Rare books cataloguing experience
I have recently had the joy of learning and performing some rare books cataloguing, and this is what I would like to share:
As with a lot of things, it is important to be equipped with context. I hold my hands up to being a “context person” anyway, and I have learnt the hard way, that I don’t cope well on being given tasks that are tantamount to a factory line with no meaning. With rare books cataloguing, this means having knowledge and understanding of the printing process during the hand-press period (approx 1450 – 1850), and I would without doubt, always advise anyone beginning their training to start here. So here’s my little list for this task (which I may add to as I learn!) –
- knowledge and understanding of printing process during hand-press period
- knowledge of Roman numerals e.g M.CD.XLII
- knowlegde of the way names were shortened e.g James – Jas
- knowledge of spelling history
- knowledge and understanding of paper – the history of how it is made
- knowledge of parts of the book without doubt via John Carters ABC for book collectors
- knowledge of book conservation and preservation
- some understanding of provenance (just because the subject is too wide)
- knowledge of and appreciation of marginalia
There are a few significant differences between regular cataloguing and rare books cataloguing, probably the thing that stands out the most for me initially was the absolute essential need to check every single page in a rare book. This is something that is done for pagination, signatures, catchwords and any marginalia or damage. The second thing for me, was the need to check the format and using *Gaskell to do so – looking at the paper, checking for chain lines direction, measuring the book, and checking both of these against the signatures to ascertain the format i.e folio, quarto, octavo, duodecimo. Finally it is essential to note any provenance marks. Obviously, because it is a bit of a passion of mine, I would personally also make notes about the binding.
Books as material culture
Material culture is the physical evidence of a culture in the objects and architecture they make, or have made, and I strongly believe that books have a role to play here. Every piece of the composition of a book during the hand-press period, can tell us something about the social culture of the day. Why is that you ask? When we think of evidence of a social culture, what springs to mind is consumerism, education, and class. It actually encompasses relationships between people and their things: the making of, history, preservation, and interpretation of objects. Now, all you bibliophiles, think about that for a moment – the relationship between you and your books. This is a subject that I am passionate about, so I will talk more about that in another post, but in the meantime, if anyone has any thoughts on that, I’d be happy to hear them.
*Gaskell P, (1985) A New Introduction to Bibliography.