Hidden treasures: The Edward Clark Collection
The Edward Clark Collection, housed in the library at the Merchiston campus, is not as well-known as it should be. It is one of the only two surviving examples of what was once a widespread phenomenon in Britain: printers’ libraries. The other survivor is St Brides Library in London.
The Edward Clark Collection consists of around 5,000 items illustrating the development of the book from the 15th century. More specifically, it concentrates on the development of typography, the techniques of printing illustrations, and fine bindings. The collection is located within the Campus Library at the University’s Merchiston Campus.
The first Edinburgh printers’ library was established in 1858. The technical and reference collections continued to be used up until the end of the 19th century, afterwich it is not clear what happened to them. Formal educational requirements for printing apprentices were established after World War I. The Clark Collection was put together as a teaching resource, mainly in the 1930s, to illustrate printing technologies, type design and book production from the 15th century to the present day. As well as the treasures highlighted on the Collection website it is a treasure trove for the historian of print.
Over the last 2 years, whenever access was possible, I have consulted type specimens, trade journals, company histories, technical manuals and books about print production and the design and making of books. These included James Watson’s History of Printing in Scotland (1713), Caleb Stower’s Printer’s Grammar (1808) and T.C. Hansard’s Typographia (1825), and looked again at a long-standing favourite of mine – John McCreery’s poem The Press, printed in Liverpool as a type specimen in 1802.
It is a privilege to work with this collection, and I am very grateful to all the library staff who have made this possible.
Dr Helen S Williams
Honorary Edward Clark Fellow