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Old Photographs

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A MID-20th-CENTURY BIBLIOGRAPHICAL DISPLAY:

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Item 1: Lucan (Venice, Aldine, 1502). Item 2: Lucan (Venice, Aldine, 1502).
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Item 3: An example of the Aldine Roman type. Item 4: Dolphin and anchor device of Aldus Manutius.
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Item 5: Fore-edge of Julius Pollux’s Onomastikon (Venice, Aldine, 1502). Item 16: Isocrates’ Opera Graece (Milan, 1493).
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 Item 17: Manuscript in binding of a work printed in Venice in 1566. Item 20: Jakob Locher’s Latin edition of Sebastian Brandt’s Narrenschiff (1497).

 

The discovery, in an otherwise empty book case, of a sealed box constructed for photographic material, held out the prospect of recovering some record of events in the twentieth-century history of the Worth Library. To judge by the labels, the contents might date from the 1950s. In the event, when David Davison opened it, the contents were undramatic yet instructive – twenty-seven card-mounted black and white photographs of (mainly) sixteenth-century books from the collection.

 

No explanation of the purpose behind the commissioning of these images accompanied them. Their size (14.5 x 12 cm, or smaller in two cases) precluded their being the basis for a public exhibition, as did the presence of identifying notes on the back of the mounting cards. It is possible that they represent an interim stage in the planning of an exhibition or publication. The notes appear to be in the hand of Professor John Widdess (1907-1982), who served for years as honorary librarian, and whose typed notes on Worth’s incunables are tipped into the so-called 1730 Catalogue.

Even if the intended function of these photographs cannot be reconstructed, their discovery in March 2005 sheds light on the manner in which Edward Worth’s collection was regarded in mid-century. Only two of twenty incunables – Sebastian Brant, Stultifera Novis ( Basle , 1497) and Isocrates, Orationes ( Milan, 1493) – were chosen, though the Brant is represented by three of the twenty-seven photographs. The lengthy note on the first of the three further reinforces the supposition that Widdess was responsible for the selection.

The photographs numbered 1 to 4 above all relate to Venetian printing in 1502 by Teobaldo Manucci (1450-1515), better known to historians of the book as Aldus or Aldus Manutius. It was in 1502 that the famous Aldine device – a dolphin entwining an anchor – was first used. That eight of the twenty-seven pictures are devoted to printing before 1503 demonstrates the wealth of the Worth Library in early printed texts, the omission of all text from its incunables (except the Brant) being perhaps explicable in terms of the difficulty in photographing them. The Isocrates of 1493 is included to display – in a rather clumsy image (see No. 16 above) – a style of binding, rather than of type or text. Apart from this, and two other rather unprofessional pictures of binding elements (Nos. 5 and 17 above), the photographs show little of the wealth of fine and original bindings preserved in the Worth Library, including contemporary binding commissioned by Worth himself.

Certain distinct preferences can be discerned in the selection. Its concern is type, as the notes relating to the use of italic and roman demonstrate. Its focal period is the sixteenth century, with the emphasis on Venice, Paris and London. There are, one might note, no examples of early German printing. Only with the completion of cataloguing to modern standards, on a searchable data-base, will it be possible to establish the exact degree to which the Worth collection reveals a preference for early printing from one country rather than another.

Three or four titles deserve some closing comment. Stultifera Novis (1497) demonstrates how the art of printing absorbed and propagated the age-old suspicion that learned doctors might just as well be thought of as quacks, an attitude applied with even-handedness to the art of books also (see No. 20 above). The London printings all relate to major historical figures – Chaucer, Galen and Thomas More.

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