Working as a librarian you quickly become accustomed to books regularly being requested by a description, rather than a title. “I’m looking for a book, I saw it here before, I don’t remember the title but it was a small red book”. Happily, after a few probing questions, the relevant book can usually be located!
Indeed some books are commonly known by a descriptive title, for example, the ‘the blue book’ is the annual City of London directory & livery companies guide and the ‘white book’ is the legal publication Civil procedure.
Guildhall Library’s ‘hairy book’ has now been transferred to the archives at London Metropolitan Archives (search for Reference Code: CLC/313/B/012/MS25501 on LMA’s catalogue for more info! ), much to the relief of some of my more squeamish colleagues.
Another book in Guildhall Library’s collection is best known by the description, ‘the big book’ or the ‘giant book’, or, as we have recently discovered, ‘the monster album’!
Here it is:
‘The giant book’ is unfortunately too large to be consulted or displayed in the Library. On the rare occasions it has to be moved it takes 8 (fairly strong!) individuals to manoeuvre it. However, you can sometimes glimpse ‘the giant book’ taking up a whole shelf in the Library’s book stores during our monthly ‘History and Treasures of Guildhall Library’ tours. (You can book for these tours via www.ghlevents.eventbrite.co.uk).
Here is what can be seen if you can find another person to help you open the book!
And the contents of ‘the giant book’? Well inside this book is actually blank! The book is an album which was produced as an example of fine binding for the 1862 International Exhibition. It shows a range of types of binding, including this inlaid leather binding, tiny leather squares make up the flowers in a mosaic effect.
Recently while undertaking research for an enquiry I came across a reference to the ‘The giant book’ in the Report of the Librarian and Director to the Library Committee from 1941. This not only provides the additional information, not previously noted in our records, that this album was made by Mr Charles Rollinger, but also reveals it nearly came to a fateful end that year:
“One of the most inappropriate gifts ever made to this Museum was a monster album presented to your Committee after the great exhibition of 1862, made by Mr Charles Rollinger as a specimen of mosaic binding, and weighing about 700 lbs; it consists of nothing but blank paper of fine quality. In these days of shortage, I cannot think it is right to keep lying idle this quantity of material so greatly in demand, and I venture to suggest that, if the covers and the dedication may be preserved, the contents could be put to some useful war purpose.” (Report of the Librarian and Director to the Library Committee, 6 October 1941, page 242).
While sympathising that during wartime this album represented a ‘waste’ of fine paper, we cannot help but be pleased that, for whatever reason, Guildhall Library’s ‘giant book’ was not put to “some useful war purpose” and is still in the collection over 70 years later.