A Mysterious Box, Part V

After decades of separation, I am tremendously pleased to write that Dr. Alfred Huhnhäuser’s photograph albums are now once again in the same archive – the University of Stirling’s Special Collections – as his other papers!

The photographs finally reach Stirling Special Collections and are greeted by archivist Rosie Al-Mulla.

And that concludes this series on the “Mysterious Box”, which turned out to be more remarkable, implausible, and serendipitous than I could have ever predicted when I first began to explore its contents.

© 2019 Kelsey Jackson Williams.

A Mysterious Box, Part IV

This evening I’ve been sorting through the remaining photo albums in advance of handing Dr. Huhnhäuser’s collection over to the university. There are so many volumes I haven’t even mentioned here and so many wonderful photos, like the Christmas family group above or the interior shot below, that I haven’t touched on.

Interior of the Huhnhäuser home, 1930s.

Of the remaining albums, two struck me with greater force than the others. One early album from 1915 is full to bursting with photos of Heidi as a baby. Perhaps it’s because I’m soon to become a father myself, but I found something entrancing in the love and intimacy of these photos and in Dr. Huhnhäuser’s delighted awkwardness.

I admire the doctor’s style, though it is, perhaps, ill-judged for his present purposes.

The other is unique amongst the albums by virtue of itself being carefully housed in a smaller cardboard container marked “Slettestrand”. Slettestrand, if you don’t know it (and few English speakers would have occasion to do so) is a small village and something of a tourist spot on the northwest coast of den Nørrejyske Ø, the island which makes up the farthest northern portion of Denmark. Separated from the mainland by a massive storm in 1825 which brought the sea thundering across the Agger Tange, its coast is an empty space of dunes and sky. Nothing but ocean lies between it and Aberdeenshire.

‘Slettestrand’

The album dates from 1941, by which time Germany had already occupied Denmark and Melms, the doctor’s wife, was working there as a translator. Both husband and wife seem to have had many friends in Denmark, but the photos of this wartime beach holiday are ghostly with absence. Instead, a vast welter of gathering clouds oppresses each photograph and dwarfs the few wanderers amongst the beach huts at Slettestrand.


It is difficult not to read some degree of artistic or intellectual intention into these photographs, so different from the holiday snaps of the thirties. More likely, though, I am reading meaning into what is simply the bricolage of four lives, lived, mostly happily, in a time both tantalisingly close and unimaginable distant from my own.

© 2019 Kelsey Jackson Williams.

A Mysterious Box, Part II

Today I have returned to the box of photograph albums (see my previous post).  The first album I open is another snapshot of the family at Davos: photos of snow, laughing young people, and warm hostels.

There is a wonderful candour and freedom about the photographs here and elsewhere in this collection.  When one thinks of the photographic practice of earlier generations, one thinks of stiffness, order, and decorum, but these could not be further from such a stuffy ideal.  One series is of a group of young people – amongst them at least one of the daughters – flung down in poses of happy exhaustion midway through an alpine trek.  There is something tremendously vibrant and happy about the half-turn of a shoulder and the hobnailed boots dug into the grassy sward.

But I am also attracted to another image, one of the few which depicts neither landscape nor people.  It must, I suppose, be of the breakfast room in someone’s hostel.  Flowers (and ashtrays) are neatly set out, the chairs are drawn up, the newspapers folded in their rack, and there is a mid-afternoon hush, a still pause as the room awaits its next use.  It is, in its own way, an exquisite photograph.

Nor can we forget the doctor, who reappears in walking gear amongst the mountainous landscape: happy, crook-necked, and oddly fragile alone in the snow.

 The next album is different in shape from those I’ve looked at so far.  It is smaller, bound in sturdy buckram, and as soon as I open it I see it dates from decades earlier.  The clothing suggests about 1910, give or take a few years, and though I can’t be sure, I think this might be the doctor and his wife’s honeymoon. 

They are much younger, smiling broadly, and seem to be somewhere in the country, by a lake or maybe the sea.

Most striking of all is the final photograph in the album, followed only by blank pages.  The doctor’s wife lies on a bed, or perhaps a chaise longue, staring back at the camera.  Returning her gaze feels almost too much, the emotions contained within it were surely meant for the photographer alone, and to peer into the depths of her eyes is a strange and uncomfortable act of transgression.

I shut the book, a little hurriedly, and turn to another, this one bound with once-green, now brown, silk tassels and with a postcard of the Koblenz Schloß pasted onto its front cover.  Below the postcard is an inscription: Unserer lieben Omi zu ihrem 70. Geburtstage | als Erinnerung an am Besuch in Koblenz | Inge und Heidi.  1928 (“for our dear Grandma on her 70th birthday as a reminder of visiting Koblenz”).  Could Inge and Heidi be the daughters, I wonder?

The first few pages contain pasted-in picture postcards of Koblenz, but soon we move on to photographs of the family.  Yes, Inge and Heidi must be the daughters for they appear again and again in these pages.  There are also pictures of the interior of their house – Rizzastraße 7, I learn – replete with the bourgeois comforts of the early century.  I am captivated by a distant prospect of book-lined shelves which can just be seen over the shoulder of one of the girls, posing soberly in front of a grand piano.  Is it the doctor’s study, I wonder?

The little book for their grandmother gives me an idea and a few Google searches later I see that Rizzastraße 7 still survives, albeit now with far more plate glass than in 1928, and houses lawyer’s offices, a used bookstore, and other businesses.  It also shows up on a list of historic buildings in southern Koblenz, which notes its construction in 1911 by the architect Fritz Thalwitzer.

At this point I think: surely I can find out who they are from this?  Surely there is an address book of 1920s or 1930s Koblenz which will tell me the residents of Rizzastraße 7?  And so I find myself on the website of the Rheinland-Pfalz digital library.  There are fifty-odd address books for Koblenz, as early as 1794, as late as 1940.  I know with certainty that my mysterious family were living at Rizzastrasse 7 in 1928 so with a faint catch in my breath – for I love this sort of detective work with all my heart – I turn to the 1927-28 edition of the Einwohnerbuch der Stadt Koblenz des Landkreises Koblenz und Umgebung (Directory of Inhabitants of the City and District of Koblenz and Environs). 

But all is not so straightforward.  I should have realised that the imposing building would be divided into multiple flats.  The lawyer Dr. Hubert Scherer is in flat 3, the engineer Heinrich Hambach is in flat 1, the school inspector Dr. Wilhelm Göcking is in flat 2, and the building officer Waldemar Hinsmann is also present (in the basement, I think).  Have I missed something?  Is the doctor no doctor after all?

© 2019 Kelsey Jackson Williams.

Week 17: Provenance and the Individual Book in the Digital Age

Another chapter down.  This one was on reception and readership and – combined with some very exciting plans for a new project which I’ve been cooking up with a friend down south – it’s been making me think about provenance and book ownership even more than usual.

“[People] care about what makes a book unique

A year or so ago I was talking to a book collector about the ways in which digitisation had affected collecting.  “People care more about provenance now”, he said, “they care about what makes a book unique“.  That’s very true.  When we can download a PDF of many an early printed book from Google in a matter of minutes, the printed text begins to recede into the background as a collectible object in favour of – to borrow a phrase from the Material Evidence in Incunabula project – the “copy specific, post-production evidence and provenance information”.  This has a knock-on effect for us academics as well; only look at the number of new projects focusing on the study of historic libraries, the investigation and recording of material evidence, and the renewed interest in bindings and other facets of the book as physical artefact.

This is an altogether good thing (as long as we don’t begin to neglect the printed book itself!).  It also represents a larger sea-change in collecting.  While celebrity autograph albums and the like were widely popular in the nineteenth century, there was much less interest in the post-production aspects of most books, even to the extent of incunables and other desirable items being “washed” to remove those untidy humanist scribbles (*weep*).  Now that provenance is such a hot topic, bibliographically speaking, not only are we seeking to understand it more from a scholarly point of view, it’s also changing things as basic as how early printed books are catalogued.

The beauty about provenance from a collector’s standpoint is that it’s a great leveler.  Not every wouldbe book collector can own a shelf of incunables, but anyone with patience and knowledge can find books with wonderful histories inscribed in them.  All of the following were picked up in charity bookshops, library book sales, etc., rarely for more than a tenner at most:

 

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Millar 2

J. H. Millar.  A Literary History of Scotland.  London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1903.

This delightful example of early twentieth-century literary criticism contains the stamp and bookplate of one of Fife’s early public libraries, established in Kirkcaldy by the Beveridges – local linoleum magnates – in 1895.  The bookplate, rather forbiddingly, reminds prospective users that “The Librarian is authorised to levy exemplary fines upon readers damaging books”.

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Bowra 2

C. M. Bowra.  Sophoclean Tragedy.  Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1947.

This monograph by the inimitable Maurice Bowra contains extensive annotations on almost every page, apparently by its former owner, Nigerian colonial administrator and poet Charles Ashbee Woodhouse, whose 1948 signature appears on the flyleaf.

Pliny 1

Pliny 2

Pliny the Younger.  Epistularum libri novem . . ., ed. R. C. Kukula.  Leipzig: In aedibus B. G. Teubneri, 1908.

When I was a postgraduate, old Teubner editions of the classics could be found in every Oxford bookshop, but this volume, with its successive Balliol owners is a particularly lovely example of the university book trade.  It has been interleaved to facilitate note-taking, though most of its readers seem to have given up long before the end.

Of its owners, Alexander Wigram Allen Leeper (1887-1935), who probably purchased it new and was responsible for the interleaving, was an Australian civil servant and authority on cuneiform texts.  Bernard Francis (Brian) McGuinness (b. 1927) is a retired philosophy don and authority on Wittgenstein.  Richard Patrick ffrench (1929-2010) was an ornithologist who studied the birds of Trinidad and Tobago.

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Lewis & Short 2

Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short.  A Latin Dictionary.  Oxford: at the Clarendon Press, 1890.

The Historian reminds me that the Oxford Latin Dictionary is better, but I retain a fondness for Lewis and Short, especially this rather touching volume.  Ralph Porter Wade (1883-1939) purchased his dictionary at the precocious age of sixteen before going on to be Gell Hebrew Prizeman at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and a vicar in Lincolnshire, while Edwin Lisle Marsden (1886-1950) was another northern cleric.  From there it went to Eton and finally made its way to the Classics Bookshop in Oxford.

All of which goes to say that provenance research needn’t be limited to scholars of incunables or wealthy industrialists gloating over their Gutenberg Bibles (if this latter, endangered species still exists).  The next time you’re in a charity shop or used bookstore, glance over a flyleaf or two and see what you discover . . . .

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

An Excursus into Bookbinding: MacLehose of Glasgow

A couple of days ago, I had bindings on my mind.  I’d been discussing Scottish bindings with a friend and that evening found myself looking at my own library for any which stood out from the ordinary run.  Pulling a couple of volumes off the shelves, the third Miscellany of the Spalding Club (Aberdeen, 1846) and an odd volume of the Bannatyne Club edition of Spalding’s Troubles (Edinburgh, 1829), I was struck to see the same unintrusive binders’ stamp in each: “MACLEHOSE GLASGOW”.

Maclehose 1

I was intrigued.  Both bindings, though comparatively simple, were well-executed and rather beautiful.  Who was MacLehose, I wondered, and how did he fit into the longer history of Scottish fine binding?

Maclehose 2

Miscellany of the Spalding Club on the left, Spalding’s Troubles on the right.

MacLehose, it proved, was none other than James MacLehose (1811-1885), the well-known Glasgow publisher and bookseller who, according to the ODNB, had opened a fine bindery alongside his other business concerns in 1862.  An 1892 article in The British Bookmaker provides some insight into the nature of his workshop:

“[N]o ordinary trade work is done. All the books bound here are either the firm’s own work, or the work of private customers . . . Levant, morocco, and a special calf are the principal styles, hand finished and single lettered, and though many of the books are elaborately bound with special designs, a large share are in the severely plain style which finds favour particularly in Scotland”.

Examples of MacLehose’s more elaborate bindings can be seen in Glasgow and London but I suspect that my volumes are more representative of the “severely plain style” mentioned.  The beauty of the bindings comes from carefully executed gold rules and heavily textured calf or goat rather than from a profusion of tooling.  In the case of Spalding’s Troubles the binder has even incorporated the original brown paper binding common to Bannatyne Club volumes into their own work.

Maclehose 3a

Maclehose 3b

Details of the spines: a trifle lavish above, rather more restrained below.

In both cases, these club publications have been rebound; each would have come into the world in a rather more modest trade binding.  The surviving provenance makes it possible to at least hazard a guess as to who may have sent them off to Glasgow for improvement.  In the case of the Miscellany, this is one of a number of volumes I’ve come across from the lately dispersed library of the Benedictine Abbey at Fort Augustus near Inverness.  Although not all items from the abbey library appear to have been rebound, I wonder if this might have been a case of the monks splashing out?

Maclehose 4

Is there a story behind the never-completed shelf label?

Spalding’s Troubles also boasts a bookplate: a fine heraldic woodcut proclaiming its owner to be one David Murray.  Murray (1842-1928) was a Glaswegian lawyer, antiquary, bibliophile, and namesake of the University of Glasgow’s book-collecting prize.  He donated most of his library to the university shortly before his death but this volume seems to have escaped.  Given its provenance, it was presumably Murray who had it rebound.

Maclehose 5

So, what can we learn from this?  This sort of investigation opens up intriguing windows onto how books were valued and presented in nineteenth-century Scotland, as well as providing some examples of the book binder’s art from a period which is less heavily studied than earlier centuries.  But I think it also provides a lesson in informed book collecting.  I bought both of these volumes for a few pounds each, purely for their contents and their value as part of a scholarly reference library, and I very much doubt that their sellers were any more aware than I of what made them interesting as physical artefacts.  Now, though, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more examples of MacLehose’s art.  It may be “severely plain” for the most part, but it has the beauty of fine craftsmanship and is a still-to-be-explored chapter in the nineteenth-century Scottish book trade.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Peeling Back the Layers of an Eighteenth-Century Book

Amongst my weaknesses may be counted a taste for collecting the books I study.  This led me, a few days ago, to be in the happy condition of owning a copy of Alexander Nisbet’s System of Heraldry, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1722-42), one of the heftier sets of antiquarian folios to be published by the eighteenth-century Scottish book trade.  On examining the set, though, I was intrigued by what appeared to be three bookplates on each front pastedown, placed one atop the other.

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What’s hiding under there?

After some hesitation – and a fair amount of reading up on the process – I decided to attempt a delayering of the top two bookplates, using a paper towel dampened with boiling water to gently moisten the nineteenth-century glue, allowing the slips of paper to come off, one at a time.  That was the idea, anyway.

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Tools of the trade: scissors, kitchen roll, and waxed paper.  Note also the more recent bookplate of the political scientist Bryan Keith-Lucas (1912-1996) on the flyleaf.

The actual process was more nerve-wracking than this summary might suggest.  Once moistened, the already thin paper on which these bookplates were printed became terrifyingly weak and it was a slow and painstaking process to gently, ever so gently, slide a kitchen knife between them and the layer below.

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Gently does it . . .

But, despite a few tense moments, the first layer was an unqualified success.  The mid-Victorian bookplate of Colin Campbell Baillie peeled smoothly away to reveal a beautiful example of engraving from the generation before: the bookplate of one George Henderson.

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Hidden treasure!

The next layer was a different story.  After half an hour, Henderson’s bookplate remained obstinately glued to the board.  Another half hour later, and I could just wedge the knife in under a couple of edges, but whatever glue he had used made it impossible to lift the entire slip of paper.  In the end, though, I also found that wasn’t necessary.  I was able to lift one corner enough to see that whatever had originally been printed on the lowest layer had either been torn or abraded away before Henderson applied his bookplate.  In the picture below you can just make out the traces of a copperplate name which seems to commence with “William” but the arms – and, regrettably, the surname – have been obliterated beyond any recovery.

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Disappointment at the bottom level: an already destroyed bookplate (possibly through the nineteenth-century removal of a lost intermediate bookplate between it and the one being removed in the picture).

Still, I had recovered at least one significant addition to the provenance history I was developing for the set.  And I’d also succeeded in doing so without damaging either bookplates or books, which certainly counted for something.  Baillie’s bookplates have now been carefully relaid on a blank portion of the front pastedown directly underneath Henderson’s, so that this provenance will remain connected to the volumes without concealing their other ownership markings.

Stay tuned for a companion post on the process of identifying both Baillie and Henderson through the arms on their bookplates (a sometimes neglected but important way of performing provenance research).  For now I’ll rest on my laurels, such as they are, and let the wheat paste I used when reapplying the Baillie bookplates thoroughly dry . . . .

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Baillie’s bookplate, successfully removed and about to be pressed to prevent it from curling as it dries.

Copyright © 2016 Kelsey Jackson Williams