Finding Fiddle Books

Do we hear the plaintive question, “When are you going to tell us where all these fiddle books are kept?”

Our website will list loads of locations, but as I’ve mentioned, somewhere we’ll also have to have a page of useful links to other information sources.

  • RISM is a huge bibliographic resource listing printed and manuscript materials.  The one you need for early printed fiddle collections is the book for printed sources pre-1800 (Einzeldrücke vor 1800) by the Joint Committee for the Publication of the International Inventory of Musical Sources, edited by Karlheinz Schlager) is a great multi-volume resource – in its big, fat books on library shelves, or in CD-rom format.  These books listing printed sources pre-1800 are not available online, though.
  • If you come across old references to BUCEM, do take them seriously.  They’re another bibliographic tool available in reference libraries.  The British Union Catalogue of Early Music printed before the year 1801, edited by Edith B. Schnapper, comes in two volumes.  It’s old now – it was published in 1957.  However, if BUCEM says a library has something, go check it out in a modern resource, whether RISM or via online catalogues.  Fiddle books from the eighteenth century are precious commodities, so they’re probably still going to be in the same libraries, even if the shelf-number might have changed.  BUCEM was “the” bible for dating early music collections for many years and is still a useful place to look.
  • Most people in university circles ought to know of – the union catalogue of all UK university and national libraries.  Anyone can consult it.  If you’re not in higher education, it’s still worth contacting libraries directly to ask if you can pay a visit.  Early fiddle books are kept for reference in special collections, but you may be allowed to visit.  (Be warned – you won’t be allowed to use a pen, so take a pencil and rubber as well as your laptop or tablet!)
  • Be prepared for the rather arcane and obscure procedures in special collections!  Books need to be ordered and fetched for you.  And they may not even be listed online.  For example, Glasgow’s Mitchell Library has a fantastic collection, but you need to consult a card catalogue to trace items.  Allow much more time than you’d expect to spend, particularly on your first visit!
  • Lastly, can we mention a useful book that is just a listing, and NOT exactly a finding tool:- Music Entries at Stationers’ Hall, 1710–1818 : from lists prepared for William Hawes, D.W. Krummel and Alan Tyson and from other sources (Ashgate, 2004).  Although it gives British Library shelfmarks for some items, it seldom mentions other libraries, despite the compiler having consulted Copac.  We also know that, whilst it’s as complete as it can be, the original Stationers’ Hall lists weren’t comprehensive. Nonetheless, it can be handy for verifying details such as dates, if the publishers submitted the details to Stationers’ Hall in the first place!


Keeping track of it all

Index, locate, define, he said, quoting yours truly!  Well, here’s what the ‘locate’ bit entails:-

I’ve created a spreadsheet of all the fiddle books in Charlie Gore’s Scottish Music Index.  I’ve noted which libraries he says they’re in.  And now I’m going through COPAC – the totally brilliant online union catalogue listing everything in British university and national libraries (and those in Dublin).  You’d think this was straightforward enough, wouldn’t you?  Look up a few tunebook titles, and off you go.  Think again, dear reader.

  • Names that Charlie has used as index entry-points, are not necessarily authors.  If they’re publishers or have some not-quite authorial status, they may not be indexed as authors in COPAC.  Searching for such a name in the “author” box yields a big, fat nothing.  Hmm.
  • Similarly, different cataloguers input more or less of a title, many of which include various combinations of the words Collection, Selection, Popular, Favourite, Favorite (yes, you have to search for the right spelling there), Strathspey and Reel, or their plurals.
  • Lastly, if a number is input as a numeral, then searching for the word (eg, 30 or thirty) won’t retrieve anything, and vice versa.

Now, I did a silly thing this morning – I looked at the end of my spreadsheet and discovered I had to search for 285+ different fiddle books.  If I could spend 90 seconds on each one, it would be done in just over a day.  Given the complexities listed above, even someone with my experience of cataloguing is going to require vastly longer than that.  Already, I’ve decided to  check locations, but not attempt to list every shelfmark.

At the end of today, I’m not yet halfway.  I need liquid sustenance – if only to give my eyes a break from the laptop while I fetch the sustenance!  Courage – I’ll get there yet.