Alan Isaac Rare Books

Blue Notes

This is a space for topical book-related content, whether from within or outside the Bindery/Bookshop, to which all are invited to contribute or to initiate a discussion in a temperate and positive spirit. Do join in!

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Lewis of Carleon – The Roots of Science in Wales. A Manuscript for the Nation?

The UK government has accepted the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art (RCEWA) and opened a window of opportunity to secure for the nation, and particularly for Wales, a manuscript of the 15th century scholar, Lewis of Carleon.

Lewis studied medicine at Cambridge University in the mid 1460’s. He went on to become a ‘servant’ of Henry Tudor (Henry VII) probably in a medical capacity and he received several lifelong grants from him for his service. The manuscript, which was valued at £300,000 concerns his studies in the realm of science,  in particular, what the RCEWA have called ‘ the progression from ancient theories of astronomy toward a modern, mathematical approach’.  The actions of the RCEWA indicate that it accepted that Lewis was  ‘a significant contributor to the study of astronomy and the development of science in the late medieval era’.  Further, the manuscript appears to be in the original ‘handsome presentation’ binding, quite likely for Henry VII.

The current economic climate is one in which fund raising of any kind will be a particular challenge, but this is a worthy cause, and one which deserves success.  If the target is reached, surely the book should reside in the National Library of Wales?

Posted by on March 21st, 2020 | Comments Off on Lewis of Carleon – The Roots of Science in Wales. A Manuscript for the Nation?
Posted in Manuscripts

Dead Sea Scrolls or dead loss?

Fragments of manuscript, believed to have been part of the dramatic discoveries made in the caves of Qumran on the West Bank of the River Jordan in 1947, and among the earliest known examples of Christian scripture, are now thought definitively to be fakes.

A lengthy and detailed analysis, using 3D microscopes, infrared spectroscopy and ‘energy dispersive X-ray analysis’ has reached the conclusion, that each of the 16 items examined exhibit ‘characteristics that suggest they are deliberate forgeries’, damning news for the owners at  the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

Fragments of manuscript, believed to have been part of the dramatic discoveries made in the caves of Qumran on the West Bank of the River Jordan in 1947, and among the earliest known examples of Christian scripture, are now thought definitively to be fakes.

A lengthy and detailed analysis, using 3D microscopes, infrared spectroscopy and ‘energy dispersive X-ray analysis’ has reached the conclusion, that each of the 16 items examined exhibit ‘characteristics that suggest they are deliberate forgeries’, damning news for the owners at  the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

The fragments, previously undocumented from the finds at Qumran, acquired by the Museum from four private sources prior to 2016 for an undisclosed price, and the majority of which were published for scholars, immediately aroused suspicion. The Museum is likely to have paid many millions of pounds for the group of fragments which, according to the investigators, Art Fraud Insights, were likely to have been made from old shoe leather and to have been aged with a ‘shiny amber material … most likely animal skin glue’.  This does not make them sound overly sophisticated, but the most remarkable detail of the recent report is that, ‘at the time of publication (of the fragments in 2016) no scientific examination of the Museum’s scroll fragments had been carried out’

So the romantic tale of the Hebrew manuscripts, called the Dead Sea scrolls, the earliest dating from the 3rd century BCE, having been found in the caves of Qumran by the shepherd searching for his lost sheep has ended in both tears and embarrassment for the American Museum whose reputation appears, like the scrolls themselves, to be in shreds.


Posted by on March 17th, 2020 | Comments Off on Dead Sea Scrolls or dead loss?
Posted in Manuscripts, Uncategorized

Published by The Legacy Press

Waters Rising: Letters from Florence

In Waters Rising, renowned calligrapher Sheila Waters recounts the story of the role that her husband Peter Waters (1930–2003) played as the person in charge of organizing the monumental efforts to save severely damaged books in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (National Library, Florence) after the devastating flood in 1966 fifty years ago. To give the most complete picture of the events that occurred initially in the recovery mission, Sheila presents nearly 50 of Peter’s letters written between the end of November 1966 and April 1967, in which he described day-to-day happenings, and her letters back, which kept him informed about things at home and boosted his confidence when problems seemed to be overwhelming.

In addition to these letters and Sheila’s narrative diary and timeline of events, Randy Silverman, Head of Preservation, University of Utah, has written a thought-provoking introduction that puts those conservation efforts into the context of today’s practices. Also, Valerii P. Leonov has written an appreciation of Peter’s assistance in the aftermath of a fire in 1988 that rav

aged the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The accompanying DVD features a digital remastering of Roger Hill’s film Restoration of Books, Florence, 1968.

Waters Rising is dedicated to the people whose names appear herein and to those unnamed Mud Angels who salvaged the books that the flood waters left behind.

496 pages  •  283 colour/black & white photographs (many of which Peter took)  •  hardcover  •  DVD  •  2016  •  ISBN: 978–1–940965000  •  £35

The book can be ordered through the Bookshop page. Book price £35 (including UK carriage)

Posted by on March 24th, 2017 | Comments Off on Published by The Legacy Press
Posted in Bookbinding

Society of Bookbinders Conference, Keele – August 2015

Book signing !   Bernard C. Middleton

We, my wife Belinda and I, experienced the unfamiliar side of the Society of Bookbinders Conference this year, that of the supplier.  I have been attending the biennial conference of bookbinders since going to Telford in 1999, but have not before been part of the gathering of sales people at a full conference. The preparation such an event demands, both before and at the stand, is wholly unseen and unrecognised by delegates and day visitors, but for each of those represented will entail much time and focus.

We prepared a full catalogue of books which came to fruition close to the start of the event.  Providing a full list of books itself is demanding, but so is the printing and finalising. With a new book publication to offer, and a signing to organise, the demands prior to leaving Oxford were multiplied.

Fortunately we reached Keele in good time on Thursday, well before the beginning of delegate registration.  We were very well placed with the hall, which was itself a very suitable setting for the trade suppliers, and relatively quickly had our stand in place.

Although delegates drifted through on Thursday, nothing really could have prepared us for the rush we experienced on the Friday, as Bernard signed copies of his new, and keenly awaited, book to an expectant queue of binders.  We were helped during refreshment breaks by Sam Ellenport in un-wrapping copies for signing – and so had something like a production line in progress at the busiest times. Sales continued to be swift throughout the day and only diminished towards the end of the afternoon on Saturday.  Copies of previously published titles, including our own – Fahey – Finishing, also did well.

We donated a copy of Bernard’s book – A Bookbinder’s Miscellany – signed by all three contributors, Bernard, Sam and myself – for sale at the ‘Live Auction’ at the Conference Dinner and were pleased to see that this attracted a bid of £60 for the Society’s Education and Training fund.

To meet many familiar binders, and meet and talk to new faces (and to attend the occasional lecture and view the binding competition entries), added to the fun of the selling  and made the time away a rewarding experience, and one certainly we’ll seriously consider repeating next time.

Our next event will be at the ABA Book Fair, Chelsea, in November, when Bernard will again be offering to sign copies of his book.

The catalogue mentioned is available on-line, though on request a hard copy can be provided.





 Essays on Fine Binding – With an Introduction by Sam Ellenport

 Bernard C. Middleton

Published: Oxford, Alan Isaac Rare Books.

114p, 225 x 158mm, illustrated with line drawings and coloured plates, sewn, cloth gilt, hardbound.

An edition of 500 copies.  £25 [post & packing – UK £2, Europe £7, Rest of the world £9]

Enquiries – Alan Isaac Rare Books – 15, Polstead Road, Oxford, OX2 6TW

Tel: 01865 516449, Email:,

Please ORDER through the Bookshop page.

Posted by on November 21st, 2015 | Comments Off on Society of Bookbinders Conference, Keele – August 2015
Posted in Bookbinding

Londinium-The Bloomberg Square Project-Writing Tablets

Now that work on the site of the Bloomberg hub in the City of London is drawing to a close, and the feverish activity of up to sixty archaeologists are endeavouring to take the fullest benefit of this re-development opportunity, it is a good time to take stock of our current knowledge of the finds made.  Although the artefacts un-covered are striking, in their numbers if not in their individuality, it is perhaps the appreciation that hitherto the names of only fourteen residents of Londinium were known, this in a settlement occupied by Roman visitors from the second invasion in A.D 43 to the early 5th century.  This number is set to grow in the wake of the current exploration.


The Bloomberg site stands close by Mansion House underground railway station in central London.  Although it was developed in the 1950’s and some archaeological work was then undertaken, it is only now, following the acquisition of the site by Bloomberg and on which its landmark base is to be built, that a window of opportunity has again opened.  That so much has been preserved deep underground, which in other circumstances would have quickly decayed, is due to the flowing River Walbrook, which created ideal conditions for the preservation of wood and leather, with the consequence that a large quantity of shoes, and more importantly fragments of wood has been discovered.

The earliest evidence of the codex form dates from the early Roman occupation.  The ‘book’ or Codex comprised, in its simplest form, of two pieces of stilus writing-tablets stitched together.  The stili might have a bed within which wax could be poured to form a re-usable writing surface, or consist of simply the wood itself onto which a message might be written with ink.  In either case there exists the possibility of discovering, through the use of modern technology, both the essence of the communication and, perhaps more tantalisingly, the identity of the writer. Although some four to five hundred stilus writing-tablets have been found in Britain hitherto, prior to the current excavations, only a few of them have proved to be legible [1].

The Bloomberg site has to date revealed upwards of 100 fragments of writing tablets. Some of the content has already been examined and found to include mundane texts such as shopping lists and party invitations, whilst others show more detailed and fascinating transactions, including a contract for the sale of a slave girl and the transfer of a five acre wood in Kent.  Hopes are high among those leading this work at the Museum of London that the group of 14 known residents of Roman London will be increased.

It is my intention to follow the progress of the analysis of the writing tablets.  Should anyone have insights into this or related work, do please contribute.

[1] R.S.O Tomlin, – The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 1 c.400 – 1100. Cambridge University Press, 2012. P337

Stili from above work

Map of Walbrook Ward from Noorthouck’s History of London.  1773



Posted by on April 14th, 2013 | Comments Off on Londinium-The Bloomberg Square Project-Writing Tablets
Posted in Uncategorized

Memoirs of Oxford Bibliophile – Colin Franklin

In a series of distinct chapters Colin Franklin recollects the many themes that have successively absorbed him throughout a long career in both book publishing and book dealing.  Of these topics many are associated with the county of Oxford; William Morris, The Daniel Press, Joseph Skelton and Ruskin, are among them.  Often they have involved him in the acts of collecting, researching, writing and selling, such is the sequence of the book-dealer/writer.  Passions come, are felt strongly, looked into with keen interest, considered and the results recorded and, after due reflection, consigned to print for the benefit of those less fortunate to have had the personal connection with these works.  That is perhaps the most striking feature of this collection, the great good fortune that Mr Franklin feels he has benefited from, both in terms of the books that have passed through his hands and the amicable connections he has had in the world of books.  This is a very engaging and enlightening read.

Posted by on September 24th, 2012 | Comments Off on Memoirs of Oxford Bibliophile – Colin Franklin
Posted in Uncategorized

Flora Ginn Lauds Spanish Bindings Exhibition

Great Bindings in the Royal Libraries (15th – 21st centuries)

From: Thursday 17 May 2012 To: Sunday 2 September 2012

An exhibition featuring book bindings from the National Heritage’s Royal Collections. Royal Palace, Plaza de Oriente, Madrid


Flora Ginn went to the Exhibition with Bernard Middleton and was hugely enthusiastic about both its content and the presentation of the exhibits. This is what she said:

 ‘The exhibition was opened by the King and is held at the Real Biblioteca of the Royal Palace.  It illustrates their cultural heritage and the importance of their ordinary and great bindings mostly from the Spanish Royal Collections as their national treasures of historical and artistic interest.  There are 457 items, including fine bindings from 15th – 21st centuries and other beautiful and interesting objects such as furniture, paintings, tapestries and tools, all book related.

 Every single show case in every room in the exhibition is designed and made specially with glass alone sealed with silicone.  The architectural merit is astonishing with a show case in one room being suspended from the

ceiling in two crescents to form a circular showcase.  A truly magnificent exhibition!’

 If you have been to the Exhibition, or are proposing to go, do share your thoughts with us.

Posted by on August 8th, 2012 | Comments Off on Flora Ginn Lauds Spanish Bindings Exhibition
Posted in Bookbinding

Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington – Bindings Database Up-date

The Library has just drawn attention to the improved images database now encompassing over 3,000 images of over 1,000 books from the collection.  These are high definition images and show not just the binding, but details of construction and decorated papers.  They are well worth examining at length.

Read the rest of this page »

Posted by on June 25th, 2012 | Comments Off on Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington – Bindings Database Up-date
Posted in Bookbinding, Uncategorized




Ashmolean Museum exhibition.

The One

We were able on Sunday to squeeze into the exhibition on the closing day – a typically tardy response to a ‘home-town’ show – but one which well repaid the effort.

Although appreciable ground is covered, the underlying theme is the twin pull of French roots and adopted English soil. Lucien, the eldest son to the French artist Camille, came to England in 1890 and set up the famous Press with his wife Esther in 1895. Aside from some early children’s books which Lucian wrote as a vehicule for his illustrations, the texts chosen were not his own, but all other aspects of book production were covered ‘in-house’, literally. The actual processes and the division of them is not dwelt upon.

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Posted by on March 15th, 2011 | Comments Off on Pissarro
Posted in Uncategorized