Council's choice

Bibliography- or book-related links recommended by members of the Society’s Council

A new series initiated by Margaret Ford, Past President

Posts from previous years: 2021  2020 

August 2022

London Customs accounts

The early trade in printed books was an international one, with many books travelling large distances across Europe from printer to purchaser. It has long been recognised that a key source for tracking such movement and those involved in the trade can be found in the customs paid on imports and exports. For the port of London, the details of the customs paid on these and other commodities were recorded in Exchequer records, now held at The National Archives.

In recent years the economic historian Stuart Jenks has produced editions of the ‘particular’ accounts for the port of London for the Hanseatic History Association. They are freely available to download on the Association's website: They run from the late 14th century to 1540, and so include records for the early trade in printed books into England. They also compare the particular account with the audited accounts, and each volume contains a detailed introduction and notes in English, and extremely full indexes of merchants, cargoes and ships. Having this material so readily available is of incalculable value to our understanding of the trade and those involved in it.

Matthew Payne, Hon Treasurer

July 2022

Online exhibitions at the Grolier Club

While no substitute for the real thing, on-line exhibitions have much to offer.

Cognoscenti know that the Grolier Club in New York City mounts outstanding book exhibitions – all free to the public – but less well known is that many of their exhibitions are also available in an on-line version. Each exhibit is shown in an enlargeable image with its accompanying text and citation, and the viewer can scroll from exhibit to exhibit or dip in and out of the themes. For more recent exhibitions, a curator-led tour is available too, so that one has the opportunity to hear highly knowledgeable curators talking about their specialist subject, such as Jerry Kelly, a foremost scholar on modern fine printing, on 100 Books Famous in Typography.

The Grolier Club website currently has 25 on-line exhibitions, and I recommend them for both pleasure and study (link).

Margaret Ford, Past President

May 2022

Lock up your libraries?

It's all too easy to reduce the stories of women's struggles for equal rights to easy and straightforward narratives of linear progress, but the truth was rarely so simple. In this article, Jill Whitelock writes a nuanced account of women's access to Cambridge University Library from 1854 to 1923, a time when their access to other learning spaces (such as laboratories) within the university, and indeed, to formal graduation with a degree at the end of their studies, was famously restricted.

From 1854, library rules permitted the admission of non-members of the university, including women, to use the 'collections of every kind' by making a formal application to the governing syndics. Before women students were making use of this access route (the first such application was received and accepted in 1871), other women connected with the university were applying for readers' tickets: the first, recorded in 1855, seem to have been the wives of academics. Is this a glimpse of a richer intellectual life than most women of this period are assumed to have had access to?

Access for women – undergraduates or others – under the rules for non-university members was not necessarily straightforward, governed as it was by restricted opening hours, the need for sponsorship by two members of the university Senate, and an older age restriction (21) than that for male undergraduates.The library's ongoing concerns about the effects of extra 'external' readers on space constraints, revenue, and the overall atmosphere of the library will be familiar to many today: concerns that ultimately boiled down to misogyny and a fear of change were couched (as they ever are) in terms of damage to a revered institution and its traditions. By requiring women students to apply to library access alongside other 'external' readers, bureaucratic administration served to limit their numbers (whether or not limiting numbers was an officially state aim). However, it's precisely because of these bureaucratic roadblocks that this story is traceable through the university archives today. Women's disappearance as distinct entities from the rulebooks and administrative documents in the middle of the twentieth century marks a victory, albeit a by-then long overdue one.

Katie Birkwood, member of Council

April 2022

The Breslauer Prize for Bibliography

The ILAB Breslauer Prize for Bibliography is awarded every fourth year for the most original and outstanding published work in the broad field of bibliography. The first prize is currently $10,000, with second and third prizes of $5000 and $3000 respectively.

The prize was first established in 1964 through a generous gift by scholar-bookseller Dr Bernard H. Breslauer (1918-2004) and was reinforced by a generous new gift from the Breslauer Foundation in 2019. Its inception was very much in the spirit of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) in the aftermath of the Second World War, aiming to unite booksellers around the world and to foster the highest standards of bibliographical expertise. Breslauer himself needs little introduction in bibliographical circles, but the Breslauer Foundation maintains a website with a fascinating biography, which explains the deep roots of his commitment to bibliography in print.

In 2022, the Breslauer Prize judging committee has no fewer than 99 submissions to consider when it meets before the 18th ILAB Breslauer Prize award is made in Oxford on the 14th of September. This is by far the largest set of entries ever received and represents an astonishing range, in both chronological and geographical coverage. The complete list of submissions can be consulted at (each with a brief outline or description). Many of these books will already be familiar to members of the Bibliographical Society and several members will themselves have made submissions.

The committee is an international body and includes librarians and members of the antiquarian book trade: Bettina Wagner, Daniel de Simone, Fabrizio Govi, Justin Croft, Winfried Kuhn and Yann Sordet.

While submissions are now closed for 2022, members of the Bibliographical Society and others working on publications now are warmly encouraged to consider applying in the future. The prize aims to be inclusive and considers publications relating to descriptive and analytical bibliography, the history of the book, typography, paper making, historical and artistic bookbinding. More information can be found at

Justin Croft, member of Council


March 2022

Showcasing Provenance

Our burgeoning interest in exploring the individual histories of books, through all the evidence which previous owners leave behind, has sparked an ever-growing list of online resources and initiatives to support such work. Online catalogues are increasingly enriched with provenance data, and many librarians go the extra mile by creating web pages to showcase their holdings. We might think of the Sion College Library Provenance Project, at Lambeth Palace Library,, or the images of early bindings put up by the Parker Library,

A particular favourite of mine, which I often use as an example when teaching courses on provenance, is the set of pages created by St John’s College Library in Cambridge - Each of the four subheadings (bequests, interesting provenances, types of evidence, interesting bindings) leads to lists which exemplify different kinds of material evidence, with descriptions and images – it’s a very helpful quarry in building but it’s also a simple and elegant model to show how such things can be done.

David Pearson, Honorary Editor of Monographs


February 2022

Early Modern Letters Online

I have for several years been editing the correspondences of two major early-modern English figures, namely the antiquary John Aubrey and his friend the natural philosopher Robert Hooke. It is astonishing that neither of these men’s correspondences has been collected and published before now, not least because they are both unstoppably interesting persons, and (most) of their correspondents were too. For Hooke we have just over 200 letters, but for Aubrey the total is something more like 900. If anyone knows of any out-of-the-way letters I may have missed, please tell me!

The resource for tracking such letters is the ‘Early Modern Letters Online’ (EMLO) database ( It provides one interface to manage and combines over a hundred separate catalogues of early modern letters. EMLO contains the ‘metadata’ of dozens of continental correspondences too, but for the student of Aubrey, it also offers images of the manuscript letters themselves, an unbeatable resource, especially in times of COVID.

One of the most interesting catalogues it has successfully electrified is an old one, remembered by many of us who used to work in Duke Humfrey’s: the Bodleian’s ‘Index of Literary Correspondence’. This extraordinary venture was commenced in the 1920s, and comprises 48,817 typed and handwritten cards, one per manuscript ‘literary’ letter, giving not only basic information on sender, date, recipient, and so forth, but also a brief summary of the content of each letter—albeit the three librarians responsible for this Herculean task often found the letters very hard to read. These summaries have been included in EMLO so that one can search by keywords too.

Those 48,817 cards were turned into electronic records as part of an early initiative orchestrated by the late Richard Sharpe for Oxford’s Cultures of Knowledge project. Tributes to this extremely missed colleague, a great friend and inspiration to both the honorary editors of The Library, who died suddenly in 2020 just as the country was entering its first Lockdown, can be found here:

William Poole, Co-Editor, The Library

January 2022

Which John Smith? Problems of provenance research

I am currently (and intermittently) helping to create new records for David Pearson’s new venture Book Owners Online (BOO: which was launched in September 2020 as a project co-sponsored by the Bibliographical Society. For a number of years I have also been researching the provenance history of books in the Cathedral Library at Canterbury, especially pre-1801 items given or previously owned by members of the Cathedral community; this is available in the form of a Mediawiki implementation (under development at

Providing biographical identification for books owned by deans or canons of Canterbury rarely presents any problem. This is not always the case for lesser mortals. For the BOO project, I am currently working through a list of Scottish armorial bookplate owners drawn from the catalogue of the Franks bequest at the British Museum. Search engines such as Google often provide sufficient links to start a successful hunt but there are known snags. Families have a bad habit of using the same forename for father, son and grandson. Scottish family history websites proliferate on the internet and are frequently very helpful but are not always accurate and tend to take in each other’s washing, accurate or not.

The Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL) maintains pages of reliable provenance data created by professional and academic collaborators at There are sections for many European countries, including the United Kingdom. Sites listed at include

CERL also offers a database of provenance images at with requests to help identify unidentified owner inscriptions.

The internet is a great resource for provenance research but David Pearson’s Provenance Research in Book History: A Handbook (second edition, Bodleian Library, 2019) is still invaluable: a suggestion for a late Christmas present if you don’t have it already.

David Shaw, Hon. Editor of Electronic Publications