Submitted by Dr Cynthia Johnston

Course Tutor for the MA in the History of the Book

Since September 2014, the IES and the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery have been working together in an ‘academic partnership.’ This partnership is funded by the Museum, and it has enabled the IES to send researchers to work on the Hart Collection, a little-known collection of some 800 items consisting of manuscripts, incunables and early printed books continuing up to examples from William Morris’s Kelmscott Press.

The collection is beautifully displayed in a purpose-built gallery, funded by the original bequest, but little academic work has been done on the collection. It has never been properly catalogued and the collecting history of the donor, Robert Edward Hart, (1878-1946) has had little attention.

Hart collected examples which conceptually span the history of the book from cuneiform tablets produced in 3000BCE to the Kelmscott Chaucer.  Such range has necessitated the skills of scholars from widely varying fields: Nigel Morgan has examined the medieval manuscripts, Clare Bolton and John Goldfinch the incunabulae, Brian Vickers studied the Shakespeare Folios in the Hart Collection which contains Second, Third and Fourth Folios, as well as a First Folio on loan to the Museum from nearby Stonyhurst College. Ben Maggs from Maggs Bros., London, examined Hart’s private press books. Ed Potten, lately of Cambridge University Library, has examined the collection in its entirety, and is currently advising the Museum on the process of cataloguing the collection. Cleo Cantone, an MA student from the Warburg Institute, is preparing a dissertation on Hart’s collection of Islamic books, focusing on his multiple copies of the Guide to Goodness.

In order to build upon the success of the academic partnership, the museum, with the support of IES, applied for a Resilience Grant from Arts Council England. In July we received notification that our bid had been successful. This grant will enable us to move forward with the cataloguing of the collection. We aim to make the catalogue available in both MARC21 format for COPAC and to enable the information also to be stored in the museum’s MODES system. The grant will also see the redesign of a space within the museum as a secure reading room for the study of the collection. This space will be installed by students of the Blackburn College. Proper security, desks, appropriate lighting and book supports will enable the museum to make the Hart collection accessible to both researchers and to the local community. It is envisioned that this space will also be used for lectures and school groups. The grant will also provide for the training of volunteers to assist researchers at the museum, and to engage in outreach activities with the community. One of the great successes of the partnership so far has been the resurrection of the Columbian Press from the stores of the museum to operational status in the main gallery. A local artist has been working with the press and teaching local groups to use the machine.

We look forward to the progress of the partnership. Our next step is a Heritage Lottery Fund application.