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 Copac.ac.uk – 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!