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And when I looked … a book was therein

Sometimes it’s obvious that a book has a story to tell before you even look at the text. The volume at OLS X-1-60 is a good example. As soon as it is lifted from its protective storage box, the hand-made brown velvet case begs to be stroked. The initials TW are embroidered on the top; the pink felt lining protrudes; and the cardboard backing shows through where moths have made a meal of the felt.

Opening the box reveals a large, gilt-edged volume bound in mid-18th-century red sheep. There is a navy morocco oval onlay on the centre of the front and back covers, with cherubs and flames tooled in gold. The spine and the borders of both boards are also tooled and rolled in gold.

The endpapers are marbled with different colours and patterns. The back paste-down has spots of some other paper stuck to it; the front bears the manuscript name Harriet Sophia West, 1846. On the next leaf are the names John Temple West 1852 and Frances Caroline Temple-West, February 15th 1903, Nice [France], both in ink, and H J West April 1846 in pencil. The last leaf was blank and, as was the tradition with family bibles, has been used by John to record his marriage to Frances, and the births and christenings of their children Eleanor Mabel in 1866 and Richard George Edward the following year.

Accompanying the volume is a letter dated 18th October 1972 from a family member, Eduardo Tomacelli, to the then Librarian, Mr [Peter] Brown, stating that he was giving the volume to the College Library as he believed ‘there is no nobler place than Trinity College to hold it’.

At last we come to the contents of the book. The spine simply says ‘Holy Bible’, but it is much more than that. The first item is The book of common prayer, and administration of the sacraments … published by the Church of England in 1731 (with the frontispiece of no.2a bound opposite the title page of no.1). No.2b is The Holy Bible, Oxford, 1731, with an index and tables, and 2a is The historical part of the Holy Bible; or, The Old and New Testament exactly and compleatly describ’d in above two hundred historys, curiously engraved by J. Cole from designs of ye best masters [London, c.1730]. These very detailed engravings are four to a page and are bound opposite the page of text in 2b which they illustrate. Finally, OLS X-1-60 no.3 is The whole book of Psalms, collected into English metre by Thomas Sternhold, John Hopkins, and others, London, 1729.

For conservation reasons, many of our books are kept in archival boxes, but this one certainly proved to be a treasure trove. Never judge a book by its … storage container!

[The title of this post is from Ezekiel, chapter 2, verse 9. I requested this book from Stacks to check for a cataloguing error, not knowing what it looked like. Opening the box was a lovely surprise.]

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