Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring exotic travel

In 1549 in Vienna the renowned Austrian diplomat and scholar Freiherr Sigmund von Herberstein (1486-1566) published his Rerum moscoviticarum commentarii, the detailed account of two embassies he had undertaken to the Muscovy of Grand-Duke Vasilii III, in 1517-18 and in 1526-7 for Archduke Ferdinand I.

Priding himself on his knowledge of languages that included Russian and on a method of gathering information based on personal observation, probing conversations, and careful scrutiny of documentary sources, Herberstein offered sixteenth-century Europe a wide-ranging survey and commentary on what in later books would be called ‘the present and past state’ of Muscovy or Russia. He provided information on the geography, the governance, the people, their customs and their religion with a degree of persuasive accuracy that brought his book best-seller status and made it widely influential in shaping subsequent views of the country. Herberstein’s work was not only one of the earliest examples of travel writing on Muscovy but became the virtually uncontested source of information, acknowledged and unacknowledged, for almost all subsequent writers into the seventeenth century.


This is one of three copies of the text from the collection of the historian Matthew Smith Anderson (1923-2006), who both wrote and collected about western perceptions of Russia to the period of the Russian Revolution. The other two are a second copy of this early translation into Italian, without the map at the end, and a Latin folio of 1551. This copy has a particular significance within the collection to which it belongs as the final item Anderson purchased for it.


Conserving the Dingwall collection

In 2012-13 the Library received funding from the Wellcome Trust to catalogue and conserve the papers of Eric Dingwall, which include albums and scrapbooks. Rachael Smither was employed on a six-month contract to undertake urgent conservation work and writes as follows:

A survey of the collection found that:

  • There were 77 scrapbooks containing press cuttings, reports, photographs, leaflets, letters and other ephemeral material.
  • Most are 20th-century printed books with their pages trimmed back to leave stubs and guards, allowing room for research material to be adhered in.
  • The date of the content ranges from the late 19th century through to the 1980s.
  • All of the scrapbooks needed some sort of repackaging and almost a third were in need of structural repair.
  • Over half contain photographic material and nearly all contain newsprint.
An example of one of the scrapbooks which contains both photographs and newsprint.

An example of one of the scrapbooks which contains both photographs and newsprint.

The aim of the conservation treatment was to get as many as possible of the damaged scrapbooks into a functioning condition, which would allow them to be safely handled by the readers. Below is an example of scrapbook where extensive treatment was required.



  • The original binding is an early edition of G.E.O. Newnes’ Citizen’s Atlas of the World.
  • Approximately a third of all the text block pages have been trimmed back to allow Dingwall to insert his research material.
  • However too much material has been added, which has caused the text block to swell and eventually the joints have broken. The boards subsequently became detached and are missing.
  • Due to the missing boards it is not known what the original binding style was, but later editions from the same period appear to be mainly half bound with leather and cloth.


  • Extra section stubs were sewn onto the text block to increase the width of the spine.
  • Endbands were also sewn on to help improve the strength of the overall structure. Although not an original feature of the binding, it was felt that they would help support the structure and shape of the spine.
  • New boards were made and attached. Tanned goat skin was used to cover the spine and corners, with toned Aerolinen adhered to the outsides of the boards.
  • The old, original spine leather was pasted back in place. 
Before treatment.

Before treatment.

After treatment.

After treatment.

Spine before treatment.

Spine before treatment.

Spine after treatment.

Spine after treatment.

Head before treatment.

Head before treatment.

Head after treatment.

Head after treatment.

Re-housing of the scrapbooks:

All 77 scrapbooks were re-housed in custom made clamshell boxes. 

Scrapbook in clamshell box.

Scrapbook in clamshell box.



From the Reading Room.

Kirstin Smith, a PhD candidate in the Drama Department at Queen Mary (University of London), has been in this week looking at a number of volumes from the Goldsmith’s Library of Economic Literature.

[GL] E896 ft cov-5779

Silver vs. gold.  Free silver and the people…  (front cover ) By C.M. Stevans.

The books Kirstin chose to consult concern the debate in the USA in the late nineteenth century as to whether that country should return to the system of ‘bimetallism’, where a nation’s holdings of gold and silver act as a guarantee of the value of a currency.   As the ratio for the value of silver to gold was to be set at 32 to 1, rather than the actual value of 16 to 1, economists agreed that ‘free silver’ would cause inflation.  The key point for politicians was whether this inflation would be beneficial – Democrats thought it would and Republicans did not.  1893 had marked a severe depression in the USA and many believed inflation was necessary to get the economy moving again (a debate still raging today).  It would have been especially beneficial for the farmers of the Midwest and the South, as increased prices for their crops would enable them to repay debts quicker.  The financial establishment of the Northeast, the railroads, industry, diversified farmers and business all favoured the Gold Standard; many of these were creditors and inflation would devalue the loans they had provided.  Free silver was a populist movement that portrayed its campaign as a fight between ordinary Americans against bankers, railroad barons and other proponents of laissez-faire capitalism. 

[GL] E895 p71-5778

Real Bi-Metallism or true versus false coin – a lesson for “Coin’s financial school’. (p. 71) By E. Wheeler

Free silver was also portrayed as anti-British – still a potent vote catcher at that time.  As a policy objective bimetallism failed and the USA moved to the Gold Standard at the end of the nineteenth century, before the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 completely overhauled the US monetary system.

It was with the above in mind that I asked Kirstin why she was particularly interested in the volumes we had fetched for her and how they related to her wider research.  Her answer was a surprise.

‘I’m researching the emergence of stunts as a form of performance, word and concept, so why am I reading about the bimetallism debate in the USA at the end of the 19th century?  One of the earliest references to stunts I’ve found so far is in a New York newspaper in 1897.  It’s about William Jennings Bryan, a Democrat politician who led the campaign for ‘free silver’.  Through Bryan and the Free Silver campaign I am thinking about how stunts relate to value.  I’ve been reading a campaign handbook, Silver vs. Gold.  Free Silver and the people ([G.L.] E.896) by C.M Stevans which as well as being of direct relevance to my research also raises many interesting points concerning modern conceptions of value, currency, guarantee and the power of banks today.’

[GL] E894 p129-5777

Coin’s financial school (p.123) By W. Harvey

[GL] E894 p21-5775

Coin’s financial school (p.21) By W. Harvey


Senate House Library treasures volume: Featuring old clothes and Shakespearean contemporaries

Charles Lamb’s Specimens of English Dramatic Poets, who Lived about the Time of Shakespeare (1808) is a compilation of extracts of plays, each preceded by a brief contextualisation of the extract. Represented dramatists include Beaumont and Fletcher, Philip Massinger (alone and in collaboration), James Shirley, Thomas Kyd, George Peele, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Decker, John Marston, George Chapman, Thomas Heywood, Thomas Middleton, William Rowley, John Webster and some who have dropped into obscurity: Robert Tailor, Joseph Cooke, Cyril Tourneur, Robert Narrington and Edward Ravenscroft among others. The book was well received and ran into several further editions and reprints in the nineteenth century, from 1813, and the twentieth, when evidence of its canonical status was demonstrated by its choice as an Everyman classic. Versions appeared with further editorial intervention, by the essayist and biographer E. V. Lucas and by William Macdonald.

For Senate House Library, the first edition of a book edited by a significant literary personage dealing with Shakespeare’s contemporaries is inevitably significant, the Library having developed strong Shakespearean holdings ever since acquiring Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence’s library in 1929. In itself, the first edition of Lamb’s book is not rare, with at least thirteen copies recorded in institutional libraries in the United Kingdom. But the Senate House Library copy is a presentation one, inscribed by Lamb’s friend and fellow poet Robert Southey: ‘R. Southey from the Editor, Keswick. Aug. 6. 1808.’ It originally formed part of what Southey called his ‘Cottonian library’. The name paid joking homage to the seventeenth-century bibliophile Sir Robert Cotton, while referring to a collection of books bound by members of his family, using whatever materials they had to hand (such as old dresses previously worn by the Southey ladies) – in this instance, flowered beige calico cloth. The book is the most striking of eleven titles by Lamb to have been given to Senate House Library in early editions by Sir Louis Sterling.


From the Reading Room.

Lily Ford, a PhD candidate at Birkbeck has visited the reading room a number of times over the past six months or so.  On each occasion she has been reading Airopaidia (Porteus Library 05 SR) by Thomas Baldwin. Luckily I caught her on her last visit and asked why she had been reading this text and how it was relevant to her wider research.

Thomas Baldwin’s Airopaidia contains the first British representations of a ‘real’ aerial view. The aerial view had long been imagined – there are ascension fantasies in Cicero, Lucian, and Dante among others, and ‘bird’s-eye views’ had been sketched from hills or steeples for centuries – but it was only with the invention of the hot air balloon that it could be experienced. Baldwin hired the entrepreneur Vincent Lunardi’s balloon and ascended over Chester in September 1785.  He found the change in the earth’s appearance when seen from above the clouds fascinating. He had two drawings engraved and reproduced in colour in the book, and he included quite specific instructions about how to look at them, in order to recreate the sensations of wonder and delight that the views had provoked in him.

Porteous Lib 05 SR p58-5773

Baldwin’s instructions for viewing are as follows:

‘A Circular View from the Balloon at its greatest Elevation.  The Spectator is supposed to be in the Car of the Balloon, suspended above the Center of the View: looking down on the Amphitheatre or white Floor of Clouds and seeing the City of Chester, as it appeared throu’ the Opening: which discovers the Landscape below, limited, by surrounding Vapour, to something less than two Miles in Diameter.  The Breadth of the blue Margin defines the apparent Height of the Spectator in the Balloon (viz. 4 Miles) above the Floor of Clouds, as he hangs in the Center, and looks horizontally round into the azure sky.’ (p. IIII)

Baldwin’s sense of wonder is captured well by his purple prose:

‘…what Scenes of Grandeur and Beauty!  A Tear of pure Delight flashed in his Eye! of pure and exquisite Delight and Rapture: to look down on the unexpected Change already wrought in the Works of Art and Nature, contracted to a span by the NEW PERSPECTIVE, diminished almost beyond the bounds of credibility.’ (p.37)

Reading Baldwin’s exhilarated account of his flight, and looking at these images, got me thinking about how the aerial view changes our understanding of the world. My PhD thesis considers the cultural impact of flight and representations of the aerial view. It is focused on the 1920s when aeroplanes and aerial photography, invigorated after the rapid technological development of the First World War, became integrated into a more general ‘airmindedness’. But it all begins with Airopaidia.

Porteous Lib 05 SR p154-5771

Baldwin writes:

‘A Balloon-Prospect from above the Clouds, or Chromatic View of the Country between Chester, Warrington and Rixton-Moss in Lancashire: shewing the whole Extent of the aerial Voyage; with the meandering Track of the Balloon throu’ the Air.’ (p. IIII)

As I understand it, Baldwin paid for the book’s publication and distribution himself, and it does not seem to have made any impact on critics at the time. Senate House’s copy, while not unique (there are 20 copies in UK academic libraries) is inscribed ‘From the author’. It gives me the sense of a more direct link to this fascinating narrative, and I feel very glad to be consulting it 227 years on.

Dragons, childhood et al.: recent acquisitions

When Sir Louis Sterling gave Senate House Library his collection of about 4,200 specimens of English literature in 1956, he intended it to be added to, and left money for the purpose. One of this year’s acquisitions was a 1920 edition of Walter de la Mare’s Songs of Childhood, his first book of poetry (originally published in 1902 under the name “Walter Ramal”). This issue states of itself: “In this new edition one or two poems have been omitted; there are a few new ones; and what is common to both volumes has been here and there revised”. In addition, the work has joined a series, Longmans’ Pocket Library. The small work is significant for Senate House Library because it supplements editions in the Walter de la Mare Family Archive of Walter de la Mare’s Printed Oeuvre, a collection of editions and translations of De la Mare’s work. This copy was acquired in 1921 by J. B. Stoughton Holborn of Foula: i.e. John Bernard (“Ian”) Stoughton Holborn (1872-1935), an academic and author who in about 1900 purchased the Scottish island of Foula (twenty miles west of the Shetland Islands and the most remote inhabited island in the British Isles), and therewith became its laird.

Songs of Childhood

Sterling also hoped that his gift would encourage further donations. An area of his collecting was private press books from the heyday of the private press movement and earlier. Salient are the extensive holdings of presses, such as a complete set of books issued by the Kelmscott Press and seventy books from the Golden Cockerel Press, but numerous presses were represented by a small number of items: for example, the Bowling Green Press; the Centaur Press; the Seizin Press. In this spirit, the Library was delighted to accept specimens of the output of three modern private presses, Rufus Books, based in Toronto, the Clutag Press, established in 2000 in Thame, Oxfordshire, and the Happy Dragons Press, begun by Julius Stafford-Baker in 1969; the recent gifts are all of twenty-first century works, some from the ‘Dragon Poems in Translation’ series inherited from the Keepsake Press. Unlike the books from the private press movement, the twenty-first century items received are paperbacks, and several are mere pamphlets – a fascinating proof of publishing changes. Interest in good-quality type and paper, in layout and often illustration, and limited editions, often with numbered copies, continue the established private press tradition. Some of the items received are rare: four “dragon poems” from the Happy Dragon Press, translated from the Spanish of Pablo Neruda, the Polish of Krystof Kamil Baczynski, the Turkish of Mehmet Yashin and the German of Erich Fried, are the first to be recorded in British institutional libraries, as is John Reibetanz’s poem Fallen, printed in fifty copies (Rufus, 2012).