Discovery in the library

14th May 2014

News, Student news, Alumni news

The earliest surviving catalogue of Wadham’s Library collection, recording all the library’s holdings during its first century, has been discovered among the rare book stacks.

  • Manuscript title page of the catalogue, showing the title “Bibliotheca Bissaeana”, and the motto and initials.

  • Printed title page of the original Draudius book, that was dismantled and then re-bound into four volumes with interleaved blank pages.

  • A blank leaf annotated.

  • A printed page annotated in the margin with the book’s Wadham shelfmark.

  • Image 5 : The beginning of the theology section of the catalogue. The Draudius book is divided into disciplinary fields, which are then subdivided alphabetically.

  • Image 6 : The front board of the first volume, showing the chain mark at the bottom right rather than the usual top right, indicating the book was stored separately from the main sequence.

This exciting and historic discovery was made by Dr Will Poole, Tutorial Fellow in English at New College, while preparing for an exhibition of items from Wadham’s antiquarian book collections to be held later this year.

Whilst investigating the library ‘small donors’ holdings, which consist of items that have yet to be catalogued online and which are recorded only in a card catalogue, Will discovered the four volume work which he has identified as being the earliest surviving catalogue of Wadham’s Library collection.

Previously thought to be a listing of the books belonging to the library’s founding donor, Philip Bisse, who gave just over 2,000 books to the College by deed of gift in 1611, the catalogue in fact provides an inventory of the total library collections as they stood in the 1680s.

This is a hugely significant discovery as it enables us to reconstruct Wadham’s library collections as they were in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Tim Kirtley

The four volume set is actually a reconstitution of an earlier general book catalogue of scholarly titles, the ‘Bibliotheca classica’ by the Lutheran pastor Georg Draut, or Draudius, in its second edition (Frankfurt, 1625).

In the 1680s the Wadham Librarian had this work dis-bound and then reassembled, interleaving it with blank pages. On the Draudius pages he entered shelfmarks in the margin next to the titles of which Wadham Library owned a copy, and, on the blank interleaved pages, he noted down by hand a brief bibliographic description of those books in the Wadham collection that did not appear in the original Draudius. Inevitably, these included all the books published subsequent to 1625 which Wadham had acquired.

The 1680s librarian added a title page in manuscript, on which the title reads ‘Bibliotheca Bissaeana’ (presumably the reason that the work has been viewed as a list of only Bisse’s books) with the date 1687. However, there are many other items in the catalogue acquired long after Bisses’s death in 1613, and it is interesting that the library is still known in the 1680s as the Bisse library.

The manuscript title page bears the motto “Non quaero quid mihi utile est, sed quod multis” (I seek not what is useful to me, but to many) accompanied by the initials “P.S.”

Explaining the motto Will Poole said: “The motto turns out to be that used on publications by Bodley's first librarian Thomas James [who held office between 1600 and 1620], so I think your compiler is gesturing towards a previous great Oxford library man as a kind of talisman for his own effort. And who is PS? Well, my first guess is that he is Philip Stubbs, B.A. 1686, M.A. 1689, who would go on to be a prolific publisher of sermons and a donor to the college of manuscripts. He's the only P S nearby; but not marked as 'bibliothecarius' [Librarian]; none is listed in Gardiner’s Registers of Wadham for the right years, but that may be because the college records are themselves defective at this point.”

The original Draudius book, before it was dis-bound and reconfigured, was bought by Wadham Library in 1625, with money given to the college in that year by Mary Dymock. It was therefore bought as a new book and would have been used specifically as a bibliographic tool for the Librarian to use. Indeed, the volumes carry chain marks at the bottom of the front cover boards and not at the top. This suggests they were kept on the Librarian’s desk since books stored on the library’s bookshelves would have been chained at the top of the front board in order to be attached to a rail that ran along the top of each shelf.

According to  Will Poole: “It is without any doubt the library's catalogue as used from 1687 until at least the 1720s or 1730s.”

Wadham College Librarian, Tim Kirtley commented: “This is a hugely significant discovery as it enables us to reconstruct Wadham’s library collections as they were in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It illustrates the collecting strategies that must have been in place at the time - for example the section on poetry was not interleaved, presumably because the college did not expect to buy very much Latin poetry. The catalogue also shows us through the shelfmark scheme the physical arrangement of the subjects on the shelves. We will be examining the catalogue in close detail, and will publish further information about it in the library's online exhibition.

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