The Prize arose out of the bequest of Edward Gordon Duff, who died in 1924. Duff was bibliographer and librarian with a particular interest in early printed books. Born in Liverpool on 16 February 1863, he gained a B.A. from Wadham College, Oxford, in 1887. In 1893, Mrs Rylands, widow of John Rylands, Manchester's wealthiest merchant, appointed him her librarian. He had the task of cataloguing her collection, and supervising its transfer to the new John Rylands Library in Manchester. The library was inaugurated in October 1899, but Duff resigned shortly afterwards and supported himself and his research with freelance work. Among other achievements, Duff was President of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, and the Sandars Reader in Bibliography at Cambridge University in 1898-1899, 1903-1904 and 1910-1911. He died on 28 September 1924.
Duff's first book, Early Printed Books, was published in 1893, followed by Early English Printing in 1896. Other works included two textbooks, The Printers, Stationers and Bookbinders of Westminster and London from 1476 to 1535, a biographical dictionary, A Century of the English Book Trade, 1457–1557 (1905), and a bibliography of Fifteenth Century English Books (1917).
Edward Gordon Duff’s will, dated 11 March 1924, stipulated that half of his assets should be given in trust for the use of the Bodleian Library, and the other half for the use of Cambridge University Library. Each Library was to provide out of the funds an award for an essay in bibliography. Duff, who was friend of the Librarian Francis Jenkinson, also bequeathed Cambridge University Library some of his books and papers. The Prize however was not attributed before 1955, after the death of Duff’s last annuitant.
One of Duff’s most beautiful items from his personal library featured in the University Library’s major exhibition, Private lives of print: the use and abuse of books 1450-1550, which ran from 1 October 2014 to 11 April 2015. Henricus de Zoemeren (1420-1472), Epitoma primae partis dialogi de haereticis a Guilielmo de Ockham composti is a volume of three fundamental theological texts, purchased from the sale of E. Gordon Duff’s collection in 1925. It has been identified as the work of the “Unicorn binder”, who is known to have bound at least seventy volumes in late fifteenth-century Cambridge.
Image (top): Bookplate from Early Printed Books by Edward Gordon Duff.
Image (above, right): Edward Gordon Duff. possibly ca. 1910 Title from ink inscription (autograph?) on original backing board. Framed by J. Arnold Povah, Liverpool. Call number: *65J-1021 Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.