Tag Archives: Rare Books

New Acquisitions: Medieval Facsimiles

By Marco di Bartolomeo Rustici (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image from the Codex Rustici, via Wikimedia Commons
FSU Special Collections & Archives is pleased to announce that three new, high-quality facsimiles have been added to our rare books collections and are ready for use in our Research Center Reading Room.

  • Codex Rustici – an Italian manuscript from Florence (circa 1444) depicting a pilgrimage from Florence to the Holy Land. This codex, currently housed at the Library of the Archbishop’s Seminary of Florence, is famous for its ink and watercolor illustrations of the architecture of early 15th century Florence. It was recently restored and made into a complete facsimile through a grant from Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, and a video about the codex can be viewed at their website.
  • Splendor Solis – a sixteenth-century German treatise on alchemy, featuring 19 illuminations of the creation of the philosopher’s stone. It is thought to be the earliest known alchemistic treatise and is an important work for scholars of the history of science.
  • Officiolum di Francesco da Barberino – a richly illuminated early 14th century Italian manuscript, considered one of the oldest Books of Hours produced in Italy. The original manuscript, thought lost for centuries, is now in private hands and can therefore only be studied through facsimile.

Visit our Facsimiles of Medieval Manuscripts and Incunabula LibGuide for more information on these and other facsimiles in our collection.

The Library of Babel and Special Collections

The following is a guest post by student assistant Blaise Denton.

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The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges. (PQ7797 .B635 B5213 2000)

Here in the Florida State University Special Collections we have a very special volume, Jorge Borges “The Library of Babel.” The standalone volume in our possession is illustrated by Erik Desmazieres. The Book details life in the great and infinite Library of Babel. It is never ending, universal, broken up into hexagonal rooms and filled with an uncountable number of books. Filling each book are letters, clumped randomly to spell out nonsense. Every so often people find a book with words, real words that spell out ideas and thoughts. Because the library is infinite, there must be one book somewhere in the collection that details the past and future. There must be a book that catalogues the rest of the books. There must also be an infinite number of false narratives, false leads, and even more books that are unreadable.

Special Collection isn’t infinite. Most of the books in the collection are carefully catalogued and lodged in a place where we can find them. We know what almost all of them say. But the task of the librarian is the same, whether it is in the Library of Babel or here in Special Collections. We live in a big world, rather full of books, and more full of things. In Special Collections we find those books that “matter”, a rather subjective verb, and we keep them here, safe. They deteriorate; they get lost. We bundle them up safe with boxes and paper wrapping; we hunt them down and bring them back to their preordained place. The librarian’s tasks, in fiction and in life, are to bring order to chaos and to decide what matters.

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La Tour de Babel. Plate II etching by Erik Desmazieres

Many of the books in Special Collections are in languages we can’t read. Many of them are so small you need a magnifying glass to examine them, some are so big it takes two people to open them. Some are serious tomes on theology and philosophy and some are tiny children’s books. Some of them are pornographic. But they all have two things in common: they are kept in place by a complex cataloging system, and they are meaningful.

In “The Library of Babel” when someone finds a book with meaning, that book becomes incredibly valuable. People travel from all over the universe, that is to say the library, to look at it. Whether it is fiction, poetry, prophesy or biography the book becomes something invaluable. It has meaning, it proves that there is truth.

Special Collections is rather like that, if a bit less grand. People choose things as

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Haute Galerie Circulaire. Plate VII etching by Erik Desmazieres

meaningful enough to write about or otherwise document. Someone has combed through all the books to buy, all the books that have been donated, and selected these. These are the most valuable, the rarest, the oddest books that FSU libraries has. Come look at a book inscribed by a medieval monk. An Akkadian trader. A 60’s beat poet. Come look at “The Library of Babel” by Borges. There are books from every age and perspective here. There are so many books you could never read them all. Try reading a few, very different books and see if you, like the fictional librarian, find some meaning in order.

Editions for the Millions: Early American Paperbacks

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Original, colored, paper wrappers on nineteenth-century American paperbacks

FSU Special Collections & Archives recently added 33 late-nineteenth century American paperbacks to our rare book collections. These include such famous titles as Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, the Waverley novels of Sir Walter Scott, and The Pioneers and The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. They were published between 1865-1874 by D. Appleton and Company of New York and T. B. Peterson & Brothers of Philadelphia, and, because they still have their original printed paper wrappers and advertisements, they are important artifacts in the history of nineteenth-century printing and the development of the modern paperback.

A Peterson “Cheap Edition for the Million” sold for 35 cents and would include illustrated plates, while the smaller Appleton editions sold for 25 cents. Authors like Dickens are famous for publishing their works as serialized novels, which could be bought in parts to make them more affordable to the growing numbers of working-class readers. Because they were often taken out of their wrappers and bound into single volumes, first editions of Dickens in their original covers (like FSU’s 1865 edition of Our Mutual Friend) are especially prized by collectors and historians.

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Advertisements for other publications by T. B. Peterson & Brothers

By the middle of the nineteenth century, London publishers realized the additional fortune they could make on cheap reprints.¹ These were often sold at railway stations and called “yellow-backs” because of their colorful, eye-catching covers. The paperbacks published by Peterson and Appleton attest that the trend of cheap reprints was common on both sides of the Atlantic. Advertisements, like the one pictured above, list other available publications, all of which testify to the growing commodification of print in the nineteenth-century and the new technologies which made it possible.

These nineteenth-century paperbacks can be requested at the Special Collections Reading Room Monday-Thursday 10am-6pm and Friday 10am-5:30pm. For more information about titles in the collection, contact the Rare Book Librarian, Katherine Hoarn.

  1. Gaskell, P., A New Introduction of Bibliography, New Castle 2012, pp. 248-9.

400 Years of Shakespeare

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A page from Shakespeare’s Second Folio (1632)

April 23, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Although the exact dates of his birth and death are disputed, they are both known to have occurred in late April. In honor of 400 years of Shakespeare, libraries and museums throughout the world are putting on exhibits to celebrate his life and works. The Folger Shakespeare Library, partnering with the Cincinnati Museum Center and American Library Association, is hosting a First Folio Tour, which will bring the famous first edition of Shakespeare’s plays to universities and museums in every state.

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An illustrated adaptation of Shakespeare (circa 1895)

While FSU Special Collections & Archives is not fortunate enough to have one of the 234 known extant first folios (out of the approximately 750 printed), there are over 350 volumes by and about Shakespeare available through our research center, including facsimiles of the first folio and extracts from the fourth folio, published in 1685. As Shakespeare’s genius and influence have firmly entrenched him in the canon of English literature, his works have been constantly published, republished, edited, re-edited, repackaged, illustrated, and re-illustrated ever since his death in 1616. Many famous authors, printers, and illustrators have tried their hands at Shakespeare over the years, from Laura Valentine’s Shakspearian Tales in Verse (PR2877.V3 1899) to the Kelmscott edition of Shakespeare’s poems (PR2842.E4).

One of the most exciting discoveries we’ve made in the stacks lately is an uncatalogued leaf from Shakespeare’s second folio, printed in 1632, nine years after the first folio and sixteen years after Shakespeare’s death. Our leaf is pages 195-196 from The Taming of the Shrew and includes Pettruchio’s famous lines to Katerina:

For I am he am born to tame you Kate,

And bring you from a wild Kat to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates …

I must, and will have Katherine to my wife.

This page from the second folio and other editions of Shakespeare’s works will be on display in the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room on the first floor of Strozier from Friday, April 22nd until the end of May. Stop by and see it Monday-Friday 10am-6pm!

A Book Collector’s Legacy

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Title page of Dame Wiggins of Lee by John Ruskin with illustrations by Kate Greenaway (1855)

At over 22,000 rare books and over 65 linear feet of manuscript materials, The John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection is easily the largest single collection in FSU Special Collections & Archives. It serves as a living testament to its creator, John MacKay Shaw (May 15, 1897-March 15, 1984), an AT&T business executive, philanthropist, writer, and bibliophile. While the original 5,000+ volumes in Shaw’s book collection focused on 18th and 19th century British and American poetry written about childhood and/or for children, it has expanded to contain volumes on biography, bibliography, collecting, writing, and publishing. The collection contains works by major authors and illustrators — Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Lear, Kate Greenaway, Thomas Bewick, and Lewis Carroll, to name a few — and can serve research interests as diverse as publishers’ bindings, Victorian serials, sacred hymns, and World War I.

The books of the Shaw Collection are wonderfully complimented by the John MacKay Shaw manuscript collection (01/MSS 2008-006). This collection includes Shaw’s personal correspondence (including letters from Dr. Seuss!), lectures, and photographs, as well as administrative information about the development of the Shaw Collection at FSU Libraries. Among the literary materials in the manuscript collection can be found Shaw’s meticulous notes and source materials for his five-volume bibliography on Childhood in Poetry. It is these bibliographic notes that give us window into the world of a twentieth-century book collector.

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Shaw’s bibliographic notes on John Ruskin (01/MSS 2008-006, Box 62, Folder 58)

Shaw’s bibliographic notes are organized by author, with a listing and description of every book by that author in the collection. There are also notes on where each volume was purchased and for how much (invaluable information to anyone studying the provenance of books in the collection), sometimes accompanied by the delightful anecdotes of a true bibliophile. Under the file for John Ruskin, Shaw remarks of the 1885 edition of Dame Wiggins of Lee, and Her Seven Wonderful Cats illustrated by Kate Greenaway:

“This has been for me a most illusive book. Although not an expensive one… it has seemed that I either bid low or my order gets to the bookseller just after someone else has bought it. Now I have a copy, and an almost perfect one it is.”

In a digital world, where online auction sites and search engines have revolutionized the world of book selling and collecting, Shaw’s notes tell of the struggles and triumphs of a collector in this golden age of bibliophilia. Shaw’s manuscripts add rich layers of meaning to the books in his collection, and both will live on for generations to come.

 

Secrets from the Rare Book Vault

FullSizeRender (2)When I applied to the Special Collections & Archives graduate assistantship, I had one thing in mind: rare books. As an undergrad at FSU, I frequently visited Special Collections for class projects and assignments related to medieval manuscripts and early printed books, knowing that someday I wanted to work with rare material like these. So naturally when I received the news that I was selected for the assistantship, my first thought was of all the rare books I would get to “work with.”

The concept of “working with” rare books was always a very abstract one to me. I assumed rare book librarians got to study the materials, give lectures to visiting classes, and create exhibit displays. A very glamorous position in academia. As a young and naive soon-to-be graduate assistant I really had no idea what rare book maintenance would entail because my only previous job experience included retail, banking, and an archives internship. Now that I’m slightly older and much more experienced, I can say I have insight into “working with” rare books. The epitome of rare books. The vault books!

That’s right, I left my career as a community banker to find myself auditing yet another vault. Just like the huge quantities of money safeguarded behind lock and key, the rare books that live in the Special Collections vault are the most valuable items in the collection. And I was tasked with examining just over 1,000 of them to determine their condition and assess whether or not they needed any preservation treatment. Most of them (71%), I’m happy to report, are holding up just fine considering their age. The other couple hundred are in need of various types of enclosures that will preserve all of their fragile, decaying, or detached parts. 

This naturally led to a practicum in box making. Under the high-quality tutelage of the Uppsala University Rare Books YouTube channel, the Rare Books Librarian and I tried our hand at custom box making. This turned out to be much more difficult than the 5-minute duration of our video lesson implied. And if rare book box making was an Olympic sport, our Swedish friends at Uppsala would take home the gold. But in the end, with a lot of time spent practicing, we were able to construct several excellent enclosures to protect some of the most deteriorated books in the vault.

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These days my glamorous vision of rare books librarianship still includes spontaneous bouts of paging through incunables to appreciate the illustrations, hand binding, and old book smell. But the reality of the job entails a lot more dust, red rot, and wormholes. Ultimately, the basis of “working with” rare books is preservation; removing the dust, and stopping the red rot and wormholes so that librarians and patrons alike may continue to marvel at illustrations, hand binding, and old book smell for centuries to come.

Rare Books and Haggis: Burns Night in Tallahassee

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Katie McCormick receiving the newest edition to the Scottish Collection from St. Andrew Society of Tallahassee member Ken Sinclair.

As previous posts have shown, the work of Special Collections & Archives staff is not confined to the walls of the library. We love being able to get out into the community, so Associate Dean of Special Collections Katie McCormick and I jumped at the chance to attend the Burns’ Supper hosted by the St. Andrew Society of Tallahassee on Saturday, January 23rd at Westminster Oaks. The Burns’ Supper is a celebration of the life and works of Scotland’s National Poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796), which was begun by Robert Burns’s friends in 1801 to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his death. It is traditionally held on or around January 25th, Burns’s birthday, and commences with the famous “Address to Haggis,” followed by the eating of haggis with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips). It was my first time trying haggis, and, I must say, it was delicious! The evening continued with dinner, toasts and poetry recitations, and a wonderful performance of Scottish music and songs set to Burns’s poetry put on by the FSU School of Music.

FSU Special Collections & Archives has over one-hundred editions of Burns’s poetry in our John MacKay Shaw Childhood Poetry and Scottish Collections, as well as many more volumes on the history, culture, and literature of Scotland. John MacKay Shaw was a founding member of the St. Andrew Society of Tallahassee, and his impressive book collection includes the famous Kilmarnock edition of Burns’s poetry, published in Edinburgh in 1786. Each year, the St. Andrew Society of Tallahassee generously provides us with a donation to support the upkeep and development of our Scottish Collection. At this year’s Burns’ Supper, we received an extra treat when society member Ken Sinclair presented FSU Special Collections & Archives with an 1873 Edinburgh imprint of The Complete Works of Robert Burns which had been passed down in his family for several generations. We look forward to adding this book to our collections, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s Burns Night!

Accessioning a Rare Book Collection : Part II

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A copy of “It’s So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House” signed by illustrator James Marshall.

After the successful transport and unloading of the Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection, I began the process of creating an inventory of all the books in the collection — an excel spreadsheet that is currently at 300 entries and steadily growing. This spreadsheet will serve not only as a record of all the books received in the donation but also as a place to keep track of all the categorizations, ephemera, and notes that came with the collection.

For each book, I am recording the title, author, illustrator, publisher, date of publication, and category/subject, as well as any notes about articles, book reviews, and author/illustrator signatures included in the books. Newspaper clippings and publisher’s press releases laid in need to be removed in order to prevent acidic inks and papers from causing damage to the books, but making notes of where everything came from on the spreadsheet will allow us to go back and link books and archival materials where they are relevant to understanding the collection.

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Three versions of Little Red Riding Hood.

The real, searchable, catalog entries for each book will be created by our Cataloging and Description Department in the next stage of the accessioning journey. The inventory spreadsheet is informal in that it does not use any of the standard languages that our catalogers use to improve information accessibility, but it will be important to us in understanding and thus promoting the collection to potential researchers.

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A highly symbolic telling of “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge” illustrated by Warja Lavater (Adrien Maeght Editeur, 1965).

While spreadsheet creation and data entry may not seem like the most thrilling line of work, going through this collection book by book has been a lot of fun. The real challenge is not stopping to read each book along the way. Some of the highlights I have come across so far include works by well-known illustrators like Patricia Polacco, Victoria Chess, Molly Bang, Trina Schart Hyman, and James Marshall. Many of these works are signed, often with delightful little drawings, like the one by James Marshall pictured above. There are also many different versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” in the collection – classic versions, modern retellings, foreign language editions, and even highly abstract interpretations like the French edition (shown above left) illustrated by Warja Lavater. The same story is told each time – but the way the stories are written, illustrated, and published offer telling clues about the cultures and times in which they were produced.

A Visit from the “‘Twas the Night” Collection

‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through our section
We were ready to work on a festive collection.
Many boxes of books (and this part makes it fun),
Each with the same poem. You all know which one.

Editions of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" from 1890 to 1900

The boxes were nestled all snug in their cart,
Holding old books and rare books and books filled with art,
Toy books with sleigh bells that jingled a tune,
Plus archival items, including a spoon.

"Night Before Christmas" spoonAudio recordings and a book with jingle bells

And we catalogers, as a matter of course,
Had settled our brains to describe each resource.
Each one was related, but each was unique,
And our records must help people find what they seek.
But no cataloger would let that disturb her,
Remembering concepts that she learned from FRBR.
When faced with this “Night Before Christmas” incursion,
We would deal with each item, no matter which version.

Pop-up image of SantaPop-up image of house

Now, pop-ups! now, postcards! now, stamps for the mail!
On, parody versions! on, versions in Braille!
Whether titles be missing or typeface be small,
Now catalog! catalog! catalog all!

The Braille edition of "'Twas the Night" includes a figurine of a deer instead of an illustration.Parody versions include a feminist and a fitness-themed version, as well as a Cajun and a Texan "Night Before Christmas"

And, as our work on these books we’re completing,
We send you our very best seasonal greeting
For a year of discoveries wherever you look:
Happy holidays, all, and to all a good book.

Visit of St. Nicholas, illustrated by Thos. Nast

Accessioning a Rare Book Collection: Part I

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One of the most common questions I get from undergraduate students during instruction sessions is some variation of “How do materials end up in Special Collections?” There are many answers to this question, of course, but one of the most important ways we receive materials is through donations. With our rare book collections, we are particularly fortunate when collectors decide to donate their personal collections. Book collectors often spend a lifetime amassing carefully curated collections that reflect deep personal interests and expertise. This is certainly the case with FSU Special Collections & Archives’ newest rare book collection: The Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection.

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Bins back from transport and ready to be unloaded.

Marsha Gontarski (Ph.D, FSU, 1993) has a background in Education with a research focus on visual literacy in children’s literature. Her children’s literature collection contains over 1,000 titles, ranging from classic fairy-tales to contemporary pieces featuring modern art. The wide variety of authors, illustrators, styles, sizes, shapes, and languages in the collection will be of interest to those studying Education, Literature, Illustration, History of Text Technologies, and Book Arts – not to mention those who want to feel nostalgic about their favorite childhood books! Every member of our staff who has seen the collection coming out of bins and being put on shelves has found something that strikes a cord – “I remember that book!” – which is surely a testament to the lasting impression left by our earliest memories of reading.

After a couple of trips to the Gontarski’s residence, Special Collections’ staff transported the books in about twenty bins, which were then unloaded in our stacks. The next step in the process will be to create an inventory of the donation before they are sent to cataloging and given records and call numbers. Since the books were donated with notes from the collector about significant illustrators, authors, and groupings of texts, it will be important for us to transfer these notes to the collection inventory and preserve information that could be useful to future researchers. In the next post in this series, I will share with you the progress being made in the accession process as well as a few highlights from the Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection.