Monday, 12 August 2013

The lost art of nature printing: The ferns of Great Britain and Ireland

Thomas Moore and Henry Bradbury's The ferns of Great Britain and Ireland was first published in 1855. Containing 51 plates detailing all of the varieties of fern found within the British Isles, it was the first book within Great Britain to be published using the pioneering process of nature printing. The technique involved pressing a specimen leaf onto a thin, soft lead plate to create a very finely detailed intaglio impression. These impressions were then electroplated to form a printing plate, with details then being coloured by hand. The resulting images were particularly vibrant and realistic, being slightly raised off the page as if they were in fact real pressed specimens of the plants. 

Bradbury had studied the process whilst at the Imperial Printing Office in Vienna, where Alois Auer, the director of the office, and his associate, Andreas Worring, had first patented the process in 1852. On his return to London Bradbury patented his own improved version of the process, without crediting Auer. The resulting controversy that developed between the two men was said to have led to Bradbury's suicide at the age of 29. 

Despite a high level of original interest, nature printing was used very little in any subsequent English works. Whilst Bradbury and Auer believed the technique to be a major advance in printing, it could not be employed on an extensive range of plants and other subjects, as they had to be largely two dimensional in nature in order to be reproduced successfully. 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Stereoscopy: 3D imagery in the 19th century

The latest item to be added to the online catalogue is a copy of Charles Piazzi Smyth’s  Teneriffe: an astronomer’s experiment; or, specialities of a residence above the clouds, first published in 1858. As Astronomer Royal for Scotland from 1846-1888, the book describes Smyth’s expedition to Tenerife, where, accompanied by his wife, he spent a month undertaking numerous astronomical, meteorological and geological observations.  What is perhaps of particular interest however are the 20 photo-stereographs used to illustrate the volume. This was the first book ever to be illustrated with stereoscopic photographs, which, upon purchase of a book stereoscope, could be viewed in 3-D.

                As the author explains, ‘if we wish to enjoy the effects of solidity or of distance, effects which are the cynosures of all the great painters, we have only to combine the two photographs stereoscopically, and those bewitching qualities are produced’. 


Friday, 1 March 2013

Letters Conference: Call for Papers


Yours Sincerely: The Rise and Fall of the Letter 

28-29 June 2013

Manchester, United Kingdom     
The tradition of communication through correspondence can be traced far back in the annals of ancient history, but the rise of technology is daily changing the face and format of the letter. This conference will explore forms of correspondence as they have evolved from simple letters between friends and literary personalities and their shared experiences to revelations, through correspondence, of scientists, statesmen and celebrities. It will also look at the language used in the traditional letter, the email, the text message and the tweet as well as the constant change and development in this form of dialogue from the past and into the future, examining related fields and the letter in its historical and literary contexts.
Papers are sought from all disciplines, including but not limited to literature, history, anthropology, psychology, philosophy and other social sciences and arts.
Proposals are sought for 20 minute papers. Possible themes may include (but are not limited to):
· The changing language of digital correspondence
· Victorian women writers
· Challenges of editing letters
· Evidential value for biographers, historians
· 19th century letter writers
· 20th century letter writers
· 21st century letter writers
· Use of letters in fiction as a device
· The epistolary novel
· The lasting value of digital correspondence as an archival or primary source
· The future of letter writing
Abstracts of 250-300 words (for a 20 min paper) should be sent via email to or by 1st April 2013.
Selected papers may be invited for inclusion in an academic collection of essays following the conference.
An exhibition surrounding the theme of the conference will run from 11th June to the 26th of July at The Portico Library and will tie in with Quarry Bank Mill’s ‘Best Wishes’ exhibition which begins in April and extends to the rest of 2013.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Evening for the Portico Prize for Literature and the Portico Poetry Prize.

On the 29th of January the library is holding an evening for our literary prizes the Portico Prize for Literature and the Portico Poetry Prize. As well as readings from Portico Prize winners Sarah Hall (fiction), Jean Sprackland (non-fiction) and Portico Poetry winners Marion Brown (1st), Ian O'Brien (2nd) and Holly Hopkins (3rd) there will be an opportunity for snacking and mingling.

Admission is free. Availability is limited so please state interest ASAP. For more, contact us via e-mail or telephone. You can also book through