What could you borrow from an 18th-century Quaker meeting library?

“The perusal of valuable books, besides enlarging the mind, and promoting our temporal comfort and advantage, may be the means of spreading before us a pleasing view of the beauty and excellence of religion”

A catalogue of the books, belonging to the Friends of Leeds Particular Meeting
(Leeds: Printed by J. Binns, 1794)

A catalogue of the books, belonging to the Friends of Leeds Particular Meeting (Leeds: Printed by J. Binns, 1794)As part of our ongoing project to convert the card catalogues, all the Library’s pre-1801 published English stock was added to the online catalogue by 2009.  Or was it? Despite meticulous planning, organisation and checking, one item at least appears to have slipped through the net. A serendipitous find, while searching the main card catalogue, has brought to light a rare late 18th-century work published for Friends in Leeds – A catalogue of the books, belonging to the Friends of Leeds Particular Meeting (Leeds: Printed by J. Binns, 1794) (Shelf reference: Vol. 337/7).

To cap this discovery, it turned out that the publication was not – until now – recorded on the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), the online database of items published between 1473 and 1800, to which we have contributed our holdings.

It was hardly surprising the ESTC didn’t have this title until we added it. This was a provincial publication, with a small print run: perhaps a few dozen copies were run off for the use of members of Leeds Quaker Meeting. It does appear, however, in Joseph Smith’s  Descriptive catalogue of Friends’ books (1867). Our copy is bound in a tract volume with over twenty other Quaker meeting library catalogues.

Catalogue bound with over 20 other Quaker meeting library catalogues

Leeds Particular Meeting catalogue bound with over 20 other Quaker meeting library catalogues

The Leeds Friends’ library catalogue is divided into five sections according to the size of the books:  “folio”, “quarto”, “octavo”, “duodecimo & infra”, and “pamphlets”, with blank pages for new books to be added to the library – or perhaps for pithy comments once read.  The titles are numbered and the contents of bound volumes listed. The compiler gave no publication details, and not always the author, although in our copy an author’s name has sometimes been added in manuscript. The owner has also made a small pencil line by most of the titles, indicating that this copy was used for checking, but whether this was made as part of a stock check by Friends in Leeds, by a bibliographer comparing the Leeds Friends’ library with another collection, or as a record of reading, we can only guess.

Pages from the Leeds Particular Meeting catalogue

Pages from the Leeds Particular Meeting catalogue showing annotations and pencil lines next to publication titles

Other manuscript annotations include careful corrections (one title described as quarto has been corrected to “8vo”), notes (“Dup” for duplicate title, or “not a fd.” to indicate that the author of the title was not a Friend, i.e. not a Quaker), and additions (five new titles have been added in ink in another hand).

The library books listed were bought by Leeds Meeting for members to read. Should an 18th-century Leeds Friend have wished to borrow one, size mattered: eight weeks were to be allowed for reading a folio, six for a quarto, four for an octavo, three for a duodecimo and just one for a pamphlet.

The printer of the catalogue, John Binns senior, had taken over the business of J. Wilson in 1769. At the time this work was published, he was trading in Briggate, Leeds as a bookseller and binder, printer, music seller, and sometime author. This Library holds six other works in which his name appears in the imprint, mainly as a bookseller. This work features some rather lovely printer’s devices, and even a manicule:

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