Last week, two 19th-century Russian books were brought to me by a Rare Books colleague who had found by chance that they had no record in the online catalogue. An invisible title is a librarian’s (and reader’s) nightmare – without catalogue records, we may as well be without books. Now that these two volumes, lost to readers (except those still dipping into the old physical guard book catalogues) for decades, have been found, I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate them in a blog post.
A recent addition to the Library’s online Revolution exhibition is a book about the controversial White General Lavr Kornilov who was killed in 1918. Having identified it in the catalogue by searching for Kornilov, I strangely couldn’t find the record when I later searched by its author. Our catalogue record, it transpired, was for the wrong book…
The six exhibits for the April 1918 part of the exhibition; the Kornilov book is top left.
The December 2017 item of the month was held up in the post, so with apologies here is a lovely festive card sent on 20 December 1967 to celebrate the incoming new year.
In the Soviet period, Christmas played a much-diminished role – new year celebrations took on much of Christmas’ character and iconography, and New Year’s Eve remains the main time for present-giving in much of the former Soviet bloc to this day. In the card above, we have Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) being ferried by a troika of horses, with the Kremlin star shining in the background.
This lovely card was sent from Nizhnii Tagil, a town in the Sverdlovsk Region, to the small Norwegian town of Vikersund. The fact that the Russian sender had a personalised stamp for his details (a sign that he was well established), bottom right, made me hope that he and the recipient might be traceable – and so it turned out to be the case.
Rudol’f Kopylov was an artist and Thor Skullerud was a pharmacist – what linked them appears to have been bookplates. Kopylov specialised in the production of ex-libris and Skullerud was an avid commissioner of them. For readers of Russian, here is more about Kopylov in connection with an exhibition of some of his works in 2014: http://www.shr-ekb.ru/exibitions.php?exid=144; for all, here is a link to some of the bookplates he produced which commemorate the poet Sergei Esenin: http://www.esenin.ru/esenin-v-izobrazitelnom-iskusstve/ekslibris/kopylov-r-v Skullerud is harder to pin down in terms of biographical details, but here are some of the ex-libris he had made for him: http://art-exlibris.net/person/1922 It would seem that several of his bookplates are now in the Rijksmuseum, but copyright sensitivity prevents the museum from providing images: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/search?q=skullerud
Somewhere, presumably, there is a bookplate designed by Kopylov for Skullerud to be found, but I have yet to track it down. Ex-libris are the subject of many books in the UL. A search for the subject bookplates will provide long lists. Among the results will be a formidable Russian publication which lists all bookplates found in the holdings of the rare books department of the Gosudarstvennaia publichnaia istoricheskaia biblioteka (the State Public Historical Library). Listed by name of owner, the set has covered only three letters of the alphabet and already stands at four volumes. Once complete, it will be an extraordinary resource. It can be consulted via the West Room and stands at 874.d.70-73.
Happy New Year to all our readers.
Bell, Book and Candle are symbolic objects in the term that describes an archaic form of excommunication, as well as being the title of a 1950s Broadway comedy, the book representing faith and learning. But I suggest that another term ‘precious object’ can be applied to individual copies of books which memorialize important relationships usually through inscription. Newton’s own annotated copy of his Principia in Cambridge University Library is an example of a precious object because of the intimate relation that particular copy has with the author through his annotations. But the precious object is the physical book itself not its printed text. Three examples of books that are ‘precious objects’ are in the Liberation Collection 1944-1946 in Cambridge University Library, a collection of books, still being added to, published mainly in France after the Liberation of Paris and before the end of 1946 on the subjects of the war, the occupation and the liberation. Two books are by collaborators and one is by a member of the resistance. The two collaborators, who were actively sympathetic to the Nazi cause and all that it stood for, were both killed before the war had ended for what they believed in while the resistance fighter survived the war and lived on into old age.
Details of provenance, and other information on what makes the Library’s copies of a publication distinctive, form an increasingly important part of processing activity for the European Collections and Cataloguing team. Thirty years ago the Rare Book Department used to maintain a card catalogue of provenance information, albeit on a very selective basis. Nowadays we incorporate such detail into our cataloguing records, often trying to reproduce inscriptions in full, and providing access points for former owners, dedicatees and inscribers. This can, of course, be challenging, since none of us are handwriting specialists. Anyone familiar with early 20th century German handwriting, for example, as represented in the Library’s Schnitzler Archive, can have no doubt on that score. Schnitzler’s handwriting is hugely difficult. Continue reading