Rare Book Round Up – Illustrious Illustrations

Each week our Collections Manager Rhian, brings you our ‘Rare Book of the Week’ on our social media accounts, too good to be lost in the daily deluge of tweets and Instagrams we wanted to bring you a round-up of some of our favourites. This week it’s the turn our beloved illustrated beauties.

The Nuremberg Chronicle 1493

We’ll begin with one of our oldest texts, The Nuremberg Chronicle is the most extensively illustrated book of the 15th century. This masterpiece depicts the history of the Christian world from the beginning to the 1490s in a manner typical of medieval Chronicles. Originally printed in 1493, our copy is a later, smaller ‘pirated’ edition from 1497 making it one of our Incunabula treasures. Although not as lavishly illustrated it still contains many wonderful images of people and places. Our copy also has lots of unique marginalia and even the ghostly imprint of a key kept between the pages.

The Nuremberg Chronicle – 1493

This post from guest author Dr Nina Adamova, goes into greater depth and tells the fascinating stories behind marginalia and what they reveal about the historical readers

Songs of Innocence and Experience , William Muir – 1794

Does this rare book from 1794 look familiar? You’d be forgiven for thinking they were William Blake’s own illustrated Songs of Innocence and Experience but they are stunning reproductions by William Muir.  His work used the same techniques as Blake and he was so faithful that they have sometimes been mistaken for the real thing.  Inside are hand coloured plates, 28 in Innocence and 22 in Experience, protected by delicate tissue guards, with only 50 copies produced, they are very rare and sought after, . They are still perhaps the closest most of us will get to the masterpieces created by Blake, this August 2020 post from Rhian takes you into  much more detail with loads more gorgeous photographs.

Birds of Great Britain, John Gould – 1873

Our next rare book arrived during The Golden Age of Illustration and is among the most famous and important bird books of the C19th. John Gould is described as the greatest figure in bird illustration after Audubon and we are lucky to have the magnificent Birds of Great Britain (1873) in our collections.  This enormous 5 volume set was his most popular work and contains 367 images, and as Gould explains in the introduction ‘every sky with its varied tints and every feather of each bird were coloured by hand’. 

A monograph of the Trochilidae, (or family of hummingbirds) 1861-1887

Birds of Great Britain might have been his most popular book but his 6 volume set of hummingbirds, which we also have, is particularly beautiful. Gold leaf was used under the colour to produce iridescent feathers.  Photos do not do these books justice.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, glass slide – 1906

Though not actually a book, this series of slides based on Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland.  Produced around 1906 they would be used in magic lanterns, portable devices that projected images onto a wall a screen.  These highly coloured, lithographic slides would be sold in boxes of eight complete with a script to read aloud. The full Alice in Wonderland set can be viewed on the Leeds Libraries Flickr page along with sets for Peter Pan and Aladdin, and if you want to know more about children’s books including Carroll’s Alice, Kingsley’s Water Babies and Andersen’s Little Mermaid then check out our Golden Age of Childhood post from September 2018.

If you’ve enjoyed reading about these rare illustrated beauties then there is more here in our posts about the History of Book Illustrations and the Art of Dying.

Rhian features a new Rare Book each week on the Leeds Libraries social media pages, check out your favourite platform and follow Leeds Libraries for weekly updates.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Janet says:

    So amazing to see these very rare books are here in 2021

    1. We’re really glad you enjoy them, if you use twitter it’s worth following us @LeedsLibraries as Rhian posts a new book every Tuesday.

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