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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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
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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
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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.

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