Retirement news: Dr. Richard Virr

Dr. Richard Virr with Audubon’s “Birds of America”. Photo: David Sidaway / The Gazette

Dr. Richard Virr announced recently that he is retiring on February 2nd, 2018. Richard joined Rare Books and Special Collections in the Fall of 1984 after a short time in the McGill University Archives where he was the final editor of A guide to Archival Resources at McGill University.  In 1985 he was named curator of manuscripts, a position he continued to hold when appointed Chief Curator in 2006.  The latter position he held for 10 years.
Throughout his time at RBSC Richard left his mark in a number of areas.  He curated numerous exhibitions that were extremely helpful in raising the visibility of the collection, including the recent one on the memorialization of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Richard organized colloquia and other events that allowed for a scholarly analysis not only of material held in RBSC but of books in general.  The proceedings of the recent Meeting with Books: Special Collections in the 21st Century was published by the library with additional material about special collections at McGill. His sharp wit and depth of knowledge of the collection developed over years of erudite thought, was of great benefit to the many students and scholars with whom he worked.  He also authored several works, such as Apud Aldum: Aldines in the Libraries of McGill University, published in the Marginalia monograph series in 2000.  For many years he was co-editor with Hans Möller of Fontanus: from the Collections of McGill University.

One of his professional passions has been collection development.  Richard focused on building on strengths, so he acquired a number of important writers from the Enlightenment era, including securing Patrick Lee’s significant Voltaire collection and numerous works by David Hume.   He also added significantly to the Canadiana holdings. He taught Descriptive Bibliography in the McGill School of Information Studies for many years.  The course was very popular.  Many of his students later went into the field and appreciated the positive impact this course had on their professional development.

Richard has also been active outside the University.  He was editor of the Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society, and organized the 2007 Anglican Libraries in Canada Conference held at McGill.  He is the Archivist for the Anglican Diocese of Montreal, and a governor of the Montreal Diocesan Theological College.

Photo: Noah Sutton / McGill Tribune

Although Richard’s last day at work will be December 1, he will continue to be active in a number of professional projects, including co-curating an exhibition of medieval books of hours at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in September 2018.

We all thank Richard for his many years of service and wish him well.

 

 

Exhibition: Remembering

In honour of Remembrance Day and to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, McGill Library and Archives has prepared a special exhibition in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library.

This exhibition begins with Battle of Vimy Ridge itself and the memorial dedicated by His Majesty King Edward VIII in 1936. Also on display is the McGIll Book of Remembrance. This illuminated book records nearly 700 names of McGill individuals who died while serving in uniform either during or after World War I and World War II. Each name is handwritten in calligraphy and the pages are illuminated in hues of red, blue, green, gold and silver. To learn more and view the book click here.

Headline History of the Great War scrapbook

The exhibition continues through November on the first floor of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library.

Until November 12th, an interactive touchscreen highlights two of our permanent web exhibitions: the Canadian War Poster Collection, and McGIll Remembers, which provides access to thousands of digitized archival records pertaining to the students, alumni, faculty and staff of McGill University who contributed to the Second World War effort.

Apply now – RBSC travel research grants

We are currently accepting applications for three travel research grants to facilitate on-site research at Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill Library.

Fanny Burney by Edward Francisco Burney

The McGill-American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) Fellowship is offered by the Burney Centre, in conjunction with Rare Books and Special Collections. The fellowship is designed to assist scholars who need to travel to and establish temporary residence in Montreal in order to use the resources of the Library. The Fellowship is available to scholars interested in any aspect of Frances Burney, the Burney family, and their extended circle. It carries an award of US $3,000 for a one-month stay, at a time to be arranged. Application deadline: November 30, 2017. How to apply

 

 

Raymond Klibansky (1905-2005)

The McGill Raymond Klibansky Collection Research Grant is intended to enable researchers from outside the Montreal area, both established scholars and graduate students, to work on a research project related either to the Klibansky Collection itself or to the history of philosophy in the congenial circumstances of Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library.

The Klibansky Collection of over 7000 titles reflects the entire range of Raymond Klibansky’s intellectual interests from his early work on medieval thought to his engagement with the concept of “tolerance” and its importance in the post-Second World War World. The Klibansky Research Grant, with a value of up to $4000.00 (Cdn), is open on a competitive basis. Application deadline: December 31, 2017. How to apply. 

 

Frontispiece, Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, 1819.

The McGill Library Voltaire Research Travel Grant is available to literary scholars, book historians, graduate and post-doctoral students, and to those interested in the arts and humanities of the Enlightenment era.

$2,500 in awards will be made to one or more individuals whose project requires them to spend a minimum of two weeks to come to McGill to consult the rich holdings of Voltaire and other Enlightenment works in Rare Books and Special Collections. Application deadline: December 31, 2017. How to apply.

Occultober exhibition

Scrapbook of Ruth Ena Taylor | McGill University Archives 2017-0042.12.1

This scrapbook was compiled in 1924-1925 by Macdonald Teaching College student Ruth Ena Taylor. It contains dance programmes, diary entries, old pieces of candy, a wishbone, and even a spoon! Ruth very much enjoyed the Halloween dance.

This book is part of our new exhibition, “Occultober” currently on display in our reading room 4th floor McLennan Library Building. Open Monday – Friday, 10am – 6pm until November 10th.

Special Announcements

The Robert R. Reid multi-site exhibition curated by  CAUSA in association with McGill University Library (Rare Books and Special Collections) has been extended so as to complement the 61st annual conference of the non-profit ASSOCIATION TYPOGRAPHIQUE INTERNATIONALE, which is hosting ATypI Montréal 2017″  from September 12th  to 16th,  2017.

On September 15th, 2017, a special tour of the Robert R. Reid Exhibition and Touch Table Display will be made available to members of the ATypI conference.

Click here for the special events calendar.

Digital Typography and Design by Robert R. Reid

 

….And join us when American scholar Paul Shaw will speak from 7 to 8 pm, September 15th 2017 on W. A. Dwiggins.

Paul Shaw, who has spent nearly 40 years researching the life and work of American typographer and book designer W.A. Dwiggins (1880-1956) will discuss some of the material by and about Dwiggins housed in the William Colgate History of Printing Collection, located in Rare Books and Special Collections of the McGill University Library,4th floor of the McLennan Library Building.

We look forward to receiving members of ATypI to our library.

PRESENTING REID’S DIGITAL DESIGNS

“ROBERT  R. REID: RE-READING (CLOSELY)”

By Special Guest Writer :  David Bellman, Research Curator,
CAUSA / Collective for Advanced and Unified Studies in the Visual Arts

 

Designed by Robert R. Reid

■ A point of contact and an action point activated: verbal-visual presence/revivification of text (and tempo) through listening and looking (localization in a nexus of previously unrelated pattern and proposition).

A resulting field of force: TYPOGRAPHICAL TELETRANSPORTATION.

________________________________________

The term “typographical image” has been adopted as a descriptor for identifying the densely self-contained digital-experimental designs that Robert R. Reid has produced in close collaboration with CAUSA –for purposeful use within variable curatorial research projects (including the current, ground-breaking exhibition at McGill  Library). And that carefully conceived nomenclature links, concisely/expansively, to this lucid epigram by the Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu:

People cannot see themselves in running water. They see
themselves in still water, for only stillness can see stillness.

To further clarify a long-term, self-sustaining function for Reid’s rigorously committed USE OF THE AESTHETIC, an observation by Carl Sandburg can be constructively evoked. He connects us to Reid’s capacious creativity with a specific insight:

The inexplicable is all around us. So is the incomprehensible.
So is the unintelligible.

Sandburg’s insights date from 1950 –one year after the publication of Reid’s  first book (produced by him as founder of Canada’s first artisanal private press).

Continue reading

Remembering / Se souvenir : Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Regina War Memorial Museum

Design for Regina War Memorial Museum (unbuilt) by Percy E. Nobbs is included in Part II of the exhibition

By Richard Virr, Rare Books and Special Collections

La version française suit
The Great War (1914-1918) left a permanent mark on Canada, both as a nation and as a people. The country had experienced conflict, both abroad on the battlefields of Europe, where Canadian forces had been engaged since September 1914, and at home with the conscription crisis that engulfed the country in 1917 and resulted in a change of government. By 1919, Canada was a very different place from what it had been in 1914.

Headline History of the Great War scrapbook

Headline History of the Great War, a scrapbook compiled by R.C. Featherstonhaugh, is included in Part I of the exhibition

On the Western Front in April 1917, the British army, including the Canadian Corps under the command of General Julian Byng, faced Vimy Ridge, a strongly-fortified seven-kilometre German defensive line in northern France. The military stalemate seemed unbreakable. Earlier French assaults on this position had resulted in over 100,000 casualties without breaching the German defences. Finally, Vimy Ridge was successfully stormed by the Canadian Corps in a three-day battle from April 9th through the 12th. The battle claimed the lives of 3,598 Canadian soldiers, with another 7,000 wounded.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge has become the embodiment of the Canadian experience of the Great War, and provided the inspiration for one of the most enduring images of the war in Canadian memory: the soaring cenotaph on Vimy Ridge. This memorial appears on the verso of our twenty-dollar bill.

The Vimy Memorial

Vimy Memorial, Illustrated London News, July 25, 1936, is included in Part I of the exhibition

This exhibition begins with Battle of Vimy Ridge itself and the memorial dedicated by His Majesty King Edward VIII in 1936. But it has another purpose: to explore how Canadians, in Montreal, at McGill University, and across the country, memorialized the bravery and sacrifices of its men and women during these years of war. Canada remembered by erecting cenotaphs and memorials in its cities, towns, and villages, and Canada remembers today every November 11th. Through objects, drawings, and photographs, these physical memorials are shown in their various stages of conception and realization. Though not all realized, these memorials are the aides mémoire of our national consciousness that served and continue to serve as markers of our national and communal life.

This exhibition will open in two stages: part I, devoted to the battle and the memorial, opened on Friday, April 7th and continues through November; part II, devoted to remembrance, will open on Friday, May 19th and continue to September 22nd.

The exhibition was curated by Jennifer Garland and Richard Virr, Rare Books and Special Collections, with the assistance of Lori Podolsky, McGill University Archives.


Se souvenir : Commémoration de la bataille de la crête de Vimy dans le cadre de son 100e anniversaire

Regina War Memorial Museum

Dessin conceptuel du musée commémoratif de la guerre de Regina (non construit) par Percy E. Nobbs, présenté dans le cadre de la seconde partie de l’exposition.

Par Richard Virr, Livres rares et collections spécialisées

La Grande Guerre (1914-1918) a laissé une marque indélébile sur le Canada, en tant que pays et en tant que peuple. Le pays avait connu des conflits, non seulement sur les champs de bataille en Europe, où les forces canadiennes étaient mobilisées depuis septembre 1914, mais également à l’intérieur de nos frontières où la crise de la conscription a secoué le pays, en 1917, et entraîné un changement de gouvernement. En 1919, le Canada était très différent de ce qu’il avait été en 1914.

Histoire de la Grande Guerre

Histoire de la Grande Guerre, album de découpures de grands titres préparé par R.C. Featherstonhaugh, présenté dans le cadre de la première partie de l’exposition.

En avril 1917, sur le front ouest, l’armée britannique, y compris le Corps canadien sous le commandement du général Julian Byng, se trouvait devant la crête de Vimy, une ligne défensive allemande puissamment fortifiée qui s’étendait sur une distance de sept kilomètres dans le nord de la France. Ce bastion semblait insurmontable. Les assauts précédents menés par les Français à cet endroit avaient entraîné la mort de plus de 100 000 soldats, mais n’avaient pas permis de percer la ligne défensive allemande. Finalement, le Corps canadien a réussi à s’emparer de la crête de Vimy au terme d’une bataille qui a duré trois jours, soit du 9 au 12 avril. Cette bataille a coûté la vie à 3 598 soldats canadiens et en a blessé 7 000 autres.

La bataille de Vimy incarne maintenant la participation du Canada à la Grande Guerre et elle a inspiré l’une des images les plus mémorables qu’ont les Canadiens de la guerre : le cénotaphe qui est érigé sur la crête de Vimy. Ce mémorial figure au verso de nos billets de vingt dollars.

Mémorial de Vimy, Illustrated London News, 25 juillet 1936, présenté dans le cadre de la première partie de l’exposition.

L’exposition commence par la bataille de Vimy elle-même et le mémorial offert au Canada par Sa Majesté le roi Édouard VIII en 1936. Elle présente aussi comment les Canadiens à Montréal, à l’Université McGill et partout au pays commémorent la bravoure et les sacrifices que les hommes et les femmes ont consentis pendant ces années de guerre. Le Canada se souvient grâce aux cénotaphes et aux monuments commémoratifs qui ont été érigés dans ses villes et villages, et au jour du Souvenir célébré chaque année, le 11 novembre. Par l’entremise d’objets, de dessins et de photographies, ces monuments sont présentés aux étapes de leur conception et de leur réalisation. Bien qu’ils n’aient pas tous vu le jour, ces monuments sont notre aide-mémoire collectif national et continuent de servir de marqueur au sein de notre existence en tant que nation et collectivité.

Cette exposition est présentée en deux étapes : la première partie, consacrée à la bataille et au mémorial, a commencé le vendredi 7 avril et se poursuit jusqu’en novembre, tandis que la seconde, consacrée au souvenir, commence le vendredi 19 mai et se poursuit jusqu’au 22 septembre.

L’exposition a été organisée et préparée par Jennifer Garland et Richard Virr de Livres rares et collections spécialisées, avec l’aide de Lori Podolsky, d’Archives de l’Université McGill

A Forgotten Benefactor: John Robson and his Collection

Ann-Marie Hansen

The early history of McGill University Library’s (MUL) collections is populated with illustrious donors. The names of Peter Redpath, John William Dawson, and William C. McDonald still resonate today, especially with those familiar with the university’s campuses. In contrast, the name of John Robson has nearly been forgotten. Yet, with the exception of Redpath, no other donor had as pivotal a role in shaping the early library collections. The bequest of his library was the single largest donation of books made to McGill before 1893, the point at which the modern library came into being. So why are so few people today aware of his existence or of that of his collection?

Robson’s copy of Lucretius’ De rerum natura (Lyon, 1576) bearing his inscription dated 1823. McGill RBSC PA6482 A2 1576 (USTC 141351) On the significance of this title, see Stephen Greenblatt’s Pulitzer prize winning The Swerve: How the World became Modern, 2011.

A vast and diverse collection

The first complete private library to be presented to MUL, Robson’s collection was made up of materials “relating to Medical Science, History, Archaeology, Classical Literature, &c., &c.”[1]. He donated a remarkable 3763 items to McGill in total. Nineteen cases containing 2597 volumes and 327 pamphlets arrived in July 1870, and another 839 volumes followed four years later upon Robson’s death on 9 December 1873. To put this into perspective, the MUL collection had previously counted only 5926 volumes[2]. Thus by sheer volume, the Robson donations had an enormous impact on the library’s early collections, increasing their size by nearly 50% with the first shipment alone. Perhaps more importantly, they also augmented the library’s holdings in terms of quality and depth.

According to his contemporary P.P. Carpenter, “the most valuable part of the Robson Collection consists of a series of works in Archaeology, of which science he [… was a] very assiduous and successful prosecutor”. Carpenter further noted that “Dr Robson had the [reputation] of being an accomplished classic scholar, and also a scientific physician; and therefore there will probably be many valuable books in both of these departments, as well as in general literature.”[3] Those books from his collection that have survived and which we can identify as having belonged to him reflect these varied interests, his voracity as a reader[4] and his enthusiasm as a book collector. In his lifetime, Robson amassed an impressive amount of older printed materials. His collection’s contents spanned the history of printing up till that point with many volumes dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As a result their arrival in Montreal enriched McGill’s historical holdings, notably with its first incunabulum[5]. The contents of his collection remain of importance today in their reflection of book history within the larger MUL collection.

The slide into anonymity

One might then ask why this collection has been forgotten. For one thing, the collection lost its integrity by being split up and distributed thematically amongst the other books in the collection. The relative proportion of the Robson bequest compared to the library collections at the time or their arrival presumably made it impractical for it to be kept separately and identified as a collection on its own. It does not appear to have been labelled in a similar manner to the contemporary Peter Redpath Collection. So while the Robson collection may have overwhelmed the MUL collection at first, it was in fact dispersed within it. As the MUL collection grew, the proportion of Robson books shrank and they were increasingly spread out.

An example of Robson’s more elaborate bookplate dated 1865 in his copy of Henri Estienne’s L’introduction au traité de la conformité des merveilles anciennes avec les modernes ([Geneva], 1579). McGill RBSC PQ1621 A6 1579 (USTC 323). This is one of a multitude of variants that exist of this controversial title.

Another factor that contributed to his lack of enduring public recognition is that Robson lacked the illustrious status of other donors. His connection to McGill and Montreal was rather distant and it seems to have been a question of chance that he chose to donate his library to this institution rather than another. It was through P.P. Carpenter, who had recently donated his vast collection of shells to McGill’s museum that Robson heard of the young college from his home in Warrington, near Manchester, England. Lacking the financial clout or social lustre of benefactors such as Redpath, Dawson or MacDonald whose repeated and significant contributions to the university kept them in the public eye and the historian’s mind, Dr Robson was quickly forgotten.

Given Robson’s interest in early prints, it seems appropriate that it is through bibliographical interest that he is now being rediscovered. As we worked on the Inventaire des imprimés anciens au Québec, traces of Robson’s impact on the MUL’s early collections resurfaced frequently. Volumes held in Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) bear two versions of his personal bookplate, the occasional inscription, and presentation labels affixed when his library arrived at McGill. These marks have survived remarkably well, but this is not the only reason why his volumes are of interest for their provenances. Indeed, paradoxically, Robson’s lack of status and equivalent budget are proving to be of benefit in the long run. Carpenter noted that “Dr. R. was never in any other than very moderate circumstances”; this meant that he did not have the volumes he collected rebound with elegant nineteenth century bindings as did so many of his better-heeled contemporaries. As a result the marks left by the book’s former owners and readers were spared from the destruction caused by rebinding. The volumes’ earlier history remains intact and accessible to researchers today, directly illustrating early print and reading culture.

Robson’s simpler bookplate figures in an edition of Polyaenus’ Strategemata ([Geneva], 1589). McGill RBSC PA4390 P5 1589 (USTC 451206; GLN 3383) Its printer Jean II de Tournes, former printer to the king of France based in Lyon, had by this time fled to Geneva.

So while Robson’s books are now scattered across the shelves in RBSC and only conceptually form a collection, the signs that he and others before him left on and between their covers speak eloquently of their production and use. They speak to us of engaged readers, of a provincial physician from nineteenth century England with a taste for old books, and of his undeniable impact on McGill University Library in its early years[6].

 

 

 

 

[1] Annual Calendar of McGill College and University, Montreal (1872-73). Montréal: J. C. Becket.

[2] C. F. Markgraf (1870, October 26). Memorandum as to Number of Books in Dr Robson’s Donation Octr 26th, 1870. McGill University Archives (Accession no. 927, Bundle 21, Item 9), Montreal.

[3] P. P. Carpenter (1870, July 30). [Letter to Sir John William Dawson]. McGill University Archives (Record Group 4, Container 439, File 11296), Montreal.

[4] This was noted by his biographers: W. Robson & Kendrick (1876). Memorials of the late Dr. Robson, of Warrington. His life and writings. Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 3(4), 177.

[5] McGill University Library. Incunabula. In History of the Book. Accessed November 8, 2016, http://www.library.mcgill.ca/rarebook/hisbook.htm

[6] For further reflection on these questions, see A.-M. Hansen (2016). Traces de savoirs et de collections historiques : quelques réflexions autour de l’Inventaire des imprimés anciens au Québec à la bibliothèque universitaire de McGill, Études littéraires, 46(2), 33-48. DOI : 10.7202/1037701ar

Robert Reid’s Postage Stamps

reidstampwoodcarvingcroppedtwiceIn March of this year, Robert Reid wrote a blog article for the Alcuin Society which began like the beginning of a suspense novel: “I was running a type house in Montreal at the time I was asked to design Christmas stamps.”

This would have been at the time of Expo 67. It is a nice story to recount, just as Peter F. McNally once did  for the Reidfest held in 2007. The story goes that Robert Reid created some designs as proposals for holiday stamps, which he had printed up on perforated sheets and mailed in to an art committee working for the Post Office. In the meantime, one of his employees had swiped a stamp out of the wastebasket and used it. Reid did not take the prize, and within two  weeks, the mounted police were knocking at his door on Sherbrooke Street, and up the street at McGill’s Rare Books Department, where Mrs. Elizabeth Lewis, the Head of the Department, had been steadfastly archiving all of  Robert Reid’s printed productions, whether large or small. She had to hand over her batch of stamps as well. The original story can be found here.

Fortunately, a hidden stash of the proof stamps is still within our grasp here at McGill University, in the William Colgate Collection, specialized in the History of Printing. Reid points out that the design below was based on a native French-Canadian wood sculpture dating back to the 18th century, a carving that he had come across at a  Museum in Quebec City.

Robert R. Reid is an award-winning typographer, graphic designer and letterpress printer- an acknowledged leader of the private press tradition in Canada. The William Colgate Collection showcases the fine printing he achieved during the “Montreal years”. His life reads like a good novel.

reidstampwoodcarvingcropped

Born in 1927, Reid came to Montreal in 1963 from British Columbia. He spent more than ten years in Montreal from1963 to 1976. He first held the position as Designer and Production Manager for the McGill University Press, a responsibility he held for five or more years. During that time, he also accomplished really exquisite limited and special editions. The Lande Bibliography (1965) and the Notman Photo Album entitled: Portrait of a Period (1967) are two of the outstanding productions achieved under his direction in that category.

Reid later became Director for a new Publications Service at McGill University, serving the needs of multiple departments for various kinds of “job printing” – event posters, announcements, booklets, invitations, and various printed projects of an ephemeral nature, such as these colourful postage stamps. Reid moved on to New York by 1976, and stayed there for some twenty years. He is now back in British Columbia.

For a taste of the incredible and comprehensive record of Reid’s career, we invite you to consult his memoirs which are held in the William Colgate Collection entitled: Printing a Lifelong Addiction (Vancouver: 2002-2007) in 5 volumes and 13 parts, at last count. McGill has  No. 3 of just 16 copies of the volume on the “Montreal” years. It is a good place to start in order to appreciate the excellence of Robert Reid’s talents in the art of printing, and book-making. And of course, we have the originals.

We wish you very happy holidays.

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And in connection with stamps, ..coming soon is a wonderful exhibition to be held at the McLennan Library entitled:  “Every Stamp a Story: History, Culture and Art through the Lens of Philately”, curated by David M. Lank, and sponsored by the Friends of the Library. On view as of January 13th, 2017.

Now it just so happens that David M. Lank and Robert R. Reid published a very handsome book together on Thomas Bewick. To be continued… .