Thomas’ Malory’s King Arthur

Special Collections welcomed Will Rhodes’ ENGLIT1125 Masterpieces of Renaissance Literature on Wednesday, March 15th. Students had the opportunity to examine facsimiles of Renaissance literature and poetry; fine press and private press editions of literature and poetry; and historical texts dating back to the Renaissance. Students worked closely with these materials and completed an in-class assignment to create a short essay.  Professor Rhodes selected a handful of these essays for us to feature on the Special Collections Tumblr.  We hope that you enjoy!

This edition of Sir Thomas’ Malory’s King Arthur is a combination of work from both the 15th and 19th centuries. The book immediately caught my eye as part of the Fine Press/ Private Press Editions station; it had an evident luxurious quality, bound in ¾ Morocco leather with bright gold floral detailing. The binding of the book itself conveys a fairy-tale like quality, which fits its classic and well-loved contents.

The content of the book itself combines Malory’s original content with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), a major pioneer of the Art Nouveau movement. It is said that Beardsley was only twenty years old when he was commissioned by J.M Dent to collaborate on the text in 1892. Beardsley’s work was heavily influenced by Japanese woodcuts – apparent in his use of line, tone and intricate detail – and the result is a beautiful array of illustrations combining ornate block lettering and detailed depictions of flowers, foliage, damsels and knights. His style, which appears to combine gothic, medieval and modern influences, makes Beardsley the ideal illustrator for this text, which is a modern edition of the classic story of the adventures of King Arthur and his knights.

The fact that the text is written “in modern style” suggests it is actually supposed to be read and not simply owned as a decorative or collectable piece. However, the book certainly has a rare and collectable quality to it. Some illustrations take up whole pages (which are made of Dutch handmade paper) while others are dispersed through the body of text itself, and their richness adds to the decadent feel of the volume. The printing advancements of the 19th century certainly allow for this element of decadence that the printing technology of the 15th century would not have allowed. This means that this reworked edition enhances Malory’s original text in a way that he wouldn’t have been able to carry out himself. However, the stylised nature of Beardsley’s figures and the thick, jagged lines he uses may also be seen to add a sinister quality to the work that Malory may not have intended in his writing. However, I think the beauty and intricacy of this book certainly makes it a valuable reworking of his original tale.

-Amy Buckle, University of Pittsburgh undergraduate


This 1665 edition of Boccaccio’s Decameron has been bound in red velvet with beautiful silver filigree decoration and brocade endpapers.  It’s just lovely, but it’s not very practical; the delicate silver makes it difficult to handle (as evidenced by the damage to the upper right corner of the front cover) and the binding is so tight that opening the book past the title page is not easy! 


Happy Valentine’s Day! Today we’re taking a look at Emblems of Love by Philip Ayres, a book “dedicated to the ladys” in 1683.

Ayres, a poet and translator, was a tutor to the Drake family and is known primarily in this century for his Lyrick Poems (1687). However, his Emblems of Love was a well-known success in his own time. Emblem books generally have engraved images or symbols with accompanying text or poetry, and they were popular during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Emblems of Love was one of the last of the genre to gain wide popularity in England.

The images for Emblems of Love feature putti and human beings in various activities, and are based on two earlier works: Amorum emblemata by Otto van Veen (1608) and Thronus cupidinis (1618). Some of the verses are also borrowed from these sources, although the English versions were composed by Ayres.

Ayres, Philip, 1638-1712. Emblems of love : in four languages. Dedicated to the ladys by Ph. Ayres, esq. London : Printed for J. Wren, [1683?]. MU Ellis Special Collections Rare N7740 .A82

The Function of a Book: Readers and Collectors

Special Collections welcomed Will Rhodes’ ENGLIT1125 Masterpieces of Renaissance Literature on Wednesday, March 15th. Students had the opportunity to examine facsimiles of Renaissance literature and poetry; fine press and private press editions of literature and poetry; and historical texts dating back to the Renaissance. Students worked closely with these materials and completed an in-class assignment to create a short essay.  Professor Rhodes selected a handful of these essays for us to feature on the Special Collections Tumblr.  We hope that you enjoy!

What is the purpose of a book? Well, to be read of course! But is that always true? While the contents of a book may never change, even down to the style of font it is published in in various editions, the purpose of the book may change. Special Collections houses many facsimiles, or exact copies, and modern editions of older books. I will compare one facsimile and one Renaissance book in order to show how a book is transformed from an object with a practical function to an object meant to be collected.

Purchas His Pilgrimage, or Relations of the World, Samuel Purchas, 1614

This book is an encyclopedic work, which describes various religions, their practices, and briefly about the nation from which they originate. Samuel Purchas was a well-educated Anglican priest, who, despite the extent of his works, never left England. In fact, he collected this knowledge from the stories of sailors and the manuscripts of past travelers. One might wonder why 17th century Christians would be interested in the traditions of other cultures. This is clearly answered on the title page.

Under the author’s name is the phrase “Unus Deus, Una Veritas,” meaning “One God, One Truth.” Therefore, these descriptions of other cultures represent what is false in the world. In an era where Europe is exploring and missioning to these places it would make sense to try and understand the culture of the native people. Purchas calls this his “pilgrimage.” This book therefore has a religious function. It is not a literal journey but a metaphoric journey around the world. The knowledge gained on this journey could allow others to better conduct their mission work in these countries.

But the book also functions to justify the growing authority of Christianity in these places. In one description of religious practice in China, the author writes that when people “obtain not their requests [to the Gods], they will whip and beat these Gods.” It is clear that these people do not understand the reverence and proper worship that Europeans do. This likely pleased, the Archbishop of Canterbury George Abbot, to whom the dedicatory epistle is written.

Another indication of its intended use by the clergy is the numerous printed notes in the margin. These often give evidence for what has been written or more avenues for research. The notes may be in Latin, Greek, or English, which implies the reader must have had the education to understand these annotations. The clergy would have learned Greek to read some of the oldest versions of the Bible and Latin for most church documents up until the reformation.

Essayes- Religious Meditations- Places of Perswasion and Disswasion, Francis Bacon, Originally Published 1597, Haslewood Edition: 1924

This collection of writings from philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon covers a wide variety of topics from a “regiment of health” to “atheism.” I am most interested in the middle text of the three works included in this book. It is called the “Meditationes Sacrae” or “Sacred Meditations.” This work is completely in Latin despite the other texts of this book being in English. Bacon must have had a sense that for anyone to take you seriously when writing about religious matters you had to write in Latin. In these short meditations he discusses common religious concerns such as the nature of Christ’s miracles and controversies between Church and scripture. This was likely regarded as a useful and edifying book in its time.

While one could make some interesting points about how Bacon’s logical scientific method influenced his religious beliefs, the fact that a facsimile was published more than three hundred years after it was originally published raises equally interesting ideas. While the book says it is an exact copy, “page for page and line for line,” of the first edition octavo this is not quite true. The note in the front of the book reveals that the outdated “f” has been replaced with the modern “s.” The frontispiece, shown above, is also redrawn from a different work of Bacon’s. It is also interesting that the editor’s note points out that this version is not the most well known, because Bacon continued to add to and edit these essays for many years.

This book is neither the text that made it famous nor a totally accurate copy of the original so perhaps the purpose is not for it to be read but to be collected. Part of the challenge and fun of collecting is the rarity of the object. For instance, you could go to a comic book store and buy any new comic and there’s no challenge there. But if you want issue #134 of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen to complete your collection of Jack Kirby comics it’s a lot harder. So the publisher has created this sort of challenge by limiting the number of copies printed. This book had a run of only 975 books. 

Artist and architect Frederick Etchells founded Haslewood Press, the publisher of this book. This explains why this book is an object of aesthetic value. It was printed on all cotton paper with a deckled edge that gives the appearance of the paper being handmade. The top edge is gilt. It is these small details that make the book more beautiful almost to the point that it does not matter which classic work of literature it is. The back of this book is an advertisement for other books from this publisher. To promote the collecting of this series it announces that their copies of the first book have been “exhausted” and that only “some copies remain” of the second. Also interesting, is a review of one book, which describes the contents as “charming” but the printing to be “excellent” on “good rag paper.” A list of the upcoming books with their unique features is also included. These details further convey that in the case of these reprints, it seems more important to have a beautiful library of famous books than to be particularly invested in the contents of the book.

-Mark Connor, University of Pittsburgh undergraduate


Here we have copy number 55 of the first edition of Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss. There were only 1,500 copies in the first edition, and only 1,450 of those were offered for general distribution. Serviss, an astronomer, wrote Conquest in 1898; It was published serially in the New York Journal. This edition was published in 1947, and is the first time the entire serial publication appeared in one volume. The protagonist of Conquest is Thomas Edison, who leads a group of scientists attempting to defend earth against martians. The fantastic cover was done by Russell Swanson, and the equally captivating interior illustrations by Bernard Manley Jr. This is an exquisite piece of science fiction history, and we are lucky to have it.

Serviss, Garrett P. Edison’s Conquest of Mars. Carcosa House. Los Angeles: 1947. Cover by Russell Swanson. Illustrations by Bernard Manley, Jr. 


Collective History

Special Collections welcomed Will Rhodes’ ENGLIT1125 Masterpieces of Renaissance Literature on Wednesday, March 15th. Students had the opportunity to examine facsimiles of Renaissance literature and poetry; fine press and private press editions of literature and poetry; and historical texts dating back to the Renaissance. Students worked closely with these materials and completed an in-class assignment to create a short essay.  Professor Rhodes selected a handful of these essays for us to feature on the Special Collections Tumblr.  We hope that you enjoy!

One of the eight volumes of The Plays of William Shakespeare, 1765.

Facsimile reprint of the first edition of Bacon’s Essayes, 1924

Stowe’s Annales, or, A generall chronicle of England, 1635

Upon visiting the special collections, I am always struck by the sense of history that is so casually displayed before me. We learn that time is precious and we should enjoy these ephemeral moments. However, when flipping through the pages of books that are older than my grandmother’s grandmother I become a part of an instance that has crystallized into a gem that temporally transports me with its unique ‘bookish’ smell and texture. The preserved jewel-like moment refracts an era’s histories and philosophies. They burgeon into new ideas which can be traced back to these very books that were penned by author’s in similar phases of life and similar stages of unknowing.

History is present in the brittle spines, softened leaves, and faded ink of these books. We celebrate the oldness not necessarily the content of these books because we recognize the achievement that is surviving. By virtue of their age, we prescribe these books with the title of ‘special’. This designation implies a cultural importance and informs us readers as to a literary hierarchy. Religious works like the Bible, Francis Bacon’s philosophical essays and Shakespeare’s poetry and plays were all represented in the collection. Consequently, these works are all taught at the University of Pittsburgh in either long-form courses or part of a historical era class. Recognizing incredible works of prose generates a society that is more likely to preserve the work for years of study and personal enjoyment. Shakespeare seems to have been someone that every generation found interesting and important. His sonnets are consistently replicated and reprinted alongside every improvement of publishing. Are these works great because of their textual matter or because of their endurance? I believe it to be a bit of both; one aspect informs the other.

-Ashley Sims, University of Pittsburgh Undergraduate

Special Collections welcomed Will Rhodes’ ENGLIT1125 Masterpieces of Renaissance Literature on Wednesday, March 15th.  Students had the opportunity to examine facsimiles of Renaissance literature and poetry; fine press and private press editions of literature and poetry; and historical texts dating back to the Renaissance. Students worked closely with these materials and completed an in-class assignment to create a short essay.  Professor Rhodes selected a handful of these essays for us to feature on the Special Collections Tumblr.  We hope that you enjoy!

As I carefully flipped through the pages of the Renaissance books at Special Collections, I was reminded of the fact that authorship, and its assembly in a work, is an art in and of itself. As our society progresses into an age where technology dominates and paper crumbles, it is rare for books to be published solely in print. Rather, out of mere convenience and affordability, consumers often resort to online editions of books, as they are “more portable” or “more convenient.” However, the books at Special Collections made me think and appreciate books in their written form because books exist outside of mere words on a page. That is, books are also a physical object, comprised of uniquely textured pages, beautifully drawn artwork, and intricate penmanship that goes relatively unmatched in today’s world.

Take, for example, Volpone by Ben Jonson, first acted in 1605. Only fifteen hundred copies were made for the members of The Limited Editions Club. Several individuals contributed to the compilation of this book outside of the written text. For example, the book cover was designed by Francis Meynell and printed by Charles Bate. William Nash made the paper itself especially for this edition of Volpone. The illustrations by Rene Ben Sussan were drawn with stencils and colored in France. The cover itself was made in a rusty colored bookcloth, and the pages felt similar to an oily canvas when examining it in the Special Collections. In addition to the physical appearance of the book, I gained even more of an appreciation for the works I looked at when understanding the history of publications during the Renaissance Era. According to Norton’s Anthology:

The career of professional writer in the sixteenth-century England was almost impossible: there was no such thing as author’s copyright, no royalties paid to an author according to the sales of the book, and virtually no notion that anyone could make a decent living through the creation of works of literature.”

Thus, it was virtually impossible to become a published author because this profession as we know it today did not exist. Whereas we attribute recognition to an author because of their written work, in the Renaissance Era, “the licensing system located not only primary responsibility for a printed work, but its ownership, with the printer rather than with the author.” That is, the printing of a work became more important than the work itself. This is because of the literary patronage system in which wealthy patrons gave financial or other monetary incentives in return for their own recognition. However, this system was not free of unethical practices. In fact, “a practice grew up of printing off several dedications to be inserted into particular copies of a book, so that an impecunious author could deceive each of several patrons into thinking that he or she was the uniquely fortunate person to be honored by the volume.”  Thus, it was an art in the Renaissance Era to be recognized for the written work itself and not solely the title of patron funding the publication.

Furthermore, the illustrations and binding of the books examined also lend to their recognition as a piece of art. This is evident in the second volume of The Ecclesiastical History of Martyrs, published in 1641. As seen in the inside cover page, the artwork displays elaborate scenes and intricate figures relating to the body of the text, while the worn outside cover of the book and torn binding also add to the art form of the book.  The artwork enriches the history and authenticity of works created during the Renaissance Era and lends credibility to the idea that authorship, and its assembly in a work, is an art in and of itself.

When taking the time to study several of the books contained within Special Collections, I have come to appreciate everything that makes a work uniquely its own including the pages, texture, material, artwork, and penmanship. As the world comes to value convenience over quality and functionality over authenticity, I am reminded that there is beauty in the worn covers and discolored binding seams that teach us about history and enrich our lives.

-Juli Buchwald, University of Pittsburgh undergraduate


In the spirit of Halloween, here are some gorgeous books from Arkham House Publishers.   Arkham House was founded in Sauk City, Wisconsin in 1939, by Derleth and writer Donald Wandrei. Their initial intent was to publish editions of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction—hence the company’s name.  Arkham House published Lovecraft as well as other writers such as Ray Bradbury, Clark Ashton Smith, Algernon Blackwood, Robert Bloch, Seabury Quinn and Sheridan Le Fanu.  These books represent a small fraction of the Arkham House holdings we have in the Hevelin Collection. Enjoy the madness!!!!!


Derleth, August. The Mask of Cthulhu.  Arkham House, Sauk City: 1958.   Cover by Richard Taylor.

H.P. Lovecraft & Others.  The Shuttered Room & Other Pieces.   Arkham House, Sauk City: 1959.   Cover by Richard Taylor.

Derleth, August.  The Trail of Cthulhu.   Arkham House, Sauk City: 1962.   Cover by Richard Taylor.

Derleth, August.  Something Near.   Arkham House, Sauk City: 1945.  Cover by Ronald Clyne.

Long, Frank Belknap.  The Horror from the Hills.   Arkham House, Sauk City: 1963.  Cover by Richard Taylor.

Hartley, L.P.  The Traveling Grave and Other Stories.   Arkham House, Sauk City: 1948.  Cover by Frank Utpatel.


The influence that the classics have had on the world is timeless. In MU’s Special Collections and Rare Books department, there are a variety of texts that have been translated and transmitted in order to carry so many of these classical stories through time. This has enabled artists and authors alike to be inspired by these texts and give their own interpretations to the stories.

A perfect example of this and one of my personal favorites from our signature collection is our copy of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Published in 1934 by the Limited Edition’s Club and translated by Gilbert Seldes, this particular edition is illustrated by none other than Pablo Picasso.

The Limited Editions Club, founded by George Macy in 1929, was a publishing company whose goal was to give classical literature a new spin with limited illustrated editions. Macy hired many illustrators and artists of the time to participate in his projects such as: Arthur Szyk, Edmund Dulac, Thomas Hart Benton, Henri Matisse, and of course Pablo Picasso.

With fifteen hundred copies printed, Lysistrata is one of the more popular books published during Macy’s time containing not only Picasso’s illustrations but also his signature. The illustrations include six original etchings along with thirty-four line block reproductions of his work, and is the only example of an American publication of any of Picasso’s original etchings.

Macy had the following to say about Picasso’s work for Lysistrata:

“To illustrate Lysistrata, Picasso has given us six etched copperplates and forty pencil drawings. Each plate, each drawing, bears witness to his mastery of method and technique. His line is sure, confident; it cries out to the world that the man who drew it knows what he was about. And the line is pure, it is that sort of line of which even the Greeks used to say that this is “pure Grecian line.”

An artist from Malaga, Spain, Picasso created beautiful pieces reflecting many different styles. Though he is often remembered as an abstract artist and one of the founders of cubism, the time between the years 1918 and 1927 was deemed his “classical period”. During this time, he created works such as “Three Women at the Spring” (1921) and “The Pipes of Pan” (1923). A truly remarkable artist both of his time and still today. His contribution to this particular edition makes it a rarity worth checking out!

- Kayla T.

Lysistrata / by Aristophanes ; a new version by Gilbert Seldes ; with a special introduction by Mr. Seldes ; and illustrations by Pablo Picasso. New York : The Limited Editions Club, 1934. MU Ellis Special Collections Rare Vault PA3877 .L8 1934


One of the finest examples of publishing during The Golden Age of Printing is the three-volume set, Ezechielem Explanationes,  published in Rome during the years 1596 through 1604. The work is an imagined reconstruction of the Temple of Solomon. 

The author was an architect, mathematician and Jesuit scholar who, under commission from Philip II of Spain, created an imagined reconstruction of the entire Temple. 

It contains 27 large fold-out illustrations which show detail down to the individual brick. The work stands as a basic source for determining ancient Hebrew weights and measures and is acknowledged as having deeply influenced European baroque architecture. 



Embossed bindings in the Loring collection. Many of these, you can see on the spine, are from A. Mame and Company, a 19th century publisher, printer and bookbinding establishment in Tours, France. 

Mame made many such bindings, called “chocolate box” style by some historians. They featured embossing on paper of multiple colors with a window in the covers through which showed a lithograph, often of a young lady or an outdoor scene, which may or may not relate to the contents.

[Crossposted from our Instagram page.]



That’s not a shadow on the page. It’s evidence that this book was on display at some point in its history. 

We can guess that this book was displayed open to this foldout illustration of a ship on the Elbe river based on the preferential opening, which can be seen in the gutter between the pages and in the textblock in the last photo, and bbased on the sooty pages.

Evidently, the foldout was left folded up, because the soot (perhaps from a fireplace or gas lamps) is only on the surfaces exposed when it is in this state, and the middle of the images is much brighter.

This is also a great example of an intaglio print that was designed to create an illusion of a complete image when folded. It’s nearly seamless–the top left sail didn’t quite match up, but this still would have taken great skill.


xDD801 .E3 H4

Hessel, Peter. Hertzfliessende Betrachtungen Von Dem Elbe-Strom, Zur Dankbarkeit Gegen Gott Geschöpffet, Darneben Allen Schiff-Leuten Zu Einer Geistlicher Zeit-Vertreibung Vermacht; Auch Einem Jeden Christen in Diesem Angst-Meer Zu Gute Auffgesetzet. Altona: Gedruckt Bey V. De Leeu, in Verlegung Des Autoris, 1675.

George Ashdown Audsley’s The Art of Chromolithography gives a complete look at every step in a 22-impression chromolithograph print.  This animation shows what those steps look like when laid on top of one another, leading to the final product–a single print.

Chromolithography is a color printing process with its origins in the 19th century.  Color was applied to the paper layer by layer, and each new layer required its own lithography stone.  An image like this one, then, would’ve required 22 stones to print, and the paper would have had to pass beneath each one once.


It’s Miniature Monday!

Here we have an Almanac for 1790 by the Company of Stationers.  This well-loved little volume comes in it’s own leather sleeve, complete with matching gold gilding.  The title page gives a helpful explanation: “The Almanack Explained.  Note that under the Title of every Month is the change of the Moon, & every Month contains three Columns, 1. Days of the Month 2 .Saints Days, &c. 3.Time of high water at London Bridge”.  We have many other almanac’s in our collection, including this mini featured here.  

The Company of Stationer’s Almanac, 1790.  Charlotte Smith Uncatalogued Miniature Collection.

Check out our other Miniature Monday posts here.

See all of our posts with GIFs here.

-Laura H.