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Introductions at Senate House Library

Today is Monday and I will not be shy.  Roll out of bed, go downstairs for breakfast and sit with Ollie (NZ) and an American woman  (whose name I have forgotten) who knew London like the back of her hand.  Ollie talks a lot. But it makes breakfast fun. I spot Donato, ask about his Japanese exam, take an extra coffee back to my room and await the appointed time.

There is the usual registration, and I see Nicole Gilroy from the Bodleian. She is taking the European Bookbinding course. She does remember me. After Dr Karen Attard’s riveting talk on what we could expect to see during our course, we are sent off to our various rooms.

Dr Elizabeth Savage, is a delightful and enthusiastic educator. But I am not sure this course is quite what I expected, hoped for or needed. It is very cerebral; I am having to think, as opposed to taking down notes and being shown slides of items on a screen (as in 5 years ago).

We begin with the usual introductions, and it really seems like a course in art history.  We are a pretty diverse group: librarians, collectors, bookseller, curator, art historian, student. We rapidly cover the history of printing techniques, and we enjoy some discussion. Wish I had taken the time to do more of the prelim reading…..

The usual tea-time, but in the afternoon we get our hands on blocks. I am here to study what printers’ blocks and plates can tell us in and of themselves, as opposed to what the printed impression might tell us. There is a lot of discussion about nomenclature and inter disciplinary vocab that affects the cataloguing of these items. Are they realia I wonder? Wish I knew cataloguing…..

We explore the differences in the lines that each method, relief and intaglio produce. I learn a cool new word: flong.


sorry it’s blurry; a flong is a papier mache-like sheet that gets impressed onto the set-up plate. Type metal will be poured into this, duplicating the plate…

We have 2 sessions and then the hands-on. Here we are asked to describe to the others what techniques may have been used to create the blocks.


Anna discovering that there was type “hiding” within  the block. These were numbers, and the block was a generic pattern for a series. As the series changed, you just changed the little numbers. This was the block for an “assignat”, a type of currency.

The dark blocks are made from very hard boxwood; they look nearly petrified. The Queen block is double sided. They are cut and shaped in order to be able to join with others on the form.

Handling these items is amazing. I’ve never seen blocks quite like these. I am sure to my printer friends back in Canberra, these are not so surprising, but as printing is not my particular area of interest, they are fascinating.

This next set were of particular interest to me:

The bound title page is date 1632, but it is more likely that the plate was produced in the 1930s at the request of the collector; where is the original plate? And we can tell this by the material used and the nails that hold the plate on the block. I used to wonder what kind of type was used for the lettering, but it is etched in. And of course, the engraver doesn’t necessarily prepare the writing.

Time was running short and we were left with the perplexing questions:

  1. What can the printing surfaces reveal that is not evident on the impression on paper?
  2. Can a vocabulary common to bibliographers, art historians and book historical research ever be generated and how would this change the face of cataloguing?

There was a welcome reception in the Chancellor’s Hall and a few of us left for dinner shortly afterwards.

I think we are an interesting group, and being thrown into a pot like this can either be scary or refreshing.

see you tomorrow.



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Three library visits: Lambeth Palace, Senate House, Wellcome Library.

The European Bookbinding course I was able to attend in July was a theoretical course. We took plenty of notes, watched plenty of slides and we got to look at plenty of books from afar. It included three library visits.  Well, when I say visited, it really was more like sit in a room and look at books. The Prof was the only one examining the books; we were lucky if we could get a focused photo. However….

Lambeth Palace Library:

I arrived at Waterloo station amid the chaos of a station wide evacuation. I walked away from the very familiar wooping sound of fire alarms in a vain attempt to find the bus to take me to Lambeth Palace . The Palace was not far, but as time wore on and drizzle appeared I took a taxi. I arrived to find a wild garden.

Lambeth Palace Front garden

I love gardening, and my Braidwood house was filled with cottage flowers. It was fantastic to see them run wild here amongst weeds and tall grass. So much for manicured english gardens! There was an exhibition and garden tour, but I, unfortunately, had little time for them.

As I waited in front of a nameless door, I was joined by Morgan and Diana. Security was tight: we had a hard time getting permission to find the toilet. After we had all gathered at the correct entrance we trooped to a small upstairs library room to view some of Lambeth Palace’s examples of laced-in cases.

Our visit to Lambeth palace with Julie, Mary and Iris

The books

Senate House Library:

The books came to us since we were in the building. I didn’t take any notes. I was too busy taking photos for which I now have no explanations. Ideally two of us should have taken this course: one to take notes, the other to take photos! It was one more book after the other, laced in bindings, mostly vellum, a few boards with interesting clasps.

Wellcome Library:

At the Wellcome Institute

Due to understaffing, we were not able to visit the Wellcome Library. I actually caught the bus there, not realising how close it was to my hotel room. We gathered instead at the Wellcome Institute next door. The Wellcome library is primarily a medical library. We were there to examine various manners of lacing in boards.

1497 Germany 3 double support no endbands kapital bunds, oak boards

In the foyer there was an interesting glass sculpture

Glass sculpture at the Wellcome Institute

I had expected to be walking around the various buildings, so from a touristic aspect it was slightly disappointing not seeing the “behind the scenes” action. However we were able to view and discuss many old books with interesting structures.

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