Cataloguing the Oppé Library

  • 21 August 2019

In 2017, the library and archive of Adolf Paul Oppé (1878–1957) was permanently allocated to the Paul Mellon Centre under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. A project archivist and a library cataloguer have now been recruited to catalogue this material and make it available to the public.

The archive consists of Oppé’s extensive sets of personal notebooks and diaries, documenting his collecting activities, appointments and reflections on art and life. Alongside these are the correspondence, photographs and notes compiled by Oppé in relation to his research on artists such as Alexander and John Robert Cozens, Paul and Thomas Sandby and Francis Towne. The archive also includes personal papers relating to Oppé and his family. The project archivist will be beginning the cataloguing process over the coming weeks.

An open book

Cataloguing in process (shelfmark OPPE-1678-1),

The Oppé library contains printed material spanning over four hundred years, with the earliest volumes dating from the middle of the sixteenth century. Oppé mainly collected works written in English, but also in other languages including Italian, French and German, frequently inscribing the date of acquisition in the front of the volume. As a working library used for research, a majority of the books bear annotations, corrections and manuscript indexes in Oppé’s hand. Loose items such as letters, illustrations and newspaper clippings have also been pressed between the pages.

Over eighty books from Oppé’s personal library have now been fully catalogued using international standards for special collections material. This is particularly relevant for the early printed books in the collection, as prior to the machine-press era each volume would have been typeset, printed and bound by hand. Detailed cataloguing ensures that each item’s unique features are recorded; these may include binding materials and decoration, printing errors, illustration processes, bookplates and marginalia. Many of the early printed books in Oppé’s collection have also been marked by previous owners, including Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773–1843) and Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Kent (1671–1740).

Books on a shelf

Early printed books from Paul Oppé's Library,

The material catalogued to date represents only a small proportion of Oppé’s library, and we are looking forward to further discoveries over the coming months. Oppé library items will be available for readers to search and consult as they are catalogued, but the archive materials will not be available for consultation until the collection has been fully processed. The cataloguing of both the archive and the library is expected to be completed by the end of April 2020.