Finding the copy specifics in rare books

We are delighted to announce that it is now possible to search for copy specific details of books in Special Collections via our rare books search.

15th/16th century binding

This book (Sp Coll Al-a.75) has survived in its original 15th/16th century binding; an early owner has written its title on the cover

One of the most important and fascinating aspects of studying rare books is in examining these copy specific features. They are the differences that are found  if you look carefully at any two (or more) copies of an early book.

Most books printed in the hand-press period (usually prior to about 1800) are unique in some way. Many of these idiosyncrasies arise from the treatment and care the books may have had throughout their history, in passing through the hands of successive owners.

In describing rare books, we pay special attention to these features, looking in particular at: bindings; evidence of previous ownership (bookplates, presentation inscriptions etc); evidence of previous use (manuscript annotations/corrections/inserted letters etc); and embellishment (added decoration/illustrations).

Such information is crucial to book historians, who answer questions about the cultural importance, transmission and impact of these objects by examining copy specific details.

We have included this information in cataloguing our books for many years, but it has only now become possible to search for these details. This is a massive improvement in providing access to our books for those who are interested in provenance research and material culture.

You may retrieve this information by using either the library quicksearch or rare books search, but I recommend using the rare books search to focus your results on our material. Try, for example, inputting keywords such as “manuscript annotations” or “blind stamped” to see the kind of results possible.

screenshot of rare books search

Keyword serching for blind stamped bindings on the rare books search

Of course, you may as usual combine this search with other keywords/limits to narrow your searches.

You will see the relevant results labelled as “copy specific” in the full version of the records retrieved.

screenshot of search results

Copy specific notes in a rare books record

Find out more about copy specific features and their importance, or go to the rare books search and start hunting for the copy specifics now!



Categories: Library, Special Collections

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