Spotlight On …
Written by Nell Thomas
Nell is an Art History and Ancient History undergraduate from Trinity College, Dublin. Last week, she joined the National Leather Collection team to gain some experience of working within the museums sector.
During my week of work experience here at the National Leather Collection, one of my tasks was moving the second-hand books onto their shelves and into the display space where they can be viewed and bought. Amongst the boxes of books there are some special finds, as with all second-hand books the most interesting are the ones which reveal the identity of their previous owner and have a kind of history of their own. There are many of the classics like Tolstoy and Hardy as well as various history books on topics ranging from the Stone Age of Northern Africa to Christianity to Trade Unionism.
One of the most impressive is a set of novels by Lord Lytton including one of his most famous, ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ which is inspired by the painting by Russian artist Karl Bryullov. Lytton was a poet, playwright and politician and is the source of several famous quotes like ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. Several copies are signed by their previous owner, Norman C. Mendelson. Although we are not sure of his identity he has dated the copies 1885 in his own handwriting. Some also contain Mendelson’s card with his name and an address in Kensington.
1st Baron Lytton by Henry William Pickersgill
For Their Triumphs and For Their Tears: Women in Apartheid South Africa by Hilda Bernstein
Another book found with personal history attached was ‘For Their triumphs and For Their Tears, Women in Apartheid South Africa’ by Hilda Bernstein. The book documents the oppression of South African women and the prominent activists that worked to dismantle the regime. Slotted inside, the owner had cut out and collected related articles about these women from the early 80’s when the anti-apartheid movement was gaining momentum outside of South Africa. One article covers the assassination of Jeanette Schoon and her young daughter who were tragically killed by a letter bomb whilst living in exile in Angola. Jeanette and her husband Marius had been working on the anti-apartheid movement in Botswana after fleeing South Africa but had to leave again after receiving death threats. The owner of the book is unknown but they clearly followed the collapse of apartheid with interest and sympathy and possibly had a personal connection to South Africa in this tumultuous period.
Like the museum’s collection there is an eclectic mix of genre’s and some unusual finds. Also like several of the artefacts on display there is an element of each one having a personal history that is intertwined with that of its previous owner.
The Secondhand Bookshop is open at the National Leather Collection every Wednesday and Saturday (as of the 8th September), from 10:00 – 16:00. For visitor information, please click here. We charge £1 for hardbacks and 50p for paperbacks and CDs/tapes. Donations welcome!