Tag Archives: special collections

The Common place book

I had an enquiry the other day about someone’s commonplace book. What was that? According to Wikipedia:

a commonplace book is ” Commonplace books (or commonplaces) are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. …. Such books are essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts. Each one is unique to its creator’s particular interests but they almost always include passages found in other texts, sometimes accompanied by the compiler’s responses.  ”

When I read this I remembered that I grew up doing this in primary school. I wonder where they are now?

They are neither diary nor journal. The two examples in this blog will have some of the author’s own musings and writings in them.

Thomas Clifford’s commonplace book (NLA MS1097 – item 42) houses all manner of information:


MS 1097 item 42 - 1

Cambridge panel with full gilt spine panels

MS 1097 item 42 - 4

MS 1097 item 42 - 3


MS 1097 item 42 - 6

laced in

It is actually a great way to remember things. Indeed, as a bookbinding teacher I now deliberately leave information out of any notes I give; I recommend to my students that they add in information as a way of retaining it.

Here are some of the things Clifford wrote in the book:


Ambition like a torrent xxxx looks back…..


suspicio – jealousy


An index

On the endpapers I found this pot watermark

MS 1097 item 42 - 12

pillars or bollards

This is Nettie Palmer’s commonplace book of a much later period 1907-1936 (NLA MS 6531)

According to the catalogue, this is a notebook in which

 “she transcribed favourite pieces of poetry, extracts of prose writing, brief diary entries and personal reminisciences for the period 1907-1910, 1913-1914, 1918-1921 and 1936. Loose clippings, a drawing and manuscript notes inserted.”

I remember writing all sorts of notes. Maybe you could try as well.



Leave a comment

Filed under bookbinding, education, libraries, rare books, Uncategorized

Looking at Dürer in the British Museum

Ok, let’s get into something a bit meaty, that has nothing to do with bookbinding and all to do with plates.

At the National Library of Australia we have plates of Dürer’s Little Passion (RBRS 13), which you can view here. It was printed in 1511 and rebound in a non-contempory calf binding, with blind tooling along perimeter.

This is what I saw at the British Museum:


35 of 36 wood blocks. And we were also shown some corresponding impressions. What deliciousness! Yes, you can handle the book, look at the plates, but when you are confronted with the medium, which may have been engraved by the Master himself and most certainly drawn on by him, then you marvel at the skills that were available in 1511.

My interest in Dürer is this, of course:



We were asked to examine the blocks closely; could we detect different hands in the relief structure of the matrix?


I took photos of the signatures; I figured that you might be able to tell one worker from another by the way he/she carved the AD. If we look closely are the ADs similarly different?

It’s not every day you get to see the plate and its impression.

That was all I had time to photograph I’m afraid.

I haven’t had the time to properly examine these photos; I am just reporting our day. I feel very privileged to have seen these. However these were seen in a reading room, and if you are going to London, I believe if you make an appointment well before hand, you may be able to experienced these for yourself.

The Print and Drawing reading room, very light but not airy. In the summer bring your own fan.



Leave a comment

Filed under bookbinding, conservation, education, libraries, museum, watermarks