Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Butterflies, bacon and other things left behind in books

There is a famous story within library circles of a book discovered in the Duke University Library with a rasher of bacon as a bookmark (later the Guardian uncovered a similar case in Worthing). More often it's mundane and less fatty materials that get slipped between pages as markers, reminders or supplementary information for later readers. 

At MoDA we often find things like newspaper cuttings, bus or theatre tickets and sometimes on rare occasions, pressed flowers in books. See the example below of the contents of Miss Bracegirdle and Others which includes a sweet wrapper and recital programme.

Ephemera found in the book by Stacey Aumonier, Miss Bracegridle and Others, London: Hutchinson & Co., 1923 , Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA3031

The other week, we were looking through Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics by Arthur Twidle (Twidle was also the illustrator for many of the Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle). 

Arthur Twidle, Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics, London: R.T.S., 1920, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA2208)

Between the pages, and alongside some of Twidle's colour illustrations of action-packed butterfly catching, we made an unexpected discovery: a beautifully preserved butterfly with iridescent wings sitting on a padded board beside a pressed fern.


We make an effort to keep all things found in publications at MoDA and so this butterfly will be repaired and stored either in or close to the book. Obviously we have to be careful that anything found inside books isn't going to do any damage, however one can never be too sure if these remnants could reveal information in the future. 

The little scraps found in books - be they butterflies or newspaper cuttings - act as identifiers, reminders or clues to past readers. One may pick up a book on birds, with the intention of some ornithological research but on discovering a theatre ticket, a little scrap of paper with a hand-drawn sparrow, it reminds us that the book had belonged to someone else once. It had been enjoyed, read and used in other ways.

Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics is part of the Silver Studio's reference collection and would have been used by the Studio's designers when working up designs. Perhaps real specimens like the one found in this book, aided the development of patterns such as the design for a dress silk below. For now, the butterfly and how it came to be in the Silver Studio collection, remains somewhat of a mystery, but a beautiful one at that. 

Design for a silk by Winifred Mold for the Silver Studio, 1923. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD2764.1)

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