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Rare Books reference enquiries

Here are three examples of the kind of enquiry that the Rare Books Reference Team can help you with.


If your enquiry requires in-depth research or more specialist help than we can provide we will forward your enquiry to the appropriate person, refer you to our Research Service or suggest alternative sources of help.

I have two questions about your copy of A New Hieroglyphic Bible, published in Edinburgh in 1818 (shelfmark Ch.810/118)? How is the book bound? And in what year was your copy acquired?

Ch.810/118 was rebound by the British Library in 1952, however, it appears that the book was originally sold in a simple thin card binding with the title page printed on it, in the manner of a chapbook. The card covers have been preserved within the new binding.

British Library stamps within the book indicate that it was acquired as a donation on 14 July 1951.

I am trying to locate an early edition of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry with a three-dimensional ‘pop-up’ element. I think the item at shelfmark 1605/109, Euclidis Elementorum libri XV., una cum scholiis antiquis, published in Pisa in 1572, may be the one I am looking for. Can you advise me?

I have checked item 1605/109 and can confirm that there are no three-dimensional elements to the book. However, I think this may be the item you are looking for: The elements of geometrie of the most auncient philosopher Euclide of Megara. Faithfully (now first translated into the Englishe toung…, printed in London in 1570.

The British Library has four copies of this book at the following shelfmarks: L.35/55., C.40.l.7., 47.f.9., and G.7839. I have checked copy C.40.l.7 and can confirm that this item does contain three-dimensional pop-up models within Book 11 of the text, which runs from Folio 311 (verso) to Folio 352 (verso).

You might be interested that this book has been fully digitised and is available to view (without pop-up functionality!) on the Early English Books Online (EEBO) database, which is available to view in British Library Reading Rooms and elsewhere by subscription.

I have recently come across a book 'The Fortunes of Nigel' by Walter Scott, including engravings such as one of George Heriot. The book is not dated and does not have the author's name printed anywhere. In the front there is an inscription which appears to be by Scott, beginning with the words, ‘May you pardon the vanity of an author...' The handwriting looks identical to another example of Scott's writing I've seen. Do you think the inscription is authentic?.

The first published edition of The Fortunes of Nigel, one of the popular "Waverley" novels, appeared in 1822 and was published by Archibald Constable and Co., of Edinburgh, and Hurst, Robinson, and Co., of London. It was issued in three volumes, without any engravings, and the text on the title-page includes the date, the names of the publishers and an authorial attribution of sorts (by the author of “Waverley, Kenilworth,” &c.). Theories abound as to why Scott wanted his novels to be issued anonymously, but even after he publicly acknowledged his authorship no title-page ever bore his name.

The first edition of The Fortunes of Nigel to include portraits engraved by George Baird Shaw – the image of George Heriot being one of these – was published in 1845, some 13 years after the death of Sir Walter Scott. This, therefore, means that the Scott inscription at the front of the book is a facsimile and not original. Copperplate engravings of inscriptions by authors became a popular inclusion in 19th-century books and are often so carefully done that they appear to be original manuscript additions to a book, so you are not the first person to wonder about this.