Dr Basil Hunnisett

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Dr Basil Hunnisett
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Born(1923-07-05)July 5, 1923
DiedOctober 15, 2013(2013-10-15) (aged 90)
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
  • M.A.
  • PhD.
  • FRSA
  • FLA
Alma materGrammar School for Boys, Lewes
  • Lecturer
  • Author
Notable work
Steel engraved book illustrations in England. Engraved on steel - History of Picture Production Using Steel Plates.
Spouse(s)Amy Madeline

Dr Basil Hunnisett MA PhD FRSA FLA (1923 – 2013) was an English academic, lecturer and author specialising in steel engraving, historical bibliography, history of libraries and fine art librarianship. His books on steel engraving were some of the first to cover the subject in such detail and was a regular contributor to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the Grove Dictionary of Art and several specialist arts magazines.

Early life

Basil was educated at the Grammar School for Boys, Lewes, 1934 – 1939 was a member of the Air Training Corps 1939-42 with proficiency as a member of St John Ambulance Brigade & First Aid Party in Civil Defence 1939-42.

His first job was as assistant Librarian, Lewes Public Library, 1939-1947. This included 4 and a half years war service in the Royal Air Force, mostly in India from 1942 and demobbed April 1947 with the rank of Corporal.

He became a student and studied at the Brighton School of Librarianship Jan-Dec 1948 then began his professional career in librarianship;

  • Reference Librarian, Bath Municipal libraries March 1949 to October 1951.
  • Central Lending Librarian, Worthing Public Libraries, November 1951 to October 1956.
  • Conducted AAL Correspondence courses in classification 1952.
  • Deputy Borough Librarian and Curator, Shrewsbury Public Libraries, Museums and Art Gallery, October 1956 to August 1964.
  • Committee member of Shropshire Arts Society. Gained Part 1 of Museums Assoc. Diploma 1963.
  • Lecturer, Department of Librarianship, Brighton Polytechnic, September 1964 to August 1988; in turn Senior Lecturer & Principal Lecturer.<ref>A list of members of the Associations of Teachers in Technical Institutions who taught at Brighton College of Technology 1956-1970 (AMS 6848/24/2/2). Brighton & Hove City Archives www.thekeep.info
  • After retiring, Hunnisett was frequently invited as a guest lecturer at Bibliography events such as the Ninth Annual Seminar of the British Book Trade Index at the University of Reading in 1991.[1]

Additional posts

  • Senior Examiner in Bibliography for the Library Association 1980-1985.
  • Library Association examiner in classification & cataloguing 1961 – 1988
  • External examiner for BA librarianship course, Newcastle Library School 1984-8.
  • Hon. training officer and chairman of Surrey and Sussex Libraries in Co-operation (SASLIC) 1977 to 1982.
  • Member of National Committee on Library History and ARLIS, © 1970-80.

Marriage and children

Married: to Amy Madeline (1924 - ) (née Pearce) 31 March 1948 Two children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Published works

Hunnisetts great interest in book illustration and particularly steel engravings gave rise to three authoritative books on the subject;

Steel engraved book illustrations in England. Scolar Press 1980. 263 pp ISBN 0-85967-3586 This first comprehensive study of steel engravings in the 19th century covers their early history, production, the engravers and artists as well as the books. Illustrated with 66 plates.

Engraved on steel - History of Picture Production Using Steel Plates Ashgate 1998. ISBN 10: 0859679713 / ISBN 13: 9780859679718 Reprinted 2020 Routledge Revivals series ISBN 9781138311411 Steel engraving was developed more fully in Britain than in Europe during the 19th century, with most of the innovations undertaken by the many engravers then working in London. This study explores areas such as bank note, map, stamp and book plate engraving, mezzotint and aquatint, the casing of books and most present day usage. The main focus of the book is on engraving and engravers, but Basil Hunnisett also describes the context of their work: the artists; the print industry; paper manufacture; and publishing. He describes the activities of print publishers, including the Art Unions and provides a review of steel engraving in Europe and America.

The working papers for these books and drafts for a fourth book were donated to the St Bride Print History Library after his death and the original prints of the books are in their collection.[2]


Early reviews noted “The history of steel engraving, however, has hitherto been confined to a page or two in surveys of book illustration or Victorian art history, not easily accessible to interested collectors or librarians. Therefore Basil Hunnisett’s book, the first systematic treatment of the subject, is most welcome.”[3]

Michel Melot in his review in the Bulletin des Bibliothèques de France says “The author fills an important gap in the history of engraving and illustrated books, its index makes it an easy tool for book historians.”[4]

George Tubbs in his review in Art Libraries Society of North America suggests "The volume could equally well be added to a special collection on the history of books and printing, or to a general research collection, since a case could be made that the book elucidates social, as well as book and art history. The art librarian would do well to assure this book’s presence in one location or another"[5]

“Dr Hunnisett should receive due praise for this scholarly treatment of a neglected chapter in the history of British book illustration. This pioneer work is a must in all art book collections and larger general libraries”. Poul Steen Larsen, The Royal School of Librarianship, Denmark.[6]

Articles By Basil Hunnisett

Charles Warren, Engraver, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts[7] Vol. 125, No. 5253 (AUGUST 1977), pp. 590-594 (5 pages)

Fine Art Libraries in France… (In Bibliothek und Wissenschaft, Vol 17, 1983 149pp) London: Art Libraries Society, ©1974.

A serial of six articles in Antiquarian Book Monthly Review on aspects of steel engraving 1986-8.

April 1986 Alaric Watts and the Literary Souvenir ISSN 0306 7475

Contributions to Library History, New Library World, Art Libraries Journal and Journal of the Royal Society of Arts

New Dictionary of National Biography 1998-9. There are fourteen articles written by Hunnisett; additionally, he has revised four further articles. All are about engravers practicing in the 18th and 19th century.[8]

Seven contributions to Grove Dictionary of Art © 1991.[9]


Whilst lecturing, he discovered that there wasn’t really a suitable book on steel engraving to use for teaching and reference so he set out to write one.

He visited and corresponded with many Library’s and Collections worldwide to see the reference prints and genealogy of the engravers at first hand so every reference in the book he saw for himself. This was way before the internet and email!

His books were the first to address Steel Engraving in the early 19th century in any detail and quickly became recommended reference works for the subject.

They are regularly cited in Bibliography and Sources by curators in Museums and Art galleries to support exhibits;

Library of Congress engraving by Henry Jorden [10] British Museum engraving by John Henry Robinson[11] referenced at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a print by Turner[12] Royal Academy London a book on 60 Turner prints [13] Edinburgh University Library engravers Henry Robinson[14] and William Fry[15]

Academic Institutions and Art Organisations suggest the books as recommended reading as background support for courses in Literature, Historical Biography and Bibliography

Princeton University Resources for Rare Books, engraving [16] Durham University UK [17] Penn State DuBois College PA [18] Keio University, Japan.[19] Illustration network[20] British Portraits[21] Romantic Illustration Network[22]

The antique and fine art trades use the additional information on the engravers from the books to support their catalogue entries and promote items at auction sale,

Pirages Fine Book sale in Oregon, lots 24 & 25[23] Antiquarian Booksellers such as Peter Harrington[24] and James Cummins[25] frequently refer to the books.

Honors, awards and distinctions

Associate of Library Association in 1949.

Fellow of the Library Association, 1951,

Master of Arts, London University (with mark of distinction) 1971,[26]

Doctor of Philosophy, London University, 1977.[26]

Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts 1975-85.[27]


Basil was an active member of the Scout Association from 1934, he became a King’s Scout in 1939, assistant cub master 1941; wood badge 1942, group scoutmaster 17th Hove 1968; district commissioner Hove and Portslade 1974; Assistant-DC. 1975-1987. 1987-8 district chairman. He was awarded the Scout Medal of Merit 1973 and the MM/Bar in 1984 for long service.[28]

Putting his academic research knowledge to good use, he actively researched and contributed to the Hunnisett family tree and filled in several genealogical gaps that helped trace the Hunnisett Family Tree back several generations.[29]


  1. "Ninth Annual Seminar of the British Book Trade Index". The Library. Vol s6-13 (2): 194. 1991. doi:10.1093/library/s6-13.2.194. {{cite journal}}: |volume= has extra text (help)
  2. "Library | St Bride Foundation". St Bride Library. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  3. Huemer, Christina (1982). "Reviewed Work: Steel Engraved book Illustration in England". Journal of Library History. 17 (2): 218–220.
  4. Melot, Michel (1981). "Reviewed Work: Steel Engraved book Illustration in England". Bulletin des Bibliothèques de France (5): 308.
  5. Tubbs, George (1981). "Review: Steel Engraved book Illustration in England". Art Libraries Society of North America. 9 (2): 65.
  6. Larsen, Poul Steen. "Review of Steel Engraved book Illustration in England". Sage Journals. Journal of librarianship. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  7. Hunnisett, Basil (1977). "Charles Warren, Engraver". Royal Society of Arts. 125 (5253): 590–594.
  8. "New Dictionary of National Biography". Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  9. "Grove Dictionary of Art". Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  10. Cited. "Engraving by Henry Jorden". Library of Congress. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  11. Cited. "Engraving by John Henry Robinson". British Museum. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  12. Referenced for a. "Turner print English Harbour". Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  13. Referenced for. "A book on 60 Turner Prints". Royal Academy London. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  14. Referenced for. "Engraver Henry Robinson". Edinburgh University Library. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  15. Referenced for. "Engraver William Fry". Edinburgh University Library. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  16. Appears in. "Resources for Rare Books, engraving". Princeton University. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  17. Appears in. "Recommended Bibliography". Durham University UK. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  18. Listed in. "Bibliography of illustrations and Print". Penn State DuBois College PA. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  19. "Bibliography for Lecture 20, page 8 Literature in the 19th century" (PDF). Keio University, Japan. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  20. "Bibliography". Illustration network. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  21. "Bibiography Page 5" (PDF). British Portraits. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  22. "Selected Bibliography". Romantic Illustration Network. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  23. "Catalogue 63 lots 24 & 25" (PDF). Pirages Fine Books. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  24. "Engravings in a book by Willian Beaty 1838". Peter Harrington Antiquarian Books. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  25. "Engravings in a book by Peter Coxe 1823". James Cummings Antiquarian books. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  26. 26.0 26.1 "Archives". London University. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  27. "Archive". Royal Society of Arts. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  28. "Archives". Scout Association. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  29. "Hunnisett Family Tree". Hunnisett Family. Retrieved 14 May 2020.

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