Culture Nature

All Persons Visiting the Whale

All persons visiting the whale should see Jacko, the performing and talking fish

More from the ephemera collection at the British Library. You might also want to look at the Wonder of the Sea and American Jack, the Frog Man. Not to mention A.H. Minting, the Marvellous Spiral Ascensionist.

Culture Other

The Mammoth Brigade of Black Comedians

Advertisement for the Christmas entertainment at Gatti's Palace of Varieties in 1892

More fascinating stuff from the British Library collection; this poster is from 1892.

Culture Other

‘Sacred’ at the British Library

I went yesterday to see Sacred at the British Library. I nearly missed it; the exhibition closes at the weekend. I’m glad I didn’t, as it was extraordinary.

Maghribi script

It’s an exhibition of sacred texts from Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and the selection is seriously impressive. For example, the show includes the Lindisfarne Gospels and a bit of a Dead Sea Scroll as just two exhibits among many. They also have one of the two oldest Christian bibles, from the C4th, an C8th Qur’an, the first printed Mishnah, Henry VIII’s psalter, copies of the Qur’an made for various sultans, a Tyndale New Testament and so on. They haven’t even bothered to include a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, presumably because they have one of those on display in their permanent exhibition anyway.

The Holkham Picture Book

Staggeringly, with a very few exceptions like the Dead Sea Scroll, all these books were part of their own collection. It’s odd to think of all these books, culturally interconnected but originally separated by many centuries and thousands of miles, having made their way, by who knows what means, from monasteries and mosques in Syria, Armenia, Ethiopia, India; and all ending up in a basement in North London.


Whatever my disagreements with religion, I do feel a reverential instinct towards ancient artefacts and books, so I had no difficulty feeling a sense of the sacred. And many of them are extraordinary objects in their own right. I have a new-found passion for Syriac script.

Syriac writing

There are zoomable high-resolution images of 67 of the texts available on the website, so those of you who can’t make it London this week can take a look. That’s where all the images illustrating this post came from. I have to say, generally, kudos to the British Library; all the exhibitions I’ve seen there have been excellent (and free).

» Pictures, from the top: 1) An example of Maghribi script from a C13th Spanish Qur’an. 2) One of the people drowned in the Flood in the C14th Holkham Bible Picture Book. 3) Micrographic decoration (i.e. made up of tiny writing) from The Duke of Sussex’s German Pentateuch, c. 1300. 4) The bible in Syriac, dated by the scribe to 463/4 AD.


More ephemera

More from the British Library’s Evanion Collection of Ephemera.

chimney-sweep advertisement


The British Library online collections

The BL’s online collections are very pleasing, because there’s such a mix of stuff: English accent samples, Victorian newspapers, illuminated manuscripts, sheet music, photographs, watercolours, maps, wildlife recordings.

St Mary's Church, Clonmel

So when you put something into the search box, you never know what might turn up in the results.

ticket for an anatomy lecture