study of this process, and of the earlier collectors responsible for the survival of books now in institutional collections, provides a valuable insight into how far these collections are genuinely representative of the past.

The present volume is the twenty-seventh in the series of proceedings of the annual conference on book trade history, which started in 1979. This conference was held at Wesley's Chapel in City Road on 1 and 2 December 2006, under the auspices of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association and with student bursaries from the Bibliographic Society.

Robin Myers
Michael Harris
Giles Mandelbrote

June 2007