Yes, Librarians Sometimes Stamp Books … Always Have Done (a historical note)


Ask any librarian: the number of, “I guess you must stamp a lot of books” jokes are nearly as many as “How lovely to spend all your time reading …”.  They drive us insane!

However, when it comes to library history, book-stamps become almost interesting, because the use of one library property stamp or another may shed light on when a book came into the library.  So you begin to see where I’m coming from, when I say that I requested photographs of bindings and any stamps or ownership marks in the music and minstrelsy I’d traced at King’s Inns.

Unfortunately, whilst Edinburgh and St Andrews University Libraries stamped their textbooks if they were “From Stationers’ Hall”, this wasn’t always the case with music – certainly not in St Andrews, and apparently not generally in Edinburgh – and it turned out not to be the case at all in King’s Inns!

Unless a stamp actually SAYS that the book came from Stationers’ Hall, then its only use for book detectives is in the possibility of linking particular stamps with particular timespans.  In King’s Inns, a handful of books yielded three different stamps, but only one bore a date – 1955 – and that just means it was processed in some way at that time. It doesn’t tell us when the book came into the library.  Similarly, whilst I was looking for evidence of library bindings or provenance notes, there wasn’t really enough to go on.  And I say that because we don’t actually know if these items came by the Stationers’ Hall route, where unbound books were quite common, or by nineteenth century donation.

Crosby – The Irish Musical Repository. Pictures all courtesy of King’s Inns Library.

What we do know, however, is that the majority of this little batch of King’s Inns minstrelsy, whether poetry or with music, was classed in the “Literary” section.  One can only conclude that these were for recreational use – I like the mental picture of a Georgian or Victorian lawyer sitting by his fireside with his feet up, and a copy of Motherwell’s Minstrelsy, Crosby’s The Irish Musical Repository (the spine title is just, “Crosby’s Irish Songs”, in what looks like a twentieth century binding) , Bunting’s A General Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland, or Ritson’s A Select Collection of English Songs (2nd edition, 1813) on his lap.  Some are graced with charming engravings, whilst Clementi’s London edition of the Bunting collection has a particularly nice title-page.  This last title was held by almost every legal deposit library, so there’s more chance of that one being a legal deposit arrival, especially since one would have expected the original Irish edition to be a more likely holding than a later, English one. However, even in this case, we cannot say for sure that it arrived by this route.  Donations to the library were very common in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  At the end of the day, the minstrelsy material is probably more of interest as indicative of nineteenth-century readers’ leisure reading, than as evidence of traffic from Mr Greenhill and the network of London legal deposit agents!

My thanks to the time-consuming and painstaking work of staff at King’s Inns Libraries for taking these photographs for me.

Footnote: There was one pedagogical music item which seems to have been missing at least since the 1990s, but possibly a century or more longer: Charles Mason’s, The Rhythm, or, Times of Musical Compositions Explained and Reduced…  a skinny score, it could have fallen victim to any number of fates, but it means we couldn’t examine it for library stamps or indeed anything else!  Whether misshelved, bound in a bigger volume, or unreturned, let’s hope someone benefited from it first, and that one of the Dublin lawyers or their families gained a suitable understanding of musical rhythm and times!

Music Professors, Degrees and Curricula

Last week I shared some of my findings and thoughts about the absence of sheet-music at Trinity College Dublin in the early 19th century (see Literary Minstrelsy: the Books Trump the Scores!).  To be fair, there was neither music professor nor music department at Trinity in the Georgian era, so the absence of sheet-music probably barely caused a ripple!

Nonetheless, I provoked a little Twitter-storm of knowledge exchange on the subject of TCD music degrees, and I saved that conversation into a Twitter moment, in order to keep record of the thread: Minstrelsy, Music and Honorary Degrees. (2018-11-21)

Music received from Stationers' Hall 1859-1860
Music received from Stationers’ Hall 1859-1860

I was recommended a chapter contributed  by Lisa Parker to Paul Rodmell’s ‘Music and Institutions in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, which I read with interest this morning.  Whilst the history of music education at the University of Dublin really took off after the Georgian era, I find it interesting to look ahead to see how things did ultimately develop.  As I mentioned last week, the earliest listings retained from Stationers’ Hall dated from 1859-60.

Parker’s chapter perhaps helps us understand why it took so long before there was much interest in curating music in the library, so I’ve extracted a timeline which I think you might find informative:-

  • 1612   TCD first awarded a Bachelor in Music degree – MusB
  • 1764   Appointment of the first music professor, Earl of Mornington, Garret Wesley (1735-81) – his role seemed to be in composing suitable pieces for TCD occasions.
  • 1774 Mornington resigned, and wasn’t replaced for 73 years!
  • 1827 John Smith, the man who would become the next professor some years later, received his MusD – a music doctorate.  This didn’t mean he had done the kind of intensive study that doctoral students do today!  There had been no requirement to be residential, no course of teaching and learning, and no thesis.
  • 1844-1846 – Robert Prescott Stewart, who would later become John Smith’s successor – became organist of the chapel, and then also conductor of the university choral society.
  • 1847 John Smith was appointed music professor. Opinion was divided about his expertise.  His only duties entailed assessing ‘submitted exercises’, but there’s also reference to a lecture.  He could teach private students but gave no ‘formal tuition’. There were still no student residency requirements, and only four music degrees (other than honorary ones) were awarded in his 14 years’ professorship.
  • 1851 only now did Smith get his doctoral robes (TWENTY-FOUR YEARS LATER – not impressive! David O’Shea informs me that the gowns were copied from the Oxford style of academic dress, since there weren’t actually gowns for music degrees at TCD prior to this).  Smith got these at the request of the choral society (not the university authorities) – and it looks as though Stewart received HIS robes at the same event, with the latter’s MusB and MusD exercises being performed.
  • 1861 Smith died.
  • 1862 Robert Prescott Stewart became professor, also remaining in the roles of University organist and conductor of the University of Dublin Choral Society His duties involved conducting the exams and presenting candidates at graduation, but he could also deliver public lectures if he wished, and could give private instruction to members of university.  Shortly after his election, introduced literary examinations, and introduced a requirement for music students to matriculate in a variety of arts subjects.  This was influential upon music degree arrangements at Oxford and Cambridge.)  That decade, requirements were tightened up and spelled out, as to what was needed in degree compositions.
  • 1871 Stewart’s duties were revised, and class lectures were required.  These could have been the public lectures he gave between 1871-77.
  • Parker notes that 97 music degrees were awarded to 63 candidates during the period 1862-1894.  It’s noteworthy that music degrees were often not regarded as being as rigorous as other kinds of degrees – and that they tended to be awarded to church musicians.  It would be interesting to see if this was reflected in the library stock, both of scores and texts, although I won’t let myself be distracted just now!

The above information is all from Parker’s chapter, which I’ll reference fully below.  Much of Parker’s chapter is about Stewart’s work on the syllabus, and then Ebeneezer Prout’s, so it’s about an era later than my main focus.  In an effort to remain focused, I skimmed these last pages, but at least I know they’re there if I need them.  (I’ve generally used 1836, the change of copyright and legal deposit legislation, as my cut-off date, but of course, legal deposit was still being made at a smaller number of universities, and Trinity College Dublin was one of them.)

TCD musicologist David O’Shea comments that librarian James Henthorn Todd was involved with music in the library collections around Smith’s time, so I need to refer to Peter Fox’s 2014 monograph about the Library to find out more in this regard.  (The book is sitting at home on my desk, demanding my attention, so this won’t be a hardship at all!)


Peter Fox, Trinity College Library Dublin : a history (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

Lisa Parker, ‘The expansion and development of the music degree syllabus at Trinity College Dublin during the nineteenth century’, in Music and institutions in nineteenth-century Britain, ed. Paul Rodmell (Ashgate, 2012), pp.143-160

Literary Minstrelsy: the Books Trump the Scores!

2018-11-07 14.13.56I’m still sorting through my notes after my research field trip to Dublin a couple of weeks ago.  I may have mentioned that I went armed with a list of national music compilations from the Georgian era (and a little beyond), to see if either King’s Inns Library or Trinity College Dublin Library had retained any such volumes during the 1801-1836 legal deposit era.  (Neither received legal deposit materials before the Act of Union, and King’s Inns lost their entitlement after 1836, though Trinity retains it to this day.)

I already knew that King’s Inns had a handful of national songs, some musical (“songs with their airs”, as Georgian musicians would have said) – and some purely literary, such as Allan Cunningham’s Songs of Scotland (1825) – I alluded to it in my book, Our Ancient National Airs.

I also knew that Trinity College Dublin had instructed their agent NOT to supply music, novels or school-books, from 1817 onwards, and my opposite number in the library had warned me that there was very little music from the Georgian or even early Victorian era.  Indeed, the earliest extant lists of legal deposit music there date from 1859-1860.

So, I knew I was probably just going to prove to myself that there really wasn’t much legal deposit music in Dublin at this time, and indeed, that it was hard to identify anything as positively having come from Stationers’ Hall.  The rest of today’s posting will confirm just that!

  • In 1811, Stationers’ Hall music was being put “into MS Room in the press in the N.W. angle”, having previously been lying in the Library Room. (From Peter Fox’s book, Trinity College Library Dublin: a History (2014), I know that the Manuscript Room would have been the new MS room on the first floor, converted between 1802-1803.)
  • I found the same in July 1815, when music was sent from Stationers’ Hall in parcels. It went into the same press (ie cupboard).  However, other materials were left on the table in the MS Room “until a list of them could be made out and entered in this book”.  Clearly, no-one was planning to list the music!
  • By July 1817, their agent had been advised to send no music, novels or school books.

We know from the minutes that materials arrrived in baskets, bundles and chests, delivered to a Dr Nash.  Dr Nash was an assistant librarian in the previous decade, and had other roles by 1810 and 1820, but perhaps he also kept an involvement with the library even when he was otherwise occupied.  We don’t really need to know much more about him, anyway!

From comments in 1817, we see that on at least one occasion, the materials arrived in cases from “Mr Elliot’s men” without a list, and at least once the materials arrived damaged and irreparable.  (In 1821, Edinburgh appointed the same Mr Elliot as agent – St Andrews strongly objected, as is minuted in a meeting there!)

After the decision not to take music, schoolbooks or novels, music doesn’t seem to have been collected until the 1850s.  Armed with my trusty national songs list, I went through the 1872 printed library catalogue, which is now conveniently available online.

James Henthorn Todd’s 1872 printed catalogue

I wasn’t surprised to find that Trinity College Dublin seems actually to hold NO NATIONAL SONGS from my list, as regards printed music, between the Welsh collection, Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards by Edward Jones (1784, 1794), and Bunting’s Ancient Music of 1840.  The situation does match a parallel interest in literary balladry, in King’s Inns (where there is only marginally more music from the 1801-36 era), for both libraries certainly hold literary balladry publications from this era – such as Motherwell’s Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern (1827-8).  A little later in the century, I found that Trinity holds Drummond’s Irish collection, Ancient Irish Minstrelsy (1852) dedicated to Revd Richard MacDonnell,  Provost of Trinity College Dublin.  (There’s an online version here:-

It’s hardly surprising that literary minstrelsy trumps musical collections, though.  After all, music is generally folio sized, and the London agents weren’t collecting it.  Literary minstrelsy would just arrive along with other legal deposit books – if such WAS their provenance, for there’s nothing about the volumes I looked at, to indicate where they came from – and if there was an appetite for historical balladry, then it would be added to stock.  (Later in the century, I have looked at William Chappell’s involvement in English national songs and ballads, and the amount of activity in England and Scotland certainly does suggest an enthusiasm for the genre amongst antiquarians and the like.)

So much for national songs-with-their-airs, and literary ballads.  It’s just a small sampling of music, but I think it served my purpose.  Books do trump scores, when it comes to Georgian music in two particular Dublin libraries.  I did also look for pedagogical musical material, and stumbled across one or two music textbooks, but that can wait for another blogpost, I think!

Music received from Stationers' Hall 1859-1860
Music received from Stationers’ Hall 1859-1860



SEQUEL! And now there’s more – see my new blogpost about Music Professors, Degrees and Curricula at Trinity College Dublin.


Making Sense of it All

After last week’s gallivanting, today was the first opportunity to go through my research notes and try to make sense of it all.  I’ve by no means finished the challenge yet!

  • Last Monday: normal day at work;
  • Tuesday-Wednesday: visits to King’s Inns and Trinity College Dublin libraries to check the old guardbook catalogues at the former, and archival documentation at the latter, also fitting in an informative meeting with the music librarian there
  • Thursday: another normal day at work, then taking a choir-practice, and finally the overnight Caledonian Sleeper to London
  • Friday: a visit to Stationers’ Hall archives to see the registers in which new publications were registered in the Georgian era; then a meeting with one of the music librarians at the British Library to discuss future plans
  • Saturday: speaking at a conference at Cecil Sharp House, the English Folk Dance & Song Society’s headquarters
King’s Inns Courtyard, Henrietta Street (via Wikipedia)

Today, I tackled my notes from the visit to King’s Inns.  You wouldn’t expect a legal library to hold much music, would you?  But they do have a few books of national songs from the Georgian era – not many, but a few.  They also have quite a bit of poetry – I found Burns, Thomas Moore and Byron, for a start, not to mention works by Sir Walter Scott, and William Motherwell’s Minstrelsy.  Surprisingly, there are quite a few libretti (the word-books) for late 18th century ballad operas by Dibdin – many predating the legal deposit era, so however they got there, it wasn’t from Stationers’ Hall!  Someone had a passion for the theatre, that’s for sure.  And although I didn’t find folio-sized sheet music (in other words, roughly the size of sheet music today, perhaps slightly larger), I did find smaller publications – books- about the history of music, and a couple of pedagogical tomes which are also in some of the legal deposit libraries in England and Scotland.  One was a likely legal deposit arrival – the other was older, so could have arrived by any route, perhaps a donation from an old lawyer or his descendants.  I only saw the catalogue records, so I may need to follow up with a few queries about some of these items, to see if there’s a standard binding style or any stamps indicating where they came from.  As a librarian myself, I do very much appreciate help received from host libraries – I know how long it can take!

Tomorrow, I’ve got a day’s leave – whether I push on with my notes from Trinity College rather depends on what else I need to do at home, of course!  So … watch this space. I’ll be back as soon as I can!

Expedition to Eire

2018-11-06 16.36.40I’m writing this from Dublin! I’ve spent a fascinating day delving through absolutely enormous guard-books at King’s Inns Library – a historic legal library – and tomorrow I head to Trinity College Dublin.

I won’t write about what I found today, because I need to assimilate it and ask a few more questions about some of the volumes.  But to whet your whistle, I thought I’d share just a few striking pictures.




2018-11-06 13.39.36

2018-11-06 15.40.05
Long ago, a librarian used whatever tape came to hand …!

National Songs and Georgian Legal Deposit Locations

This week I’ve been focusing on my paper for the EFDSS conference, Traditional Folk Song: Past, Present & Future, on Saturday 10 November, 9:30am – 5:00pm at Cecil Sharp House, London. I’ll be talking about ‘National Airs in Georgian British Libraries’, and particularly focusing on the collections in St Andrews and Edinburgh.  I’ll also be alluding to that old nineteenth century irritation – the allegation that England had no national music!

As it happened, I needed to take a day’s annual leave for a non-work related reason yesterday, but I hoped that for most of the day I would be free to concentrate on my presentation.  Well, it didn’t work out quite that way, but I did start writing in the evening.  Today, I spent the first couple of hours teaching library research skills, then it was back to the laptop in the research room for the rest of the day.

  By the end of the working day, I had written just over 4,000 words and felt I deserved a treat: I left my papers on the desk and came home to spend the evening sewing!  (Better still, another little indulgence had arrived in the post for me: a silver sixpence dating1821 George IV sixpence holed from 1821, the year of George IV’s coronation, and with a hole pierced in it by a previous owner so that it could be worn on a ribbon.  As of course I already am!)

The conference will actually be the culmination of a particularly busy week for me: I’ll be visiting the two Irish Georgian legal deposit libraries in Dublin earlier in the week, and Stationers’ Hall and the British Library on the day before the conference. One of my choir-members looked somewhat surprised when I remarked that I’d be fitting in choir practice between Dublin and the overnight sleeper between Glasgow and London!
I’m particularly looking forward to this conference because it will be a completely different audience to those at the conferences I’ve already been to this year. I’m intending to give a fairly wide-ranging paper. If I unearth any surprises in Dublin, then there will be last-minute tweaking to add them into the mix!

NB  If you liked this, you might like a post I wrote on a related topic, earlier this year – essentially a continuation of the story after the period that I’ll be describing in my latest conference paper:- England has no National Music? Chappell Set Out to Refute This