“Good bookes to be sought”: A. N. L. Munby the collector

A. N. L. Munby (1913-1974)

The latest exhibition in the North Front Corridor marks the centenary of the birth of one of Cambridge’s most eminent twentieth-century librariansBorn on Christmas Day 1913, A.N.L. ‘Tim’ Munby studied at King’s College (1932-1935) before working in the antiquarian book trade with Quaritch and Sotheby’s.  He spent 27 years as Librarian of King’s College, and wrote widely on many aspects of book history and book collecting.  Known for his generosity and hospitality, Munby made a great impression on all he met.  The library’s Rare Books Reading Room is named after him, and the department holds a significant number of volumes from his own collection, some of which are included in the exhibition, alongside Munby’s own gifts to the library and copies of his works.

The alabaster hand (1949) – Private collection

By 1938 he had published two books and written several articles on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century poetry for the TLS.  His career was interrupted by war and, having been in the Territorial Army since 1936, he travelled to Calais with the 1st Battalion Queen Victoria’s Rifles in May 1940.  He was soon captured and held as a prisoner of war until 1945, first at Laufen (until October 1941), then at Warburg and Eichstätt.  In captivity his creativity flourished; he contributed to the prisoners’ magazine Touchstone at his last camp and wrote poetry (published in 1948 as Lyra catenata).  The ghost stories written during his time at Eichstätt were published in 1949 as The alabaster hand (left); they have just been re-issued in a limited edition by the Sundial Press in Dorset.

Eighteenth-century printer’s advertisement – from Munby.b.131

Munby returned to King’s in 1947 as Librarian and published widely on many aspects of the history of books and collecting, his first major work being the five-volume Phillipps studies.  Commissioned in 1946 by Lionel & Philip Robinson, the booksellers who had purchased the residue of the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps, the work (which appeared between 1951 and 1960) took almost fifteen years to complete.  It earned him a LittD from the University and remains a magisterial study of nineteenth-century bibliophily.  At King’s he catalogued the library of John Maynard Keynes and went on to write several books covering a wide range of subjects.  These include The cult of the autograph letter in England (1962), Connoisseurship and medieval miniatures (1970) and a host of shorter essays on subjects as diverse as King’s College library in the fifteenth century and his own book collecting in Cambridge in the 1930s.  His twelve-volume series of Sale catalogues of libraries of eminent persons (1971-1975) reproduced copies of the sale catalogues of well-known individuals, annotated with prices and buyers’ names (Munby’s own copy is in the exhibition), and his posthumously published union list of British book sale catalogues, 1676-1800 could be considered the culmination of a lifetime’s research.  It was based on his own heavily annotated copy of the List of catalogues of English book sales, 1676-1900, now in the British Museum, which appears in the exhibition.  He was Lyell Reader in Bibliography at Oxford in 1962-63, Sandars Reader in Bibliography at Cambridge in 1969-70 and President of the Bibliographical Society in 1974.

Robin Bagot’s illustration for The four poster (one of Munby’s ghost stories), printed in Eichstätt in 1944 – Cam.c.944.10

Munby formed a large library himself, particularly strong in sale catalogues of libraries from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries.  Examples of particular interest in the exhibition include the earliest Irish sale catalogue (1695), the catalogue of John Ratcliffe’s library (which contained a large number of Caxtons) and a unique Norwich bookseller’s catalogue from 1789.  His library also included examples of ephemera connected to the history of printing and bookselling (see the eighteenth-century example above), books on circulating libraries and early books on library history.  After his death, aged 61, in 1974, about 1800 printed volumes from his library were purchased by the University Library, in addition to some manuscript material.  The rest were sold at Sotheby’s in spring 1976 and made their way into the book trade, from which they occasionally surface today.  A fund was set up to establish an annual lecture in bibliography in Munby’s name, and this year’s Munby Fellow – Dr Elizabeth Upper – has chosen material from her research on colour-printed book illustration in Tudor England for the final case of the exhibition.  In addition to this annual reminder of Munby’s contribution to bibliography, his legacy will be considered at a conference, held in his honour, at King’s College this weekend, 28th & 29th June, 2013.  In addition to personal reminiscences about the man himself, papers will include subjects close to his heart.

The exhibition runs in the Library’s North Front Corridor until Tuesday 3rd September, during normal Library opening hours.  Members of the University holding a Library reader’s card are welcome to bring up to two visitors at a time to see the exhibition.  Members of the public who do not hold a Library reader’s card may be able to make an appointment with the curator to gain access to the exhibition area.  For further information contact Liam Sims (e-mail: ls457@cam.ac.uk, telephone: 01223 333123).

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