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Hispanic: Notable Acquisitions

The Hispanic Section is responsible for collecting printed material from the 28 countries in which Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, Catalan, Basque and the American Indian languages are spoken. In selecting current material, we aim to acquire all significant publications in the humanities and social sciences. When selecting antiquarian (pre-1850) or other second-hand material, various criteria might apply: books which are important as texts (for instance, the first edition of a literary work), valuable as artefacts (notable for their illustrations), of historical significance, or which are the work of an important printer.

Saint John of the Cross's Obras espirituales que encaminan a vna alma ala perfecta vnion con Dios (Alcalá: por la viuda de Andres Sanches Ezpeleta, 1618) is the first edition of the mystic's works, issued by his fellow Carmelites to counteract the bad copies which had been circulating in manuscript. It is noteworthy for its frontispiece, engraved from a drawing by St John himself, showing the progress of the soul towards God up the allegorical Mount Carmel. Among the modern first editions recently acquired is Dos fantasías memorables, a volume of short stories by 'H. Bustos Domecq', the collaborative pseudonym of Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares (Buenos Aires: Oportet & Haereses, 1946).

A recent addition to the collection, purchased with the aid of the Friends of the BL, may be the earliest Uruguayan imprint. It is a proclamation issued by the prize agents of the British forces in Uruguay on 9 May 1807: [Begins:] Señor, Por autoridad y en calidad de Agentes de las presas hechas por las armas de S.M.B. demandamos y pedimos cuenta justa... [Parallel text:] Sir, As prize agents to the British forces, we call upon you to render... The first printing press in Uruguay was set up in Montevideo in 1807 by the British during the second invasion of the River Plate countries. Although the printing house was privately managed, it reflected the ideas of the British Crown. The principal intention of the owner (probably one Thomas Bradford, Deputy Adjudant General) was to publish a weekly periodical, the Southern Star, demonstrating the mistakes of the Spanish in their American possessions and the advantages of British rule. The importance of this document is twofold: as a record of British involvement in the River Plate region and as one of the earliest examples, if not the earliest example, of Uruguayan printing. Also of historical interest is the Reglamento para el gobierno interior de la Soberana Junta Provisional Gubernativa del Imperio Mexicano (Mexico: en la imprenta imperial de D. Alejandro Valdes, 1821), marking the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Mexico under Emperor Agustín I, formerly the Viceroy Agustín de Iturbide. A South American antiquarian item of importance in cultural and printing history is Ensaios morais de Alexandre Pope (Rio de Janeiro: na Impressâo Regia, 1811), a translation by the Count of Aguiar of Pope's Essay on man. As printing in Brazil was suppressed by the Portuguese until the throne was transferred there in 1808, this is one of the earliest Brazilian imprints.

Because the BL's collecting profile is not tied to the university curriculum --although of course we are well aware of the needs of academics-- its holdings in the minority languages of Spain, such as Catalan, Galician and Basque, until recently little studied in British universities, are probably the strongest in this country. In Catalan, a particular interest of the Section is fine printing of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (see Barry Taylor, 'Ramon Miquel y Planas and his Biblioteca catalana', British Library Journal, 19 (1993), 58-82). We have recently purchased various other publications of Miquel y Planas: Estudi histórich y crítich sobre la antiga novela catalana (Barcelona, 1912), his translation of Les amors de Dafnis y Cloe y de Amor y Psiquis (Barcelona: Joventut, 1905) and edition of Les histories troyanes de Guiu de Columpnes (Barcelona: L'Avenç, 1917). We continue to add important contemporary works to our holdings of imaginative literature in all three minority languages.

One well-established area of the Hispanic collections to which we continue to add is the collection of books on Cervantes. Naturally, we have excellent holdings of editions of his works (many of them donated by H. S. Ashbee, at the pressmark 'Cerv.'); more recently we have acquired items relating to his Rezeptionsgeschichte, such as Reseña del homenaje que a Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra con motivo del tercer centenario de la publicación del Quijote dedicó el Excmo. Ayuntamiento de Sevilla (Sevilla: Establecimiento Tipográfico de la Revista de Tribunales, 1905).

A visit to Cuba provided one of our curators, G. West, with the opportunity of acquiring a number of hand-made books produced by Ediciones Vigía of Matanzas. In 1985 this publisher began to produce editions of literary works made from the crudest materials: offcuts and waste paper, and printed in the simplest manner. The aim is to highlight human creativity, both in the form and the content of the books. The present paper shortage in Cuba has transformed this original virtue into a necessity. A small exhibition of the best work of Ediciones Vigía was held in the British Library from September to November 1995.

Two CD Roms added to the collections cover the earliest and the latest Hispanic publications. Admyte (Madison: Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies) contains facsimiles, transcriptions and concordances of late 15th- and late 16th-century Spanish texts, while Latbook (Buenos Aires: García Cambeiro) lists some 70,000 items currently available from one of Latin America's biggest bookdealers. Among expensive reference works recently acquired is the Atlas lingüístico de México , edited by Juan M. Lope Blanch (El Colegio de México, 1990, in progress, to be in 6 vols).


Hispanic Section
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7569
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7784