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Around 325 illustrated books from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were purchased in 1986 from John Harley-Mason, a Fellow of Corpus Christi College; the collection was strengthened in 2004 by the bequest by Dr Harley-Mason of another 33 items. The majority of the books are illustrated with hand-coloured aquatints, although there are some colour-printed plates, particularly lithographs. The Harley-Mason collection enhanced our existing collections because many of the books were never purchased by or deposited with the academic libraries at the time of publication, or were held with plates present only in an uncoloured state.

The collection contains books on a variety of subjects, particularly topography and travel, costume, art and architecture; Harley-Mason did not collect botanical or zoological works (with the exception of 3 parts of Thornton's Temple of Flora in original wrappers). Important travel books include: an early (incomplete) set of Daniell's Oriental scenery (1795-1803), reputedly coloured by Daniell himself; one of two known copies of W. Lyttleton's Set of views in the island of Ceylon (1819); T. Rowlandson's Views in Cornwall (1812), with 13 additional plates; and an early state of T.T. Bury's Six coloured views on the Liverpool and Manchester railway(1831).

Perhaps the most important of the fine architectural books is John Nash's Royal Pavilion at Brighton (1826) which contains a fine set of designs for the Pavilion, in both uncoloured and hand-coloured states (the latter in the original portfolio).

The collection also includes books on English life and field sports, many of them humorous or satirical works with plates by Rowlandson, the Cruikshanks or Alken. There are several books published by R. Ackermann, who was largely responsible for the introduction of lithography to Britain. Ackermann's Repository of arts, literature, commerce (1809-1828) - in addition to the colour plates of fashionable London shops, the latest designs for clothes, furniture etc. - includes samples of dress and furnishing fabrics, with recommendations for their use and names of suppliers.

There are around 40 drawing and painting manuals, intended to encourage the amateur artist in the struggle to become accomplished, by artists such as Cox senior & junior, Hamilton, Merigot, Morland, and Prout. One rare example is J. Hassell's Rural scenery (1799-1810?). The collection also includes an unusual myriorama (T.T. Dales, Panoramacopia, 1824) on 18 cards. Each contains an element of a traditional landscape (e.g. a ruin, a tree or a church), so designed that any number can be fitted together in any order and they will always provide a continuous panorama to be used as the basis for a painting.

In addition to the books, there are several fine nineteenth century panoramas in the collection, including three - R. Havell's Coastal view of Brighton (1824) and Panorama of London (1822), and I.R. Cruikshank's Going to a fight (1819) - in decorated boxwood drums.

References and further reading:

  • Hancock, N.J..'The Harley-Mason collection' in Bulletin of the Friends of the Cambridge University Library, 9 1988 (Cam.c.11.91.9)
  • Abbey, J.R. Scenery of Great Britain and Ireland in aquatint and lithography, 1770-1860: from the library of J. R. Abbey. Repr. (Folkestone, 1972) (B181.a.1)
  • Abbey, J. R. Life in England in aquatint and lithography,1770-1860. Repr. Folkestone, 1972) (B181.a.2)
  • Abbey, J. R. Travel in aquatint and lithography, 1770-1860. Repr. (Folkestone, 1972) (B181.a.3-4)
  • Tooley, R. V. English books with coloured plates, 1790 to 1860: a bibliographical account of the most important books illustrated by English artists in colour aquatint and colour lithography. Revised ed. (Folkestone, 1979) (B181.2)