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Little Books at the RCB Library by Jennifer Murphy & Bryan Whelan

The RCB Library holds well in excess of 80,000 books, many of which have been donated to the Library by those associated with the Church of Ireland, other religious institutions, as well as by members of the public. Some attest to their innately personal nature, and those that are small emphasise this aspect further. Smaller items were meant to be carried with the person, expressing a particular value to that person. The two items that we wish to showcase for this month’s Archive of The Month are two religious items, one donated by the relative of the owner, and another item that was purchased from a local charity shop.

Eleanor Knott's miniature Bible, complete with magnifying glass and a pencil for scale.
Eleanor Knott's miniature Bible, complete with magnifying glass and a pencil for scale.

It is perhaps no surprise that the earliest ‘modern’ examples of miniaturisation were of religious texts. The art of miniature books has been in existence since Babylonian times, but its growth in popularity in Europe coincided with the arrival of the Gutenberg Press, with miniature books being produced some 20 years after the first book. In addition to being concerned with some aspect of religion, these early examples were usually of a plain design. Beginning in the 18th century – and particularly in the 19th century – we see the use of technological advances to increase the availability of books, which led quickly to a multitude of genres, as well as increasing intricacies in design.

The RCB Library has a range of miniature books, as well as books that do not fit the explicit definition of miniature books, but can be comfortable denoted as smaller in stature.

The first item that we are showcasing is a donation to the Library by CJ Lundy of a volume that belonged to his father, the Revd St George Lundy (1914–1976). It is an intricate miniature version of the Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments. Measuring only 4.3 cm in height, and 3 cm in width, the Bible is bound in a dark blue cover, and comes complete with a magnifying glass to help the reader with deciphering the text. A particularly delightful aspect of the volume is that it includes drawings of notable biblical events.

This miniature book was a product of David Bryce & Sons, a publishing house noted as masters of miniaturisation, using the latest technological advances in photolithography and electroplating to produce ever–smaller versions of popular texts. The magnifying glass, still present, was a particular feature of these kinds of books that Bryce produced.

On the front endpapers of the book, the inscription that states: ‘From the Library of John Knott, M.D. given to St George Lundy by Eleanor Knott with best wishes 23 IV 1938’. St George Charles Hubert Lundy was baptised in St Mary’s Church in Donnybrook parish on 20 May 1914, with the family residing in 4 Churchill Terrace. After moving to 11 Strand Road in Sandymount, the family became members of St Michael’s parish in Irishtown. St George trained in Trinity College with the aim of becoming ordained in the Church of Ireland, eventually becoming curate in Christ Church in Lisburn and St Mary’s in Belfast. 1938 was an important year for Revd Lundy: he received his Divinity Testimonium from Trinity College, Dublin and so began his deaconship, but given that it was St George’s birthday on 24 April, we might assume that this book was a gift to mark this anniversary.

The benefactor of this gift to Lundy was the remarkable Eleanor Knott. Born on 18 November 1886, with the Knott family residing in 34 York St, near St Stephen’s Green in Dublin, the miniature Bible originated in her father’s Library, that of John Freeman Knott, a medical doctor. Eleanor was encouraged by her Cornish mother, Philippa Annie Knott (née Balcombe) to study Irish, and came to focus on Old Irish at the School of Irish Learning in 1907. Eleanor began working for the Royal Irish Academy in 1911 and eventually became a lecturer in Celtic Languages in Trinity College, Dublin in 1928. A year after presenting St George with the miniature Bible, a Chair of Early Irish was created for her in TCD.

Eleanor Knott’s gift was both a deeply personal and innately respectful gesture. It reflected the future Revd Lundy’s personal and public commitment to the Church of Ireland, but we must not forget the personal nature of the object for Eleanor Knott herself, coming as it did from her father’s Library. We can only speculate as to whether the two initiated their friendship on the campus of the University, but it is without doubt that their friendship had already begun during this important time for both.

The RCB Library were alerted to the existence of the second volume which we are featuring by a member of the public who saw it for sale in a local charity shop. The Library has a small budget for purchasing materials of direct relevance to the Church, and on inspection of the item in question, purchased it for longevity. This volume of The Book of Common Prayer, published in 1861 by G. E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode, is in remarkable condition, being a near–perfect copy, with a simple ‘Church Service’ in gold on the segmented spine. The book is bound in brown–leather, and the pages are gold–edged. What really takes the eye with this book is the metal clasp that protects it, as well as the gold brass symbol on the front which states ‘peace’.

In contrast to St George Lundy’s miniature Bible, we only have the merest glimpse of biographical information on the provenance of this item, which was surely a most–treasured keepsake. On the front endpaper, we have two inscriptions, in different hand and ink. The first reads simply ‘M Draper. 1863’ while underneath is the inscription ‘Given to Eleanor Draper by Aunt Helen Montague March 20 1908’.

The tantalising bits of information led us on a quest to find more information about the elusive Eleanor Draper. We can say with a reasonable amount of confidence that Eleanor Draper was born in Dublin on 3 January, 1867. While her parents, Carter and Sophy were married in Rathmines Chapel of Ease in 1866, they had moved to Blackrock by the time of Eleanor’s birth. Eleanor’s father, Carter Draper, was an architect from Wicklow, whose notable work was the Halpin Memorial, in Fitzwilliam Square in Wicklow town. The civil record of Eleanor’s death on 6 December, 1962 states that she was a teacher. Although it does not elaborate on the specifics of her teaching, it is interesting that both herself and Eleanor Knott had this profession in common.

Items such as this often contain dedications, notes, or personal items to underline its importance. In addition to the dedication that we have mentioned, we also found an original photograph of the British Legation at Kabul inserted into the middle–section. We can only guess the possible significance that this image held for Eleanor Draper, keeping it as she did in such a personal and important book. There is no indication why Eleanor might have kept this image safe in the book. We can only speculate that it might have been a place that she had visited personally or it may have been that somebody close to her that was associated with the office, as on the back, in pencil, it simply states: ‘British Legation Kabul’.

These items are just two examples of some of the many unique items that the RCB Library holds. Not only are they fine illustrations of rare books, and wonderful additions to our collection, but they hold an extra layer of significance given the personal stories that are associated with them. Visitors are invited to view both volumes in the context of a selection of other miniature and small books in a display in the RCB Library hall.

For more information on Eleanor Knott, please click here: https://www.ria.ie/library/eleanor-knott-collection

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