In his memoir of the Warrington wire-manufacturer and polymath Thomas Glazebrook Rylands (1818-1900), R.D. Radcliffe wrote:
Of his library he was justly proud. It consisted for the most part of books which he was wont to call his ‘tools’, and included nearly every important publication dealing with the subjects upon which he had worked. (41)
After Rylands’ death in 1900, he left 2700 of these 'tools' to University College Liverpool (now the University of Liverpool). On receipt of the bequest, the then Principal of the University, A.W.W. Dale, mirroring Rylands' earlier statement, wrote that for science and arts students alike, books are fundamental "tools". He argued that all students should, therefore, be interested to understand something of the history of printing. As such:
a College Library is incomplete if it does not illustrate the stages of development, and the successive processes, through which the art of printing has passed (iii)
As he goes on to note, the Rylands' bequest was particularly important in ensuring that the Liverpool College Library was appropriately furnished to illustrate the earliest stages in that development. The Rylands bequest included 19 medieval manuscripts and 72 incunabula – making it the biggest single donation of early printed books ever given to the University of Liverpool.
In this mini-exhibition, we aim to explore some of the many ways in which Rylands' early printed books have been used as tools. Guided by a recent cataloguing project, we will focus in on a small section of this large collection, to show how the very earliest printed books (and especially those books printed before 1501) supported Rylands' attempts at encyclopedic mastery of two of his keenest interests - Geography and Astronomy.