August 4th, 1914: Britain declares war on Germany

Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, as dominions of the British Empire, went to war one-hundred years ago today when Britain declared war on Germany.

Memorial Windows for McGill Medical Building

P.E. Nobbs. Memorial windows for Strathcona Medical Building, 1919. Watercolour on card. John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection, McGill University.

[War] Memorial Windows for Medical Building
McGill University, Strathcona Medical Building, Montreal, QC, Canada
Educational, Memorial windows; stained glass.

Client: McGill University
Architect: Nobbs and Hyde

Description: The memorial is a handsome stained glass window of three lights placed in the main hall of the first floor, over the main entrance to the building. It was designed by Prof. P.E. Nobbs, and executed by the Bromsgrove Guild, Leeds. The memorial was a gift of the teaching staff of the faculty of medicine. Each light represents a scene recalling the service of one of the men whose memories are honored. The center one, dedicated to Lt. Col. John McCrae, shows row upon row of crosses amid blood red poppies. A jeweled plaque bears a book and quill. The left light, dedicated to Lt. Col. R.P. Campbell, shows a section of the Thiepval Front, where he was killed. The plaque bears a surgeon’s knife, scissors and bandages. The right one, dedicated to Lt. Col. H.B. Yates, shows the town of Boulogne. The plaque bears a microscope. In the center light a radiant sun is rising on the horizon, its rays spreading upward and to each side through the other lights. At the far left is a group of poplars with strings of red maple leaves entwined. At the far right is a similar group of poplars with sprigs of laurel. “Memorial to the Members of the Teaching Staff of the Faculty of Medicine who Died on Active Service,” McGill News 4 (December 1922) : 5.




2014 Alcuin Society Book Design Awards

By Tyler Hyde*

AwardsLogo-215x300Once again, McGill University Library is proud to be hosting the international exhibition of the winning books of the 2014 Alcuin Society Book Design Awards, on display in the McLennan Library Building lobby for the month of July.

These books have been carefully selected by the Alcuin Society as this year’s best and most beautifully produced Canadian publications. If you would like to get up close and personal with some of these books we encourage you to explore the following titles, available from the McGill Library collection:



For the young, or young at heart, you may want to spend some time with How To and Wild Berries, which took first and third prize for children’s book design. Also don’t forget to check out honourable mention, Little You.

melanierocanIf you love art, you will love the whimsical works of Mélanie Rocan: Souvenir involontaire. This second prize winner for pictorial design is a beauty to behold. So too is honourable mention, Irene F. Whittome: Room 901, which will inspire anyone stuck in a creative rut.

Another visual delight is the second place winner for prose non-fiction illustrated, The Seghers Collection: Old Books for a New World. This book is a must see for anyone with an interest in religious studies.

If you’re in for a deeper read, check out these other non-fiction titles: Jeremiah Bancroft at Fort Beauséjour & Grand-Pré, first prize winner, and Métis in Canada and The Writing Life: Journals, 1975-2005, which tied for third prize. If you are a serious book lover, honourable mention, The Pope’s Bookbinder, should not be overlooked.

petitotSecond prize winner for fiction, Petriot, blends fact and fiction through the eyes of Marcus, a teacher in a Northern-Canadian native community, and his relationship with the writings of real life missionary, Émile Petitot. Moving from the north, experience life on the Eastern shores in the short stories that comprise Someone Somewhere, third prize winner, and honourable mention, Son of a Certain Woman.

exploringvancouverFinally, go west and learn all about the architecture of Vancouver in this aptly named book, Exploring Vancouver: the Architectural Guide, which holds the second prize in the reference category of the 2014 Alcuin Society Book Design Awards.

For more information on the Alcuin Society, and on the international circulation of this exhibition, visit

Continue reading for a full, categorized list of the 2014 award winners; including links to the books on loan at McGill. Continue reading

Things we notice in summertime

Racey 24

Racey, Arthur George. “Things we notice in summertime. The danger of proposing and being accepted in a canoe.” Ink on paper. 48.7 x 36.8 cm. RBSC Racey 1:24

The RBSC print collection includes over one hundred cartoons by Quebec artist Arthur George Racey (1870-1941). After studying at McGill, Racey worked as a cartoonist for the Montreal Witness and the Montreal Star. His work was also published internationally.

Formula 1 is coming to town

If the names Fangio, Hakkinen, or (of course) Villeneuve give you goosebumps, or if the name Michael brings up only one face, you are probably keenly aware of the events this coming weekend in Montreal.

As F1 comes to town, what better time to bone up on the history of motor cars and racing? Motor racing history is not the collecting focus of McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections, but a small number of highly illustrated books offer a feast of historical reality, and some fantasy, for the enthusiast.

Those of us who miss the battle between tire manufacturers will enjoy, for example, this reproduction in the Salon de l’Automobile of 1905 of a Michelin poster celebrating the victory of a Panhard racing car against “the fastest train in the world.”

The Michelin tire beats the train! From a poster by Ernest Montaut, 1905.

The Michelin tire beats the train! From a poster by Ernest Montaut, 1905.

And the view of the future from the 19th century? How about this art nouveau–meets batman style, proposed by the American Rubber Wheel Tire Co. in Springfield Ohio (which became the Kelly-Springfield Tire Company, later bought by Goodyear), reproduced in John Grand-Carteret’s La Voiture de demain: histoire de l’automobilisme; avec 250 figures (Paris: 1898).

The Car of the Future, from a composition by the Rubber Tire Wheel Co. in the 1890s.

The Car of the Future, from a composition by the Rubber Tire Wheel Co. in the 1890s.

To get in the mood for the weekend, or to trace the ever-changing techniques of the automobile, these are but a glimpse of what you’ll find inside some RBSC books, available for consultation in the reading room.

Recent RBSC acquisitions now on display

You are heartily invited to come and discover some new additions to RBSC’s collections.

Before new RBSC acquisitions arrive to the shelf, they pass through many hands. The last stop is almost always the desk of Raynald Lepage, who verifies that everything is as it should be, and enjoys “the privilege of seeing them all.”

In the last weeks, Raynald has selected a number of the year’s acquisitions that particularly caught his attention and that form, among themselves, some interesting intellectual or visual sub-groups. They give a taste of what has come in, and we hope they will whet your appetite to see more.

Fanny Anne Burney (Mrs. Wood), Her album of pastel sketches: manuscript. 1835.

Fanny Anne Burney (Mrs. Wood), Her album of pastel sketches: manuscript. 1835.

This pastel sketch of a coastal scene is just one of the many items on display. Made by Fanny Anne Burney (or Mrs. Wood, 1812-1860), the great-niece of eighteenth-century author Frances (Fanny) Burney (1752-1840), it adds to McGill’s strong holdings on the author and her family. For more on Frances Burney see the work of McGill’s Burney Centre.

The display in our central reading room is open during regular opening hours.

News on the William Colgate Collection

Established in 1954 from a gift of several hundred titles of typographical interest, the William Colgate Collection has prospered over more than half a century from new acquisitions and collection development policies and has become one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind in Canada.

Read more on the founder and donor William Colgate

Read more on the founder and donor William G. Colgate

Today, the Colgate Collection covers the full spectrum of the history of printing: typography, the presses, papermaking, book design, illustration, and binding, amounting to more than 12, 000 books, supplemented by sample books and specimens related to book history.  A large part of the collection is focussed on fine and small press publications from Europe and North America, dating from the late 19th century, including the Kelmscott Press of William Morris. 

To find out more about the donor and the collection, we invite you to consult the Spring 2014 issue of Amphora, a journal specialized in a wide range of topics related to the book published by the Alcuin Society, available on our newsstand in Rare Books and Special Collections.

We hope that this initial profile will attract additional researchers and help further define McGill Library’s history of the book collections.

What’s a riza?

By Elise Breton*

McGill Rare Books and Special Collections has long held a collection of about 50 framed religious pictures, of which there has been no complete record. This situation is now being improved with the creation of a detailed descriptive list of the collection contents, still in process. The majority of the images are chromolithographs, which means that they were made using a technique of color printing from a stone. This technique is rarer today but was very widely used 150 years ago.

Some of the pictures are classic representations of Christian imagery (the Virgin Mary, Christ, scenes from the Bible) and were probably hung in Quebec kitchens or living rooms at the beginning of the twentieth century. The image of the baby Jesus, shown here, is an example.

The collection also holds more singular items, and the RBSC staff was particularly intrigued by two remarkable and outstandingly shiny pictures.

Two St Nicholas

After some research, we discovered that these gilded and silvered covers are called “rizas” or “oklads”, Russian terms respectively meaning “robe” or “casing”. A riza or oklad is a shaped gilt or silver metal cover over the surface of an icon, which usually leaves spaces for the hands and face of the subject to show through. Its purpose is both to protect the icon by covering it, and to embellish it, sometimes by the addition of precious stones to the metal cover.

The two shown here represent Saint Nicholas, as attested by the Greek inscription shaped in the metal: “ΑΓΙΟΣ ΝΙΚΟΛΑΟΣ” (Agios Nikolaos). Relief ornaments are made using metalworking techniques in which the designs are sculpted by pushing the metal up from the back side (“repoussé”) or down from the front side (chasing).

The list of this fascinating and varied collection will soon be available for researchers to consult.

* Elise Breton is an intern in Rare Books and Special Collections from École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques

Cheers to the Bard!

Title page of the Second Folio (London, 1632).

Title page of the Second Folio (London, 1632).

Some of the earliest editions of Shakespeare’s plays can be consulted in Rare Books and Special Collections, including, notably, a copy of the Second Folio (1632) of collected plays, and two copies of the Fourth Folio (1685).

Like the rarer Third Folio (1663; 1664), the Fourth Folio includes seven plays not part of the First (1623) or Second Folios, most of which are now considered spurious. This fourth and last of the great seventeenth-century folio publications of Shakespeare’s plays was an important source for later editions.

All four can be compared side-by-side in the facsimile editions produced by the London publisher Methuen in the early twentieth century (F1; F2; F3; F4)

An interesting difference between the First and Second Folios is the addition, in the latter, of a poem by John Milton about the Bard (shown below): “An epitaph on the admirable dramaticke poet, VV. Shakespeare.”

As Milton commemorated him then, we commemorate him today, on the 450th anniversary of his birth.

John Milton’s poem on Shakespeare (lower page) in the Second Folio

John Milton’s poem on Shakespeare in the Second Folio

Controversial Authorship: Voltaire and one of his imitators

By Elise Breton*

Perhaps because of his distinctive writing style, as well as his great popularity, Voltaire was often imitated as an author. Questions of dubious Voltaire authorship were an area of interest for Voltaire scholar J. Patrick Lee, whose library was recently acquired by McGill. In his article “The Apocryphal Voltaire: Problems in the Voltairean Canon,” Lee discusses several such titles that are now held in this new collection to McGill.

Les JesuitiquesAs Lee noted, Voltaire had himself complained about the many works that were wrongly attributed to him [translation ours]:

On ferait une bibliothèque des ouvrages qu’on m’impute. Tous les réfugiés errants font de mauvais livres et les vendent sous mon nom à des libraires crédules. […] On me répond que c’est l’état du métier. Si c’est cela le métier est fort triste.1
[One could make a library with all the works that are attributed to me. Every wandering refugee makes a bad book and sells it under my name to gullible booksellers. […] I am told this is simply the state of the profession. If so, the profession is very sad.]

Among Voltaire’s imitators, the abbot Henri-Joseph Du Laurens was not the least talented. He copied Voltaire’s style so well that many of his works, the most famous being Le Compère Matthieu (of which Lee owned two copies), were attributed to Voltaire by his contemporaries. Other works of Du Laurens held in the Lee Voltaire Collection include editions of Les Jésuitiques, which was also for some time attributed to Voltaire. In this copy we can see that an early reader added “par l’abbé du Laurens” in manuscript on the title page.

Voltaire knew about du Laurens, as he wrote in 1768:

Il y a un théatin qui a conservé son nom de Laurent qui est assez facétieux, et qui d’ailleurs est instruit : il est auteur du compère Matthieu, ouvrage dans le goût de Rabelais, dont le commencement est assez plaisant, et la fin détestable.2
[There is a Theatine, who kept his name of Laurent, who is quite mischievous, and who is actually educated: he is the author of Compère Matthieu, a work in the style of Rabelais, of which the beginning is quite pleasant, and the end odious.]

Relation du bannissement - small
“Perhaps in an ironic revenge for this exploitation of his name,”3 says Lee, Voltaire decided to return the favor: Voltaire’s Relation du bannissement des Jésuites de la Chine is attributed to “l’auteur du Compère Matthieu” on the title page.
These kinds of malicious false attributions of authorship are interesting to track as they are often connected with fascinating stories. And our thanks go to the rare books catalogers, who have to deal with these complicated publishing contexts!

* Elise Breton is an intern in Rare Books and Special Collections from École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques

1. Letter to Damilaville, dated 17 December 1766, in Mémoires secrets (Londres, 1780), VI, 203, quoted in J. Patrick Lee, “The Apocryphal Voltaire: Problems in the Voltairean Canon,” in The enterprise of enlightenment, ed. Terry Pratt and David McCallam, (Bern: Peter Lang AG, 2004), 272.
2. Correspondence and related documents in The Complete Works of Voltaire, ed. Theodore Besterman, (Banbury and Oxford, 1974). Letter no. D14838, quoted in Lee’s “Apocryphal Voltaire,” 268.
3. Lee, “Apocryphal Voltaire,” 268.