Ingenious Impressions

The Hunterian Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow currently has a fantastic exhibition, Ingenious Impressions, of 15th century books from the University Library’s own collections.

Using the books on display as examples the exhibition charts the development of the early printed book in Europe, looking at the transition from the scribal cultural to print, design and decoration and technology.

Two sections were highlights for me. First the section of mistakes, books where something had gone wrong such as the typesetter getting the spacing wrong and leaving too much blank space on a page, early printing was challenging! The section on decoration and illustration stood out for two reason, first of all the books are beautiful objects; secondly an unexpected discovery related to my own library! The headnote (case summary) in a law report is also known as the rubric, a word that I use but that I’d never really thought about before. I am now educated that rubrication https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubrication was the process by which a scribe added additional information to a book using red ink, this was done for emphasis such as the start of a chapter, you can see an example here. My dictionary defines rubric as a heading or guiding entry showing its link back to the process of rubrication. It’s a shame it’s not in red anymore, law reports could do with some brightening up. I do love learning the roots of words!

The exhibition is worth a visit just to see the beautifully hand decorated pages in some of the books, it’s only on until 21st June so go now!

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Putting Scotland on the map

Back at the end of January I went to an interesting talk at the National Library of Scotland about the Bartholomew family and the history of their map making firm. I have finally made it to the related exhibition in the library which also features material from the Bartholomew Archive which is now held by the NLS, the exhibition is fascinating.

The talk focussed on the members of the Bartholomew family and their contributions to the company and to map-making in Scotland and beyond. From George Bartholomew,  the first engraver in the family, in the early 1800s, right through to 1995 the family have been involved with maps.

What I found most fascinating in both the talk and the exhibition is the history of map-making from engraving to digital maps, and the how improvements in printing technologies  enabled more detailed maps to be printed. The coloured maps showing topography are particularly impressive, and it’s interesting to see how the colours are built up during the printing process.  I am in awe of the skill of the engravers, the tools they required to produce the detail in a map are tiny and they work back to front, no wonder their apprenticeship took several years!

Geography was always my favourite subject at school and I followed this up with a degree in environmental science. I often think that if I hadn’t become a librarian I’d have liked to be involved in cartography somehow.

If you’re at all interested in maps I recommend the exhibition, it’s on the NLS until 7th May 2013