Rare Books London - London's festival of old and rare books – June 2019

June 2019


Talks, Tours
Saturday 12th May, 11am-c. 4pm

A Day at the Type Archive

Before the invention of letterpress printing by the German Johannes Gutenberg, early in the fifteenth century, written words were painstakingly committed to page with pens by scribes; a process so slow that, inevitably, books, and consequently literacy, were the privilege of the few. Letterpress, whilst still time-consuming by modern standards, was a comparatively quick process, and once the type was set and the press ready to roll, multiple near-identical copies of the same page could be made almost ad infinitum. Letterpress was perhaps the first industrial process, and its invention paved the way for an explosion in the distribution of the written word, and undoubtedly hastened the world that we live in today. Letterpress is no longer big business, but its allure still remains. A new generation of designers and readers, brought up on computers, have become fascinated by the humanity of the process and the warmth of its results.

Founded over twenty years ago in the heart of South London, the Type Archive brings together the collected artefacts of the three major players in British type manufacturing history: the Stephenson and Blake foundry, latterly of Sheffield, although originally existing as the William Caslon foundry in the City of London; the Monotype Corporation, in London and Salfords, Surrey; and the De Little wood type manufacturer, in York. The importance of this holy trinity of companies cannot be overestimated: not only are they of national interest, they also had international influence well beyond the borders of the former British Empire. The collections serve as an inspiration and as a resource, not only to designers and academics alike, but also to those interested in the history and complexities of written language.

On Saturday the twelfth of May, 2018, the archive will open its doors to a limited number of Rare Books London visitors. On this day the archive’s staff will guide visitors through the collections and will demonstrate a range of  processes, from casting type through to letterpress printing. Visitors will also have the chance to do some printing themselves. Refreshment will be provided.


The cost of the day is set at £25



Image provided by Jamie Pearson.

Type Archive, 100 Hackford Rd, London SW9 0QU
Monday 14th May 6-7.30pm

Three Centuries of English Freemasonry: A Gallery Tour with Books

An exclusive Librarian led tour of the Three Centuries Gallery of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, exploring how the history of English freemasonry can be told using books, manuscripts and ephemera.

Highlights include: Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, the Grand Lodge of England’s first rule book, with its remarkable frontispiece; ritual books with locked secrets; beautiful masonic bindings; letters from 18th Century African-Americans; minute books kept by prisoners of war and anti-masonic literature from 17th century broadsheets to 1930s fascist propaganda.

Free but ticketed, pre-booking essential.


The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, London, WC2B 5AZ
Friday 18th May 2-3pm

Treasures of the Fellows’ Library of Dulwich College

Fellows’ Librarian Robert Weaver leads a tour of Dulwich’s book and manuscript treasures built up over four hundred years within the Fellows’ Library, including unique items from the world’s finest collection of Jacobean Theatre History.

Tickets are free, but must be prebooked.
Dulwich College, London SE21 7LD
Saturday 19th May 11.30am, 3pm

China and Siam Through the Lens of John Thomson: Gallery Tour

A free gallery tour of an exhibition at the Brunei Gallery|SOAS on China and Siam through the lens of John Thomson 

This is the first London exhibition of Scottish photographer John Thomson’s (1837-1921) work which encompasses his ten years in Asia.  The exhibition will run from 13 April to 23 June and includes images from newly discovered glass negatives held at the Wellcome Library, London.  Exhibition co-curator Betty Yao MBE will introduce Thomson’s life and work and follow his footsteps in Asia.  She will highlight the people and places he photographed and divulge the story, the twists and turns behind the survival of this valuable collection through 150 years.

For more information on the exhibition go to www.johnthomsonexhibition.org. Related public lectures and a study day will be listed.

Tickets are free, but must be prebooked

The 3pm tour is now full. Spaces still available for 11.30am.


Image courtesy of The Wellcome Collection.

Brunei Gallery SOAS, University of London Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square,  London WC1H 0XG
Monday 21st May 3.30pm and Wednesday 30th May 3.30pm

Discovering Lambeth Palace Library

A Tour of Lambeth Palace Library, led by the Librarian, Giles Mandelbrote. Visitors will have the opportunity to see the 17th-century Great Hall of Lambeth Palace, now part of the Library (founded 1610), and to climb a medieval staircase to visit the Library’s conservation studio in Morton’s Tower.

Numbers limited; pre-booking essential.


Image by Jonty Sexton


Lambeth Palace, London SE1 7JU
Wednesday 23rd May 3pm

Treasures of the Royal College of Physicians Library

See 500 years of medical history up close. From pocket-sized plague tracts to monumental anatomical atlases, the library of the Royal College of Physicians documents the ongoing struggle to maintain health and fight disease. The rare books librarian Katie Birkwood will lead a hands-on session introducing some of the highlights of the RCP’s collections.

Tickets are free, but must be prebooked.

Image: Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (Basel, 1543).


Royal College of Physicians, 11 St Andrews Place, London NW1 4LE