I have now been cataloguing the post 1800s printed collection at ECL for just over three years. Building this extensive collection is the work of half a decade of our Curator of Modern Collections, who started it under the guidance of the bibliophile John Carter in the 1960s. There had been no catalogue made of this collection until I started working on it, book by book. Although we had a good idea of what was there, exact details were hazy.
This is exciting for two reasons: The librarian in me loves creating order out of chaos. The human in me loves the element of discovery; and of these there have been some exciting ones. In the middle of a first edition of W. H. Auden’s City Without Walls sat a postcard about a trip to Europe and Egypt, casually signed from Alfred Wainwright. Scrawled across the front endpapers of Edward Thomas’s Collected Poems in pencil is the name Irene Rathbone, actress turned feminist author of We that were young, a woman’s experience of working in a WWI munitions factory.
Of the first discovery I am fairly confident that the postcard is in the hand of the hiking hero. The second is conjecture based solely on the likely subject of the book and the publication date falling within the lady’s lifespan. But the possibilities keep on coming. Dicken’s illustrators and Thackeray’s Rose and ring carry signatures of Fred Bennett and Mason Jackson respectively, both important illustrators of their time. Most recently I found the signature of an H. Gay Hewlett on the front wrappers of a couple of numbers from Robert Browning’s Bells and pomegranates, possibly the same H. Gay Hewlett that wrote a history of Europe. As I write this, that discovery was only yesterday, I wonder what I’ll find tomorrow…
By Louise Anderson, @LibrarianLCA