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Tag: Printing

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

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, Natalie Quinn (MSc in Publishing) talks about their experience of their internship.

My Experience as a Special Collections Intern

You might think that completing an internship, alongside writing a 15,000-word Master’s dissertation and working a part-time job, sounds like a crazy idea. You would be right. However, when I saw the opportunity to work with the library’s special collections department to identify provenance marks in books in the Edward Clark Collection, I just couldn’t let that pass me by. Earlier this year, I volunteered at a charity shop to help with the sorting, pricing, and shelving of books. This experience ignited my interest in the journeys that books go on as they pass between owners, and the notes left inside that tell us more about their histories. Therefore, I was immediately attracted to this internship and couldn’t wait to see which little remnants of history I would uncover.

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

[Figure 1: Inscription reading “Henry E. Napier to Lady Augusta Fox, Florence, Sept[embe]r 17th, 1838. ‘Pochi compagni avrai pepl’altra via; Tanto ti prego piu, gentile spirto, non lafear la magnanima tua impresa.’” (ECC E51).]

This internship has involved me going through many of the books in the Edward Clark Collection, from enormous tomes to the tiniest volumes, and looking at every page to record any evidence of where the book came from and who may have owned it. From something as inconsequential as a leaf pressed between the pages to bookplates and inscriptions bearing the names and dates of the books’ previous owners, these books had so much to reveal. My focus was on books from the nineteenth century, an era in which I am particularly interested, and I really appreciated how I was able to tailor the internship to my own curiosities.

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

[Figure 2: Inscription reading “J.W. Frampton, from his affectionate father, August 12th 1859” (ECC E68).]


I have gained so much from this internship, from learning that small drawings of hands with a finger pointing to the text, called manicules, were used for centuries in the same way we might use a highlighter to draw attention to important text, to discovering that a different calendar was used in France for twelve years following the French revolution. The latter I discovered from the one word I was able to decipher from a French letter stuck in the back of a book, the owner of which I later uncovered was in Brussels during the Battle of Waterloo and recorded his experiences in his journal.

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

[Figure 3: Letter pasted in the back of the book entitled Napoléon en Prusse: poème épique en douze chants (ECC E3).]

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The Edward Clark Collection

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.

Printers’ Libraries

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


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