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The story of the book

The Liber Argenteus was a white counterpart to the Black Book. The Black Book recorded misdemeanours and punishments. The Liber Argenteus recorded the names of the meritorious. Warden Singleton recorded the idea of it in his diary:

April 29th 1847
S[ewell] proposed to me this evening that instead of giving books as prizes to the boys, (which after all, I believe, no one reads, while they cost a great deal of money,) - we should have a magnificent blank book, in which the names of the successful candidates should be written with great 'pomp and circumstance', - and also a black one, for those who have been seriously idle, or misbehaved, during the preceding term. This ought clearly to be a very grim, horrid-looking affair: a register of evil cannot be black enough.

The Black Book came into use almost immediately on the foundation of Radley in 1847: it is mentioned in the earliest letters from boys. The 'White Book' - always known as the Liber Argenteus - had to wait until William Sewell took over as Warden in 1853: even then, the book was not ready for use until 1855. It is listed in the inventory of 1856 under "miscellaneous" as: A silver mounted [book covers & book] [value] £10 10/-.

An entry in the Liber Argenteus carried with it a certificate with the St. Peter device stamped in gold and a copy of the citation. Boys were rewarded for good work as prefects, as the captain of games, for trying hard in class, on one occasion for saving another boy from drowning in the river, and Arthur Sewell was honoured for never being entered in the Black Book. Entries were made by Sewell, in his own hand, until 1857. Warden Norman then kept the record from 1861-1863.

The nearest equivalents at Radley today are the online distinction system and the awarding of Social ties, socks etc.

After Warden Norman, the giving of prize books was introduced at Radley and the Liber Argenteus languished unused until rediscovered by Warden Selwyn who used it as a Visitors Book from 1913 until 1916. His visitors (and their signatures) included G.M. Trevelyan in 1914, and a Serbian professor with party of students in 1916, which was reported in The Radleian July 1916.

Before conservation, in 2005 After conservation, in 2008