Gorey in Rare Books

A recent acquisition presents the work of the American artist, book designer and author Edward Gorey (1925-2000), consisting of cover and typographical designs on paperbacks published by Doubleday Anchor Books of New York in the 1950s. Gorey worked for Anchor Books roughly from the mid 1950s to mid 1960s. The cover designs and typographical work are not always credited. For this reason, this body of commercial work is a lesser known aspect of Gorey’s artistry. Examples are: the The American Transcendentalists, 1957; and the cover and typography for the non-fiction book, The Dead Sea Scriptures, translated into Englpic_2015-11-12_195843ish by Theodore Gaster, 1957.

They supplement very well the existing Gorey holdings as book illustrator, and are reminiscent of the work we associate with Gorey. In Rare Books and Special Collections, the Gorey Collection of book illustration is comprised of eighty-eight volumes, mostly first editions and date from the period ca 1950 to 1980. As well, there is a small body of ephemera including book jackets by and articles about Gorey. Other links to Gorey’s work in are the editions of Albondocani of New York housed in the Colgate Collection section 6 on private presses – showcasing Gorey’s enchanting work in a handful of editions.

Happy Holidays.

On Conjuring, the Book-Collecting Baron

To supplement the current exhibition in the lobby of Rare Books and Special Collections, “Sir Charles Sebright: The Book-Collecting Baron,” Jason Rovito (Master of Information Studies, Candidate) was invited to write the following text:

Thus counter to that ancient will’s malign,
Who them to the devouring river dooms,
Some names are rescued by the birds benign;
Wasteful Oblivion all the rest consumes.


—Orlando Furioso, Canto XXXV, as translated by W. S. Rose (1858).

In 1848, on the turbulent Mediterranean island of Cephalonia, insurrection broke out. Amidst a wave of revolutions in Europe, citizens of the United States of the Ionian Islands declared themselves to be Greek. In the middle of this fray was Charles Sebright, the Baron d’Everton, whose book collection is currently being exhibited at McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections.


Detail from Canto IV, Orlando Furioso (Venice, 1722); from the Sir Charles Sebright Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University.

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Victorian Holiday Cards

Rare Books and Special Collections holds a wide variety of Victorian holiday cards which form just part of a much larger greeting card collection, amounting to many hundreds of examples, designed for almost any season or occasion.

Santa coppedb

Christmas cards of Saint Nicholas, extracted from a specimen sheet of four cards for sale.

Of special interest regarding the print trade are the specimen sheets used for commercial purposes, ticketed with the price per quantity on the sheet. They  feature a range of options for choice of image or greeting. The collection also consists of pages from private scrapbooks revealing a kaleidoscope of styles from this era.

The vast majority of our holiday cards have been collected or added as single specimens. Some are complete with manuscript greetings or personal notes, which hold interest for cultural historians. In each case, they are rare due to their ephemeral nature.

BirdMost of the cards demonstrate the application of the technical revolution in the printing of illustrations in the nineteenth century. The designs are usually high in colour, printed by chromolithography, which was at the height of its popularity around 1860. We might see as well the use of photo-mechanical techniques, such as photogravures, mounted as inserts on card stock.

Some cards were embossed for added effect and in some cases, fabrics were used to dress up the card. There are pop-up, single-sided cards with personal notes on the back, or cards that open with printed verse inside. Some of the latter might be stitched by side ties or decorated by ribbons, while some of the former might be fabulously framed by a fringe, and used as decorations with an attached piece of fine rope.

A few of these extra-ordinary examples are currently on view in the main Reading Room of Rare Books and Special Collections, located on the 4th floor of the McLennan Library Building.


Embossed Victorian Christmas card with velvet overlays.

And best wishes for a wonderful holiday.



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.

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.

Un héritage intellectuel

Please join us for a day of talks being held this Thursday, December 12th in the Colgate Room of Rare Books and Special  Collections relating to the exhibition Un héritage intellectuel, presently on view in the Main Lobby of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, sponsored by IMAQ.

IMAQ is the acronym for “L’Inventaire des imprimés anciens au Québec”, a funded research grant based from the research Chair of Marc André Bernier at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. McGill’s participation is accomplished under the direction of Professor Frédéric Charbonneau, of McGill’s Department of French Language and Literature; and carried out with the support of the Library, under the direction of Dr. Richard Virr. McGill is the beneficiary of a fruitful collaboration on many levels and addresses our Hidden Collections situation in a concrete way.

IMAQ Journée Etudes. jpg

The purpose of IMAQ is to make Quebec institutional holdings of early imprints more visible and readily accessible to researchers through the online catalogue. This has been achieved by Ann-Marie Hansen and Kristin Neel, McGill University Graduate Students in the Department of French Language and Literature, also the Exhibition Curators. The exhibition fulfills a purpose to expose these newly integrated titles to wider audiences, to promote the collection of early imprints and to suggest avenues for future research. The day of talks promises to shed further light on specific aspects of the works.






Opening November 8th at The National Gallery of Canada

The McGill Library has made a substantial contribution to a brand new show  to be held at The National Gallery of Canada starting November 8th, 2013.

Artists, Architects & Artisans: Canadian Art 1890-1918 

This major national exhibition “looks at the interaction among artists, architects and artisans, as well as critics and collectors at the turn of the 20th century”.

Full-scale drawing for iron work by Percy Nobbs

Full-scale drawing, over 4 metres in length, for iron work, by Percy Nobbs

Since 2009, the Chief Curator of the Exhibition, Charles C. Hill, investigated the holdings of many archival and architectural repositories, including McGill’s John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection (CAC), looking for architectural projects that illustrated “the aesthetic of the Beaux-Arts tradition and the Arts and Craft movement, enhanced by many international currents of art.“  In particular, the Exhibition draws extensively from the archives of the Maxwell Brothers and Percy Nobbs, housed in the John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection.

Charles Hill,  the distinguished Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada, together with a contributing associate, Rosalind Pepall, former Senior Curator of Decorative Arts at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, examined in minute detail, archival material such as: logbooks, diaries, supply catalogues, project cost ledgers, and signatures of all kinds appearing on documents and drawings.  They were looking to verify names connected to a project and further understand the relationships between artists, architects, artisans, landscape designers, urban planners and so on.

McGill contributed about  80 pieces for loan:  rough sketches, presentation watercolours, hand-drawn scale drawings of exteriors, photographs of the interiors, and even pieces of furniture – the latter of which shows the craftsmanship of dedicated artisans.

One of the pieces loaned to the Exhibition is this exceptional, full-scale drawing of the iron work intended for the font cover bracket and counterweight for the Saint James Church in Trois-Rivières, Québec. It was executed by Percy Nobbs in graphite, ink and watercolour on thin opaque paper. Measuring 4.30 metres long by 1.06 metres wide, it is one of the longest drawings ever discovered in the John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection. It was quite a feat for the McGill Digitization Team to scan, since it fell well beyond the dimensions of the scanning platform.


In fact, it needed to be captured in 6 phases, and then stitched together to form one composite image.

Over a two-year period, more than 100 photographs were selected for the digital component to made available for visitors on e-viewers. Thanks to the sustained and brilliant work of the Digitization Team, with special mention to Coordinator Jennifer Innes, and Digitization Administrator (and photographer), Greg Houston, this material will come alive in a new way.

A printed exhibition catalogue highlights and discusses all of the loaned and digitized material from McGill University, and from many other lenders across the country.

It was a pleasure to assist the Curators over this long haul of research and preparation. It promises to be a most enlightening show. We invite you to attend the exhibition, which is on from November 8th 2013 to February 2nd 2014, in Ottawa.

Ann Marie Holland, Liaison Librarian, Rare Books and Special Collections.

Update: see also the McGill Reporter article, February 2014

The Columbian Press – “phantasmagoria in cast iron”

It is a rare event when an assiduous researcher from a different corner of the world makes contact with a rare book librarian, and that the two benefit equally regarding their work in progress. A recent exchange with Mr. Bob Oldham of Ad Lib Press, who is currently conducting a worldwide census of Columbian hand presses in observance of this year’s 200th anniversary of their invention by George Clymer, is clearly an expert on the subject matter and offered some new facts about its manufacture. At this stage of our contact, Mr. Oldham is investigating our Columbian Press which will be recorded in his detailed census as well as in the North American Hand Press Database.

Columbian Press in William Savage's, Practical Hints on Decorative Printing, 1822.

Columbian Press in
William Savage’s, Practical Hints on Decorative Printing, 1822.

Our Columbian Press is one of five presses that the McGill University Library owns. It is without a doubt the most alluring of all the presses. It stands proudly on the fourth floor of the McLennan Library Building, in the corridor off the stairway.

This press was invented by the American engineer George Clymer of Philadelphia in 1813.  According to Mr. Oldham, “Clymer manufactured and sold about 20 of them in the USA until about May 1817, when he sailed for England to try the more stable printing press market there. He obtained a patent in England in November 1817 and built at least 415 presses in England under his own name until 1830. Clymer died in 1834, and his patent expired either just before or shortly after his death. At this point, there were many companies which began offering their version of the Columbian in England.  By the 1850s there were many competing companies selling Columbians. It was a very popular press for about 80 years.”

As for the design of the press, Clymer incorporated iron-casting techniques for its manufacture. It is lavishly ornamented with symbolic pieces in bronze and gilt such as the serpents on the levers which emblematize the virtue of wisdom, and the imperial eagle atop with extended wings representing might and power, clutching an olive tree branch and a horn of plenty, representing peace and abundance.  Former University Librarian of McGill University, Richard Pennington called it “phantasmagoria in cast iron” in his Account of the Redpath Press, 1977.

In this same account by Richard Pennington, we learn about the provenance of our Columbian Press. It was reportedly discovered in a basement in Fetter Lane, London, which had been “opened up by WWII bombardments” and re-located from London, England to Montreal Canada in 1957. It was determined to be a pre-1824 model and therefore probably manufactured by Clymer when he was in England due to the fact that the first type of these presses had the bar pivoted on the off or far side of the frame. In the post- 1824 model, sources say that this flaw was remedied so that “ the bar was placed nearer the hand of the pressman.” It occurred in both locations in 1820 and 1828, according to Mr. Oldham, so dating can be problematic.

An inauguration of the presses took place  on the 6th of December, 1957 in the presence of an illustrious crowd. An introduction was pronounced by Dr. Cyril James, former Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University, who praised the utility of presses for instruction to Library School students. In attendance was an astounding array of academics and donors to McGill which is a testimony to Pennington’s professional credibility. From the Account of the Redpath Press we cite: ” John Bland of the School of Architecture; William Colgate, the donor of the Printing Collection [and who helped the University acquire much of the machinery and set up the printing office that would become the Redpath Press]; Peter Collins, the writer on the aesthetics of architecture; Sidney T. Fisher, the electronics engineer and Shakespeare collector; Raymond Klibanksy, the philosopher and mediaevalist [and now the donor of a major collection on philosophy and the history of ideas]; Dr. Wilder Penfield; and Lawrence Lande, the donor of the Lande Library of Canadiana.”

We are most proud to house this historic monument to typography and scholarship.


It’s Still Ski Season in Rare Books and Special Collections

Ski Fun. Lithograph. Issued by the Province of Quebec tourist Bureau.

Ski Fun.  Lithograph. Issued by the Province of Quebec Tourist Bureau.

This ski poster represents just one of more than a hundred posters promoting Canadian tourism dating back to the early 20th century. Posters such as these were issued by various provincial agencies or by shipping and railroad companies; all are undoubtedly vibrant works of graphic design.

Thanks to a recent project initiated by the BAnQ, we now know more about the poster holdings in Rare Books and Special Collections. In fact, McGill Library reported 1,600 Canadian posters in total, 900 of which have Quebec content. McGill Library was just one of eighty-three institutional repositories that participated in this collaborative project to record posters printed and published in Quebec or having content relating to Quebec. The result was an online inventory launched in October 2012, produced by the BANQ : Répertoire des collections institutionnelles d’affiches d’intérêt québécois. 

If you are interested in learning more, Professor Marc H. Choko of the Ecole de Design de l’UQAM, is the principal scholar dealing with the content and design of the Canadian poster and author of several publications, two of which are : L’affiche au Québec (2002); Posters of the Canadian Pacific (2004 with David L. Jones).


Exhibition: Celebrating the 300th Anniversary of Jean-Jacques Rousseau


Lithograph after the pastel portrait by La Tour which was presented at the Salon of 1753. Rousseau was about 40 years of age.

Rare Books and Special Collections welcomes visitors to an exhibition of selected works from the Rousseau Collection in honour of the 300th anniversary of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s life, 1712-1778.  Philosopher and homme de lettres of Swiss origin, Rousseau first gained wide-spread attention with a prize essay on the arts and sciences which was published in June 1751 when he was the age of thirty-nine. During a moment of introspection, he posited that the revival of the arts and sciences led to the corruption of morals. He upheld that progress was an illusion. In sophisticated society, man was removed from a state of nature and therefore exposed to corruption. Conversely, virtue was possible in a simple society. Henceforth, and in rapid succession, Rousseau produced astounding works of lasting significance: La Nouvelle Héloïse, Émile and the Contrat Social, to name the most well-known. His works provoked debate across Europe and were the cause of his exile in order to escape arrest from the French government and church authorities.

Rousseau is  also noted for the rich diversity of his oeuvre. This exhibition looks at Rousseau’s contributions to many different fields such as: music, theatre, botany, literature, philosophy, political science and pedagogy. Rousseau worked simultaneously on several of his most famous works, and as a consequence, his ideas are worked out in different genres which ended up unifying his oeuvre.  Rousseau also shaped the auto-biographical genre in interesting ways and used it to explain and defend his own writings.  Jean- Jacques Rousseau  was one of the most influential intellectuals of the eighteenth- century French Enlightenment and an original thinker, largely at odds with the prevailing opinions of the times.

Rare Books and Special Collections has a noteworthy collection on and about Rousseau which was started in the 1950s. With steady and on-going acquisitions, it now includes nearly 250 writings by Rousseau, some of which are first, early or variant editions from the eighteenth century. Many more contemporary commentaries and criticisms on Rousseau also compose part of the Rousseau Collection. It is an interesting supplement to the extraordinary David Hume Collection and to the substantial collection of French Enlightenment authors.

« On trouve dans tous ses écrits, la passion de la nature, et la haine pour ce que les hommes y ont ajouté. » -Madame de STAEL

Rare Books and Special Collections, Reading Room, McLennan Library Building, 4th floor, December 2012 – March 2013,    Curated by Ann Marie Holland