Uncovering Hidden Histories: Provenance research internships in the Edward Clark Collection

During July, the University’s Heritage Collections department hosted two student interns whose intrepid research skills greatly helped us to find information about past owners, donors and custodians of the rare books held within the Edward Clark Collection. Here, Wik Lyszczarz (MSc in Publishing) talks about their experience of their internship.

The internship with special collections Edward Clark Collection was very fascinating. I started this internship not knowing anything about the Edward Clark Collection within the University the whole time I have been here. Now that the internship is over, I have learned much about the collection and what it holds. I am grateful to know what all this time was hidden.

I entered this internship as a Master’s publishing student, and the thought of looking at books to see whose hands they have passed through was exciting. While looking through them, I could satisfy my publishing interests by looking at how the manuscripts and books were printed and bound.

We got to work after being trained on how to handle old books. Looking for provenance marks turned out to be a lot of fun, especially when you find something of note, the most exciting being names that we could research in the second half of the internship. However, the thing that has stuck with me most is that even though the books I looked at were printed from as early as the 12th century till the 16th century, during a time when the printing process was much more complicated, the books were more intricate. As someone who likes visual additions to manuscripts, there were many present in the multitude of manuscripts I was able to look through.

Here are some pictures of the exciting things I found, visual aspects of the manuscripts I liked, and some I would bring back to the publishing world today.


[Figure 1: Bookplate of Ernst Conrad Stahl (ECC B41).]

This image above features an Ex Libris insert that a previous reader put into this book. I found many of these within the books; they were handy when looking for people’s names, as the purpose is to show who the book belongs to. Most of the designs of these bookplates change depending on the owner; this one was my favourite as it is very intricate. This is something I would definitely bring back into use.


[Figure 2: Detail of a manicule in the Nuremberg Chronicle (ECC A18, fol. LXXIr).]

One thing I learned during this internship is that the hand in the image above is called a manicule. Manicules are a mark that has the appearance of a hand, one that is pointing. These used to be drawn by the reader to point out important parts of the text.

[Figure 3: Composition of illustrated initials, showing an illuminated ‘B’ (ECC A15, fol. 6r), a decorated ‘C’ (ECC A24, fol. 5v), and a woodcut of the letter ‘M’ (ECC B36, fol. 4r).]

Here are different types of letter embellishments. The first embellishment is an image of an illuminated letter; these embellishments were not typical in the books I went through. These make the manuscript feel a lot more luxurious and the colours used were very eye catching. The second embellishment is created by hand with ink. Each one of these varied within the manuscript this was due to them being hand drawn. Some manuscripts only used red ink as a secondary colour, whereas this one shown used both red and blue. This was a common practice; printing the actual text in black ink and then using red ink to highlight the beginnings of paragraphs, drop capitals and even the start and end of sentences. Lastly, the last embellishment is part of the printing process and has no colour, out of all of these it is not as eye cathcing, yet these can be very detailed. These tend to be the same design throughout the manuscript, however the design changes manuscript to manuscript.


[Figure 4: Calendar for the month of May (ECC B45).]

This is another thing I found out whilst doing this internship. The image above shows text with a border. The purpose of this border was not only for it to look good; in reality, it could also be so that people would be refrained from making annotations and notes about the text. These borders often feature in religious manuscripts.


[Figure 5: Press stamp (ECC B42).]

This image is of a printing press stamp, which shows you which old printer this manuscript was produced by. Not many of the books I looked at included these. The ones that were included always drew me in. Their design varies depending on the printer, some more intricate than others.

Another aspect of the internship I found informative was the second part. In the second part, we had to look up and research the numerous names we found throughout the books. Some of these names lead to nowhere, some names were misspelt or just didn’t have anyone they lead to. But some lead to some interesting people that were popular and known about in the past. A couple of these lead me down a rabbit hole. If I did not do this internship, I would have no idea that these people existed and what they did to become known.

I have really enjoyed my placement with special collections and the Edward Clark Collection and all the new things I learned and all the people I got to research. I will however be disappointed when I open my next book and there is a lack of quirks and stories to be found.

Further reading

You can read more about the university’s Heritage collections or read previous blog posts

By Wik Lyszczarz