A sketchbook of Randolph Caldecott – a new exhibition on Capital Collections

The featured exhibition on Capital Collections presents an example of illustration work by the artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) taken from a series of sketches collated into the publication `A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

Couples walking under umbrellas in a rain shower

April from ‘A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

This volume of sketches captures everyday life in the countryside through the passing seasons. Each sketch has a narrative quality with scenes of people – young and old – partaking in different activities, enjoying the natural scenery around them, as well as scenes of various animals interacting with humans. This sketchbook contains a mixture of vibrantly coloured and monochrome sketches with each image exemplifying Caldecott’s dedication to depicting detail and his clear fondness for depicting his subjects as they were, in their natural environment.

As the collection progresses through the seasons Caldecott reminds us all through these playful images of the circle of life and how the seasons will return one after the other.

The spectators from ‘A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

Caldecott is best known for his illustrations of nursery rhymes which brought him international acclaim. Despite his relatively short lifetime, Caldecott’s work is considered to have transformed children’s books during the Victorian era, a period which is considered the ‘Golden age’ of illustration with the influence of artists like Caldecott still resonating today. Caldecott is considered part of the influential ‘nursery triumvirate’, along with Walter Crane and Kate Greenway. Following the popularity of these authors it became the norm for children’s books to be dominated by image over text.

Quite a small party from ‘A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

Capital Collections provides a window into Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections and makes our photographs, illustrations and books much more accessible to a wider audience.

There are two other exhibitions displaying Caldecott’s illustrated story books to enjoy on Capital Collections:

The house that Jack built
A Frog he would a-wooing go.

Many thanks to our Art & Design Library volunteer Emilie Brown for curating this and other Caldecott exhibitions. For more information on our collections of illustrated books by Randolph Caldecott email the Art & Design Library.

Who was William Creech?

William Creech was well known in his time, something of a mover and shaker, you might say, but today his name is hardly known. A new story on Our Town Stories describes the man and his legacy.

The story includes images depicting the Edinburgh he knew, when he sold his books from one of the luckenbooths beside St Giles Cathedral and then when his fortunes grew and he moved to the New Town to reflect his new found status.

A view of the Old Town, by A. Kay, engraved by I. Clark, 1812

The story also includes little-seen and very special material from our collections – excerpts from Creech’s personal letter copybooks and accounts giving a true insight into his character and life.

Best remembered for being the first person to publish Robert Burns’ poems, he was highly influential in Edinburgh society and served as Lord Provost.

Read more about William Creech and his publishing legacy on Our Town Stories.

The house that Jack built

Capital Collections provides a window into Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections and gives the public opportunity to view photographs, illustrations and books in a manner that makes them much more accessible to a wider audience. The latest Capital Collections exhibition displays a digitised view of one such special book, ‘The house that Jack built’ brimming with gorgeous, colourful images by the celebrated artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886). This book, along with several others by the artist, was created with children in mind and its style became synonymous with Victorian children’s literature, a period considered the ‘golden age’ for this genre of books.

The House that Jack Built, front cover

Despite his relatively short life time, Caldecott’s work is considered to have been transformative in the nature of children’s books and illustration in the Victorian era with his influence still resonating today. Caldecott is considered part of the influential ‘nursery triumvirate’, along with Walter Crane and Kate Greenway. Following the popularity of these authors it became the norm for children’s books to be dominated by image over text.

The work showcased in this exhibition is the first in a collection of books originally published in 1878. The book tells the story of the goings on in and around a country house built by Jack with a myriad of delightful characters making appearances. His illustrations were exercised with a manner of humour and full of life, reflecting his own personality. His images, although often not predominantly meant to make a person laugh, are extremely entertaining and good fun. Stylistically, ‘The house that Jack built’ is written in the form of a cumulative tale. This is when a tale is told by repeating dialogue that builds up to allow the story to progress. As a cumulative tale it does not tell the story of Jack’s house, or even of Jack who built the house, but instead shows how the house is indirectly linked to other things and people, and through this method tells the story of “The man all tattered and torn” and the “Maiden all forlorn” as well as other smaller events, showing how these are interlinked. ‘The house that Jack built’ became a world renowned piece of work, referenced in both political satire and popular culture.

“This is the Cat,
That killed the Rat”
from ‘The house that Jack built’

The Capital Collections exhibition attempts to highlight the brilliance and vibrancy of Caldecott’s work. His ability to express true meaning and subtleties of thought through primarily image and minimal text is something of great admiration and ‘The house that Jack built’ is a perfect example of this. The delightful style and bright colourful images in this book are full of life and can be enjoyed by young and old alike, those with an interest in the history of children’s illustration and those who simply appreciate Caldecott’s artistic style. The exhibition’s accompanying text provides a little more detail into the message of the image and the artist in question, although the images are so detailed and charming that they can be enjoyed and admired just as they are.

Browse all the pages from this delightful Victorian illustrated children’s book on Capital Collections.

Emmeline Vyner: poet, psychic, dog-lover

Staff at Central Library have been archiving a box of personal papers, diaries and scrapbooks and in the process, discovering a remarkable life. Emmeline Lillian Vyner was born in Halifax around 1876. She moved to Scotland with her husband and first daughter and stayed here for the rest of her life. She was found dead in her shop in Leith in 1947 by her son.

A mother of five, she possessed a wry sense of humour and a robust outlook on life lived through two world wars. She liked to write poetry and her poems were placed in Edinburgh and Leith newspapers: romantic and natural subjects to start with then moving on to First World War poems, based mainly on the experience of the women and children left to cope at home. She was not afraid to criticise the church and the established institutions of the day and to challenge injustice where she found it with her published articles and in letters to the newspapers. When she felt in a lighter mood, she wrote humorous pieces for magazines, newspapers and lyrics for songs. She had lofty ambitions and received rejection notices from some of the biggest literary agents in Britain. She has pasted one of those rejections in her scrapbook signed by Curtis Brown. He set up the agency which still manages some of the biggest names in the literary world today.

Some of her most interesting pieces are on her activities attending psychic seances in various houses in Edinburgh and Leith in 1942. These circles were well attended by large numbers of participants and, from Emmeline’s accounts, the attendees gained a great deal of comfort from the messages from the mediums. She explains in one article that she has been receiving jealous looks from the other sitters at the number of messages she receives and explains the best way to receive messages from the spirit people. She advises not to eat flesh meat or eggs on séance days, talk to your spirit friends before you leave your house, tell them where you are going and ask them to come with you. Once you are at your circle, sit still and relax and don’t cross the legs, feet, hands, arms or do anything to close yourself up. She writes “Let spirit emanations flow from your extremities and remove your hat if you like.” Always enterprising, Emmeline has typed up these accounts on reused paper (due to wartime restrictions) and has charged between threepence and sixpence for a copy!

It’s her delight in children and dogs that really shines through her journals and scrapbooks. In her work as a cinema pianist, she rails against playing for two hour features with only the shortest of breaks but she delights in the mornings that she played her piano for the children’s features. She loved to hear all the children singing along to her piano and deliberately played tunes they would enjoy although she said that, due to the noise, a brass band might have been a better accompaniment! Dogs she loved, especially old English collies, and her charming article on dogs and their affinity with their masters is illustrated with four photos of Rough, her own example of the breed. She states the reasoning powers of dogs is quite evident and provides several examples of dogs doing just that. The funniest is an Alsatian called Prince whom, upon hearing his mistress’ wish for a fur coat from her husband, promptly went out the door and stole her a mink coat that had been left out to air by a neighbour!

We are glad Emmeline Vyner settled in Scotland all those years ago and left behind so many different types of writing. It has been fascinating to see a glimpse of how an ordinary person dealt with the Great War through poetry and then found support through spiritualism to carry on through the Second World War, brought closer to home by Leith air raids and rationing. We are so glad that we have had a chance to read her papers, her newspaper articles and her scrapbooks and make a connection with such a lively and resilient character.


Passport belonging to John Morison Inches

One of the things that Libraries lend most frequently are travel guides, but we have in our collections much more than just books about travel. We house prints, photos, travelogues, timetables, tickets and ephemera, including perhaps surprisingly, some historical passports.

Before the age of photographic ID, the passport was a standard printed form emblazed with the Royal Coat of Arms and stating:

We, Sir Edward Grey, a Baronet of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, a Member of His Most Britannic Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council…


Request and require in the Name of His Majesty, all those whom it may concern to allow — to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford — every assistance and protection of which — may stand in need.

Staff in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection recently uncovered one such passport made out to Mr John Morison Inches, a British subject travelling in Europe, accompanied by his wife Mrs Margaret Morison Inches.

Passport of Mr John Morison Inches

Who are the persons named in the passport? We turned first to the Library’s resources and the Scotsman Digital Archive where we found John Morison Inches obituary in its edition of 5 May 1914. We also found details of his will published in The Scotsman on 12 June 1914 where he left an estate of £49,095.

Mr John Morison Inches was well-known in Edinburgh in his time. He was a brewer and ran J & J Morison, the Commercial Brewery in the Canongate. He was traveling with his wife Mrs Margaret Inches on a possible business trip in 1911 to Moscow in pre-Great War and pre-1917 revolutionary Russia. He died soon after this trip in 1914 and left his business to his widow until his son John Morison Inches took over. Although, Margaret remained heavily involved in the business operations for many years. The brewery would eventually evolve into Scottish and Newcastle Breweries.

The passport  is currently on display in the Reference Library at Central Library.

Of wild grandeur and simplicity: take a journey to the Nordic countries via 18th- and 19th-century travel books

Vikings sail stealthily into unsuspecting shores, their longships cutting through the water with ease. Saga characters recite poetry one day, carry out blood vengeance the next. Kings vie for power in their kingdoms, fighting fierce battles and sending warriors to Valhalla at the end of each struggle. Ice is everywhere, and the mountains tower ever higher with piling snow. This is the North.

Everyone has their own idea of the North, a mythic place where the life of the Middle Ages seems to still breathe in the landscape. Much of what we think of when we consider the North today – from Vikings to sagas to Old Norse mythology – is what 18th- and 19th-century travellers envisioned on their journeys. To them, the formidable northern landscape, largely untouched and filled with magnificent fjords and mountains and crags, seemed to carry this timeless medieval world throughout its rugged majesty.

We can journey to the North with travellers from centuries past through reading the books that record their travels. These books are the centre of the Central Library’s latest exhibition, ‘Of Wild Grandeur and Simplicity: Journeys to the Nordic Countries in 18th- and 19th-Century Travel Books’. This exhibition was curated by one of our postgraduate interns, Hailey Brock, from the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Edinburgh. In these books, the travellers venture to the Nordic Countries—namely Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and the Faroes. There, they envision the Old North, and relive it in the beautiful setting.

You too can create your own vision of the North at this exhibition, which runs until 5 April 2019 on the Mezzanine Level at Central Library.

The ‘Of wild grandeur and simplicity’ exhibition is part of the Rare Books Edinburgh programme.


Strangers from a strange land

The Rare Books Edinburgh festival is dedicated to rare, important books and the history of the book.

In support of the festival, Central Library is putting on a display of special books entitled ‘Strangers from a Strange Land’. The exhibition showcases books which started life in faraway places and have travelled to Scotland and found a home on the shelves of Edinburgh Libraries.

One of the highlights on display is a Latin edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle printed in 1493.

Visit the exhibition on the Mezzanine at Central Library until 26 March 2018 for a rare chance to see these gems from our collections.


The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries: Charles Boog Watson

On retiring from his duties as an ARP warden in 1943, aged 84 years old, Charles Boog Watson received a letter of thanks from the Civil Defence Warden’s Service. It stated,

“…and I feel that if everyone could show the same keenness that you have done everything would be easier and the world would be a better place…”

Edinburgh Libraries also owes a huge debt of thanks to Charles Boog Watson who donated many valuable items from his personal collections.

Charles Brodie Boog Watson was born on the 7 November, 1858 in Bombay, India and was educated at Edinburgh Academy. He later entered the engineering profession becoming a partner in the West End Engine Works, retiring in 1908.

For many years after his retirement, he was given a room in the City Chambers to continue his voluntary task of using the City Council records to research all aspects of the city’s history and topography. This extensive and meticulous research comprising 14 volumes he presented to Edinburgh Libraries.

He also donated his notebooks, memorabilia and correspondence from his time as a World War II ARP warden to the library giving us a unique record of the home front in Edinburgh. Browse our Capital Collections exhibition to get an impression of what life was like for Charles during the Second World War. He also donated a magnificent collection of 40 editions of Holbein’s Dance of Death, including David Deuchar editions. He had collected these over many years, adding annotations and auction record entries.

For over 30 years he was director, then chairman, of the Edinburgh City Mission. He was also a member of the Edinburgh Public Libraries Committee and a vice-president of the Old Edinburgh Club.

Charles Brodie Boog Watson died on the 16 November 1947 at his home at 24 Garscube Terrace, Edinburgh.

Read all the articles in this series of ‘The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries’:

George Washington Browne: architect

Robert Butchart: City Librarian

Andrew Carnegie: steelmaker and philanthropist

Henry Dyer, engineer, educationist and Japanophile

William McEwan: brewer and philanthropist

David Mather Masson: scholar and biographer

Thomas Ross: architect and antiquarian

The tradesmen who built Central Library

The art of chromolithography!

The Central Library often takes interns or student placements who use our special collections as a focus for their studies. One such student is Becky Sparagowski who completed a project with us as part of her Masters coursework at the Centre for the History of the Book, Edinburgh University.

Becky’s area of interest was “The chromolithographed decorative design books of the Art & Design Library” and in this blog post she explains exactly what chromolithography is!

Becky selecting her research material

Have you ever thought about colour printing? It’s something that’s fairly commonplace now, but when it was first introduced it was revolutionary.

One of the first people to get colour printing – or chromolithography – right was Owen Jones, who is most famous for his design book The Grammar of Ornament (1856). This book set a high bar for chromolithography, and all the books that were published after it tried to meet that standard. While Jones did much work in ornamental design (he was an architect by profession), he is best remembered for his work in chromolithography and the dedication with which he improved the colour printing process.

After Jones’s work, though, colour printing took off, and artists all across

Chromolithograph “Cacatoës et magnolia, bordure. Souris blanches” from L’animal dans la decoration (The animal in decoration) by Maurice Pillard Verneuil & E. Lévy, 1897.

Europe used the medium to produce artistic prints, posters, and, of course, art and design books. The late 19th and early 20th centuries produced a huge number of books with chromolithographic prints, many of which are very intricate and complicated. The work done in these books is even more impressive when you know that in chromolithography, the colours are printed one at a time, making the detailed work in these books incredibly difficult to do!

Chromolithograph “Moresque no.1” from Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones, 1856

I recently sat down with the Art and Design Library’s wonderful collection of books with chromolithographic printing while working on a research project my MSc course in Book History and Material Culture at the University of Edinburgh. This collection of books – including The Grammar of Ornament – embodies everything that is noteworthy about chromolithography, from the detailed craftsmanship that goes into creating chromolithographic prints to the realisation of Victorian cultural values in the works themselves. They truly are an important – and beautiful – part of the history of the book.

The books can be consulted by contacting the Art & Design Library and you can explore some of Owen Jones’ beautiful prints in our online exhibition, Travel to Perfection: Owen Jones and The Alhambra on Capital Collections.

The last dance

A skeletal figure appears in front of a blind man. It cuts the man’s dog lead and takes hold of his walking stick, leaving the blind man to step straight into his own open grave.

In the shadows of a nun’s bedchamber another bony figure snuffs out the woman’s candlelight. The nun doesn’t notice as she’s distracted by the musical male visitor perched at her bedside.

A young child waves to his distressed mother and older brother as he’s led by a skeleton out of his home. The skeleton hold aloft an hourglass; the child’s time, though short, is up.

A group of drunkards in a tavern over-indulging to the point of sickness are oblivious to another menacing visitor serving the alcohol.

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The message? Death comes to us all.

Over the next month, Central Library offers a rare opportunity to see one of our most fascinating (and grotesque!) holdings: the Dance of Death Collection. Emily Wilkinson, a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, has been researching the Dance of Death Collection for the past year, and her work has culminated in both a physical and a virtual exhibition on the subject.

The Dance of Death Collection was donated to Central Library in the 1940s by one of our patrons, Charles Boog Watson. The collection is incredibly diverse and includes over forty books dating from 1542 to 1934. Volumes are illustrated with woodcuts, etchings, or engravings designed or executed by one of a number of artists including Hans Holbein the Younger, David Deuchar, Wenceslaus Hollar, Matthäus Merian and Christian de Mechel.

In spite of their differences, however, the books are united thematically; they all relate to a medieval artistic tradition, the Dance of Death. They depict members of society from all strata being met by Death and thus by their demise, reminding us all that ultimately we share the same fate.

Visit the Dance of Death exhibition on the Mezzanine at Central Library from 2nd to 30th October 2013 and view the online version at Capital Collections.

A postcard from Central Library

Next time you’re in Central Library look out for our range of postcards. There are 15 designs to choose from and each design is taken from our extensive image collections. They range from the exquisite….Humming-Birds

… to the iconicScott Monument, Edinburgh

…and to the slightly curious…Charade at AbercairnyThere’s one for every occasion! Postcards are on sale for 50p each from Central Library’s Art, Lending, Music and Reference departments.

Japanese art treasure unearthed in Central Library

There’s been a lot of excitement surrounding the discovery of a rare Japanese eighteenth century handscroll painting among our collections.

Moromasa scrollFor decades the  44ft long scroll has been held in the Central Library without anyone realising its true significance. Now Edinburgh City Libraries and National Museums Scotland have submitted a joint application to the Sumitomo Foundation for conservation funding with the result expected in March.

The scroll, by Japanese painter Furuyama Moromasa, is over 44ft in length and depicts an extended street scene in C18th Edo, or Tokyo, showing shops, theatres and domestic detail of life at that time.

Dr Rosina Buckland, Senior Curator of National Museums Scotland’s Japanese collections, has worked with Edinburgh City Libraries to help interpret the scroll using her knowledge of the period.

She said: “This handscroll is a fascinating and important work. It presents a wealth of amusing and entertaining scenes of life in Edo (today’s Tokyo) around 1700, as well as plentiful information on the lively world of the popular theatre, and is the only known large handscroll painting by this artist.

Moromasa scroll 2“We very much hope that our funding application for specialist conservation work will be successful, so that the painting can be enjoyed by many people in Scotland, and beyond.”

The scroll was gifted to Edinburgh City Libraries in the 1940s by a relative of Henry Dyer, a Scottish engineer who played a major part in the industrialisation of Japan.

Learn more about the scroll, Henry Dyer and other treasures of the library on Capital Collections.

These books really are works of art

Here at Tales of One City we love sharing news of some of the amazing work going on behind the scenes. In Central Library’s Art Library, for example, postgraduate student Riona Campbell is currently working with our collection of artist made books. Riona told us more about herself and the project:

“I am a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh studying the History of Art, Theory and Display. Through my programme, I have been given the opportunity to work at the Fine Art Library attached to the Central Library.

For my internship, I have been looking at the library’s collection of artist made books.  These can take the form of an artist’s work in book format, books made by the artist as a standalone piece of art, or collaborations between writers and artists to produce a finished and streamlined product.

‘Fisherman’s Hut’ by Lynda Wilson

I am working towards organising a large portion of these books for display in the glass case on the mezzanine level of the library; everything will be ready for display in June!  The books will be chosen based around the relationship and play between word and image, especially focusing on the use of colour in illustration to tell a story.”

You can follow Riona’s progress and see more fabulous photos at rionajean.tumblr.com

And if you’d like to know more about our collection of artist made books and our wider collection of material relating to the visual arts, make sure to call in at the Art Library next time you’re in town.

From our Special Collections: Monsieur Thévenot’s ‘The Art of Swimming’

If the Olympics have inspired you to take up a new sport you can do worse than taking a look at the Know the Game series, available to library members via Public Library Online.

But these kinds of books are nothing new, as a curious item from our collections demonstrates…

In 1696 Melchisedech Thévenot (scientist, traveller, diplomat and inventor of the spirit level) published ‘The Art of Swimming’, one of the very first books on the subject.

Disregarding its title, Monsieur Thévenot’s swimming handbook seems to have been designed less as a means of perfecting one’s style in the water, and more as a tool for survival in late 17th century France. He lists a number of advantages to learning how to become adept in the water in the introduction to his book:

In case of Shipwreck, if one is not very far from Shore, the Art of Swimming may set one safe there, and to save from being drowned.

In case of being pursued by an Enemy, and meeting a River in one’s way, you have the advantage of escaping two sorts of Death, by gaining the Shore on the other side, and so escaping from your Enemy, and from being drowned in the attempt of doing it.

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This printed treasure from our Special Collections is our latest exhibition on Capital Collections, our online image gallery.

Enjoy the full volume of wonderful illustrations as well as some of the more intriguing techniques such as ‘The Agility of the Dolphin’ or ‘The Leap of the Goat’.  There’s even advice on how ‘To cut the nails of the toes in the water’. The reader is assured this is an easier task to perform in water than out – though best not try this one down the local swimming baths!

The return of the Assembly Rooms

This month sees the eagerly anticipated reopening of the Assembly Rooms. Timed to coincide with this year’s Festival Fringe, the refurbished George Street venue is set to be inundated with visitors from the city and around the world.

The Assembly Rooms, first opened on George Street in January 1787 with a Caledonian Hunt Ball. A Master of Ceremonies was appointed to make sure Edinburgh’s socialites adhered to the regulations. Dress code was strict too, with young gentlemen refused entry if their hair was unpowdered or untied, or if they were wearing boots.

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Today’s Fringe audiences are unlikely to be turned away for their attire, but they’re sure to be equally impressed by the building’s grandeur and entertainment. We’ve put together a collection of images and ephemera from our library archives to celebrate the Assembly Rooms’ history and the reopening of this magnificent Georgian building. We’ve found some wonderfully evocative programmes for music recitals and even a collection of beautifully illustrated ball dance tickets dating from the 1830s and 1840s and they’re all available to view in our special Assembly Rooms exhibition.

Dai Nippon – Kabuki Prints from the Henry Dyer Collection

Dai Nippon

Last Friday saw the launch of the Dai Nippon exhibition at Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Gallery. The exhibition, curated by Vanessa Tothill, runs until Saturday 10 October 2009.  View more pictures from the launch on our flickr page.

Dai Nippon (Great Japan) reunites a series of original late Edo-period Japanese Kabuki woodblock prints from the Henry Dyer Collection, a bequest shared between Edinburgh and Glasgow City Libraries.

In connection with this exhibition, reproduction prints inspired by The Tale of Genji will be on  display at Edinburgh Central Library from 31 August – 10 October 2009, together with a programme of associated events.

You can view images from the Henry Dyer Collection for yourself on the Capital Collections image gallery.

Launch of special Gaelic collection at Fountainbridge Library…

gaeliccollectionWe’re very busy at the moment planning the launch of a special collection of Gaelic resources; Nead na Gàidhlig (The Gaelic Nest), thanks to a very generous grant from Bòrd na Gàidhlig.  

The collection will launch on Tuesday 5th May at Fountainbridge Library and we’re delighted that Councilor Brock, along with over 30 children from the local Bun Scoil, are able to join us for this special event.  And to help us celebrate we’ll be adding a couple of magic ingredients; a Gaelic storyteller and lots of cake!    

Following the launch, we look forward to sharing Nead na Gàidhlig with you on your next trip to Fountainbridge Library.   There’s also an opportunity to access our other special collection of Gaelic resources at Central Children’s Library on George IV Bridge.  

In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning Gaelic from home then check out this helpful BBC Guide to Scottish Gaelic ; it’s designed for “absolute beginners”. 🙂