Edwardian Novel Collection Cataloging Complete
Special Collections’ Rare Book Cataloging Unit has just wrapped up the cataloging of a large collection of Edwardian novels (British novels published between 1890-1920). The books are now in the process of being digitized, after which they will be available for study both online and in person in the Special Collections reading room.
This project began in early 2017 when Rebecca Wingfield, Curator for American and British Literature, acquired the collection of 1200 novels from Jarndyce Booksellers in London. Meetings were held to determine the parameters of the project and to establish a workflow between the departments involved: Special Collections, Conservation, and the Digital Production Group. The books arrived from England in June 2017, and the boxes were shelved in the Special Collections vault in Redwood City. Over the next several weeks, numerous library staff assisted in unboxing the books and shelving them in order by author’s last name.
Next, we coordinated with Kristen St. John and Annemaree Rae of Conservation to transfer the books in small batches to Conservation so that Annemaree could create mylar straps to wrap around the front covers. These straps allow us to affix barcodes without damaging the covers. In cases where the books had a paper dust jacket or paper onlay illustrations, Kristen made a full mylar dust jacket to protect the cover.
Ann Myers and Freya Channing of the Rare Books Cataloging Unit began cataloging the books at the end of July 2017. This process was relatively straightforward in that the majority already had catalog records created by other institutions. We simply had to bring those records into Stanford’s catalog and upgrade them to local standards. We documented all provenance (former owner) information, binding descriptions, and illustrator names whenever possible. We occasionally ran into complications from authors using pseudonyms or publishing anonymously, but for the most part cataloging proceeded relatively quickly and smoothly.
As we went through the collection, we encountered a few unexpected conservation issues. One was that some of the books had pages that had not been fully cut open, which would make digitization rather difficult. These were returned to Kristen in Conservation so that they could be cut apart and made accessible. Another issue was that some books have material laid in – newspaper clippings, letters, train tickets used as bookmarks, etc. We did not want this material to become lost, so Conservation ordered boxes for these books so that the laid in material can be safely stored with the books.
The final book was cataloged at the end of August 2018. Most of the books have already been sent over to the Digital Production Group where digitization is under way under the supervision of Linda Lam and Dinah Handel. Once digitization is complete, the digital copies will be linked to the catalog records and will also be available to view in the Stanford Digital Repository.
This collection has many charms. The most obvious are the colorful and often entertaining publishers’ cloth bindings. These are decorated with stamped borders and illustrations in various colors, and sometimes with printed paper illustrations laid onto the cloth. In rare cases, the printed paper dust jackets are preserved, and a few of the cover designs are signed by the designer. The subject matter of the novels is hinted at by both the cover designs and the titles. These novels were intended for light entertainment, so subjects include romance, adventure stories, mysteries, historical fiction, tales of domestic life, and travel. Many of the titles are tantalizingly humorous to a modern eye, while others reflect overt sexism and racism.
The books in this collection also retain evidence of previous ownership, which often tells a story about reading habits and gift giving in the early 20th century. Many include bookplates stating that the book was awarded as a prize for school attendance, or some other school-related achievement. Some were part of circulating subscription libraries and still retain their labels from that part of their history. Many were given as gifts from doting parents, aunts and uncles, and friends, and some were inscribed by the authors to friends, family, or admirers.
One example of an ownership inscription appears in a copy of Shadow-Shapes by Maude Annesley. The book was owned by Pte. J.R. Wilson and the inscription reads: "Received from SomeOne on Xmas Day 1914 during the period of his stay at Wilder House Hospital." Wilder House Auxiliary Hospital in Galashiels, Scotland was probably located in a civilian country house, and was used for wounded soldiers during World War I. One can imagine Pte. J.R. Wilson enjoying a bit of light reading during his convalescence there in much the same way we might pick up a bit of pulp fiction for a hospital stay to help pass the time.
This collection will provide many avenues for research, including textual analysis, literary study, the history of publication, the history of reading practices, and much more. While the physical books and the digital surrogates are not yet available for study, the catalog records for the entire collection can be viewed by searching the online catalog for “Collection of British Novels, circa 1890-1920.”