A personal library is more than the sum of the books a person owned. The books we keep can provide unique insights into our life story. This truism was highlighted when we came across a series of bookplates in several books in the Forder Collection while doing some routine work.
Professor Henry George Forder, born in 1889, grew up in rural Norfolk. He attended Paston Grammar School and Cambridge University before becoming a teacher. In 1934 he moved to Auckland to take up the Chair in Mathematics. Forder and his wife Dorothy donated most of his extensive book collection to the Science Library in 1974. The Forder Collection has been housed in Special Collections since 2002.
Although the collection of more than 1,000 books mostly comprises mathematics and scientific texts, we noticed a sub-set of a dozen classic novels, poetry anthologies, history books, and political, theological and philosophical treaties that seemed like outliers.
Closer inspection revealed a series of school prize bookplates showing these volumes were awarded to the young Forder by Paston Grammar between 1903 and 1906. The ornate plates, pasted to the inside front cover and signed by the headmaster George Hare, bear the school’s motto ‘De mieux en mieux en pour tout’ (‘From good to better everywhere’). The plates show that Forder excelled in botany, religious knowledge, chemistry, general subjects, English, science and, not surprisingly, mathematics.
Our initial assumption was that the school chose august titles for the prize winner. Impressive reading for the eldest son of a blacksmith, growing up in a remote corner of East Anglia. However, Forder’s obituary in the Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society suggests Forder chose the books himself;3 even more impressive.
These possessions travelled with him to the other side of the world, indicating the value he placed on his first forays into book ownership and collecting, thus offering researchers a fresh chapter in his life story.
Ian Brailsford, Special Collections
1 Longfellow, H.W. (190?). The poetical works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow… London: F. Warne. Forder 811.34 E
2 Lamartine, A. de. (1898). History of the French Revolution of 1848. London: H.G. Bohn. Forder 944.07 L21Y 1898
3 Butcher, J.C. (1985). Obituary: Henry George Forder. Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society, 17(2), pp.162-67.