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Among the many bookish treasures in the Brotherton Collection, held by the Library of the University of Leeds, its Jacobean Travelling Library has be one of the most curious and intriguing.   Designed to appear, when closed, as a large folio volume, it’s bound in brown Turkey leather and contains three shelves housing some 40 odd miniature books bound in limp vellum with coloured fabric ties.  Gold-tooling on the spine of each volume picks out a flower and a wreath while all the covers are embellished with a golden angel carrying a scroll that reads Gloria Deo, meaning Glory to God.

Jacobean Travelling Collection

The 17th Century Travelling Library from the Brotherton Collection at the University of Leeds

A sheet of vellum has been affixed onto the inside of the front cover upon which, between arches, architectural details and four grand Corinthian columns, a catalogue of the small books has been painted.  The arms of the Madden family appear beneath the catalogue, suggesting the little library may have been a gift to a member of that family.  The books, which appear to be in remarkably good condition given their age,  are mainly classical texts on philosophical, theological and historical themes but there are also some works of poetry.  Classical authors feature heavily with works by Cicero, Julius Caesar, Seneca, Horace, Virgil and Ovid included.

Small vellum-bound books

The small vellum-bound books, with their coloured fabric ties, appear in good condition

The little library is thought to have been commissioned by William Hakewill MP for a friend around 1617 or 1618.  Hakewill, who at various times sat in Parliament for seats in Cornwall and Buckinghamshire, was a cousin of Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of Oxford’s Bodleian Library and author of one of the first manuals of parliamentary procedure, The Manner How Statutes are Enacted in Parliament by Passing of Bills, published in 1641.  He was at the pinnacle of his political career at the point at which he commissioned the little library, having been appointed Solicitor General to Queen Anne, wife of James I, in 1617.   During the next few years, Hakewill commissioned three further similar travelling libraries which are now kept in the British Library, the Huntington Library California and the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio.

Catalogue of books in Jacobean Travelling Library

Catalogue of books in the collection, painted onto a vellum sheet

Earlier this autumn, the University Library was awarded a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund which will enable this and other rare manuscripts and books from its Special Collection to be put on display for the public.  Worked is expected to commence on the facility, to be housed in the University’s Parkinson Building in spring 2015 with a provisional opening date for the two planned, climate-controlled new galleries of November 2015.  Interviewed by the Daily Mail when news of the grant was announced, Stella Butler, University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection, told the paper ‘The Jacobean travelling library – one of only four made – dates from 1617 and is one of the most curious items in the Brotherton Collection. The miniature books are contained in a wooden case disguised to look like a large book. It’s essentially a 17th century e-book reader such as a Kindle.’

Large folio volume hiding a travelling library of books

The little library appears as a large folio book when closed.

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