Canning House Library Collection

This post is written by Sergio Alonso Mislata, Library Assistant (Special Collections).


One of our primary ongoing projects in the Special Collections team at King’s is the processing of one of our largest gifted collections: that of Canning House. Canning House is a not-for-profit institution which aims to provide a forum for comment, contacts and debate on Latin American politics, economy and business. Its main activities consist of a varied programme of events and publications. It was founded in 1943 as the Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Councils, and adopted its current name in 1947 to honour George Canning (pictured right), who during his time as British Foreign Secretary (1807 to 1809, and 1822 to 1827) was a strong defender of the cause for independence of Latin American countries and for their recognition among European nations. Canning House Library was established in 1948 (‘Hudson Library’ being its original name, after William H. Hudson, famous Argentine-British naturalist), and at its peak it held more than 60,000 items in different formats, covering a wide range of topics. This made it the largest collection dedicated to Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries available to the general public in the UK, leading historian Hugh Thomas to describe it as ‘one of the jewels of Latin American Studies in the United Kingdom.’

The Canning House Library collection, consisting of around 54,000 items, was transferred to King’s in 2012. The most recently published material (mainly in English) was immediately catalogued and integrated into the general collection at the Maughan Library. After this, the total of uncatalogued items amounted to roughly 26,500. Among those, 1,600 items (in general older, and with a higher percentage of Spanish and Portuguese language titles) were found to be of historical significance and sent to the Foyle Special Collections Library, where they are in the process of being catalogued and progressively made available to users. Of these, 111 titles have been catalogued so far. Initially, all Spanish and Portuguese drama books were catalogued. It was then the turn of books by Scottish adventurer, politician and author R.B. Cunninghame Graham; notably, in our Special Collections we hold a 1st edition of Graham’s A vanished Arcadia, which inspired the 1986 film The mission. Books used in seminars, exhibitions and events are also given cataloguing priority.

Prior to the beginning of the cataloguing process, the books were arranged on the shelves according to wide thematic areas as follows: literature and linguistics; arts; biography; history, description and travel; religion; navigation; exploration, natural history and natural resources; books by George Canning; books by William H. Hudson; and books by R.B. Cunninghame Graham. Most items in the Canning House Library Collection at King’s are published in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with a few books printed in the 18th and 17th centuries. So far, the item identified as the oldest in the collections is a copy of Purchas, his pilgrimage published in 1617 (ESTC No: S121769).

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There is a small but significant number of 1st editions by Latin-American modernist authors containing an inscription. These are generally dedicated to either the library or to Eugen Millington-Drake, and normally date from the 1940s. Eugen Millington-Drake was a British diplomat who served for a number of years in Buenos Aires as a Counsellor at the Embassy (1929-1933) and then in Montevideo as Minister to Uruguay (1934-1941). He was designated as Main Representative of the British Council in Latin America from 1942-1946 by the Foreign Office. In such capacity, he might have been able to help establish the Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Councils. In any case, it is clear that he made the institution known to some very important figures of Latin-American (specifically Argentinian) literature, and that at some point he donated some books that had been inscribed to him or that he seem to have requested to be inscribed to the institution.

I will be publishing some images of particularly interesting items on the Libraries & Collections Instagram account​ – and of course, if you are interested in any of these and other amazing books, why not pay us a visit in Special Collections and have a look once life goes back to normal? If you’d like to come in, a list of available items can be found on the King’s College library catalogue, and we  have a page dedicated to further background information on the collection itself here. In the meantime, do stay safe.

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