Fascinating blog post from Glasgow University Library about a project at St Andrews that’s tracing references to lost books, using documentary evidence, catalogues, inventories etc. There will also be a conference about this at St Andrews in June 2014. I intend to be there.
I recall reading somewhere that books survive in greater numbers than just about any other human-made object (the exception being coins). And having passed the last couple of hours buried beneath an ever-increasing mound of hefty hardbacks searching (in vain) for the source of this claim, it certainly sounds plausible to me! Yet despite the large number of bibliographic survivors (our Special Collections department alone holds in the region of 200,000 printed books, with the same again in manuscript items) many many more books have been lost over the years.
Stories of fire, flood and the depredations of war have engaged bibliophiles for centuries, exemplified by the lost Library of Alexandria, Maffei Pinelli’s great book collection (thrown overboard by pirates!) and the frankly Blackadder-esque tale of Thomas Carlyle’s servant accidentally using the first draft of The French Revolution to kindle the fire. Owen Gingerich, in his entertaining The book nobody…
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