Beasts in the University Library

By , 11 April 2014 11:22 am

Guest post by Harriet Hale, Graduate Library Trainee at Trinity College. Cambridge.

One of the great things about a traineeship in Cambridge is that, with the central cluster of departmental and college libraries as well as the public Central Library and main University Library, there always seems to be something book-related going on. For the Science Festival, 10-23rd March 2014, the University Library welcomed festivalgoers for a number of talks examining the more technical side of books, including ‘Beasts in the University Library,’ examining the creation and conservation of parchment. Continue reading 'Beasts in the University Library'»

Pricking and Pouncing: Alchemical Discoveries in Special Collections

By , 11 March 2014 4:05 pm

By Anke Timmermann, Munby Fellow in Bibliography 2013-14


CUL MS Gg.1.8, f. 78r

Dragon, man and god combined: a winged messenger of alchemy past. My recent encounter with this personification of alchemical principles in a seventeenth-century manuscript (CUL MS Gg.1.8) was certainly unexpected. Described as a ‘small quarto, on paper, written in the XVIIth century’ containing three works on alchemy, the volume seemed innocuous enough. I was forewarned that I should find ‘allegorical illustrations’, among them this ‘adaptation of an ophite [intended to mean gnostic or esoteric] emblem’.[1] But like many deceptively unassuming manuscripts in Cambridge collections, this volume proved much more intriguing.

Who is this draconic gentleman? As ‘Spiritus Mercurialis’ he would be familiar to some readers of the works of C.G. Jung, where he is reproduced from an unidentified German manuscript of 1600, a rather colourful, red-booted and black-faced version of the Cantabrigian pencil sketch. The image is used on the cover of this recent edition of Jung’s Aspects of the Masculine. To the more versed reader of early modern printed books, however, he is recognisable as an illustration from Giovanni Battista Nazari, Il metamorfosi metallico et humano (Brescia, 1564), f. 28v.[2]

The affinity between Nazari’s work and the mystical-erotic-literary Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (full text available from Project Gutenberg) has been remarked upon variously in literature.[3] This dragon/man also reminds of fabulous illustrations of the apocalypse, military technology, dream visions or unusual books of hours of the Renaissance.[4]

CUL MS Gg.1.8, f. 78v

CUL MS Gg.1.8, f. 78v

The question of what brought our alchemical messenger creature to Cambridge is intriguing, even beyond the fact that the volume, as part of the two-letter classmarked collections, has a modern binding that does not represent an original collation of its contents. Unfortunately, the origins of this leaf in CUL MS Gg.1.8 are lost, or at least not obvious. But something both noticeable and notable reveals itself upon turning over the leaf: the figure’s outline is pricked, evenly, to create a ghost image on the reverse. When the page is held up against a light the figure appears, ‘illuminated’. The purpose of this pricking is clear: in order to produce an accurate, proportionate copy of this image all one would need to do is to encourage ink or a coloured powder to transfer through these prick holes onto a surface underneath. This method, known as pouncing, has been recently described in detail in the Folger Library’s blog. In a way, then, our allegorical figure travels in the spirit of reproduction. The French annotations surrounding this holy image detail the colours to be applied to finish the copy. An early modern version of joining the dots and drawing by numbers, if you will.

How many copies were actually produced (the page is clean but forcefully drawn, perhaps to avoid abrasion during pouncing?), how accurately the colour instructions were followed, and how they made their way through France, England or indeed Germany into manuscripts that would be perused by Carl Gustav Jung is a story that awaits discovery.

[1] Catalogue of the Manuscripts preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge by Henry Richards Luard vol. 3 (1858), entry 1403.

[2] This identification would have been much more time-consuming without the help of the Alchemy Website.

[3] See e.g. Didier Kahn, Alchimie et Paracelsisme en France à la fin de la Renaissance (1567-1625) (Geneva, 2007), 128; also pp. 207 and 664 on Nazari’s work and editions.

[4] On Konrad Keyser’s Bellifortis see also the images collected on Wikimedia.

Cambridge Bibliographical Society talk, 12 February 2014

By , 5 February 2014 4:30 pm

Dr Anke Timmermann (Munby Fellow) will give a paper on ‘Pictorial transformations: alchemy and images in Cambridge manuscripts’.

The talk will take place on Wednesday, 12 February, 5:00 pm in the Milstein Seminar Rooms, Cambridge University Library. Non-members are welcome and there is no admission charge. Tea is served from 4.30 pm.

Details of this year’s programme are available on the CBS website:

New acquisition: The Gili Collection of Spanish & Catalan books

By , 16 January 2014 2:30 pm

Rusiñol: Oracions (Barcelona: 1897)

The University Library has recently acquired a collection of over 70 titles from the library of the late Jonathan Gili (1943-2004), a documentary film-maker, small-press publisher and collector of eclectic tastes, and his wife Phyllida.  His father was Joan Gili, a publisher and a translator of Lorca who co-founded the most celebrated Spanish bookshop in Britain: Dolphin Books.  Jonathan Gili was passionate about printed ephemera. He collected many first editions and unique examples of art deco style in print form. His poetic vision of the world is exemplified in this collection, mostly consisting of Catalan and Spanish material ranging in date from the 16th to the 20th centuries. There are also items in Portuguese and Mallorquín, with a smaller number of items in French, Latin or Provençal, all somehow connected with the Iberian peninsula. Keep reading …

Samuel Sandars the collector

By , 6 January 2014 3:15 pm

An example of Sandars’ fondness for beautiful bindings. An English gilt binding c.1600 on “Discorsi del molto r. padre d. Vitale Zuccolo sopra le cinquanta Conclusioni del sig. Torquato Tasso” (Bergamo: 1588) SSS.56.11

A few weeks ago, Cambridge University Library advertised this year’s competition for the 2014 Rose Book-Collecting Prize [entries due no later than Tuesday 14th January], which offers students the chance to win £500 by building their own book collections. It is advised that “the judges will make their decision based on the intelligence and originality of the collection, its coherence […], as well as the thought, creativity and persistence demonstrated by the collector and the condition of the books. The monetary value of the collections will not be a factor in determining the winning entry…”.  These qualities are perfectly demonstrated in the collections of two nineteenth-century collectors; John Couch Adams and Samuel Sandars, which I recently had the chance to explore. Both collections were bequeathed to the University Library in the 1890s, and both were built by proud Cambridge alumni, but they both illustrate different aspects of the qualities enumerated above.

Keep reading …

A Rare Books Advent Calendar: 25th December

By , 25 December 2013 8:30 am

With all good wishes for Christmas

“I had been watching a little solitary robin, as he hopped from bough to bough, when suddenly the bright, clear bells of the village church rang out their cheery invitation to the service”.
From The Christmas bells, by Alfred Miles; part of “The bright surprise for little eyes” series (London: [1884?]), classmark 1884.7.702



A Rare Books Advent Calendar: 24th December

By , 24 December 2013 8:30 am

Priscilla Underwood, When Christmas comes around (London: 1915), classmark 1916.11.3

Tim Munby’s donations to Cambridge University Library

By , 23 December 2013 2:30 pm

Tim Munby (1913-1974)

In June the Special Collections blog advertised an exhibition in the Library to coincide with a conference – held at King’s College – in honour of Tim Munby, Librarian of King’s from 1947 until his early death in 1974, who was born a century ago this year.  The exhibition drew extensively on Tim’s own library of sale catalogues and bibliographical works, a large portion of which (1800 volumes) was purchased by the University Library after his death.  But with the actual centenary of his birth approaching (he was born on Christmas Day 1913), we thought this a good time to consider the many donations he made to the Library during his lifetime.  These include four incunabula (in addition to a further incunable owned by Munby which was bought by the Library), recently catalogued online as part of the Library’s five-year incunabula cataloguing project, and many rare eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books.

Keep reading …

A Rare Books Advent Calendar: 23rd December

By , 23 December 2013 8:30 am

“What sweeter music can we bring, than a carol for to sing, the birth of this, our heavenly King”.
From W. S. W. Anson’s Christmas book of carols and songs (London: 1906?), illustration facing p. 86 (classmark 1906.8.789)

A Rare Books Advent Calendar: 22nd December

By , 22 December 2013 8:30 am

“Down the hillside, to the very edge”, from Jack Frost’s Oh dear look at the snow (London: 1884), classmark 1884.11.51