A personal project
The project, which began in late July 2010, involved recording details for over 4,000 books that were part of Christie’s personal collection - not only her own books, but also those of close family.
This varied collection speaks to her family’s passion for reading and collecting, as well as telling personal stories about the family, which Keith Manley uncovered when cataloguing the books at Greenway.
As library cataloguer, Keith was charged with recording the maximum detail about each book - not a quick task. Not only is the collection extensive, it also needed careful restoration.
Once restored to a stable condition by the team of skilled voluntary book conservators, Keith’s task was to detail information about each book in an online catalogue. This will enable collection details to be made public.
Uncovering the past
Keith described how he not only notes the condition of books, their colour, colour of their lettering, and important details such as the author, title and publisher - he also discovers and records details of previous ownership by deciphering inscriptions.
These details give a fascinating insight, as Keith explained: ‘It is not a library for rare book collectors. It is a family library, full of important social history – these are the kinds of books our parents and grandparents would have read and collected.’
An insight into Agatha
We can't always tell which books belonged to Agatha; she didn’t inscribe every one and those she did have a variety of names on the fly leaf. Her childhood books, however, are consistently signed, by Agatha Miller, (her maiden name) or dedicated to her from a variety of relatives. These books show Agatha’s vivid imagination - a number bear the inscription of imaginary friends' names. Other books in the collection give an interesting insight into Agatha’s career; there are books on poisons and legal cases, as well as detective stories.
There are books given to Agatha with inscriptions from friends, such as Eden Phillpotts and P. G. Woodhouse. Keith explained that checking inscriptions involves time and that it can take an hour to catalogue a book.
‘Essentially, it has been like stepping into Agatha Christie’s autobiography,’ said Keith. ‘The memories of her life, her childhood friends and her books are all here.’