The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More book collections!

Jen's recent post on her book collection reminded me that I have a pile of old books sitting on my fireplace at home (not to mention more at my parent's house!)  Whilst I had a specific reason for collecting old LPs I do not really have a reason for collecting old books other than I prefer them to modern books.  I like the old bindings and the way that the spine is generally a different colour to the front of the book because of bleaching by the sun.  The following picture is of a particularly attractive binding by the publishers Blackie & Son:


Gold and red binding is a popular colour for nineteenth century books, such as this copy of 'The Earthly Paradise' by William Morris (1896):


I like the way they smell, usually slightly musty, and the pages are usually hand-cut so they are all jumbled and messy.  Some of my books are unfortunately mouldy - as this one shows they are not always in the best condition:


The more 'expensive' (when they were new) books are lavished with illustrations, some of which are protected by a thin sheet of tissue paper.  The engravings and wood-cuts used can be very elegant, as this illustration from the fronts-piece of the William Morris book demonstrates:


Although books were obviously mass-produced then as now, the fact that these books have survived for a hundred years or more makes them seem pretty special to me, although I doubt they are worth very much in monetary terms.  The endpapers can be fantastic especially the marbled ones, some of the patterns are almost psychedelic as in this 'Handbook to the National Gallery' from 1890:
The same book, which is pretty hefty for a 'handbook' also has a map of the National Gallery: one day I intend to visit the NG with this guidebook and see how things have changed since the 1890s!


I think my interest in old books was kindled when my mum found an old 19th century history book in a jumble sale and it kind of grew from there.  I go through phases of what I like to collect so there is not really an overall focus, although I have continued to buy old history books when I see them in charity shops.  A while ago I got a bit obsessed with the poetry of Byron and so I have about eight books of his poetry and some about his life.  Three of them were published whilst he was still alive and in a way that makes them more special, although I have not been able to identify why exactly.  I do know that I became interested in Byron when I was about 9 years old and we visited the Castle of Chillon in Switzerland.  Byron had left some 19th century graffiti by carving his name into a pillar and even at that young age I wondered who would have the audacity to do such a thing.  It was only later that I found out Byron was a poet and a bit of a scandalous one at that.  The books however mostly contribute to the myth of Byron as a dark and gloomy poet, especially those published after his death.  The image below shows one of the more melancholy engravings from a book published in 1863:


Many of the collections of poems like to feature a romantic image of the poet himself - this one is from a book published in 1912:


A very similar portrait from 'Poems by the Right Honourable Lord Byron with his Memoirs, published in 1823 after Byron was forced to flee England for the continent following all sorts of scandals about his private life.  It's interesting how Byron looks more 'boyish' here compared to the suave-looking poet in the later image:


Tucked away in a book from 1832, one of fourteen volumes of the 'Works of Lord Byron' is a facsimile copy of Byron's scrawl.  It is pleasing to realise that even great poets have appalling handwriting:


One theme however that does run through my collection is that I like to buy the most battered ones, the ones that are cheap and more likely to be abandoned.  I had some dream a while ago of being able to repair them but this still remains a dream.   Sometimes I feel sad for my books because I do not take wonderful care of them despite their age; my only attempt at preservation is not reading them!  I like the idea though that if I do read them one day I will be following in the footsteps of previous owners, some of whom have left evidence of their ownership in the form of names, scribbles in the margins and, in one extreme case which sadly I don't have with me in Leicester, pasted in pictures and advertisements from newspapers.


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