The Diamond Sutra is an ancient Buddhist sermon that generations of Buddhists have memorized and chanted since at least the fifth century.
The sutra, which meditates on the illusory nature of the material world—the central theme of Buddhism, was originally written in Sanskrit in India, from which it was translated to Chinese in 401 AD. It is said that the teachings of The Diamond Sutra “cut like a diamond blade through worldly illusion to illuminate what is real and everlasting.”
A copy of this original translation, printed on an 18-feet-long, yellow-dyed scroll of paper, is housed at the British Library in London. The last few lines of the text, the colophon, identifies who printed it, when and why.
It reads: “Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents, 11 May 868.
”The precise date makes this particular edition of Diamond Sutra the world’s oldest printed and dated book in existence.
The explicit public domain dedication is also the first in the history of creative work. The Diamond Sutra was printed using woodblock printing—a technique where the text to be printed is carefully carved as a relief pattern on a block of wood, and then stamped on paper or fabric after dipping the block in a pool of ink.
The scroll comprises of seven panels of paper, each of which was printed from a single block and stuck together to create a single scroll.
While individual sheets of woodblock-printed paper have been found dating to the early Tang Dynasty (7th century), the Diamond Sutra is the earliest complete book to be found intact.
The scroll was discovered by a monk inside a sealed-up cave at a site called “Caves of the Thousand Buddhas” near Dunhuang, in northwest China.
The dry desert air provided the perfect conditions for the preservation of the paper and the silk scrolls inside.
The yellow dye used on the scrolls comes from the Amur Cork Tree which has insecticidal properties. This contributed to the preservation of the scrolls.
Selected illustrations from the stunning Hortus Malabaricus (Garden of Malabar), an epic treatise dealing with the medicinal properties of the flora in the Indian state of Kerala.
Originally written in Latin, it was compiled over a period of nearly 30 years and published in Amsterdam between 1678 and 1693 in 12 volumes of about 500 pages each, with a total of 794 copper plate engravings.
The book was conceived by Hendrik van Rheede, who was the Governor of Dutch Malabar at the time, and he is said to have taken a keen personal interest in the compilation.
The work was edited by a team of nearly a hundred including physicians (such as Ranga Bhat, Vinayaka Pandit, Appu Bhat and Itti Achuden) professors of medicine and botany, amateur botanists (such as Arnold Seyn, Theodore Jansson of Almeloveen, Paul Hermann, Johannes Munnicks, Joannes Commelinus, Abraham a Poot), and technicians, illustrators and engravers, together with the collaboration of company officials, clergymen (D. John Caesarius and the Discalced Carmelite Mathaeus of St. Joseph’s Monastery at Varapuzha).
Van Rheede was also assisted by the King of Cochin and the ruling Zamorin of Calicut.
Prominent among the Indian contributors were three Gouda Saraswat Brahmins named Ranga Bhat, Vinayaka Pandit,Appu Bhat and Malayali physician, Itti Achuden, who was an Ezhava doctor of the Mouton Coast of Malabar.
The book has been translated into English and Malayalam by Dr. K. S. Manilal. (Wikipedia).
Whilst conducting research into my family tree, I discovered a small collection of little girls born around between 1897-98 who were named either ‘Diamond’, ‘Jubilee’ or ‘Diamond Jubilee’, in honour of Queen Victoria’s landmark anniversary.
Looking a bit closer and going for a wildcard search, I found that it was a very popular phenomena!
Even the boys didn’t escape; you have to feel a bit sorry for ‘Jubilee Frederick’.
There were also a large number of children, again of both genders, given “Jubilee” as a middle name (at least was easier to hide), and the same thing had happened ten years earlier for the Golden Jubilee!
It wasn’t just anniversaries that were marked in such a way.
Nowadays it’s fairly common for a woman to either keep her maiden name when married, or double barrel it for her children.
Wind things back and such a practise was socially unacceptable; when you married you took your husband’s surname and that was that. But there were women who didn’t want to lose that connection.
My boyfriend discovered one of his direct ancestors was named ‘Inman’. After a quick search of marriage record, he discovered the boy had been given his mother’s maiden name.
Likewise my own grandfather was given the name ‘Avery’. My Mum was under the impression it was after his mother’s brother, in fact it was his paternal grandmother’s maiden name.
We should not forget the tradition for naming the occasional child born at sea.
After all, the voyage to a new life in Australia took several months and if your good wife was already expecting before you set off, then there was a chance she would ‘be delivered of a child’ onboard.
When this happened, it was only natural to name the child after the ship itself. Of course, this is fine if your daughter is born on the good ship Martha, but if that ship is called ‘Ostara’, are you really blessing your child, or cursing them?
People like to use the past as an excuse to change the way we behave in the future.
But if we started using any kind of official list, we’d be robbing ourselves of a tradition that many are ignorant of.
Little Gandalf may be quite proud of his name in the future…
If your child really hates their name, they can change it by deed poll when they’re eighteen.
In the mean time at least you can point out ‘Jubilee Frederick’, and remind them that it could have been worse.
Autumn by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa
by Christopher Jobson.
Colleen Theisen who helps with outreach and instruction at the Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa shared an amazing gif she made that demonstrates something called fore-edge painting on the edge of a 1837 book called Autumn by Robert Mudie.
Fore-edge painting, which is believed to date back as early as the 1650s, is a way of hiding a painting on the edge of a book so that it can only be seen when the pages are fanned out.
There are even books that have double fore-edge paintings, where a different image can be seen by flipping the book over and fanning the pages in the opposite direction.
Spring by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa
When I realized the book Theisen shared was only one of a series about the seasons, I got in touch and she agreed to photograph the other three so we could share them with you here.
Above are photos of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter which were donated to the University of Iowa by Charlotte Smith.
Red Riding Hood, by Lydia L. A. Very, and Jacob Grimm; 1863; Boston, Published by L. Prang.
The first mass-produced book to deviate from a rectilinear format, at least in the United States, is thought to be this 1863 edition of Red Riding Hood, cut into the shape of the protagonist herself with the troublesome wolf curled at her feet.
Produced by the Boston-based publisher Louis Prang, this is the first in their “Doll Series”, a set of five “die-cut” books, known also as shape books — the other titles being Robinson Crusoe, Goody Two-Shoes (also written by Red Riding Hood author Lydia Very), Cinderella, and King Winter.
An 1868 Prang catalogue would later claim that such “books in the shape of a regular paper Doll… originated with us”.
It would seem the claim could also extend to die cut books in general, as we can’t find anything sooner.
As for this particular rendition of Charles Perrault’s classic tale, the text and design is by Lydia Very (1823-1901), sister of Transcendentalist poet Jones Very.
The gruesome ending of the original — which sees Little Red Riding Hood being gobbled up as well as her grandmother — is avoided here, the gore giving way to the less bloody aims of the morality tale, and the lesson that one should not disobey one’s mother.