John Rylands Research Institute Annual Lecture: Professor Emile Schrijver


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Prof. Emile Schrijver examining an Esther Scroll, Rylands Hebrew MS 22.

Prof. Emile G. L. Schrijver examining an Esther Scroll, Rylands Hebrew MS 22.

On 30 April Professor Emile G. L. Schrijver, Professor of Jewish Book History at the University of Amsterdam and curator of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana there, delivered the Second Annual John Rylands Research Institute Lecture. Professor Schrijver spoke about Jewish book culture since the invention of printing, focusing on the Library’s remarkable collections of Jewish manuscripts and printed books. He told his audience: “The name and fame of this great library, its building and its holdings, are legendary among researchers in my own field and beyond and it is an humbling experience to represent the scholarship on Jewish books in this imposing temple of learning.”

Thanks to digitisation efforts around the world, our understanding of the richness of Jewish book culture is rapidly evolving. Important discoveries are continually being made and the history of this subject must be rewritten. Schrijver commented on his own experiences during two preparatory visits to the Library, “I kept on finding new material that is of relevance to the study of Jewish books since the invention of printing.” Picking up on a theme of Ann Blair’s lecture in 2014, Schrijver discussed the continuities between manuscripts and printed books in the early modern period, as well as relationships between Jewish scribes and printers and their non-Jewish contemporaries.

The earliest known example of an Italian illustrated Magillah, or Esther scroll, 1618. Hebrew MS 22.

The earliest known example of an Italian illustrated Magillah, or Esther scroll, 1618. Hebrew MS 22.

You can watch a video of Professor Schrijver discussing the vital work of research institutes such as the JRRI, the importance of making primary sources accessible to students and scholars, and the need for libraries to be at the forefront of digital humanities initiatives, at


Extra! Extra! Read All About It! The origins of the Guardian newspaper


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Jane Speller, Project Archivist for the Guardian newspaper foreign correspondence cataloguing project, writes:

The Manchester Guardian was first published in Manchester 194 years ago this week.

In 1815 a group of Manchester liberals most of whom were involved in the cotton industry began to meet regularly to discuss their shared passion for social and electoral reform, specifically the question of why the great industrial cities such as Manchester and Birmingham were denied proportional representation in the House of Commons. The group became known as the Little Circle and was influenced by the thinking of Jeremy Bentham and Joseph Priestley. Cotton merchant John Potter led the group which had a core membership of Unitarians. Members included Potter’s sons Thomas (later first mayor of Manchester), Richard (later MP for Wigan) and William; Joseph Brotherton (Bible Christian Church minister and pioneering vegetarian, later Salford’s first MP); John Edward Taylor (cotton merchant); John Shuttleworth (industrialist and municipal reformer); Absalom Watkin (parliamentary reformer and anti-Corn Law campaigner); William Cowdroy Jnr (editor of the Manchester Gazette), and Archibald Prentice (anti-Corn Law campaigner and later editor of the Manchester Times). Brotherton, Shuttleworth and Thomas Potter went on to found the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

The Peterloo Massacre on 16 August 1819 was one of the catalysts for the founding of the Manchester Guardian. Peterloo which began as a peaceful pro-democracy and anti-poverty demonstration in St. Peter’s Fields ended in bloodshed when Magistrates ordered the Manchester Yeomanry to disperse the 60,000 strong crowd using their sabres. The ensuing violence left 15 people dead and hundreds injured. Taylor and Prentice interviewed the eyewitnesses and were shocked by their stories.


Plaque marking the location of the Peterloo Massacre, Peter Street, Manchester M2. © J. Speller

The Government responded to Peterloo by passing the Six Acts (1819). The acts were aimed at gagging radical newspapers, preventing large meetings, and reducing what the Government saw as the possibility of armed insurrection. Manchester’s most radical paper the Observer was closed down permanently. Taylor, Prentice and Shuttleworth were radicalized by these events and convinced the Little Circle to start its own newspaper as a mouthpiece for their liberal views. The group (without Cowdroy) raised £1,050 for the venture. A prospectus was drawn up to outline the aims of the paper and the founders signed a document pledging their support for the venture. Accommodation was eventually found below a cutlery maker’s shop at 29 Market Street in central Manchester for a rent of £31 per year. From this address the first ever edition of the Manchester Guardian appeared on 5 May 1821.


Manchester Guardian Prospectus, [April] 1821.

The Prospectus promised that the paper would amongst other things, ‘zealously enforce the principles of civic and religious Liberty…’ and ‘…warmly advocate the cause of Reform’. In foreign affairs, the Guardian would follow with ‘intense anxiety’ the ‘magnificent experiments’ which various countries were making in trying to replace, ‘antiquated and despotic Governments’.

Taylor became the Manchester Guardian’s first editor and Yorkshireman Jeremiah Garnett was recruited as its first printer and reporter. Prentice and Shuttleworth also supplied regular articles. The paper was initially published weekly at a cost of 7 pence. The front page of the Manchester Guardian was made up entirely of advertisements (news did not replace advertisements on page one until 1952), thus the first words in the first Manchester Guardian of 5 May 1821, ‘Taken up, a black Newfoundland bitch’ describe the finding of a lost dog.

The high cost of the newspaper (due to Government tax) meant that circulation was around 1,000 copies although the actual readership was much higher with a large number being purchased by newsrooms (public libraries). Taylor’s account books show that newsrooms as far away as Glasgow, Hull and Exeter purchased the newspaper. By 1835 the circulation was up to 3,000. Some 500 copies were sold in the shop, around 1,000 through local newsmen and the rest were posted (the Government stamp covered this cost).

A hundred years later Charles Prestwich Scott, a Unitarian, and owner-editor of the Manchester Guardian wrote an essay commemorating the centenary of the Guardian. In it he stated ‘the voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard’ and pledged that the principles laid down by the founders would be upheld.


Charles Prestwich Scott (left) and his brother. Guardian Archive, 317/1/17. © Guardian Media Group.

The Guardian Archive was acquired by the John Rylands Library as a gift from the Guardian in 1971. It is one of Special Collections’ largest and best used archives, constituting an invaluable primary source for the study of nineteenth and twentieth century political, social and cultural history, as well as of British journalism of the same period. In addition to the substantial business archive of the Guardian, the collection holds thousands of letters and dispatches in various series, such as the Charles Prestwich Scott series and the foreign correspondence series.

Guardian archives dating later than 1971 form part of the Guardian News and Media Archive which is housed in the Guardian offices in London.

The Curious Case of the Reichstag Fire: A Story from the Guardian Archive


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Jane Speller, Project Archivist for the Guardian newspaper foreign correspondence cataloguing project, writes:

The burning down of the Reichstag building in Berlin, the main seat of the German Parliament, in 1933 remains one of the sensational happenings of the twentieth century. This pivotal event was the first step towards the solidification of Hitler’s dictatorship and the most devastating war the world has ever known. The subject of many books, the story encompasses Nazi plots, Communist stooges, secret passages into the Reichstag, a powerful clairvoyant and a mock trial. Even today the true facts surrounding the fire are a mystery.

The fire, the furore following it, and the suspicious deaths of several of the main protagonists, were widely reported in newspapers around the world. Manchester Guardian foreign correspondents Robert Dell, Alexander Werth and Frederick Voigt were all involved in reporting the events.

Reichstag Building, Berlin

Reichstag Building, Berlin

Our story begins in Berlin on the night of 27 February 1933, six days before Germany’s general election. A fire, believed to have been started deliberately, destroys the Reichstag. Dr Bell who reported seeing the fire as it started is shot dead attempting to flee into Austria. A young Dutch man, a drifter and former Communist, Marinus van der Lubbe and several senior Comintern officials including Georgi Dimitrov, Vasil Tanev and Blagoi Popov are arrested. The authorities are on the point of arresting Ernst Torgler, Chair of the Communist Party in the Reichstag, when he turns himself in.

The fire was predicted by the famous clairvoyant and playboy Erik Hanussen who was close to Hitler and several other senior Nazis, including Count von Helldorf. Known as the Prophet of the Third Reich, Hanussen’s fire prediction was possibly a miscalculated piece of inside information that led to his murder on March 25.

The Great Depression left eight million Germans out of work, and more than three million militant workers swelled the ranks of the German Communist Party. In this chaos, support for the Nazi Party wavered. The Reichstag fire presented Hitler with the perfect opportunity to blame the Communists and Socialists in ‘one great big Bolshevik plot’, as William Crozier, Editor of the Manchester Guardian, described it. The March 5 election went ahead as planned but now in the shadow of the so called attempted Communist revolt. Hitler’s Enabling Act of March 24 abolished civil liberties and transferred state powers to the Government, effectively transforming it into a de facto legal dictatorship. Mass arrests followed, including those of the poet and playwright Erich Mühsam, pacifist Carl Von Ossietzky, lawyer Hans Achim Litten, Leader of the Communist Party Ernst Thälmann, and Social Democrat Party member Ernst Heilmann, all of whom later died in custody.

Marinus van der Lubbe (Wikimedia Commons)

Marinus van der Lubbe (Wikimedia Commons)

A memorandum accusing the Nazis of starting the Reichstag Fire was circulated by Ernst Oberfohren, Leader of the Nationalist People’s Party. Denounced as a fake by the Nazis, the memo also claimed that Van der Lubbe was led into the building by Nazis via an underground passage and left there to be found and captured. On April 27, in what was a scoop for the paper, the Manchester Guardian published the memo. Oberfohren was arrested and on May 7 he was found shot dead. The Nazis reported it as a suicide, but as Voigt writes to Crozier, ‘It has been stated on “high authority” that the Nazis forced Oberfohren to commit suicide… Murder by driving men to suicide is becoming common in Germany’.

Torgler and his fellow defendants were charged with arson and treason. They were tried in Leipzig from September 21 to December 23. Dell was tasked with covering the event as Crozier did not consider it safe for Voigt or Werth to be in Germany. At the last minute, Dell was refused entry into the trial.

A Parallel Trial was held in London on September 14-21. Organised by a group of lawyers, democrats and other anti-Nazis under the aegis of German Communist émigrés, the trial featured nine international lawyers including Betsy Bakker-Nort of the Netherlands. Most of the documents used in the trial were supplied by Voigt. A verdict was given that all the defendants were innocent and that the Reichstag building had been set on fire by Nazi Party officials.

Ernst Torgler and Betsy Bakker-Nort

Ernst Torgler and Betsy Bakker-Nort

The Reichstag fire story is heavily covered in the foreign correspondence up until the end of 1933, particularly that of Voigt. The letters are mostly between Voigt and Crozier, but one interesting letter has survived from a young German woman called Maria Reese. At the time of writing the letter on May 7, Reese, an elected member of the Communist Party in the Reichstag and a colleague of Torgler, had fled Germany for fear of her life. She begins her letter, which she asks the paper to publish, by thanking the Manchester Guardian for their ‘brave fight’ against the terrible crimes of German fascism. She writes fervently in defence of Torgler, defending his character against any accusation of involvement in the fire. She fears the Nazis will murder Torgler in prison. Written in Deutsche Kurrentschrift style, the content is very emotive and frequently jumps between topics and ideas as she describes her flight across Europe and her contact with various Communist groups. (Thank you to our John Rylands Research Institute colleague, Dr Katharina Keim, her mother and her aunt, who painstakingly translated this letter for us).

The Leipzig trial was a strange affair. Van der Lubbe appeared throughout to be in a drugged state. It was rumoured that he was the lover of one of the Nazi elite, Ernst Röhm, and a Nazi dupe. A number of important pieces of evidence and key witnesses mysteriously went missing. Werth reports, ‘The Nazis are eliminating all uncomfortable witnesses to the fire’. Voigt reports on ‘one significant absentee’, Dr Hugenberg a friend of Oberfohren who knew Torgler and, according to Voigt, had a high opinion of him. Sworn statements from the waiters of Aschinger’s restaurant and other people living near the Reichstag building all disappeared.

Van Der Lubbe was found guilty and sentenced to death. The other defendants were acquitted and expelled to the Soviet Union where they received a hero’s welcome. Torgler was acquitted but taken into ‘protective custody’ by the Gestapo. Hitler was said to be furious with the outcome of the trial.

Evidence given during the Nuremburg trials (1946-49) seemed to indicate (although not conclusively) that Hitler’s right hand men, Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels, were responsible for the fire.

The Race for Westminster


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Political cartoons are a regular feature in modern-day newspapers and periodicals. Cartoons have long been used to capture, and provide comment upon, significant events as they occur. As the day of the 2015 general election draws closer, we take a step backwards, to look at the Race for Westminster as it was depicted in the run-up to the 1874 general election. This was the first election to use a secret ballot. The Conservatives, under Benjamin Disraeli won the majority of seats. However, the Liberals, under William Ewart Gladstone, actually won a majority of the votes cast.

The Boat Race

Cartoons for parliamentary elections often portray the candidates as contenders in a sporting contest. Here, the Conservative candidates for South East Lancashire, Algernon Egerton (9,187 votes) and Edward Hardcastle (9,015 votes), are seen coasting to victory in a boat race against the Liberal candidates, Peter Rylands (7, 464 votes) and J.E. Taylor (7,453 votes).

jrl15040021The Liberal candidates for Manchester, Thomas Bazley and Jacob Bright, are predicted to triumph in this chariot race against the Conservative candidates Hugh Birley and William Romaine Callender. In fact, although the contest was closely fought, the Conservative candidates went on to win the race.


jrl15040023The printer, J. Murray, seems to be hedging his bets in this pair of cartoons entitled ‘Close of the Poll’. The Conservative candidates for Manchester, Birley and Callender, are depicted as winners of the horse race, but the Liberal candidates, Bazley and Bright, are shown as triumphant in the foot race. The numbers of votes cast (shown on the signposts) are fictitious. The actual results were Hugh Birley – 19, 984 votes; William Romaine Callender – 19, 649 votes; Thomas Bazley – 19, 325 votes and Jacob Bright – 18, 727 votes. The woman shown in these two cartoons is Lydia Becker, a key campaigner for women’s suffrage.

These cartoons are from a collection of over a hundred 19th-century satirical prints relating mainly to Manchester. These, and other cartoons held by The John Rylands Library, can be viewed on the website of the British Cartoon Archive.

Julie Ramwell
Librarian (Rare Books)

Manutius at the Morgan

Originally posted on Manutius in Manchester:

After the Aldine-fest at the Grolier Club, it was a pleasure to return to the Morgan Library almost a year after our first visit when Maria Fredericks and her team hosted the New York leg of the Venetian Vellum and Books and Beasts roadshow. This time we took the opportunity to sample the marvellous two-volume 1483 parchment Aristotle published by Andrea Torresani in Venice with a view to comparing it with the five-volume 1495-98 Aldine edition. The fine decorations by Girolamo da Cremona included this stunning page which presents the text on a printed page figured as a sheet of parchment.IMG_3917

IMG_3914 Assisted by Maria and her team, we were able to sample both volumes and take measurements of the parchment thickness for analysis and comparison with the other Torresani volumes examined at the Houghton and Rylands.P1060476Taking the opportunity to tour the gallery again, it was pleasure to see a…

View original 111 more words

The Whitworth Art Gallery Archive: the development of a Manchester cultural institution


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Matthew Schofield has recently catalogued the archives of the Whitworth Art Gallery. He writes:

The Whitworth Art Gallery reopened on 14 February 2015 following a £16.9 million refurbishment and extension. The re-opening has coincided with the completion of a project to catalogue the Gallery’s archive, which is looked after by Special Collections as part of the University’s archives.

The Whitworth Art Gallery in January 2015 showing builders making some finishing touches to the forecourt prior to the official reopening in February 2015. Photograph: M.Schofield

The Whitworth Art Gallery in January 2015 showing builders making some finishing touches to the forecourt prior to the official reopening in February 2015. Photograph: M.Schofield.

The Whitworth Art Gallery was founded as the Manchester Whitworth Institute in 1887. It owed its existence to the wealthy industrialist, Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887). On his death, he left money for the establishment of an Institute, which it was originally envisaged would include a technical school, a technical museum, a school of art and an art gallery.

Sir Joseph Whitworth, image taken from the Owens College Archive.

Sir Joseph Whitworth, image taken from the Owens College Archive.

The archive reveals the complicated birth of the Whitworth Institute. Three legatees administered Whitworth’s estate: his second wife, Mary Louisa Whitworth (1829-1896), Robert Darbishire, a local solicitor, and Richard Copley Christie (1830-1901), a lawyer and former professor at Owens College (predecessor of the University of Manchester). It was Darbishire who played the critical role in steering the Whitworth Institute towards being an art collecting institution (responsibility for the technical and art schools passed to Manchester Corporation in the 1890s).

The Governors of the Institute were leading local figures and responsible for achieving its original objectives, including developing Whitworth Park as a public amenity. It was here that a purpose-built Gallery was opened in 1908. The papers of the Institute’s chairman Sir Joseph Lee, which form part of the archive, include some interesting ephemera, such as Sir Joseph’s invitation to the opening of Whitworth Park on 17 July 1890.

Sir Joseph Lee’s personal invitation to the official opening of Whitworth Park, Whitworth Art Gallery Archive, WAG/1/1/10/9.

Sir Joseph Lee’s personal invitation to the official opening of Whitworth Park, Whitworth Art Gallery Archive, WAG/1/1/10/9.

The Whitworth Art Gallery and Whitworth Park have always had a close relationship. The Park’s physical proximity provided an agreeable setting for the Gallery, and both offered differing, albeit it was hoped mutually supporting, forms of recreation for the Manchester public. Sir Joseph Lee’s papers include a handbill of the rules of entry to the Park issued by the Governors in 1890. This has a clear intention to regulate the behaviour of the mainly working-class visitors to the Park.

 The rules for entry to Whitworth Park, 16 June 1890, Whitworth Art Gallery Archive, WAG/1/1/10/10.

The rules for entry to Whitworth Park, 16 June 1890, Whitworth Art Gallery Archive, WAG/1/1/10/10.

In the 20th century, the Gallery archive reveals two Directors to have been particularly influential in its development. Firstly, Margaret Pilkington (1891-1974), of the Pilkington pottery firm, who began her association with the Whitworth in 1925. From 1936 to 1959 she was the Honorary Director of the Whitworth Institute, refusing a salary to aid its finances. A recognised artist in her own right, Pilkington appears frequently within the archive, a testament to her energy in planning exhibitions and acquiring art. During the Second World War, Pilkington oversaw the removal of the Gallery’s art treasures to safe storage at the National Library of Wales. She then helped establish a rest centre at the Gallery, for those made homeless by air raids.

Secondly, Reginald Dodwell (1922-1994), who was appointed professor of art history at the University and Gallery Director in 1966, posts he held for the next twenty-three years. In 1958, the University of Manchester had assumed responsibility for the Whitworth Institute, which was renamed the Whitworth Art Gallery. Dodwell ensured that the Gallery built up a collection of contemporary art, at a time when it was much less valued than today, and as a result the Gallery holds a number of internationally important artworks, such as Francis Bacon’s portrait of fellow painter, Lucian Freud (1951).

During the 1960s, the University undertook an extensive remodelling of the Gallery’s exhibition spaces to give them a more contemporary look. These changes are discussed in detail in the Director’s files, which are part of the archive. These records are of some importance, as during the latest renovations, some of the 1960s spaces have been altered, with rooms being in part returned to their original Edwardian look.

The Whitworth Art Gallery archive reveals the institution’s long and complex history, developing from a provincial art gallery built from Victorian philanthropy to its current status as a leading cultural institution of the University. Its rich and varied archive demonstrates the enduring contribution it has made to the cultural and social life of Manchester.

A detailed catalogue of the Gallery Archive is available on ELGAR:


My Second Country, France: Robert Dell (1865-1940)


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Project Archivist Jane Speller writes:

The 1930s foreign correspondence of the Manchester Guardian (now the Guardian) reveals journalist Robert Dell as a man of great character with a sharp sense of humour and an enduring love of Europe. In a rare photograph he looks remarkably like the comedian and character actor Terry Thomas – dapper and slightly roguish.

Of the paper’s four principal foreign correspondents (Werth, Voigt, Dell and Fodor), Dell was the oldest and most experienced. In 1933 he was 68 years old, as compared to the other correspondents who were some 25 years his junior.

Robert Edward Dell. Image reproduced by courtesy of the Guardian Media Group

Robert Edward Dell. Image reproduced by courtesy of the Guardian Media Group.

Dell started out working for a small county newspaper in Surrey.  His father, an American minister, bought him the paper after he left Oxford without a degree. The paper closed after a libel suit left Dell bankrupt. He lectured on religion for a while, and converted to Catholicism.

Dell became a member of the Fabian Society, a socialist organisation, where he was mentored in his writing by George Bernard Shaw. In 1901 he became the editor of the art magazine Connoisseur and in 1903 along with the celebrated art critic Roger Fry, he founded the Burlington Magazine, the first scholarly periodical in Britain dedicated to art history. Dell was the first editor of the magazine and during his involvement with it he wrote over 73 articles, many of them on French art.

After a disagreement with Fry, he left the magazine and in 1906 headed for Paris where he worked throughout the First World War as an art dealer and journalist for the Manchester Guardian. In 1918, Dell was expelled from France by the Clemenceau government for his article exposing secret information about France’s attempts to negotiate peace with Austria (1917) – an article which the British Ambassador in France described as ‘most mischievous’.  Two years earlier he had been threatened with a charge of treason for threatening to write a book suggesting that France had caused the war. Dell’s expulsion was rescinded in 1924.

Dell worked as foreign correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, the Nation and other newspapers, from 1920 to 1938, in Geneva, Berlin and Paris. He was involved in the New Europe Group, which was established in 1931 by Dimitrije Mitrinović with the aim of achieving peace in Europe. From 1932 onwards Dell was based in Geneva, where he developed an intimate knowledge of the League of Nations, the fore runner of the United Nations. The correspondence shows Dell’s increasing frustration at the impotence of the League in the face of Germany’s illegal rearmament. Dell was a regular at the Bavaria, a bar in the city frequented by journalists. The Bavaria was described by British journalist Collin Brooks as, ‘…packed with men from the world’s ends, mostly drunk’ (Sept 1932).

The League of Nations, Geneva

The League of Nations, Geneva

Dell’s writings were controversial and varied from Catholic modernist, socialist, militant pacifist and anti-fascist perspectives. In 1933 the Swiss government attempted to expel Dell for his coverage of a disturbance during a Socialist rally in Geneva (November 1932), where the Swiss army shot into the crowd killing 13 people and wounding 100. The Guardian’s editor William Percival Crozier commented on the letters to the paper complaining about Dell’s reporting of the event:

“…not a single one of them seemed to think it mattered that a dozen people, most of them inoffensive spectators, were machine gunned out of existence… it throws a flood of light onto the character of the middle-class Swiss”.

Dell’s dry sense of humour can be seen in this excerpt from his telegram to Crozier on 24 November 1932. Éamon de Valera, Prime Minister of the Irish Free State, met with the Anglo-American press, but because the proceedings were confidential nothing could be published. Dell wrote:

“Mr Robert Dell who presided said he had probably been asked to preside because he was a born rebel and usually in hot water, as was the present case in Switzerland. No doubt the reason was that he was 25 percent Mr De Valera’s fellow countryman. He had been a home ruler since age 12…. Fifty years ago when he was a school boy he had been taken by his grandfather a Tory M.P. to the House of Commons to hear Gladstone’s speech on the second reading of the Irish Land Act.”

Dell wrote a number of books, notably, My Second Country, France (1920); Germany unmasked: on Germany under the National-Socialist regime (1934); and The Geneva Racket, 1920-1939 (1940), which was published after his death. In 1935 he was elected as President of the International Association of Journalists.

In 1938 Dell, now in his 70s, moved to New York to lecture and to work on his autobiography. He took up residence in an apartment at the Hotel Brevoort. Decorated in a typically French style, and serving French food and wine, the hotel attracted an illustrious and bohemian Greenwich Village crowd, including writers Mark Twain, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Eugene O’Neill.  The Brevoort was popular with wealthy Europeans visiting the United States. In the late 1930s, the American Paris Club was formed, using the Brevoort as a meeting place for the increasing numbers of Americans who fled Paris after the German invasion of Poland (1939).

It is easy to see why Dell chose this place, a reminder of his beloved Europe, to be his home. He died here in 1940, the year Paris fell to the Germans.

Many of Dell’s papers, including the notes for his autobiography and his daughter Sylvia’s research for it, are held in the archives of the British Library of Political and Economic Science.

Gold consolidation – assessment of an Armenian MS

Gill Birch observing Armenian MS 3. Note our new microscope, acquired thanks to the Innovation Fund!


Steve Mooney using the old microscope for the consolidation of the Beatus (Latin MS 8)

Collection care is starting a program of gold consolidation, thanks to the acquisition of a state of the art microscope, which wouldn’t have happened without the donations received through the Innovation Fund

Gill Birch, Senior Conservator in the Conservation department, is analyzing and assessing a marvellous Armenian manuscript in parchment, with many pages that look like a glistering ornate carpet.

Steve Mooney, who worked on the pigment consolidation of several treasures of the John Rylands Library, is now in the process of organizing tuition sessions on the gold consolidation for the collection care team.

The first stage of the process includes the assessment of each individual page, in order to check the condition of the gold foil.

Copy of the MS for the assessment, beside the original

Copy of Armenian MS 3, with the original under a spotlight (assessment phase)




From Mss to Mmm: Jurassic Park become reality

Scientists at the universities of Manchester and York are involved in a ground-breaking project to recreate a long-extinct breed of cow. In medieval times the Orwat, native to the Veneto region of northern Italy, was famed for its rich milk, which was used to make the legendary sciocco di aprile cheese.

Cheesy Orwat

Cheesy Orwat

Building on the success of the Books and Beast project, which has isolated collagen from parchment books and manuscripts, the Manchester-York team has managed to isolate DNA from parchment sheets made from the Orwat. Now, using advanced crystallography techniques, they have succeeded in growing cells of the long-extinct beast.

A scientist

A scientist

The project is funded by the Genetic Engineering Development and Investment Trust (GEDIT) of San Seriffe in California. GEDIT’s CEO, E. Sawyer Cumming, said: “Our ambition is to recreate the Orwat breed. In a few years we hope to manufacture sciocco di aprile cheese for the first time in many centuries. It promises to be a taste sensation. So far, the team has managed to grow the tip of one horn, about an inch long. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. In a couple of months we expect to have a complete horn, and next year, if all goes to plan, we hope to have a whole Orwat.”

Sciocco di aprile was famous in medieval times for its pungent aroma. So much so that the Venetian authorities insisted that the spherical cheeses should be wrapped in red wax, to prevent the offensive odours escaping. Marco Polo is said to have taken dozens of the cheeses as a gift for the Chinese Emperor. As is well known, they did not find favour in the Imperial court. They were stored away and forgotten for many centuries, until 1860, when British troops stumbled across them during the sacking of the Summer Palace. The hardened cheeses with their tough red rinds made ideal substitutes for cricket balls and this is why modern cricket balls are dyed red (source: Wikipedia).

The Orwat project is only the first of several planned by GEDIT, which hopes to apply its genetic engineering expertise to other species. Cumming explained: “Soon we hope to recreate the long-lost Alpine Spaniel.” Watch out for further postings on this shaggy-dog story.


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