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.

Exhibition: On the Wings of the Wind: The Birds of Luisella Carretta

Luisella Carretta is an Italian artist who has devoted much of her work to researching the environment, and especially to the movement of animals in their natural habitat.  She has given particular attention to the flight of birds, and her drawings and watercolours document these.  This exhibition brings together some truly striking images that Luisella Carretta has produced of birds in flight. Curated by Dr. Richard Virr.

September 5, 2017 – December 22, 2017. For opening hours, click here.

McLennan Library Building Rare Books and Special Collections, 4th floor lobby, 3459 rue McTavish, Montreal, QC, H3A 0C9.
Vernissage: Wednesday, 6 September, 5:30 to 7:00pm in Rare Books and Special Collections, 4th floor, McLennan Library Building.



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).



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

Expo 67 collection

The McGill Library Expo 67 Collection was formed in the years following the fair by McGill Library staff and subsequent donations. It includes ephemera, photographs, realia, published material, official documents, and architectural plans.

Books and ephemera: The Expo 67 collection consists of ephemera such as license plates, visitor passports, postcards, a record, letter opener, bottle caps, ticket stubs, shopping bags, pins, souvenirs etc. There are also guidebooks, magazines, catalogues, posters, books, information manuals, and other written material including clippings and several unpublished documents. Included in this collection are pamphlets and brochures for numerous pavilions, events, services, and countries as well as a variety of maps regarding Expo 67 and subsequent seasons of the Man and His World exhibition.

Photographs: The Expo 67 Slide Collection archives almost 500 images capturing the buildings and surrounding area of the Expo ’67 site. The original photographs (slides) were taken by Meredith Dixon at the 1967 World Exhibition that took place in Montreal, Quebec on April 28th through October 29th.

Architectural archives: The John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection holds the archives of Moshe Safdie, Sigrun Bülow-Hübe, Norbert Schoenauer, John Schreiber, Joseph Baker, Harry Stilman, and John Bland, all of whom worked on projects at Expo 67.

For more information or to view the collection, please contact Rare Books and Special Collections.

A Forgotten Benefactor: John Robson and his Collection

By 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.


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… .


Rare Books Take on an Added Dimension

La version française suit

By Ann Marie Holland

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.


Visualization wall in the Research Commons

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.


Emeritus Professor Ian MacLaren  presenting “From ‘nothing but a pasenger [sic]’ to Canadian Hero: Paul Kane’s Authorship of Wanderings of an Artist (1859).”

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

Mrs. Beeton in Publisher’s Cloth

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).

1887. Decorative publisher’s cloth .

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.

1893. Pictorial publisher’s cloth.

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