Antiquarian Book Blogosphere

Behind the Books: An interview with cataloguer Suzanna Beaupré

Peter Harrington Bookseller Blog -


Interview by Lauren Hepburn

How did you come to be a cataloguer at Peter Harrington?

Slightly by chance! I wasn’t aware of the rare book world until I started job hunting upon completing my history degree. I had specialised in my final year in material and visual culture and was looking for a role that would let me continue research from that angle, and there was Peter Harrington offering the perfect mix!

What brings you the most excitement about working with a rare book dealer? 

I think, for me, it’s the very physical connection to the past that you experience when you discover an inscription or note laid into a book. I’m a big proponent of writing in your new books (although maybe not in the ones you buy from us…) so that historians have a future record to work from. I get huge excitement from seeing inscriptions such as the one in our copy of The Accomplish’d Housewife (1745), owned by one Mary Bacon, who wrote inside, “Mary Bacon – her book. 1775 Steal not this book for fear of shame for here you find the owner’s name Mary Bacon Her Book”. It’s likely this copy belonged to the Mary Bacon (1743–1818) who is the subject of Ruth Facer’s 2010 micro-history Mary Bacon’s World: A Farmer’s Wife in Eighteenth-century Hampshire (2010), and I was pleased, during lockdown, to see the inscription used for a Society for Renaissance Studies online event on early modern conceptions of book provenance. It’s always fun when a book you have started to research is picked up as part of a wider discussion. 

The Accomplish’d Housewife; or, the gentlewoman’s companion. 1745.

A similar example of this tangible connection with the past was in one of my favourite recent items, the Rebecah Childe manuscript ‘receipt’ book. I studied food history, which has led to me becoming involved in some of our cookery material here, and the immediacy of seeing authentic signs of use such as a cookery stain on a recipe is always a rush. 

Another simple joy that comes from working in this industry is the range of time periods we work across; the surreal nature of looking at your desk and seeing a 1595 Daemonolatreiae, a pulp edition of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, and a book of Maya Angelou’s poetry published in 1971, as if, in some way, time has been collapsed.

How do you feel that the industry contributes to the preservation of culture and history? 

I used to feel like we were the shady underside to the more upstanding library and curatorship industry, but increasingly I see the potential for us to partner with these institutions to source items for public benefit. We have the time and resources to uncover unique and important items where institutions are often a bit more squeezed. 

An example of how my job now colours everything I do (beyond not being able to listen to my favourite history podcasts without madly searching for first editions of the books mentioned) was my visit to the excellent Thomas Becket exhibition, currently showing at the British museum. I loved it but I couldn’t help thinking a copy of the first edition, first impression, of Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral would have sat well in it (750 copies were published in May 1935 and were sold at its production in Canterbury Cathedral). It might also have been fun to have included another item we have; actor Michael Miller’s working copy of the final script for the 1964 film Becket maybe with a clip of the film running alongside.

When certain things come up, such as the Honresfield Library sale, I can come over all Indiana Jones – “it belongs in a museum!” – so finding a perfect institutional home for an item can be rewarding. Institutional ownership doesn’t always guarantee that the item will be more accessible, however, and depends hugely on the resources a given institution has at their disposal. The painstaking research undertaken by cataloguers in the rare book trade is not always preserved, and items are sometimes not made available to view, either in person or through a well-maintained digital database. This basically can mean they disappear forever. 

We are always keen to increase access to the items we hold, and whenever we receive enquiries from researchers interested in learning more about a certain book or piece of ephemera, we are always happy to help by providing photographs and scans, or arranging in-person viewings.

You often focus on women’s work and helped curate Peter Harrington’s first catalogue dedicated to female authors and artists. How do you go about purchasing and spotlighting female authors and artists? 

We are continually on the lookout for authors whose importance has been hidden by the misogynistic mists of time and are currently gathering items for a second catalogue of women’s works to follow Our 2019 Works by Exceptional Women catalogue (cat. 151). There has definitely been a shift in the rare book trade to recognise the blindingly obvious importance of collecting female authors and, consequently, a lot of exciting material is emerging.

Two of my favourite items included in Works by Exceptional Women were a collection of fun fashion magazines that belonged to a successful female entrepreneur, and Mary Hays’ obituary of Mary Wollstonecraft in The Annual Necrology for 1797–8. 

I was also very excited recently to get hold of the first English edition of Christiane Ritter’s A Woman in the Polar Night (1954), the original version of which was first published in German in 1938. I came across the Pushkin Press 2019 reissue of Jane Degras’ translation and fell in love, so I immediately started the hunt for a first edition. It’s a remarkable work which has never been out of print in Germany, detailing Ritter’s 1934 stay on the remote Arctic island of Spitsbergen.

RITTER, Christiane. A Woman in the Polar Night. Translated by Jane Degras. 1954.

You also specialise in more niche themes – what led you to specialise in them? 

Nosiness, largely! Spotting interesting books on my colleagues’ desks and asking questions or seeing if I could get involved with them. One example of this involved a sample catalogue of albumen photos of late Victorian London, which I was excitingly able to date after spotting a promotional poster in the background of one images for the German Exhibition of 1891, and an advertisement for the first performance of Charles Reade’s comedy Nance Oldfield, in which Ellen Terry took the leading role. This, I think, sparked my interest in the books we get which demonstrate the entanglement of Victorian cultural life and politics – the connections and overlap between the fight for suffrage, worker’s rights, socialism, vegetarianism, anti-vivisectionists, later Esperanto proponents, and , throughout much of it, a great deal of spiritualism and theosophy. Having also previously studied early modern witchcraft through the lens of visual culture, the adoption of the occult by these various left-wing movements is fascinating. From Matter to Spirit (1863) by Elizabeth Sophie de Morgan offers a good example of these conjoining forces. 

A slightly later witchcraft-related story I particularly love involves my favourite novel, Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Upon reading it, Virginia Woolf asked Warner how she knew so much about the lives of witches, to which she simply replied, “because I am one”.

A related area which I love to catalogue is private press books. I am a devotee of the Cuala Press books, one half of the Cuala Industries, a co-operative business run by Lily and Elizabeth Yeats following a split from the equally attractive Dun Emer Press. Cuala Industries was founded with the aim of reviving the craft of book printing in Ireland and “to give work to Irish girls”. They combined Irish Nationalist, feminist, socialist and artistic interests into one press. Their output’s distinctive and simple style is beautiful. Women played a key role as binders and illuminators in the private press movement. Florence Kingsford Cockerell and Anastasia Power at the Essex House press produced some stunning pieces, and there was an upsurge in amateur calligraphy and bindings, often embroidered, during this time. I love getting examples of these into the shop; seeing the time and care put into the crafting of the printed book.

Peter Harrington is best-known for its rare book collections, but in fact offers precious material in diverse mediums. Can you describe some of the items you’ve worked with other than written texts? 

Absolutely – despite being a book shop you never know what you will end up with on your desk. One recent item that springs to mind is the Bea Nettles Mountain Dream Tarot set – the first known photographic tarot deck. Ours is signed by the artist.

Some other, older items I have worked with include photographs taken by Californian historian Frances Rand Smith in 1918 of architect Henry A. Minton’s model of the Mission Santa Cruz and a collection of woodcut proofs for Wuthering Heights, each signed by the artist.

NETTLES, Bea.
Mountain Dream Tarot. 1975.

What has been one of your most standout experiences working with Peter Harrington? 

There have been many moments where I have stepped back and thought, ‘wow, what I’m holding is incredible’. Condolence letters sent to Vanessa Bell after Virginia Woolf’s death have this effect; a beautiful unrestored copy of the first edition, first issue of Dracula had a similar impact on me, as always do any books inscribed by Queen Victoria. Finally, I had this same sense of awe about a beautiful set of The Lord of the Rings in our recent fantasy catalogues In Other Worlds: Fantasy, Science Fiction and Beyond, which I had a ball cataloguing. 

As a full experience, cataloguing a collection of material relating to Hawaii has been my biggest and most rewarding challenge. It was a fascinating deep dive, taking me from the earliest printed works on the islands, through the colonial struggle for possession of the land islands, and – up to, following the inclusion of the islands as a U.S. state in 1959, American tourist guides from the 1960s.

CONTACT SUZANNA >

Suzanna’s Picks

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Behind the Books: Collecting Chinese books with Matt Wills

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With the recent addition of Matt Wills – specialist in the history of the book in China – to the team at Peter Harrington, we are pleased to present a series of curated selections focusing on Chinese books, which will showcase our rapidly expanding acquisitions in this area.

Matt came to Peter Harrington from the University of California, San Diego, where he recently finished a PhD in History, specialising in the history of the book in China. Matt spent much of his graduate school career assembling a sizeable collection of modern Chinese propaganda which won both the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest in 2019 and the inaugural California Young Book Collector’s Prize. He has also published in the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America and is currently writing a chapter on the reading in modern China for the Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Literature.

This selection exhibits the range of material available to the prospective collector of China-related materials. Earlier editions of Mao’s Little Red Book are probably the most well-known collectable Chinese book out there at the moment, and the historian in me relishes every chance I get to hold one.

Collecting Chinese books has always been a joy because of the range and depth of rarities out there for collectors of any persuasion. In this list you will find materials as different as the first Chinese translation of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, an album exhibiting the early work of the renowned painter Zhang Daqian, and a collection of the Four Books of Confucianism inscribed by the prominent Republican intellectual Jiang Kanghu. For those looking for something a little unusual, there is even a collection of materials concerning sightings of Bigfoot and the Yeti in central China in the 1980s! The last is the most intriguing item I have handled since joining Peter Harrington this year.

In addition to this range of subjects, one of the exciting things about working with Chinese books is the range of languages you encounter. For example, the arresting set of French-language propaganda posters we acquired recently were composed by a state publisher in Beijing to spread Maoism abroad during the Cultural Revolution. Go further back to the 17th and 18th centuries and you will find that China was a plurilingual empire; officials working at different levels of the government could look to books like this Chinese-Manchu dictionary to help them navigate the ins-and-outs of the Qing’s paper-based bureaucracy. Once foreign powers had established a foothold in China in the 19th century there was a proliferation of works in English, like this guidebook designed for the adventurous English-speaking traveller.

Another element that makes Chinese books such interesting items for any bibliophile is their innate visuality. China’s great Mao-era propaganda publishers excelled in producing bright and eye-catching books and posters to spread the gospel of socialism, and some of the posters of Mao we currently have in stock hold your gaze rather like looking at the Mona Lisa. Older Chinese books were nearly always printed as string-bound volumes, often in blue folding cases, and these provide a marvellous aesthetic for the bookshelf. Since the shift to more Westernized hardback and paperback publishing in China, publishers have kept alive older book-binding techniques though special and limited editions, with the Zhang Daqian album (complete with silk brocade case and rich blue paper wrappers) being a perfect example.

I hope this has given you a window into the world of Chinese book collecting and all of its possibilities, and you enjoy browsing the full range of materials in our first selection. Watch out for further announcements of new acquisitions, and I will be posting another blog entry soon. In the meantime I would be delighted to hear from you by email.

CONTACT MATT >

Matt’s selection:

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The SearchersLondon’s Great Plague and the Bills of Mortality

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By Andrew Stewart MacKay

Comprised of information collected by knowledgeable local women known as Searchers, and printed by a respected City businesswoman named Ellen Cotes, the 1665 Bills of Mortality are a rare and unique record of life and death during the Great Plague of London. With title pages edged in black and decorated with striking memento mori of skulls and skeletons the Bills record how at least seventy percent of those who died that year perished of the dreaded bubonic plague. By insisting on recording and publishing all reported deaths – alongside enforcing household quarantines and ensuring food supplies – Lord Mayor of the City of London, Sir John Lawrence, gained praise for including the public in managing the evolving health crisis.

With the re-emergence of bubonic plague in the port cities of Hamburg and Amsterdam, in May 1664 quarantines had sensibly, if unpopularly, been imposed by the English government on all merchant-sailors entering the Thames estuary, as well as on the goods they brought with them. And at about the same, throughout that year – from the New England Colonies of British America to the ancient Kingdom of Korea – a fiery comet was observed in the night skies. By December 1664 it was widely witnessed in England by, amongst many others, naval-administrator Samuel Pepys, and Cambridge undergraduate Isaac Newton. Even the “Merry Monarch” himself, King Charles II, and his Queen were said to have sat up late to behold it. The coffeehouses of London were abuzz – and some even claimed the comet had made an ominous roaring sound. Warily, wrote Pepys, “God avert its ill bodings (if it have any)”.

BILLS OF MORTALITY; GREAT PLAGUE OF LONDON – COMPANY OF PARISH CLERKS OF LONDON. 1665, £37,500.00.

By the spring of 1665, the plague was spreading fast and household quarantines fully came into force just as the nation manoeuvred to war once again with the Netherlands. And as the Royal Society began publishing their first scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions, the Puritan preacher John Bunyan began writing The End of the World. Streets were emptied and shops shut-up. By the summer, those who could had fled to the relative safety of the countryside. Although Pepys remained quite happily – and profitably – in town, he sent his wife away carrying the family gold. With Cambridge University feeling it prudent to close its doors, the young Isaac Newton was sent into (what turned out to be a very learned) lockdown at home in Lincolnshire. Naturally, the King – described by contemporary libertine John Wilmot as “pretty, witty” and “foolish” – escaped London for Wiltshire and Devon; his Parliament choosing to sit in Oxford that autumn. And thanks to measures imposed by the Edinburgh government, although the plague reached as far north as the village of Eyam in Derbyshire – and with tragic consequences – it never reached Scotland.

Without formalised medical training and unable to afford a doctor, it was ordinary women who nursed the dying and who gained an experienced understanding of the disease. For this precisely this reason, the City of London employed pairs of experienced local women from each parish as amateur coroners, or Searchers. If Anglican, when a person died their passing would be reported to the local parish church. Bells would ring, calling the Searchers to immediately attend the body and, through close inspection, determine the cause of death. Over an eighteen-month period an estimated 100,000 people died of the bubonic plague – almost a quarter of London’s then population. But whatever the Searchers concluded the cause of death to be, they would report their verdict to the local Constable. He would the pass it to the Parish Clerk who would, in his turn, pass it to the Clerk of the Company of Parish-Clerks, whose job it was to collate all the information received.

During the crisis of 1665 the Company clerk needed the numbers of dead and the causes of each death by the end of each Tuesday; setting and printing – by Ellen Cotes and her firm – would always occur on Wednesdays. Cotes’ press was so valuable it was triple-locked; key being held by three trusted souls. Such was the importance – and power – of public health information that any disruption of its established flow carried a punishment that could include flogging. Delivered to his door on Thursday mornings, the first recipient of the Bills was Sir John. Only then, on Thursday afternoon, were copies released to street vendors to sell to the buying public.

As such, according to historian Will Slauter, the Bills “depended upon the collective efforts of hundreds of individuals acting at the local parish level” and were “collaborative texts that fed back into the collective behaviour of the community”. Local knowledge combined with available data enabled policy-makers and the public alike to better understand the crisis and protect one another as much as was then possible.

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Behind the BooksAn interview with Dr Philip W. Errington

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Dr Philip W. Errington joined Peter Harrington in April 2021 after over 21 years at Sotheby’s where he was a director and senior specialist.  He received his BA, MA and PhD from the Department of English at University College where he is currently an honorary research associate. A bibliographer by training, he has published major bibliographies on John Masefield and J.K. Rowling. He has lectured and written widely on Masefield with his work published by Penguin Classics and Carcanet, and others. We talk to Philip about his career and his new role at Peter Harrington.

 

First thing’s first: you are a prolific bibliographer, but could you give us more detail about what this entails?

I like the idea of a “prolific bibliographer”: I’ve only published two! But they take such a long time that this is, I suppose, quite a large number. At the most basic level, a bibliography is about establishing a canon and chronology. My particular work is descriptive bibliography: the study and description of books as objects. 

A bibliographer doesn’t necessarily care about the artistic merit of a text, but rather the focus is on printing and production. It’s a distinct discipline and there are rules you have to follow in your methodology. I like to think of it as creating a map which – for a single author bibliography – helps researchers, critics, book collectors, etc., navigate a writer’s works. To mix analogies, it’s a bit like archaeology for books.

 

When did you decide you wanted to be a bibliographer?

As an undergraduate I discovered that there were huge gaps in a specific topic in which I was interested. I filled them in by sitting for days in a library with rolls and rolls of microfilm. (Today, of course, I could achieve the same result in a few hours using online databases). In many ways, this led to an M.A. and then a PhD. 

A few decades ago, a bibliography would provide very simple descriptions and that was that. Today there’s more scope to delve into authors’ and publishers’ archives. I’ve spent many happy hours in libraries across the world establishing various bibliographical facts. I particularly remember connecting correspondence between an author, his or her literary agent and the publisher. Until then, these collections had been split between several archives (and two continents). Pulling together a single narrative from different sources was exhilarating. I should say, of course, that I appreciate the contents of a book, too – but a bibliographer’s perspective adds another dimension to it!

 

You were previously at Sotheby’s for 21 years – can you tell us more about what you did there and your career prior to joining Peter Harrington? 

I joined the auction world straight after my PhD, and it was my introduction to the commercial world of antiquarian books and manuscripts. Twenty-one years was a long time to stay in my first job and I slowly climbed the slippery Sotheby’s slope to become a director, senior specialist and auctioneer. I worked on English Literature sales, together with children’s literature, private press and original illustrations. There are many, many career highlights and I worked with some phenomenal collections, wonderful collectors and many authors or illustrators. But my arrival at Peter Harrington has rekindled the excitement and joy of the book trade for me. It’s refreshing to join a place where a passion for books is shared by all.

 

Your PhD on John Masefield was published by the British Library – and that was just the beginning of your expertise. What particularly draws you to his work?

Unless you’d like to do a feature on Masefield, I’d better be brief… In 1952, writing of second-hand bookstalls, Masefield stated that the “out-of-fashion is always cheap, and usually much better than the fashion has the wit to think”. I think it’s a great epitaph on Masefield’s own work. I’ve published editions of Masefield’s work with Penguin Classics, Carcanet, Pen and Sword, Egmont, New York Review of Books and The Folio Society. I’ve given lectures and seminars. I’ve appeared on TV and made newspaper headlines. But the joy of reading Masefield is constant. Although many people now only remember him as the author of the children’s fantasy The Box of Delights or as a poet, some of his prose is magnificent. He writes with the precision of a poet and has never failed to inspire me.

 

Having made record sales of J. K. Rowling’s work – The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which sold for £1.95M, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which sold in 2013 for £150,000 – it’s safe to say that you are a Rowling expert in the rare books industry. How did you come to focus on her work?

Because I was responsible for children’s literature at Sotheby’s, I got to run the show when Jo Rowling decided to sell a seventh manuscript copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard for her charity, Lumos, in 2007. I visited her at home in Edinburgh and discussed the project, catalogued the item and took it on exhibition to New York. There were specific reasons why it sold for £1.95M (including two very committed bidders) and I’m very proud it’s still the world record for a modern literary manuscript sold at auction. When human rights organisation English PEN then organised a charity sale in 2013, I approached Jo for a contribution and an annotated copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the result. 

One significant achievement of my work with the author is my second bibliography. I well remember Pom Harrington viewing a copy of Philosopher’s Stone at Sotheby’s and pointing out that the wealth of misleading information in the trade about what makes a copy of Harry Potter valuable meant a bibliography was needed. One thing led to another and the first edition of my book was published in 2015; an updated edition followed in 2017. I’m very conscious that one of the (if not the) leading dealers for Harry Potter material now has Rowling’s bibliographer as a member of its team. Combining everyone’s expertise makes me question why someone with a Harry Potter enquiry would do anything except come to us!

 

You have a great deal of experience in children’s literature, including visiting the studio of Quentin Blake and viewing his extensive archive, discussing rabbits with Richard Adams, achieving a world record for the sale of a book illustrator’s work – an unknown illustration by Beatrix Potter – and then beating your own record when you sold an original drawing of the ‘Hundred Acre Wood’ for £430,000! What led you to specialise in this area?

I love children’s books and, indeed, original book illustrations. Everyone remembers their early books and if, like me, you were fortunate to be surrounded by loads of books as a child, it’s part of who we are. Collecting children’s literature brings with it the big problem of condition. If a book has been read and loved by a child, it may not survive in a collectable state. But I challenge anyone to pick up a first edition of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Potter’s Peter Rabbit or Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and not get a little thrill from holding a copy of how the world first received these stories. 

With artwork there’s also the excitement that an original illustration frequently differs from its many reproductions in print. The wonderful illustrated books of the 1910s and ‘20s were gorgeous and beautifully produced, but look at an original Arthur Rackham watercolour and the colours’ vibrancy is unique. Likewise, E.H. Shepard’s work frequently has a texture that can’t be captured when reprinted; the snow scenes at the beginning of The House at Pooh Corner involved Shepard drawing in ink and then using a blade to scrape off a layer. Reproduced in black and white, it’s a wonderful image, but that original finish cannot be replicated.

 

I often read and listened to the audio tape of  The Tiger Who Came to Tea as a child and hear you have an excellent anecdote about having tea with the author herself. Were there any visiting tigers..?

I was asked to visit Judith Kerr at her home. She was a wonderful old lady, rather diminutive but with alert sparkling eyes. As she pulled out drawer after drawer of her original artwork we discussed her inspiration for Mog (one of my childhood favourites) and then, of course, Sophie’s tea-time guest. After carefully returning all the artwork to their drawers, she asked whether I would like a cup of tea! It was a wonderful treat, although I wondered whether I ought to eat all the food in the house before drinking all the water from the taps… I was, I’m afraid to say, terribly polite, but then… so was the tiger…

 

Another fascinating story surrounds your presentation of the Siegfried Sassoon Archive to MPs in the Houses of Parliament. Could you tell us more about the circumstances around this event?

In 2009 Sotheby’s was instructed to offer the remaining archive of Siegfried Sassoon for sale. Various experts took control of different parts of the collection and I had the pleasure of cataloguing the poet’s manuscript diaries. These included diaries from the first world war trenches with appropriate splashes of mud. There was one obvious place that this material should go and Cambridge University Library agreed to a private purchase. A significant contribution to the purchase price was provided by the National Heritage Memorial Fund and, as part of their own promotion, they requested that parts of the archive be shown to interested MPs in the Houses of Parliament. I visited (in order to report back to Sotheby’s’ security about the safety of the exhibition space) and, after that rather pointless bit of red tape, my colleagues and I had the pleasure of showing off some exhibition highlights. It was remarkable to see many MPs experience jaw-dropping moments of realisation about the power of original manuscript material.

 

Finally, what’s the next exciting project in the pipeline – is there anything in particular you are looking forward to working on with Peter Harrington?

Where do I start? Peter Harrington has the motto, “Where Rare Books Live”. For the last few years I’d been beginning to think rare books were seriously ill, so it’s brilliant to join the team for whom rare books are living and important and electrifying. And, who knows, there may even be another bibliography that needs to be researched…

 

Interview by Lauren Hepburn

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No Small TaskThe utopian vision of the Kibbo Kift

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By Lauren Hepburn

The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, a youth movement founded in 1920 by British artist, author, and former Scouts advocate John Hargrave, responded to the horrors of World War I with a utopian vision of the future. Hargrave was one of a number of troop leaders who abdicated leading positions in Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting organisation during and in the immediate aftermath of the war; as the Scouts adopted more military-style drills and discipline, its pacifist members disavowed what they viewed as an increasingly imperialist agenda. 

Hargrave’s alternative movement refocused on the socialist and naturalist ideals that had helped shape the British Scouting organisation at its inception, and was further characterised by wide-ranging global ambitions, infusing the camping and community focuses of Scouting with a zealous social vision and a mystical aesthetic. It was endorsed by authors, artists, scientists, theosophists, politicians, women’s rights activists and Nobel Prize winners, and members included several former suffragettes as well as photographer Angus McBean, folk-dance revivalist Rolf Gardiner (who interested his friend D. H. Lawrence in the movement and inspired Kibbo Kift qualities in Lady Chatterley’s Mellors), and Roland Berrill who later founded Mensa. A more remotely involved “Advisory Committee” included H. G. Wells, Julian Huxley, Rabindranath Tagore, Maurice Maeterlink, and Havelock Ellis, and T. E. Lawrence is reputed to have permitted Kindred members to camp on his land. H. G. Wells, whose literature imagines a World State, was perhaps influential in the Kibbo Kift’s essential politics and philosophy of geopolitical unification, while some of its more mystical beliefs took inspiration from Frazer’s ‘Golden Bough’ and the writings of Aleister Crowley. 

Left: John Hargrave, Head Man of the Kibbo Kift. Right: Cecil Watt Paul Jones (Old Mole) consecrating Old Sarum banner on the Wessex Pilgrimage, 1929. Images courtesy of the Kibbo Kift Foundation.

No small task, the Kindred strove for world peace. In practice, this would be achieved through a strong sense of community (members were collectively ‘Kinfolk’, wore stylised clothing and participated in group rituals and ceremonies), education (from Oceanography to the Occult, no subject was neglected), and immersion in nature. Outdoor sports, camping and woodcraft dominated the schedule. Nature and life were ‘frequently capitalised and personified with divine qualities’, with Life coming to resemble a ‘stand-alone philosophical category’ (Pollen). One risque Kibbo Kift banner depicting, with gold paint on black fabric, a sperm cell penetrating two symbolic circles, is inscribed by Hargrave as ‘The Genesis of life: a spermatozoon fertilising the ovum introducing two chromosomes’. 

Indeed, reproduction was considered another tool for the world’s improvement and eugenic principles were incorporated into Kibbo Kift philosophies. Hargrave, whose parents were Quakers, served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the first world war and his experience not only reinforced his pacifism, but also prompted a fear, repugnant to the modern reader, that the quality of future generations may be degraded by the post-war population: ‘Our best blood soaks into the sand of Sulva Bay, and into the mud and grass of Flanders. We have weeded out all our weaklings by medical examination, and they are left at home – to breed!’ (Hargrave, qtd. by Pollen). Though unimaginable today, prior to the Holocaust, eugenics had a place in mainstream philosophical and scientific thought: ‘Eugenics was a part of a general bundle of “modern” ideas about the reform of society’ (Bland and Hall, qtd. by Pollen). This may have also characterised the Kibbo Kift’s long term objective: a ‘confraternity of elites, comprised of fit, trained, virile and beautiful men and women who would marry, reproduce and thereby establish a ‘heritage of health’…’ (Pollen). Indeed, although kinswomen rarely held positions of authority, unlike the Scouts the Kindred allowed both genders and all ages to become members.

Kibbo Kift archers. Image courtesy of the Kibbo Kift Foundation.

The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift amalgamated skills, ethea and disciplines, in fact prioritising the breakdown of barriers between them. Their ‘practices were wide-ranging, extending across health and handicraft, pacifism and propaganda, myth and magic, education and economics’ (Donlon Books). Kinfolk were able to loan philosophical and scholarly texts from a circulating library; they were urged to study accessible sciences – those that can be explored locally without specialist equipment, such as geography, anthropology or psychology; and members could earn Scout-inspired ‘Badges of Knowledge’. An understanding of economics and politics was also necessary, since Kinfolk were expected to actively support ‘major political plans, such as reorganisation of industry on a non-competitive basis, synchronised international disarmament, the establishment of a single international currency, and a world council to include ‘every civilised and primitive nation’’ (Pollen). Though still couched in colonial language, allegiance to these goals meant advocating for the Kibbo Kift’s central goal: to reform the world socially and economically, and to ultimately unite it. 

Andrew Marr has described the slow dissolution of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift pithily: “The rambling stopped and the marching began” (qtd. by ‘The Guardian’). Hargrave’s growing interest in economics and disgust at the hefty profits shored up by banks drove him, toward the end of the 1920s, to create a more specific target for his organisation:  

‘… after the 1929 crash, Hargrave ditched all the costumes and archaic terminology: the group was restyled for a harsher decade with berets, green shirts and grey trousers. Soon to be called the Green Shirts, the members who stayed demonstrated in favour of the National Dividend, joining the throng of young men and women in uniform on the streets of England. In the 1930s, peace had become militancy’ (Savage, ‘The Guardian’).

HARGRAVE, John. The Confession of the Kibbo Kift. A Declaration and General Exposition of the Work of the Kindred. 1927.

As world-healing ambitions, crafting and camping fell to the wayside, Kindred membership declined. Pacifist, nature-loving artists and intellectuals who had helped build the movement were alienated by the shift towards a more aggressive form of activism, and perhaps knew not to challenge Hargrave’s new direction – in 1924 he had expelled dissenting members. However, parallel to the creation of Hargrave’s Green Shirts, another organisation was born which still exists today. This new youth movement, called Woodcraft Folk, had been subsequently founded by Leslie Paul, a former kinsmen who was ejected from the group in ‘24. Registered as a charity in 1965 and mostly run by volunteers, its intentions are not far from those of the Kibbo Kift in its beginning:

‘Through our activities, outings and camps we help our members to:

  • understand important issues like the environment, world debt and global conflict
  • develop activities focused on sustainable development
  • encourage children to think, hoping that they will help build a peaceful, fairer world.’ (woodcraftfolk.org.uk)

Although expressed in simpler, more achievable terms than Hargrave’s ideas were, the legacy of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift – its desire to reform the world and build a more peaceful society – continues.

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How To Handle and Store Rare Books

Peter Harrington Bookseller Blog -


Senior Specialist Adam Douglas

One of the questions rare booksellers get asked a lot is how best to handle and store books. From climate-controlled vaults to the ubiquitous white gloves that we often see on our screens, the handling of works on paper is misrepresented and over-complicated in popular culture, and this has give rise to the idea that specialist training and environments are needed to house a rare book collection. While it’s certainly true that some items of extreme fragility require specialist environments and care, most books can, with care, be safely stored in ordinary homes. Adam Douglas, Senior Rare Book Specialist at Peter Harrington, shares his guide on how to properly handle and store rare books.

 

Handling Rare Books

One of the first things we often tell people is that is no need for white gloves to handle books, no matter how rare they are. Wearing gloves reduces tactility and actually increases the possibility of damage to the book. Clean dry hands are all you need. Don’t be tempted to lick your fingers to turn a page.

Don’t break the book. With any book handbound in leather, one potential weakness is the joint (the point at which the cover bends when it is opened), which can be easily damaged if you flip open the front cover while the book lies flat on a desk. Pick the book up in one hand and open it gently with the other, supporting the weight of the cover with your fingers.

Handling a larger book

To open a larger book, keep the book closed and lower its spine gently onto a suitable clean, forgiving surface – specialist book cushions can be bought, and we keep these in our shops. Keeping the book upright with one hand, lower one cover gently until it is resting on the surface (now 90 degrees from the perpendicular). Keeping the book block (the bulk of the book excluding its binding) upright, with the page edges uppermost, lower the other cover until both covers are resting flat. Now the pages can be opened outwards carefully to the desired page without danger of breaking the spine or joints.

Storing books

Books are best stored upright on shelves. Larger books can be stacked sideways, but not so high that they put undue pressure on the books at the bottom of the pile.
Books with metal furniture (studs, bosses, clasps) have to be stored carefully, usually separately from other books.

A single layer of transparent polyester film is an effective way to protect printed paper dust jackets, and we use acetate covers of this kind on many of our books. Do not encase books entirely in plastic bags, as this can trap moisture and promote mould.

Temperature/humidity are important factors in book storage. Site bookshelves away from sources of direct heat (e.g. radiators or vents) and air conditioning units. A steady temperature is best, and books generally prefer cooler conditions – ideally 16º-19ºC (60º-66ºF). Homes are typically warmer than this and a range of 19º-21ºC (66º-70ºF) is practical for most people and still an acceptable temperature for books. Relative humidity should be as stable as possible, ideally at 50% – very damp or very dry environments should be avoided.

Things to avoid

Light – Direct sunlight falling on books through ordinary window glass will fade spines and potentially raise the local temperature. If it is impossible to place bookshelves away from direct sunlight, a UV filter film can be applied to window panes. (We use this in our shops). Bookshelves with doors help prevent light affecting books.

Water – Water damage is disastrous for books, so any pipes or water sources near bookshelves should be checked.

Smoke – Books are good at retaining smells, so wood-burning stoves and fireplaces in a library are not the best idea. Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes likewise, though some traditionalists like the smell.

Fire – Properly shelved books are surprisingly resistant to burning; however, the spines of bindings can be scorched irreparably by fire. Aside from the usual precautions against household fires, individual bespoke cases for your books add an extra layer of protection. These are called solander cases, and can be made by a bookbinder. Many of our more fragile items in stock will be housed in a solander.

Dust – Store your books on clean shelves and move them occasionally to prevent the accumulation of dust. A soft brush can be used to clean dust from the top edges, but be careful not to brush dirt down in between the leaves. Regular dusting helps deter insects that eat books. Doors on bookshelves also help minimize dust.

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