Miniature books and microchips

Miniature books, which typically measure less than 3 inches (76mm) in height, have been around since the written word was developed: first with cuneiform clay tablets, then hand-written manuscripts. The introduction of the printing press and moveable type printing in Europe, in middle of the 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg, set the stage for the first early printed books known as incunabula. Surviving editions of miniature incunabules are very rare treasures with only a dozen still in existence today. The new printing process made the production of miniature volumes a challenge to all involved – not just the printers themselves, but also the paper makers and book binders. Readers were also confronted with issues in the reading and handling of these tiny tomes as the size of type and pages kept getting smaller. So why print them? Continue reading

Animals in the Library

By Dr Jane Carroll

Once upon a time, someone nearly bought a stuffed tiger for the Early Printed Books Reading Room [when we were preparing a Long Room exhibition about India – Ed.]. Sadly, the tiger was never bought but, nevertheless, EPB is full of animals if you know where to look for them.

Last week, I brought a group of sophister students from the School of English to EPB to look at animal books, mainly from the Pollard Collection.

P1030857 Continue reading

The tale of Mr Warne

Front cover of binding

Beatrix Potter: “The tale of two bad mice” (London and New York, 1904) Shelfmark: OLS POL 2971

This summer marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of Frederick Warne & Co., the well-known publisher of children’s books. Here in the Department of Early Printed Books and Special Collections we hold several hundred of Warne’s publications with over a third of them belonging to the Pollard Collection, a collection of more than 10,000 children’s books.

The firm was established in late June 1865 at Bedford Street, Covent Garden by Frederick Warne (1825-1901). At a young age Warne had joined his elder brother in the bookselling business of their brother-in-law, George Routledge, and in 1851 became a partner in his publishing firm. Warne later set up his own company with partners Edward J. Dodd and A.W. Duret and the firm expanded to New York in the 1880s. The publishing house issued a number of popular series of reprints in both fiction and non-fiction. They also published editions of works by celebrated children’s authors and artists and utilised the skills of the leading London colour printer Edmund Evans.

Opening featuring two nursery rhymes with Greenaway's illustrations

Kate Greenaway: “Mother Goose or The old nursery rhymes” (London and New York, [ca 1887-1905?]) Shelfmark: OLS POL 1534

We have marked the anniversary with a small display of Warne’s publications which will be on view until mid-September 2015 in the exhibition case in the foyer of the Berkeley Library. Included are children’s books illustrated by Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott and by the author most associated with the firm, Beatrix Potter. Next year, in fact, will mark another significant anniversary, 150 years since the birth of Potter on 28 July 1866.

Potter's illustration of Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit

Beatrix Potter: “The tale of Mr Tod” (London and New York, 1912) Shelfmark: OLS B-9-904

Potter first wrote the story of Peter Rabbit in 1893 in a picture letter to the child of a former governess. Following rejection by six publishers (including Warne), The tale of Peter Rabbit was issued privately by the author in December 1901. The following year Warne reconsidered and published the first commercial edition. Thus began a collaboration between author and publisher which saw the publication of twenty-three small format Peter Rabbit books.

Dating Warne’s children’s publications can often prove problematic. Toy book publishers at that time often collected together and reissued a group of works previously published separately, usually in time for Christmas and seldom dated. The copy of Caldecott’s picture book included in the display is a typical example. Library accession dates or provenance information can sometimes help to suggest a possible date. In the case of our copy from the Pollard Collection (at OLS POL 684) the clue comes from an inscription on the endpapers from a mother to her child, Rupert S. Thompson, from Surrey, dated Christmas 1899.

Front cover of binding

Angelica Selby: “In the sunlight: a tale of Mentone” (London and New York, 1892) Shelfmark: OLS B-14-303

Taking note of the changes over time in a publisher’s imprint can also narrow down a likely date and Chester W. Topp’s bibliography, Victorian yellowbacks & paperbacks, 1849-1905 (Denver, 1993-2006) is a useful resource. Warne was a prominent issuer of yellowbacks, paperbacks and cheap cloth issues of children’s literature and volume 4 of Topp’s work is indispensable in building a picture of his output in this area.

Frederick Warne retired in 1895 leaving the firm in the hands of his three sons, Harold, Fruing and Norman. Norman, the youngest, became Potter’s editor but died suddenly from leukaemia in 1905 only four weeks after he and Beatrix had become engaged to be married. Potter continued publishing her ‘little books’ with the firm and, having no children of her own, bequeathed the rights to her published works to Norman Warne’s nephew, Frederick Warne Stephens, after her death. In the 20th century the firm introduced its famous Observer’s books series of handy pocket reference guides (we hold several hundred of them here in the Library). The company was acquired by Penguin Books in 1983 and later this year the publisher is issuing a celebratory volume, Classic nursery tales: 150 years of Frederick Warne.

TAP Workshops Hosted by the Library

We are delighted to welcome children from three Dublin primary schools to the Library for a series of workshops on 13th January 2015. These workshops are the starting point of the annual Bookmarks Programme organised by staff from TAP (Trinity Access Programmes) in Trinity College. In one of these workshops the children — from Our Lady of Lourdes National School, Inchicore; Our Lady of Good Counsel Boys’ National School, Drimnagh; and St. Mary’s Boys’ National School, Haddington Road — will be shown books from the Pollard Collection, a collection of more than 10,000 children’s books bequeathed to the Library by Mary Pollard, former Keeper of Early Printed Books.

Miss Pollard’s collection of schoolbooks had been purchased by the Library thirty years earlier. Three needlework textbooks from that collection are currently on display in the exhibition case at the entrance to the Berkeley Library. The book on agriculture which accompanies them is one of many schoolbooks which have been acquired to supplement the Pollard Schoolbook Collection.

The books shown here were all issued by the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, the publisher of the bulk of the textbooks used in Irish schools during the mid- to late 19th century. They are notable for their careful attention to detail and balanced approach, especially in potentially controversial subjects such as religious education.

“Upon the Wild Waves” — a new exhibition opens in the Long Room

"The Children of Lir" illustration ©PJ Lynch 2014 from "The Names Upon The Harp" by Marie Heaney, published by Faber

“The Children of Lir” illustration ©PJ Lynch 2014 from “The Names Upon The Harp” by Marie Heaney, published by Faber

A new exhibition has opened in the Old Library, Trinity College Dublin: “Upon the wild waves: a journey through myth in children’s books” explores some of the varying ways in which writers and illustrators have used myth down through the centuries to engage and excite younger readers. From Thomas Godwin’s “Romanae historiae anthologia” (1648) to “Hagwitch” (2013) by the contemporary Irish writer and illustrator Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, the exhibition serves as a celebration of the wealth of children’s literature held in the Library.

Myths from around the world are represented in this display, although there is a particular emphasis on English-language books and on tales from Irish authors. The exhibition includes sections on Biblical, Classical, Norse, Arthurian and Irish myths. It is clear from all the works displayed that myths have always had an important role to play in providing guidance to children on how to deal with the great problems of life, as well as offering ways of understanding the past, present and future, and of explaining the inexplicable.

The exhibition was prepared by Dr Pádraic Whyte, co-director of the Masters programme in Children’s Literature at the School of English, TCD. It will be on view in the Long Room until April 2015.

An online version of the exhibition is available here.

International Children’s Book Day

International Children’s Book Day is celebrated each year to to help promote the role of children’s literature and the right of every child to become a reader.

Celebrated since 1967, this event generally falls around 2 April – the birth date of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875). This year it is the turn of the Irish branch of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) to launch the festivities. Library staff member Louise Gallagher is a committee member of IBBY and – with the assistance of Clodagh Neligan, Niamh Harte and Helen McGinley – has mounted two exhibitions of Hans Christian Anderson titles as part of the celebrations.

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, originally published in 1835, have been translated into over 125 different languages. Many of the world’s most celebrated illustrators have produced beautiful images inspired by his stories, including Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Harry Clarke and Arthur Rackham. Interestingly Dulac’s friendship with William Butler Yeats led to a variety of artistic projects, including the design at Yeats’s suggestion of a proposed coinage for the Irish Free State, and collaboration on his play ‘At the Hawk’s Well’. For this Dulac designed the scenery and costumes, composed the incidental music, and took part in the first performance in 1916.

The display case in the BLU contains a selection of titles mostly from the Pollard Collection including a copy of ‘The ugly duckling and other stories from Hans Andersen’s fairy tales’ (London, 1896) and an interesting primer in Gaelic type ‘Leabhrín na leanbh’ (Baile Átha Cliath, 1913). The case in the Orientation Space of the Ussher Library features a selection of material from our modern collections including ‘Snow queen’ (London, 1993) illustrated by Irish artist P.J. Lynch.

Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama visit The Old Library

The staff in Early Printed Books, M&ARL and Preservation & Conservation are well used to being called on to curate once-off exhibitions to welcome special visitors and the visitors on Monday 17 June certainly were special. The arrival of the Obama family, which shut down the city centre, was marked in the Long Room with a small but perfectly-formed display of carefully chosen items.


First of all Mrs Obama and her daughters Sasha and Malia had the opportunity to see the Preservation & Conservation Department assistants working on the Pollard Collection of children’s books, one of the Library’s great resources, the bequest of a former Keeper.

Then they examined the specially-curated exhibition which was made possible by theobama1 generous co-operation of two of the Library’s sister institutions. The Representative Church Body Library (with the agreement of the National Archives) lent some parish registers recording the birth, marriage and death of various members of the Kearney family (one of whom was named Triphenia) who are believed to have been Barack Obama’s Irish antecedents; and the National Library lent a map of the lands in Co Offaly from which the Kearneys sprang. The other items in the display were hand-coloured prints from EPB’s own collection, and a portrait of John Kearney, Provost from 1799-1806, from the College art collection.’

It was a very enjoyable inter-departmental and inter-institutional collaboration which did the Library proud. Thanks to for the images capturing the historic visit.  – Shane Mawe & Jane Maxwell

‘A Spoonful of Flummery’ from our Pollard Collection of Children’s Books

The Pollard Collection of Children’s Books was bequeathed to the Library by a former Keeper of Early Printed Books, Mary (Paul) Pollard, the fruits of over 50 years of collecting. Now, thanks to generous funding from the UK Trust for TCD, the project is being catalogued and made fully available to scholars for the first time. With over 10,000 items ranging from the 17th to the early 20th centuries, the collection provides all sorts of wonders, classics, oddities and beauties – a unique and invaluable historical insight into the reading life of the child, and a treasure trove for researchers and readers alike.

The Cottage Fire-side. [Dublin]: C. Bentham, 1821. (OLS POL 6494)

Image of titlepage of The Cottage Fireside

The rather crudely printed titlepage for The Cottage Fireside.

The Cottage Fire-side is a relatively unprepossessing little volume (see photo), printed in Dublin by Christopher Bentham in 1821, sparsely illustrated with wood-cuts and still in its contemporary binding. It has survived practically unscathed, despite the best efforts of one Ellen Birmingham – a former owner and eponymous dedicatee – to perfect her juvenile signature on its endpapers and initial leaf.

The volume is among the output of the Society for the Education of the Poor of Ireland, otherwise known as the Kildare Place Society, established 1811, with a view to promoting primary education in Ireland on the Lancasterian model (after Joseph Lancaster 1778 – 1838). It aimed to achieve this in a manner divested of all sectarian distinctions, to avoid the suspicion among the Catholic population that such Protestant benevolence merely masked proselytising zeal. Among its founding committee members were Dublin merchants Samuel Bewley and William Guinness, whose names remain synonymous with successful Irish enterprise today.

Categorised as ‘Instructive in Arts or Economy’, the contents are a peculiar admixture of moral, hygienic, practical and spiritual advice, served-up in the form of fire-side conversations between Jenny and Grandmother. Topics range incongruously from ‘Scandal’ to the curiously subtitled ‘Dress: a single life’, from ‘Tea-drinking’, ‘Vaccination’ and ‘Filial love’ to  ‘Never despair’, ‘Potatoes’ and ‘The annals of the poor’.

Image from titlepage of a Kildare Place imprint

Imprint from a Kildare Place publication.

Book-sales for the Society’s first 8 years of publication (1817-1825) exceeded 1,000,000 volumes. Ireland, which according to an 1824 General Parliamentary Committee report had been ‘teeming with immoral and mischievous publications” had embraced a far more wholesome and improving diet of instruction for the young. As per Grandmother’s advice to Jenny, all it required was ‘a spoonful of flummery’:  books that were cheap, edifying, and easily digested.