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In 1939, Clara Hornby (-1953) approached the University of Liverpool Library with a generous offer of £100 for the purchase of "such books as you would chose as being most suitable" (University of Liverpool Archives: D1086/4/4). Hornby's letters make it clear that this was not intended to be a one-time offer, and she was approached on a number of subsequent occasions with requests for help in acquiring notable items. In total 19 printed books and one 15th century manuscript were purchased by the University of Liverpool between 1939 and 1944 thanks to the generosity of Clara Hornby. 

The printed books in the Hornby Collection range from 16th century works bound by Garrett Godfrey and Nicholas Spierinck, through to a copy of John Milton's Areopagitica bound in the 20th century by well-known London bindery Sangorski and Sutcliffe. The books purchased for the collection were selected for their bindings - largely identifiable as British or Irish, and primarily dateable to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. These pages offer high quality images of each of the bindings, alongside short descriptions of the bindings, contents and provenance of each item. A number of prominent and recognisable bookbinding styles and bookbinders of the period represented, and so it is hoped that this small exhibition can provide a brief introduction to, and illustration of, some of the most accomplished and striking bookbinding done in England, Scotland and Ireland, during the pre-industrial period.

Not a great deal is known of the woman whose generosity made this small-but-mighty collection possible. A schoolteacher by training, Clara Hornby met Frank Hornby (1863-1936) - who is best known as the inventor of Meccano, Hornby trains and Dinky toys - when they were both members of Liverpool Philharmonic Society choir. They married in 1887, and together they had two sons and a daughter.

This exhibition was created by University of Liverpool Special Collections and Archives, with photography by JR Peterson, University of Liverpool. We welcome your feedback:

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