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 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.