Booksleuthing some more in an Australian colonial library

Booksleuthing; how I love that term. Yes I feel like a detective of books, finding out about how they were made, who printed them, and the significance of their images. I was never very good at symbolism, and this is a great big learning curve of imagery.

A few months back I visited Sonia’s library at Bedervale. Here is a reminder.

I returned this week for champagne and cheese, and while passing by the library, I couldn’t help but take a few more pictures and search some books.

I found a nice, if not somewhat worn, example of tree calf marbling:

This is a tricky process process involving water and ferrous sulphate being dropped on a piece of leather already attached to the covers. That is a very simple explanation indeed, and there are many articles written on the subject, one of which can be found at Hewitt’s website

However, this article is not about tree calf marbling, rather about discovery.

Lesley had been completely entranced by a travel guide to Syria and Egypt, printed in 1788. Using my handy phone torch in lieu of light sheet, I found these fleur de lis watermarks at the gutter and on the edges of the pages.

The above watermarks reminded me of these below:

This is the first time I have been able to find the same marks in differing books. The one above are in a book printed in 1810 in London,

Introduccion para la historia de la revolucion de Espana bound with An exposure of the arts and machinations which led to the usurpation of the crown of Spain. London, 1808. (RB CLI 3320)

Note that the mark on the left is most similar to the ones I found in the colonial travel book as it is positioned between the chainlines.


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Printer’s devices 1480 onwards

I was looking for some database or images of printer’s devices. These are the branding images used by printers in early books. Since I couldn’t find any, here are the devices I have found, along with corresponding names.I have also included title pages in case I couldn’t find a printer symbol.

I do have a couple of marks for the Plantin printery, the Sonnius printery.

I was searching for the Vatican printers marks. I have seen many books printed by the Vatican by no decisive mark. Anyone out there able to point me in the right direction?

ok, so I got impatient with trying to find all these devices on my computer.

I hope you enjoy them, and as I add more to this gallery I will update the details.

I would be happy to hear about any info you may have about any of these devices.


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Scandinavian superstitions and folklore – Olai Magni

WARNING: this is a long post, mostly full of (interesting) images. It’s all about one book.

red and blue foredge

The red and blue stripes caught my eye; unfortunately

Historia Olai Magni archiepiscopi Vpsalensis, de gentium septentrionalium variis conditionibus statibusue, & de morum, ritrum, superstitionum … mirabili diversitate  – NLA RBq CLI 4074A (bib ID: 2615549)

did not contain any watermarks.

This tome by Olaf Månsson, (Magnus Olaus), once Bishop of Uppsala, was published in 1567 in Basle. It was printed by Henric Petrina, or Henricus Petrinus. It was probably written while he was in exile in Rome.


However this is an impressive tome in many respects; Its pigskin over wooden boards is blind tooled. A series of blind tooled lines have formed panels within which are florets and heads of people, perhaps famous scandinavian heroes, perhaps saints. The centre panel sports a coat of arms with a motto: Reichenstein Casparus ….   ……   ……, with three indistinct small words

Its clasps, which would have closed at the top, are missing.

It is sewn on 4 double supports with a chevron style endband. As is typical of this style, where the supports are laced into the boards, the binder has tooled a little triangle.

I have talked a little about books in the past, and I think I needed to cover more detail. I chose this example because the illustrations inside are terrific. However, let me first show you some of the more quirky things about it.

So, I am not quite sure whether this was meant as a true account of the history of the Scandinavian countries or simply folktales, however the illustrations are fantastical and although humerous to us today, were probably quite scary to those who could read.

Here are a few capital letters which, upon close inspection, are quite hilarious. It is interesting that this style of humour and perhaps also commentary was retained from the art of the illuminators of the previous century.

Here is one map from the text:

Scandinavian map

One map

Illustrations such as these can tell us a lot about what people believed and also how they actually lived. Presumably the details in the images of the boats may be correct, even if the image of the monsters don’t quite gel with reality. The forests on the maps reminds me of Lord of the Rings. This simple map, to me, reflects a simpler time where beliefs don’t always agree with reality : there is a river and a road and some trees, and a village. The unknown, out at sea, is fantastical. This map was not meant to be amusing; it just sought to explain the world. Today’s maps  are very factual and definately not as amusing because with such a numerous population, our maps can’t possibly be that simple.

Look here:

You be the judge of which map you prefer….

Back to the book.

By 1567, the title pages would have now found their modern format: that is title, author, place and date of publication, as well as any printer’s or author devices and branding material, such as cum privilegio or approbations.

This title page gives the reader a short description of what to expect. It also tells the reader that this has the royal privilege; therefore it must be true and good. I wish my latin was better. When books begin to be regularly printed in the vernacular during the later part of the 16th century, reading really takes off.

This printer’s device has gods aiding his labours, possibly Boreas , God of the North Wind, fanning the flames in which we find a hammer wielded by another heavenly being.

This diamond shape paragraphing style doesn’t last long into the early part of the 17th century as a regular print setting. Paragraphing of text, on the other hand, takes a little while to evolve to the indentations and spacing of a modern day text. Here the words are crammed onto the page. It must have been difficult to read.

Lastly here are the folklore images that were the real reason for this blog:

Olai Magni’s book is full of such fantastical illustrations. You can take a look for yourself at the Library in Canberra. Any comments joyfully accepted.

Thanks for taking the time to read to the end.


IllInInINtroduction YouYYou be the judge of which map youHere Save












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A little research and hooray: answers to pesky watermark questions

You may or may not know that I am currently finalising research into watermarks, and putting the data into a book form.

So as I work on setting the data for the designer to change it into a book, I revisit watermarks I haven’t seen for while.This chase is very elusive. More often than not I am going around in circles. And with so much information entering my brain I feel like i am just a big sponge.

This week however I have been lucky. The watermark in Albrecht Durer’s head has been identified. It is not a self portrait as I had once surmised, but a work by one Erhard Schon. He is reported as having used a medallion as his inspiration for this portrait.

I found this print in a non contemporary rebind of the 1511 Passio Domini.


Portrait by Erhard Schon

Watermark in Albrecht Durer’s head – note the date 1527 and the AD upper left corner

coat of arms

Coat of arms of the city of Nuremberg; on the left side it is supposed to be an eagle with wings displayed. Looks more like a bear licking its paw. I can find no other. So dating is incredibly hard to do.

Here are pictures of both rebinds: on the Left the newest version, and on the right the older version, still not an original binding.


IN the new rebind the plates had been taken off their supporting material and placed on fresh acid free Barcham Green paper.

I am still not sure the mystery of this watermark is solved..

The other mark is this one:

Coat of arm of Augsburg

Grapes on candelabra? No. Coat of arms of Augsburg

This coat of arms has a pine cone on a type of bollard. It looks to me like a bunch of grapes rather than the pine cone.

This representation shows the design for the coat of arms; notice the shape of the cone and the platform on which it sits.

The watermark on the right is similar to the one I found, except I do believe that mine consists of a bollard as there is an oblong shape going into the cone.

Dard Hunter and other historians talk much about the paper that printers used. However, the papermakers who supplied these printers remain in the dark. I would like to know from whom or where  Albrecht Durer was supplied paper. Mystere and boule de gomme as the French say!

I still have other mysteries to solve.

Thanks for reading






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Different books for different nooks

In this post I will not talk about my own book(s). Neither will this be a book review, however it was prompted by my latest purchase. Through a Facebook post I was alerted to Karen Hanmer’s latest publication, Contemporary Paper Bindings: A guide to bookbinding techniques, tools and materials, available via print on demand at

I’m a bit fussy about the sorts of books I buy. I know some binders just purchase anything that comes out so as to have a reference library, others just borrow books when they like. Two ends of the scale.

I’m a visual sort of learner; I like pretty pictures, especially in colour. Too much text and I get lost; not enough text and I get lost.

I also like to try before purchasing. So if I see a great book at the library, I am more likely to buy it than by browsing online. I’ve been caught out a few times not quite getting what I expected.

Anyhoo. Different types of books serve my different purposes. For example I have many books which are visual galleries.


books where i get ideas

Penland book of handmade books, making handmade books, 500 handmade books

I use these as a source of inspiration. Perhaps I do a bit of technique research.

As reference books, I stray from the path and have books on collectors, the history of reading, calligraphy and so on. I think these also bring me ideas for creating books. Newsletters are always a great source of information. They send me to various places online, maybe where I wouldn’t think of searching.

Lastly I have books from which I learn, and from which I now get ideas for teaching.

The Bonefolder eMagazine was brought to my attention by print maker and artist Dianne Fogwell.  I loved it so much I downloaded the PDFs and bound them, experimenting with bindings as I went along. They are not great books, but I made three differnet types: case binding, laced in binding and a split board binding, with sewn endbands and some edge decoration.

I once was a young woodworker, and specialized in boxes. When I found Zeier’s Books, Boxes and Portfolios I was in heaven. It has great diagrams on how to make the boxes and cut the material for the covering. Constructing and covering boxes is also a great book for cardboard box makers.

And we get to Arthur Johnson’s Bookbinding. I love it. I recommend it to all my students because he wrote really precise instructions, as well as examined a whole range of binding styles in a very simple way.

And lastly we are approaching the books from which I learned:

The books from which I first learned the craft

When I think back to my early days and reading the instructions in these books, I remember that I just couldn’t understand some of the instructions. This is when I decided to actually enrol in a class because I needed someone to explain stuff to me. Neale Wootton gave me those class notes in 2006, and they  form the basis of my current class notes.

The notes I got in my first ever class

As a teacher what do I really need to get across to students? paper grain would be a pretty important subject. So my notes are a combination of instructions from my own head with diagrams taken from books I love (and acknowledge). I get beginner students to bind their own notes and to bind J. Kay’s  Beginner and Advanced Bookbinding as well. the problem with that is that the students can’t actually use their own notes because they are too busy constructing a book. What I do like is that there is always a product they can take home at the end of a week (or two)

But what started this post was Karen Hanmer’s new book. It is terrific. So let me just stray for a minute on other books that have come my way. On the left is Silvia Ramos Alotta’s Exquisite Notes, which is a fully visual book, one of it’s kind. It takes the reader through about ten projects from beginner to advanced. It’s diagrams are very good. It has no written instructions. If you are a completely visual learner then you could learn quite a few techniques. This book is suitable for beginners and intermediates alike.

Kathy Abbott’s Bookbinding a step by step guide is also good for various levels of binders.

Jen Linsday’s  Fine Bookbinding is complex. I think this is not a book for beginners. In fact, it is suitable for middle intermediate binders because prior learning is needed to understand the instructions. As an intermediate binder,  I did have some difficulties understanding the instructions because there was too much text for me.


I don’t teach anything I can’t do well. I don’t believe that 5 minutes of training allows you to teach, which is what you get with YouTube. I probably know more than I think; but there is so much more going on out in the world. This is why the Bonefolder was such a great resource. And bookbinding is a life long learning journey, so there is much more waiting for me out there.

ABC of bookbinding -Jane Greenfield

I love all of Jane Greenfield’s books. Her ABC of Bookbinding has helped me write my own book on bindings. But it is her Headbands and how to sew them, that is one of my bibles. I love sewing endbands; I can’t see the point of using machine made ones, and there is something Zen about the actions of making the endbands. Jane’s book show you a multitude of ways to decorate your head and tail.’

So Karen’s book is my ideal beginner student handbook. It has a good balance of photos ( B& W)and text.  It should be required reading for anyone learning the basics. If I could get CIT to pay for it I would, but funds being low I will just encourage the students to get it on print on demand. I think that all levels of binders would benefit from this book.














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New Oriental binding – project 4

I first read about the New Oriental binding in the Bonefolder. (as an aside I really do admire that magazine). Sometimes I do believe I am set in my ways: why invent something that is nearly oriental? I suppose the answer is: because we can. Anyhoo. I didn’t give it much thought until I was searching for a new way of putting together single section pamphlets.  I also wanted something relatively quick. Monique Lallier’s instructions were easy to understand and I had a project that required pamphlet sewing. This is the result:

Tango manual

Tango manual

At a recent Canberra Craft bookbinders’ Guild meeting we were discussing how to pull down a book. We had also been asked to bring some previous work so that members had the opportunity to view different work. I brought my little tango manual in its orange New Oriental binding. Being inspired to try something new, a few weeks after that meeting Beverly sent me these pictures of her own book:

This year however I had a project for which I was lacking in ideas. My friend Andrea obtained an eBook version of my favourite children’s book. I reprinted it to my own specifications. It now has many sections. I have a penchant for making dos a dos bindings. After 3 projects runs, I settled on New Oriental binding.

Each section required a guard to be sewn with it.


The guard is then filled with compensation card to the thickness of the pamphlet; using calipers is good for this. What you are making are stubs that you will then glue together to form a block.  The next stage is to cover them before glueing on the cover. Add an endpaper. This is glued onto the stub. You could add the end paper to the stub before covering. I think that is neater.(and more secure)

The covers are the oriental part; spine part and cover held together with a thin strip, about 5 mm apart to allow for joint movement; you would then cover and infill at leisure before glueing onto spine stub I made these paste papers for the covers and the end papers;


At this stage I would recommend piling the whole thing together and trimming in an electric guillotine if available. If not, trim by hand now so that you know that everything is square and the correct size. I found out the hard way that my covers were not quite square or the right size. If your stubs are slightly uneven they will show under the covering and won’t look so neat. I like the idea that there is no square.


This is called project 4 because it has taken me this many times to get it right before I undertake the final version.

To finish this post, here are some details of project 4:

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Scrolls and concertinas

In a previous post we examined  lontars,  collections of dried palm leaves which have texts or illustrations inscribed on them, and held together by either a central thread or threads on either ends.

Papyrus and dried leaves do not have a very long life, and this was known to contemporary writers. As a medium they are not very flexible. It seems only logical that the invention of paper would produce an evolutionary change in how the written word was stored.

The fragility and handling difficulties of the lontar, or the Chinese  pothi made from bamboo slats, was overcome by writing on long sheets of paper.

The continuous form of the scroll was first developed in China during the Tang dynasty.  While much of the writing was previously done on silk, it wasn’t until the Tang period  that artists began to use paper as their medium. Scrolls can be read horizontally, from right to left, or vertically. Scrolls were not necessarily for every day use. While some scrolls contained religious texts, scrolls depicting landscapes and scenes were used as decoration.


The scroll allows for the slow development of a story. Presumably, presenting bite size chunks of information allows the reader to concentrate and be fully aware of what he is seeing or reading. This form was prevalent until the Song dynasty.

In Asia there are two varieties of scroll:

The horizontal scroll, when used  for texts, is called  makimono in japanese (with few illustrations). The picture scroll is called juan zhou in chinese or emakimono in japanese, meaning in the chinese manner.

The vertical scroll can also be used for text, however as a picture scroll it is called biao-fa or guafu in chinese or  kakemono in Japanese.

In its construction, the Asian scroll differs to the European scroll in that it is made up of several sheets of paper, attached around and behind the main scroll piece.


vertical scroll



In Europe,  the parchment scroll had been used from the earliest times and even after  the advent of printing. In fact, scrolls are still in use today as away of archaizing information; that is, increasing the importance of the information contained within it, hence the bestowing of university degrees in scroll form.

Parchment scrolls were easy to carry in one’s pocket, vest or satchel, making information easily transportable. If you needed to add information but weren’t too sure how much needed to be added, scrolls were quite adaptable. A piece of parchment could easily be sewn onto the end. Scrolls were also particularly handy for maps or for writing out genealogies. They were used extensively in mass, where the priest read out parts of the mass, and while reading the scroll an image could be seen by the congregation.


However, unrolling scrolls must have been tedious and inconvenient. It is no wonder that in Asia at least, the concertina provided a first step towards the codex. While the pages of a concertina are folded, it is usually read in a two page spread, not necessarily as a drawn out concertina shape. It is my experience that more often than not Asian concertinas horizontally.

Concertinas sizes depend on lengths of paper.  One sheet may have been long enough to contain all the necessary information; however it is likely that several sheets would be pasted together end to end to form a continuous length. A search on the internet will reveal a myriad easy ways to make a concertina: folding a single sheet of paper, attaching two boards on the end, and there is a book.

concertina drawing

Different ways of folding a concertina and attaching separate leaves


Book artists have embraced the idea of the concertina because it is a quick and effective means of producing a book. if you want to learn more about making concertina bindings in the Asian manner,  Kojiro Ikegami’s seminal book on Japanese binding techniques[1]is a terrific place in which to start.



[1] Ikegami, Kōsanjin. & Stephan, Barbara B.  (1986).  Japanese bookbinding : instructions from a master craftsman.  New York :  Weatherhill

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Das Kapitalbund: at last!

Four years ago I took a course at the London Rare Book Summer School, and viewed slides of many books bound between 1430 and 1820. Amongst them were German books with kapitalbunds.

A book with kapitalbunds is very distinctive by the dip that occurs at the spine; the squares seem inordinately tall. There are no endbands that sit on top of the bookblock, and there are no headcaps.

After three years of searching, I found one at last:

RBRS2 Malleus Malleficarum

RBRS2 Malleus Malleficarum with Rationes Breves and De Summe Bono

Title written on foredge

Title written on foredge

Vellum pastedown

Vellum pastedown

This is a full leather binding over paste boards with the kapitalbund. The kapitalbund is a change over station, not an endband, but as it is situated so close to the head and tail, can easily be mistaken for one. In the first photo you can see that unlike normal books, the spine is set much lower that the cover boards. It is blind tooled with fleur de lis and 6 petal flower motifs in circles, with hatchet lines along the raised bands.

There is a vellum paste down on the front and back covers; I am sure I have seen renmants in other books. This one was quite intact. there were also parchment guards on the first and last sections. Unfortunately the text is printed on paper that is running cross grain.

The watermarks in the book are fleur de lis, found in the gutter and a gothic P.

The Rare Book Stack at the National Library of Australia contains numerous books printed in Germany, and when I came back from London, I was so sure of finding at least one. Apparently they are not so common. They are a southern German speciality.

I am quite chuffed.

If you want to find out more, visit the Ligatus site for a description.

I am putting all my research into books from the Rare Book Stack into two volumes, due in 2017. So watch this space!

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The lontar – an early form of book


Roughly two years ago I posted about bark books. Well, in continuing with an asian theme, let me tell you a little about lontars.


What is a lontar?

Made from flattened and dried palm leaves, lontars usually contained religious texts. They are contained between two wooden covers, and held together with a string, either threaded through the center of the leaves or at either end, finished off with a chinese coin or perhaps a wooden peg.


MS6240-7 Lontar with wooden cover and threaded in the center. Finished with old chinese coin

Where are lontars found:

Mainly in Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Burma, China. Incidentally in Malaysia, Philippines and Nepal. In India and sometimes in China they are called pothi

A pothi is made from bamboo slivers, and usually fully threaded.


How lontars are processed:

Process 1:

  • Picked and dried by hanging;
  • Apply oil (gingili – sesame oil) or smoked;
  • Clean before writing;
  • In India application of tumeric paste after cleaning.

Process 2:

In Orissa (now called Odisha) province, rough and mature leaves were boiled to thin them out. In Sri Lanka young leaves were boiled in water or lime water, and then dried in the shade.

Process 3:

In Thailand, the process is very different (bai-larn). Leaves are picked and then dried in the shade. The stiff ribs are removed and then they are cut to a uniform size. This is done by collecting them in bundles of 50 or so, placed between wooden boards and then trimmed.

The bundles are placed in a kiln for about 24 hours. The kiln has 2 levels: the lower one for the fire, the upper for the bundles. The fire, built in the lower half, is regulated by the fact that all the doors are closed. After 24 hours a black oil exudes from the leaves and is left on the sides of the bundles. After cleaning this excess, the bundles are opened and each leaf is cleaned.

Each leaf is then held over an open fire for a little while and then polished with a cloth. This process makes the leaf absolutely dry and ready for writing.

Before writing or painting, the leaves are coloured or lacquered, either on the edges with vermillion or on the face of the leaf black lacquer is applied upon which the writing was gold.

Several colours were used for writing: white, gold, black or red.

Writing methods for lontars:

Method 1: Pointillist

Incisions were made with pointed stylus. This is the most common method.


There are two incision methods:

  1. Move the leaf under the still stylus
  2. Moving the stylus

Writing goes from Left to Right. This method of writing is made visible by rubbing in lamp-black or charcoal black pigment mixed with oil.

In India, mustard oil or gingili (sesame oil) was mixed with the black.

Crushed tree leaf juice may also be applied to get green lettering.

A paste of bean plant (dolicho lablab), eclipta alba, juices of datura stramonium or fastuosa, black ash, coconut shell and gingili oil was rubbed over the leaf. This was said to be a preservative against insects.

Method 2: Pen or brush

Writing with pen or brush applies the ink on the surface of the leaf.Sometimes both incision and pen work techniques are used on the one lontar.

Length of leaf:

This is usually dictated by the size of the plant and initial leaf


Covers are usually decorated wooden boards. These may be painted or with inlays. To keep it together holes are punched and cord threaded through.

In small lontars a single hole in the centre is all that is needed. In larger lontars, a hole at both ends with or without a centre hole may be used.


The title was written on a strip of either palm leaf, wood or ivory and was placed over the cover and included in the bundle.


Insects that eat lontars:

Gastrallus indicus.

A native method of keeping this bug at bay was to store the lontar with bunches of herbs such as Sweet Flag (ghorabach) or margosa leaves


Due to their very nature and the climactic conditions of south east Asia, lontars do not generally have a long life. The National Library of Australia holds 8 lontars in its collection, mainly from Indonesia but also from Thailand. I think that lontars and pothi are valuable to look at if one wishes to understand the nature of the book. As a means of information transmission, they were but one phase in the development of the codex. In class I get my students to make facsimiles from paper; the next stage is, of course,the scroll. After all it stands to reason that once the concept of  sheets (parchment or paper) was discovered, scribes could write down their stories and texts in much more efficient and convenient ways.

Next up then,  the scroll!


Further reading:

  1. Agrawal, O.P. (1984) Conservation of Manuscripts and Paintings of South East Asia, Butterworth Series






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Booksleuthing: A visit to an australian colonial library

Braidwood, middle of nowhere? Somewhere between London Sydney and NewYork. Ok, 3 hours south of Sydney.

My friend Sonia’s family home of Bedervale is a mansion in the early australian colonial style. There have been parties around the folly, mystery murders in the cellar and of course, girly nights in the new part of the house.

I first visited Bedervale in the late 1980s when I joined the Spinners and Weavers. I had longed to use our spinning wheel and now here were women to teach me how. We would meet in the old kitchen and chat while we carded wool, spun or wove.

2016-04-01 20.00.36

Sonia and Margaret, daughter and mother both gogeters in their own right, with the Lesleys, in the old kitchen

It is a house full of relics;  it contains furniture and bric a brac of various importance relevant  to three families, the Coghills, the Maddrells and the Royds. My parents being antique dealers I really didn’t pay much attention to any of it; it was just more furniture and stuff. However now that I am a book sleuth, it occurred to me on Friday night while we were sipping champagne, that perhaps there was a library here.

2016-04-02 08.23.05

Interesting side of the library

As a National Trust home, this library has been catalogued. The books were brought over by the first owners of the house the Coghills. Many of the books carried bookplates from Brompton Library. We looked at a few books and many dated to 1830s or more, right when machine made paper was taking over the printing and bookbinding world.

I was anxious to see if I could find watermarks. Randomly Lesley and I pick out

2016-04-02 08.23.47

Lesley is now fascinated about watermarks. Not only does she want to read this travel guide to Syria and Egypt, dated 1788, but she wants to find watermarks as well

Unlike many of the other small books in the library it is bound in-grain, however due to its size very few marks are visible, a few circles at  the head, a cut off  fleur de lis? Unfortunately no photos because my phone ran out of juice. But as I proceeded to peer into random books, I would show Lesley the difference between chainlines and laid lines and machine made paper. She started to get excited, and now understood my fascination with watermarks.

2016-04-02 08.24.03

the effect of cheap sheep leather…

We were here for dinner, so we decided to go back to the old kitchen in order to quiz Margaret. The books, it seems, were probably first bought as a job lot – after all, members of the squattocracy had to seem reasonably well read. And then as various members developed interests, the library became populated with books that followed a purpose such as Maddrell’s medical training in Germany: so lots of medical books and german literature.

What a good excuse for returning more often to Braidwood. If you are in this part of the world Bedervale runs a bed and breakfast and week end tours of the homestead, so you could take a peek at it yourself.

Watch this space for more on the library…..




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