Bibliography- or book-related links recommended by members of the Society’s Council

A new series initiated by Margaret Ford, Past President

Posts from previous years: 2022 2021  2020

December 2023

The Wasserzeicheninformationssystem (WZIS): an international database of early watermarks

Although among watermark aficionados there is still no substitute for Gerhard Piccard’s monumental 25-volume printed catalogue of watermarks, there have been several attempts at compiling online libraries of watermark images. The Wasserzeicheninformationssystem (WZIS) is one of the more successful. Funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the original project sought to create a central database of watermark images drawn from the manuscript departments of seven key institutions. Integrated into this were the 90,000 images held in Piccard-Online and various other data sets.

Images of watermarks are held in the database with associated metadata to allow for searching, which is undertaken through a variety of attributes, at the highest level by motif, then within that by size. Several more complex search options are available, most usefully distance between chainlines, number of chainlines, date of use, and place of use. There is also an index of named papermakers and some more experimental search tools which utilise maps for geographical searches for place of use, depository, and location of paper mill.

WZIS’s greatest asset is the amount of data it holds. The search engine is intuitive, but not perhaps as thorough or systematised as that developed for Piccard-Online. Navigation through the tree of motifs is easy, and the decision to create interfaces in German, English, and French makes it more internationally accessible.

Ed Potten, Vice-President

November 2023

Reformation Cardinal: Reginald Pole in 16th-Century Italy and England

Cardinal Reginald Pole (1500–1558) has long deserved a better press. Elizabethan propagandists handed down a portrait of the last Catholic archbishop of Canterbury as a reactionary ‘Italianate Englishman’, unable to understand his native land or arrest its Providential destiny as a Protestant nation. A competing narrative condoles in his failure to return the country to its historic place in Catholic Europe, thwarted by bad luck and time. As ever, the reality, caught up in the storms of the Reformation, is more intricate and interesting. Henry VIII had ordered the assassination of the ‘archtraitor’ in 1537, infuriated by his cousin’s public opposition to the royal supremacy. Enemies in Rome accused Pole of being a crypto-Lutheran and sought to bring him before the Inquisition. And yet, remarkably, this enigmatic man, who came within one vote of being elected pope, became the intellectual leader of the Marian restoration and remains a decisive figure in the European Counter-Reformation.

Reginald Pole’s story may be told from his books, as revealed by a new website from Lambeth Palace Library: The resource reproduces a physical exhibition at Lambeth, co-produced by New College, Oxford, which runs until mid-December 2023. Pole, famous among humanists as a collector of Greek manuscripts, assembled one of the period’s most intriguing libraries. The oldest manuscript on view here is from tenth-century Constantinople. Another, copied at the end of the fifteenth century at Reading abbey, he passed to the Aldine press in Venice in 1536 for the making of their famous edition of Aristotle’s Ethics, a rare example of a manuscript made in England being used to set a Continental printed edition. Pole’s library absorbed the books of Christophe de Longeuil (‘Longolius’), Europe’s leading Ciceronian, who had joined Pole’s household in Padua. They are replete with Longolius’s annotations, which Erasmus urged Pole to put into print. Later, the Cardinal’s collecting activities were more dangerous. He and his circle, which included Michelangelo and the poet Vittoria Colonna, were suspected of using books banned in Italy to inform their own heterodox writings. In 1538 he refounded the library of the English pilgrim hospice of St Thomas in Rome, donating books which are still on the shelves of the successor institution, the Venerable English College; three items are displayed. Pole’s own books, shipped to England when he returned as papal legate in 1554, passed to the resolutely Catholic fellows of New College. They remain there today, the celebration of which fact is the reason for this exhibition.

James Willoughby, Hon. Editor, The Library

October 2023

The British Book Trade Index

The first usage of ‘crowdsourcing’ is dated by the Oxford English Dictionary – itself a crowdsourced publication – to 2006. The British Book Trade Index, one of the more successful examples of crowdsourcing within book history, also predates this usage. Begun in 1983 by past Bibliographical Society President Peter Isaac, BBTI contains “brief biographical and trade details of all those who worked in the English and Welsh book trades up to 1851.” Unsurprisingly given Professor Isaac’s own work, the focus was on the book trades outside London. For Scotland, a separate Scottish Book Trade Index was begun by John Morris at the National Library of Scotland and is now hosted by CERL.

BBTI took shape as a series of databases into which were keyed report forms filled out by crowdsourcers – often librarians, booksellers or collectors as well as academics – supported by various funders or on a shoestring between grants. In 2002 the Index was developed as an online publication at the University of Birmingham, under the Directorship of Maureen Bell and with John Hinks as Research Fellow. Launched online in 2005, it was hosted by Birmingham for over a decade through several software upgrades and many editorial updates. Since 2015 the Index has been hosted by the Bodleian Library, a move supported by the Printing Historical Society and Print Networks, watched closely by the Bibliographical Society. It is now being readied to enable a next phase of development.

Users of BBTI will know that it is an Index – of sources – and not a biographical dictionary such as Plomer, whose work it partially incorporates along with countless trade directories, archival records and the imprints of books themselves. As an index it contains multitudes: what is known to makers of biographical dictionaries as ‘the John Smith problem’ (which one?) is not tackled, the editors having refused to make the perfect the enemy of the good, but the Index can be used to address this problem as well as to answer manifold other inquiries.

‘Exclude London’ is an option in the Index’s Advanced Search interface.

Giles Bergel, member of Council

September 2023

Richard Sharpe’s Libraries and Books in Medieval England

During my brief time in Oxford, I got to know the late Richard Sharpe quite well – I wouldn’t say we were friends, but we were definitely friendly and would often stop on the corner of Broad Street on our way to or from the Bodleian and catch up on all things from manuscripts to his Irish bibliography project. Richard’s mind was profound, his ability to call up the details of a particular copy of a particular early printed book that he had encountered was electrifying to engage with and, most importantly, his enthusiasm for bringing others along his journey was infectious.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend all of Richard’s Lyell Lectures in 2019, and I was reminded recently that the Bodleian also recorded this whole series and has made them openly available on their BodCast service. They were a grand display of the depth of his knowledge, but also a homage to all those scholars who had come before him and upon whose cataloguing, research, and direct tutelage his work had progressed from. The lectures also demonstrated the adaptation of technology to help to nuance the century of work on Medieval Libraries of Great Britain, and to address the capacity issue that the previous print editions had been constrained by. You could feel the delight emanating from the podium when he began to explore what happened when you merged provenance data for medieval manuscripts with the same data for early printed books known to be in pre-Reformation English libraries.

The lectures were published too by the Bodleian library, and it is a testament to the volume’s editor, James Willoughby, that the voice of Richard remains so present there. Reading Libraries and Books in Medieval England has been such a delight, because it feels like you are once again in the lecture hall, or in the library, alongside Richard at his friendliest and most authoritative moments – on a codicological and bibliographical jaunt through the centuries. Richard’s greatest skill was his ability to grasp the vastness of time and geographical movement of books and collections in his mind, and his ability to bring others along on his journey as he moved through time and space tracking books that came in and out of institutional or private hands. Relistening to these lectures, and reading the newly published collection of essays, is a stark reminder of the great mind that we lost prematurely.

Richard Sharpe’s 2019 Lyell Lectures are available on the Bodleian’s BodCast website

Libraries and Books in Medieval England is published by the Bodleian Library (2023)

Daryl Green, member of Council

August 2023

Columbus Letters, Stolen, Detected and Returned

The Guardian newspaper often carries interesting features about books and libraries and a recent article caught my attention on the return to Italy of a 1493 copy of the printed letter written by Christopher Columbus to his patrons, Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella announcing his findings in the Americas.  The article is at and is not behind a paywall.

This letter, commonly known as a Plannck I edition (“Columbus Letter-Plannck I”) named for the printer Stephanus Plannck (1457-1501) who published some of Columbus’ letters, is exceptionally rare.  The letter was sent to Rome, translated into Latin, and printed in two editions in small books by Plannck. This first edition is written to King Ferdinand while the second edition is directed to both Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana acquired the letter in or around 1875.  At an unknown time between 1985 and 1988, the Columbus Letter-Plannck I was stolen from the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana and in May 2003, a collector acting in good faith unknowingly purchased it from a rare book dealer in the US.  The collector returned the letter in 2020.

This is not the first Columbus letter to have been repatriated and the article links to the return in 2016 of another copy of the letter to the Biblioteca Riccardiana in Florence, replacing a photocopied forgery. Copies have also been returned to the Vatican Apostolic Library, the Biblioteca Civica Romolo Spezioli in Fermo and the National Library of Catalonia in Barcelona.

The letter came to investigators’ attention through rare book expert Paul Needham,  formerly Princeton University’s Scheide Librarian.  Needham encountered the stolen letter years ago when he was asked to examine it. Then in September 2018, he was at a conference in Venice and learned the letter he had examined could belong to the library there.  The sewing holes from when the letter had been included in a bound volume helped identify and authenticate the copy.  Needham worked with Investigators from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations , the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, and the Italian Carabinieri Command for Protection of Cultural Heritage. It is a (tiny) book-detective story with a happy ending in the return of the item to Venice and Needham’s expertise was critical in the investigation.

The Columbus Letters are a good target for forgery and theft and the story reinforces the importance of due diligence, and of the security responsibilities of those who look after historic collections.  It also made me think of the resources and networks available to support libraries and collectors when books disappear, particularly ILAB’s Missing Books Register

Gabriel Sewell, member of Council

July 2023

What’s black and white and re[a]d all over?

The riddle came to mind when I chanced on a recent interview with the French cultural historian Michel Pastoreau in Revue des deux Mondes  (the full article is behind a paywall, and the relevant issue can be downloaded for a fee or institutional subscription, but a good part of the interview is freely available at this link:

My contribution to Council’s Choice is no more than an observation (perhaps even just an observation on an observation). In discussion with the Revue about his recent book Blanc. Histoire d’une couleur (Seuil, 2022), Pastoureau illustrated the historical and cultural subjectivity of colour with the opposition of black and white:

‘In antiquity and for most of the Middle Ages, the opposite of white is more often red than black. It’s the modern era, with the spread of printing and the engraved image that has made of white and black a pair of omnipresent opposites in material culture. That wasn’t always the case in older societies’ (my translation).

We’re all familiar with arguments for the printing press as an agent of change, but I’d not come across the claim that it adjusted our very perception of colour in this way. I’d always thought black and white were scientifically opposite, but I’ve no knowledge of optics or colour theory and Pastoureau surprised me here. His popular series of books on individual colours (now encompassing blue, red, green, yellow, black and white) will perhaps help me see things differently.

I wondered what historians of print thought about it. Perhaps it’s an obvious and familiar observation. Or perhaps it’s one to be disputed or qualified. Historians of colour printing might have something to say about the implied triumph of black and white in print. Manuscript scholars might say it’s more to do with text and writing than merely print – black ink on a white page, however created. Nonetheless, I found Pastoureau’s conversation wide-ranging, provocative and timely.

Michel Pastoureau’s colour series is published in French by Editions Seuil and in English by Princeton University Press.

Justin Croft, member of Council

June 2023

BMC goes online

Someone once told me that the BMC is not just the best catalogue of books, but the best catalogue of anything, a tribute the more remarkable as it came from a person known for having a critical bent. The BMC is the Catalogue of books printed in the XVth century now in the British Museum [British Library], published between 1908 and 2007. The first ten volumes are now available as searchable pdfs at, the first stage of integrating the BMC with other on-line resources on incunabula.

It is organised chronologically by country (borders as of 1908), town of production, and then by printing press. This approach determined the context in which its authors saw the books they catalogued, the output of each printer, jointly with books produced in the same and nearby towns. While they made substantial notes on other aspects of the books, their work along these organising principles has immensely enhanced our ability to understand and to group incunabula as material objects resulting from the specific working practices of a workshop. If that is not your chief concern, it can be difficult to find your way round the vast catalogue. I use ISTC ( as an index.

Analyses of individual presses and of the production of a town and “country” are found in extensive introductions, which are remarkable pieces of scholarship, some of them now a century old but still very much worth reading. Contemporary scholars have referenced them less than they might, perhaps because it is hard to move between catalogue entries relating to a printer and the corresponding place in the introduction. The searchable, downloadable pdfs go a long way to make BMC useful in new ways, and I look forward to future, more structured, linked and more open versions of the data, which will make research results, some more than 125 years old, benefit scholarship in ways unimagined by the librarians who began working on this around the year 1900.

Kristian Jensen, Past President

May 2023

M. R. James’s Catalogue of Western manuscripts in Trinity College Library, Cambridge

Unarguably, some of the dizzying developments in digital tools for book history that have emerged since the beginning of this century are more successful than others. Some well-engineered online catalogues are yet awaiting the input of more data to render them useful; some once-indispensable digital resources have, sadly, not received essential maintenance and have therefore become inaccessible; and then there are some online tools for researchers that have improved with time. The James Catalogue of Western Manuscripts, of Trinity College Library, Cambridge undoubtedly belongs to this last category.

Admittedly I am biased: I first researched the College’s manuscripts two decades ago, with the help of the catalogue first compiled by M.R. James – the important bibliographer now better known to the wider world as the author of ghost stories – between 1900 and 1904, and it was indispensable for my work. Since then, the catalogue has not only been made fully accessible online, but also supplemented with digitisations of more than 800 complete manuscripts from Trinity College’s collections – which can, mirabile dictu, be viewed side-by-side with the Mirador viewer: ‘This feature is not only limited to Manuscripts from Trinity College, any iiif compatible manuscript from anywhere in the world can be viewed by dropping the link to its manifest into the viewer’, the handy user guide explains.

Moreover, the entries for individual manuscripts also include a bibliography specific to the relevant manuscript, brought up to date with recent scholarship, including my own ‘Annotated Catalogue of Alchemical Texts and Illustrations in Cambridge Repositories’ (2015), which I felt compelled to draw up after reading M.R. James’ admission that his entries on alchemical manuscripts might benefit from a future specialist’s work. Here, the manuscripts and the scholarship on them – bibliographical and otherwise – form a continuing tradition. Digitisation may not always be an end in itself, but undoubtedly Trinity College has very successfully demonstrated what digitisation can achieve when it is done intelligently.

Anke Timmermann, member of Council

April 2023

Decorated paper

One of my interests is decorated paper, and a few years ago I set up the Facebook group We Love Endpapers:, now 7800 members strong.

An online resource worthy of attention is that at the University of Washington which I often turn to which shows all kinds of different marbled papers:

The examples they give are largely from UW’s historic collections.  If you’d like to see some more recent decorated papers, then take a look at the Grolier Club’s current exhibition, Pattern and Flow: A Golden Age of American Decorated Paper, 1960s to 2000s, for which happily there is an online version here:

Simon Beattie, member of Council

March 2023

Revisiting the past: discovering the provenance of an embroidered binding

It isn’t often that you have the opportunity to revisit a book and examine it more closely. Looking again at a seventeenth-century embroidered binding at Saltram House recently raised new questions. Something of a curiosity, the book was rebound in the late eighteenth century, with the earlier binding retained and later mounted on linen-backed board. A previous owner, William Combes attributed the original binding to Anne Killigrew (1660-1685), poetess and painter. She reputedly worked the embroidery herself and added her own initials.

Comparing the Saltram binding with other embroidered bindings depicted and described in the British Library’s Database of Bookbindings, the binding stylistically appears to be several decades younger than the provenance notes stated within the volume. The original cover is a striking binding of oval central cartouches with surrounding foliage, smaller round cartouches, coats of arms and the initials ‘AK’ embroidered in silver thread. Each cartouche contains a figure worked in coloured silk threads over red velvet and the spine is covered in bands of silver foliage. Thanks to Philippa Marks and Karen Limper-Herz who allowed in-person access to the embroidered bindings in the national collection, other similar examples came to light. They were printed Bibles, Books of Common Prayer and Psalms of the 1630s-40s: C.183.c3 (1635); C.65.g.22 (1640); C.27.a.33 (1635); the Saltram contents are all dated 1637, which potentially re-dates the binding to the late 1630s.

Looking at the remains of the two pairs of armorial shields worked into the binding design, they represented both the Killigrew and Kirke families. Anne, the poetess, never married according to the ODNB, and so a little genealogical searching became necessary. As luck would have it, Anne the poetess, was named after her father’s sister, also Anne Killigrew (1607?-1641). Aunt Anne married George Kirke (c. 1600-1675) in 1627, thus keeping the initials ‘AK’. She and George, as well as their wider families, were in royal service during the 1630s. Anne was made dresser to Queen Henrietta Maria in 1637, shortly before Anne tragically drowned in the Thames when the royal barge capsized at London Bridge on the 6th of July 1641. Her niece included a poem about her aunt’s accident in her edition of ‘Poems’ which was published in 1686. How it arrived at Saltram will be the next mystery work to be solved.

Yvonne Lewis, member of Council

January 2023

Discover Japanese rare books and manuscripts

What better way to start the new year than by nurturing our intellectual curiosity, insatiable appetite for learning, and unconditional love for books? If you ever wanted to know more about Japanese rare books and manuscripts, then look no further. Members of the Bibliographical Society can now learn about the print and manuscript cultures of the Japanese archipelago from the comfort of their home thanks to an array of e-resources freely available on the web.

In this new year’s edition of Council’s Choice, I would like to introduce a selection of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other websites curated by leading experts in the field. Each is a self-contained module which can be explored in no particular order and at your own pace. All these resources are offered in English, or in Japanese with English translations/subtitles. Furthermore, they are intended for beginners and do not require prior knowledge of Japanese art, literature, and history.

  • The World of the Japanese Illustrated Book [Catalogue and Essays]
    The online catalogue of the Pulver collection allow users to browse thousands of illustrated books and has an entire section of written and video essays to learn about Japanese book production, connoisseurship, and more.
  • Rare books of the National Diet Library [Digital Exhibition]
    A thematic exhibition which showcases highlights of the important cultural property housed at the National Diet Library in Tokyo.

Alessandro Bianchi, member of Council