No doubt about it; working in a library gives me access to a great selection of books. Being a bookbinder gives me some handling privileges.
I had in my hand tonight Thomas Moore’s Utopia, 264 page mini version, 5cm by 10 cm, dated 1663. Full leather sewn on three leather tongs. It feels much-handled, the leather smooth and shiny.
I’ve been chasing watermarks for the last two weeks. The Library houses over 6.5 million books. Of those it may have over 70 thousand books in the rare stack. I now know that in the catalogue there are 34 entries marked as having watermarked pages. Surely there must be more. Who has the time to find out?
I’m working on a watermark slideshow for the reading room and I’ve been calling up random books from the rare book stack and checking them out under the light sheet.
It would of course be easier to just spend time in the stack but that is not quite yet possible.
Back to the watermarks. Let me show you those in the mini Utopia:
I have a light sheet but the room I am in is quite bright. The books I pick are all within a certain date range, 1600s to 1800s. I am betting that the papers will have watermarks. I have discovered that not all books are equal. Sometimes the plain endpapers are sewn on cross grain; sometimes they are totally different to the textblock papers. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise; as a binder I wouldn’t use the same papers as endpapers.
In this tiny book, the printing makes the watermark hard to identify.
The National Archives of Australia have created a database of all the watermarks they have amongst the papers in their collection. They have put out a call to other cultural institutions to add to this database. This would prove to be a very useful tool. I’m currently using three books of watermarks to identify those I have found. Often I get close, but not quite right.
I tried using Google Image but it is not as easy to use as it may first appear. Many of my photos have undetermined splotches that I see perfectly well as watermarks, but not so the computer.
I’ll show you some more watermarks next time.
Thanks for reading.
ps sorry about the changing font.