In November we were delighted to host two visits to the Archive for students at the University of Greenwich. Our Archivist, Dr Ruth Frendo has written about the visits which it is hoped will be the first of many and you can read her full report here.
Yesterday three members of staff from the Bodleian Library joined a guided tour of Stationers’ Hall and the Church of St Martin-within-Ludgate. They also saw some of the documents in the Stationers’ Company Archive which record the long association between their Library and the Company. Among these was the Stationers’ copy of the crucial agreement drawn up between the Company and the University of Oxford in 1610. Under this agreement, negotiated by Sir Thomas Bodley himself, one copy of every book registered at Stationers’ Hall was to be sent to Oxford, to be made publicly available at Bodley’s newly refurbished library. This became the foundation of what we now know as legal deposit. Enforcing the agreement was not always easy, and the Company’s Court Books record several attempts to impose new penalties on Stationers who did not bring the requisite copies to the Hall. However, relations between the two organisations remained cordial, with the Bodleian Librarian being an important guest at Company dinners, and in 1938, the Curators of the Bodleian elected to have the Stationers’ coat of arms represented on the exterior of their new building in Broad Street. Yesterday’s visit strengthened the relationship still further, as Naomi Hillman, Visitor Host at the Bodleian, presented the Stationers’ Company with a copy of the beautiful publication 'Marks of Genius: Masterpieces from the Collections of the Bodleian Libraries', signed by Bodley's Librarian, Richard Ovenden OBE.
To find out more about guided tours of Stationers’ Hall, see here.
Christmas came early to the Archive today (19 November 2019), in the form of the donation, by Mr Kent Robinson, of a miniature almanac dating from 1768. This lovely little book, measuring about 6 x 3 cm, now joins the Archive’s collection of about 50 Vest-Pocket Almanacs.
Miniature books have a long history. The development of print encouraged master craftsmen to test their skills to the limits in producing these tiny masterpieces. Producing books at this scale brings its own set of problems to be addressed: for instance, the pages do not have enough weight to fall open in the way a standard-sized book does. One of the first miniature books, Diurnal Mogantium, was printed and bound by an assistant of Gutenberg, Peter Schoffer, in 1468.
Around 200 miniature books survive from the sixteenth century, and they continued to be produced throughout the seventeenth. They were mostly religious texts, and it’s possible that, for the devout, keeping a sacred text about one’s person had a particular significance.
The eighteenth century saw the rise of the Vest Pocket Almanacs, popular due to their easy portability. Vests, or waistcoats, were a typical item of male dress, and a book made to fit the vest pocket, without distorting the silhouette, appealed to the aesthetics of the day.
1773 Vest Pocket Almanac with Slip Case
Technological innovations in nineteenth-century printing facilitated the production of smaller and smaller type. Miniature books became the latest craze, and everything from tourist guides to sheet music found its way into miniature form. And the format received another boost in 1922, when a library of miniature books, containing stories penned for the purpose by notable writers including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling, was created for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (the Dolls’ House itself was designed by no less an architect than Sir Edward Lutyens!).
Our collection of miniature almanacs dates predominantly from the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Each volume is contains the same basic information as its larger counterparts, and the engravings are exquisitely detailed. Our most recently published miniature almanac, ‘Marcus Ward’s Purse Calendar’, dates from 1921,
Marcus Ward’s Purse Calendar, 1921
and its title suggests a definite shift in fashion trends. This little gem is an entirely modern take on the almanac, and is full of up-to-date tips, such as how much it cost to send a telegram ('For 12 words or less, including address, 9d; each additional word, 1d'; you’ll be pleased to learn that 'a night-telegraph letter' costs less).
Many of our almanacs come with their own slip cases (one particularly fine example from 1793 has a case of silver filigree). They are delicate objects, many of which now need a little conservation work, as their thin bindings have come loose, or their tiny clasps are stuck. Yet, thanks to the work of former librarians, archivists, and generous donors, they have survived, and we are now working to preserve them for future generations to marvel at.
The Company of Newspaper Makers held its first meeting on the 15th December 1931. It was constituted as a separate company with its own Hall. This illustration shows the architect’s proposed design for that Hall.
The tower of the new hall was to ‘rise to a height of 277 feet [approx. 84m] from the pavement’, making it ‘very much the highest commercial building in the City of London.’ However, the Company of Newspaper Makers did eventually amalgamate with the Stationers’ Company. Following a petition requesting that the name of the Company be changed in order to reflect this, Letters Patent were issued on 25 January 1937, and sealed with the Great Seal.
Come and find out more at the Stationers' Company Archive Evening on 15th April 2019. Details of how to book can be found here.
The Times was founded in 1785 by John Walter, initially under the title of 'The Thunderer'. It remained in the Walter family’s control until 1908, when it was bought by Lord Northcliffe. Under the proprietorship of Walter's son, John Walter II, the Times established itself as one of the most influential newspapers of its day. This painting of John Walter II, on loan to the Company from the Times Newspapers Limited Archive, is currently attributed to James Lonsdale (1777-1839) and possibly painted between 1816 and 1826.
Past Master Christopher McKane will be giving his talk, 'The Making of the Thunderer', at the Stationers' Company Archive Evening on 15th April 2019. Details of how to book can be found here.
A collection-level description of the records of the Stationers’ Company Archive is now accessible via the Archives Hub portal (https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/33966ba3-871b-3d6d-81ba-3312c78583ac).
The Archives Hub (https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/) is a portal for over 300 repositories across the UK. It provides advanced subject searching tools to help researchers to locate collections they may be interested in. Signing up to the Hub also means that our descriptions will be automatically harvested by Archives Portal Europe (https://www.archivesportaleurope.net/), and we will receive regular Google Analytics reports to help us monitor how researchers our accessing our information, and how we can improve our outreach in this respect.
Information technology has transformed our lives in many ways: DNA sequencing, Google searches, MRI scans and cash machines all rely on the ability of computers to perform rapid and accurate calculations on large volumes of data. However, pattern recognition is one task in which the capacity of the human brain easily excels. Developing an artificial intelligence which can perform anywhere near as well, even in a limited context, poses a significant challenge.
Nevertheless, machine reading has developed rapidly over the last few years. Whenever you use a free text search, on a website, electronic document or digital image of a typed or printed text, that search is carried out by software using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR algorithms parse structured texts and match the shapes of the letters, with varying degrees of sophistication. OCR has revolutionised our ability to search documents, but because it relies so much on structured and standardised text, its use has largely been limited to printed material. Hand-written documents present a whole new set of problems: even a trained scribe will not reproduce all of their letters identically each time they write. Because the human brain is very good at second-guessing and ‘filling in the gaps’ to make sense of what is around us, these are problems which, with a little training, we can surmount. Getting an artificial intelligence to do this is not so easy.
When it comes to reading written texts, humans with a competent level of literacy do not process text letter by letter: we generally scan for recognised combinations which we expect to occur in a given context. So it’s not surprising that in the last few years, IT developers have been trying to emulate this approach in developing software which will read handwriting, or Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) software. This is done by using ‘training data’. Handwritten texts are fed into the software, along with their transcriptions, allowing the programme to correlate between the handwritten and printed texts. The more training data is available, the more accurate the results will be, as false correlations will be eliminated. It’s a sophisticated example of machine learning which is being improved all the time.
We’re delighted to inform you that Adam Matthew Digital are now implementing HTR on some of the material in ‘Literary Print Culture’, their resource presenting the digitised documents from our archive. HTR enhanced texts have a pencil symbol next to their titles. AMD have posted a news story on their website which you are encouraged to share: https://www.amdigital.co.uk/about/news/item/htr-technology-added-to-literary-print-culture
We hope that the new HTR facility will help researchers to make the most of our digital resources. Please be aware, though, that no electronic search system is flawless; so if you don’t find what you’re looking for, please feel free to contact the Archivist for further information. In particular, earlier hand-writing is not always easy to parse. For instance, a search on Liber C for the word ‘goose’ produced some odd results, including the following:
The highlighted and misidentified texts read ‘[preac]her of’ and ‘peace’ respectively – clearly the software has been looking for the down stroke of the ‘g’ followed by a sequence of curved letters without up or down strokes, and I think most of us would agree that the actual writing in the texts is far from obvious! So do use a combination of search techniques (in the case of the early entry books of copy, the transcriptions of Arber and Eyre are also available to search) – including emailing the Archive.
If you’re interested in learning more about HTR technology, there is an excellent blog post by Richard Dunley on HTR at work in the National Archives at https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/machines-reading-the-archive-handwritten-text-recognition-software/, and regular, highly informative blogposts on UCL’s Bentham Project at http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/transcribe-bentham/.
A report from our Archive volunteer, Freeman Richard Gilpin:
If any members of the Company happened to be at the University of London’s Senate House on Tuesday 27th November for its History Day, they will not have failed to notice the Stationers’ Archivist, Ruth Frendo, promoting opportunities for researchers needing to access the Company’s Archive.
History Day, organised by the Institute of Historical Research, was aimed at researchers, and offered a series of high quality panel sessions. These included advice on using archives and libraries; exploring business records; a case study of information-gathering from University archives; the latest news about digital tools and methods (including an update on UCL’s Bentham Project on HTR – handwritten text recognition); researching people across collections; and different approaches to the use of sources.
It also brought together over seventy organisations and publishers, with their displays in three halls on the ground floor of Senate House, alerting visitors to the rich library, archive and digital collections that are held across London and beyond.
Ruth’s display, against a backdrop of images from the archive, included copies of the Company’s new colour leaflet The Stationers’ Company Archive at the Tokefield Centre. This describes the funding and construction of the Carfax Room and Gateway Room, both of them contained within the Tokefield Centre, and offers a brief history of the Stationers’ Company. It lists the records that are currently held within the Archive, including the Registers; the Court Books; membership records from 1555; English Stock records; property records from 1674; Company legal and financial records; many family papers; and a collection of ephemera such as invitation cards, programmes and menus.
The leaflet gives advice and guidance on using the Tokefield Centre’s facilities, suggests areas of research supported by the Archive, and gives days and times when the Gateway Room is open to researchers – by appointment only.
While other Livery companies were notable largely for their absence from the occasion, the Stationers’ Company was a conspicuous participant.
The Company’s display and leaflet, enhanced by Ruth’s enthusiasm, not only fitted in perfectly with the objectives of History Day, but succeeded in raising awareness of the Company’s contribution to research into the regulation of the book trade; copyright; publishing; and the technologies of communication.
In the photo you can see on the left Victoria West, Archivist for the Worshipful Company of Barbers and on the right Ruth Frendo.
Next Tuesday (27th November) sees the return of the University of London’s annual History Day. This free one-day event offers researchers an opportunity to meet librarians and archivists from research organisations including universities, heritage organisations and specialist repositories. Last year the Stationers’ Company became the first livery company to participate in the event, and this year we’ll be joined by the Barbers’ Company and the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries.
As well as finding out more about collections across the country, visitors can also attend a programme of talks on research methods and developments. Topics covered in this year’s programme include corporate histories, digital research tools, and using archival research in creative writing.
To find out more about History Day, and link to blog posts from some of the organisations that will be taking part, visit https://historycollections.blogs.sas.ac.uk/
Our Archivist, Dr Ruth Frendo, writes:- It’s fair to say that most of the records in our Archive relate to men. Given that, throughout most of history, women have had less access to education than men, the fact that, for centuries, men dominated the activities of producing, selling and acquiring books is hardly surprising. However, it’s important to remember that archives only ever hold partial truths: to some extent, archival research is always an act of joining the dots between fragments of evidence.
Some of the latest research into the complexity of women’s historical relationship with the printed word is being presented at a forthcoming one-day conference at the University of London’s Institute of English Studies. Women and the Book (26 October 2018, 9.30am - 6.45pm at Senate House) will explore aspects of women’s participation in reading, writing, commissioning and collecting books, from the Middle Ages to the twentieth-century. To find out more, and to book a place, visit: https://www.ies.sas.ac.uk/events/conferences/women-and-book