Here is some information on a sample of items recently acquired by Rare Book Collections at the National Library of Scotland.
Travel and exploration
An engraving entitled 'The Natives of the Carribee Islands feasting on human flesh' adornes a volume of travel writing. Partially edited by the Scottish author Tobias Smollett, the travel anthology consists of seven volumes. Its title is 'A compendium of authentic and entertaining voyages, digested in a chronological series'. It consists of edited accounts of the trade and military expeditions of major European explorers and adventurers.
Smollett was contracted in 1753 to complete the work by the following year. At the time he was also working on a wide range of literary projects in his roles of translator, editor and critic. He was also living a hectic social life in London. It is perhaps little wonder that he later admitted that his overall contribution to the work was actually rather limited.
A "snake" binding
We have acquired a copy of Hugh MacDiarmid's epic poem 'To circumjack Cencrastus or The curly snake' in a very striking binding. It probably dates from the 1950s and shows a blue goatskin with a serpent-like design: it has interlinked coils in black, blue, grey and tan morocco and a gilt sunburst pattern. The binding is by the renowned Scottish bookbinder Arthur W Currie (born 1922).
Currie was originally overseer of bindings at the Edinburgh-based publishing firm of Oliver & Boyd. He later become a lecturer at Napier College, now Edinburgh Napier University. Currie specialised in the use of coloured inks as well as gold leaf to produce his designs.
A plan of a mill for grinding snuff represents one of 44 engravings in Andrew Gray's 'The experienced millwright'. The book is the most accurate first-hand account of the state of traditional British millwrighting in the second half of the 18th century. The engravings supplementing text show the layouts of various types of water-, wind- and animal-powered machinery. They mostly represent mills and machines which Gray designed or supervised in actual construction.
Little is known of Andrew Gray apart from the fact that he worked in central-eastern Scotland. The preface to his book describes him as 'a practical mechanic'. It also claims that he 'has been for at least forty years employed in erecting different kinds of machinery'.