Please join us 15 May 2017 from 4 to 6 pm. All are welcome.
For more details on the exhibit click here.
Please join us 15 May 2017 from 4 to 6 pm. All are welcome.
For more details on the exhibit click here.
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?
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.”. 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. 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.” 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 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. 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.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.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.
 Annual Calendar of McGill College and University, Montreal (1872-73). Montréal: J. C. Becket.
 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.
 P. P. Carpenter (1870, July 30). [Letter to Sir John William Dawson]. McGill University Archives (Record Group 4, Container 439, File 11296), Montreal.
 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.
 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
In 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.
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.
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… .
As technology continually reshapes the world, modern academic libraries are finding innovative new digital projects and presentations to breathe renewed life into rare treasures from centuries past. Moving from the physical to the digital is allowing McGill students, faculty and researchers to explore ROAAr‘s rich holdings in creative new ways.
Last year, the McGill Library launched its new Research Commons, an innovative, collaborative space that provides next-generation tools to students and researchers. The Commons includes a high-tech visualization studio capable of projecting high-resolution images onto a large video wall comprised of eight video screens.This October, ROAAr put that new technology to the test during a public lecture by Emeritus Professor Ian MacLaren (University of Alberta) about prominent 19th-century Canadian artist Paul Kane (1810-1871). Kane travelled from Ontario to the northwest quadrant of North America in the 1840s, sketching and painting the life and customs of the indigenous peoples across the vast northwestern Canadian wilderness. This initiative would eventually grow into a key documentary and visual history of the west, a portion of which was published in London in 1859 as Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America : from Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again. Continue reading
Professor Nathalie Cooke, McGill Library’s Associate Dean of Rare and Special Collections, drew our attention to these cookbooks while giving a seminar to Geoffrey Little’s graduate class in Book History. The McGill Library has a substantial historical Cookbook Collection, steeped in printing curiosities and demonstrating exceptional aspects in book production developments.
For example, Mrs. Beeton’s cookbooks were the most popular British series of cookbooks in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Elizabeth Driver writes that “From its first publication in book form in 1861, Mrs. Beeton’s The Book of Household Management ruled English kitchens for well over half a century.Her monumental text was recognized as a culinary authority throughout the Empire as emigrants carried the complete book, or the various shorter derivations of the original work, with them to their new homes” (Culinary Landmarks, 474).
They were a staple commodity for the Ward and Lock Publishers in London. Despite the popularity and longevity of the Mrs. Beeton persona, as well as the many editions of ‘her’ books on cookery and household management, the real Isabella Beeton died after childbirth on 6 February 1865.
Ward & Lock used the Beeton name on for a number of affordable every day handbooks such as: gardening, letter writing, dictionaries and household management. We are showing just two of the later British editions, from about 20 titles that Rare Books and Special Collections houses on the “Mrs. Beeton’s cookery” series.
Edition bindings started up in the nineteenth century as the book market expanded and the publishers of books started to do large print runs of popular titles intended for a wide readership. Cookbooks fit the bill, especially the Mrs. Beeton series, which continued well into the twentieth century. In the 1830s, for various reasons, publishers started to assume the responsibility for binding their own editions. Cloth was their choice material – it was more durable than paper; and less expensive than leather.
Publishers commonly had their names stamped at the bottom of the spines, hence the book collector’s term: “in publisher’s cloth”. Publishers understood that illustrated covers “could be used to enhance the outward appearance of a book and thus help catch the eye of the buyer” to encourage a sale (Percy Muir, Victorian Illustrated Books, 1971). At first, cloth bindings were dyed in colours and either textured or decorated in simple border designs by a blind-stamping process, and used small squares of paper as spine labels. By the 1840s, lettering and decorative and pictorial designs, were filled in with black or gilt, and applied directly onto the cloth.
Elaborate, multi-coloured pictorial cloth bindings picked up where stamped bindings left off. The Ward and Lock edition from 1893, is an excellent example of this trend, which was at the height of popularity in the late Victorian era. It is bound in a smooth cloth dyed mustard yellow; the front cover and spines are partly stamped and partly printed in colours: white, black and pink and a bit of blue. The design is carried over to the spine. Continue reading
We welcome you to a lecture at McGill Library’s Research Commons Presentation Space_A for a compelling lecture on Paul Kane’s Wanderings of an Artist (1859), to be delivered by Emeritus Professor Ian MacLaren (University of Alberta).
Professor MacLaren will discuss Paul Kane (1810-1871), the best known artist of early English-language Canada, and the alteration of his field writings to make a book “readied for the press” under the title:Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America : from Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again.
This book appeared in London in 1859 by the publishing giant Longman, and would transform Kane into a hero of early Canada. It was followed by subsequent editions, such as a French translation produced in Paris in 1861; and a closer-to-home version out of Toronto in 1925 by the Radisson Society of Canada.
This event is free of charge and all are welcome. Please note the room location at the Research Commons Room A. This event is sponsored by the Montreal Book History Group, and the McGill Library’s new ROAAr (Rare and Special Collections, Osler, Art and Archives) division.
The Library of David Hume
The Scottish philosopher, David Hume (1711-1776) has been the subject of special interest at McGill since the late 1940s, and McGill has one of the major scholarly Hume collections.
Just before the end of 2015, Rare Books and Special Collections acquired a volume from David Hume’s library to add to its already existing holdings. This new addition is a copy of Gian Battista Guarini’s Il pastor fido, Paris: Prault, 1766. It is just possible that Hume acquired this copy of the pastoral dramatic best-seller, first published in 1585, during his last days in Paris in January 1766. He had been in Paris since October 1763 as Secretary to the British Ambassador, the Earl of Hertford. Or, it is possible that it might have been in the package of books sent to him by Jean le Ronde d’Alembert in the summer of 1767. When David Hume died in 1776, his library passed to various members of his family, and to his nephew, David, Baron Hume, and the present volume has the inscription “Baron Hume 1829” on the front fly-leaf. On the latter’s death in 1840, the library was dispersed.
The philosopher’s library and its history has been reconstructed by the late McGill professor David Fate Norton and his wife Mary J. Norton in The David Hume Library (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Bibliographical Society in association with the National Library of Scotland, 1996). The Guarini volume appears in the Norton’s bibliography as entry #559. Continue reading
William Blake (1757–1827), English painter and poet, made his living as a commercial engraver and was best known for that work during his lifetime. He was later recognized for his original work as an artist and poet, which included lyrical compositions of spiritual imagery inspired by his interest in theology and philosophy, and an innovative method of “illuminated printing” that combined text and image on a single copperplate.
McGill’s Blake Collection was established in 1953 with a donation of some 250 items by Dr. Lawrence Lande (1906–1998), a major Canadian collector and bibliographer. It has grown to include more than a thousand monographs, facsimiles, engravings, drawings, and slides. Editions of Blake’s own literary works are here, as are copies of books in the editions owned or read by him. Continue reading
By Fin Lemaitre*
This month marks the fortieth anniversary of Montreal’s Corridart exhibition—a project that promised to turn Sherbrooke Street into a linear, open-air art museum for just over a month in the summer of 1976. The centerpiece of the cultural programme of the XXI Olympiad, Corridart stretched from Atwater Avenue to Pie IX Boulevard. Organizer Melvin Charney, a Montreal-based artist/architect, envisioned the project as a critical intervention in Montreal’s recent urban development. From a pool of 306 submissions, the competition jury selected for inclusion 22 artists whose proposals addressed collective life and its relation to the built environment.Charney sought artworks that would enter into dialogue with the street and its history. Montreal’s streets deserved special attention, as he saw it, because more than those in other North American cities, they had historically served as meeting spaces. They had transcended their apparent purpose as transportation routes and achieved importance foremost as places of contact between the city’s diverse sub-populations. The decision to mount Corridart on Sherbrooke Street was significant in this regard. As a main avenue connecting economic, linguistic, and cultural enclaves, it was an ideal host site for the exhibition. Installations would begin near the wealthy, Anglophone borough of Westmount and pass McGill University before crossing some of the city’s more working-class, Francophone areas. Continue reading
We are pleased to unveil the newest edition of the Alcuin Society Awards Exhibition for Excellence in Book Design in Canada. Since 1981, The Alcuin Society organizes a friendly annual competition to appreciate and enjoy the best-designed books across the nation.
Books are chosen from 8 different categories: Children’s, Limited Editions, Pictorial, Poetry, Prose: Fiction, Prose: Non-Fiction, Prose: Non-Fiction (Illustrated), and Reference. Chosen from over 200 submissions, the award-winners are celebrated because of their ability to demonstrate exceptional visual design concepts corresponding with the intellectual nature of the content itself.
The travelling exhibition will be showcased from coast to coast across Canada, from June 2016-March 2017, as well as in several international venues, including the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo and international book fairs in Frankfurt and Leipzig. A complete list of exhibition venues is available on the Alcuin website.
The 2015 exhibition is on display in the lobby of the 4th floor of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, McLennan Library Building until the end of July. Enjoy!