It’s not quite the same as pulling the sword form the stone, but we did find this beautiful edition of:
“The birth, life, and acts of King Arthur : of his noble knights of the Round Table, their marvellous enquests and adventures, the achieving of the San Greal, and in the end, Le morte Darthur with the dolorous death and departing out of this world of them all / the text as written by Sir Thomas Malory and imprinted by William Caxton at Westminster the year MCCCCLXXXV, and now spelled in modern style”
The publisher, J.M. Dent signed the back cover of the book. Not long after publishing this book Dent established his “Everyman’s Library” with the goal of publishing classics in an attractive format and sold for a shilling.
Autumn is the best time for used bookstore shopping in the city, am I
right or am I right? No bulky jackets, no runny noses from the cold
outside, no fear of frostbite when you carry out a stack of books that
doesn’t fit in your tote.
Once I discovered the glory of beautiful used bookstores, I never (okay, rarely) buy new books.
Here are some of my favorites in Chicago, in order of awesomeness.
Rare Book: Wunderzeichenbuch, or ‘Book Of Miracles’, 1552
“In AD 1119, fiery arrows or spears appeared in the sky, everywhere in the whole sky. And stars fell from the sky and when water was poured over them, they made a sound or screamed.” The words are taken from an unparalleled Wunderzeichenbuch – or “book of miracles”. The miracles in question, all 167 of them, are hand-painted in gouache and watercolour and arranged in chronological order, from Old Testament scenes (the Flood, the parting of the Red Sea) to the Last Judgement. The main body of the work, however, is given over to events from recorded history, apocalyptic scenes such as a rain of meat in Liguria or a plague of vipers in Hungary; it’s a Renaissance equivalent of cranks’ newsletter The Fortean Times, albeit with a distinct focus on the astronomical. Some 60 or so of the folios depict cosmic events, particularly comets, painted with inventive élan and highlighted with gold leaf.
Of course, every library holds a great deal of sensitive material – works which have unfortunately inspired violence, such as political manifestos, controversial religious texts, and so on. But what about a book that could actually be physically dangerous to handle?
This is the story of MSU’s toxic book, a work that was produced not out of a desire to cause harm, but out of an altruistic concern for public safety.
Shadows from the Walls of Death came about due to the work of Robert C. Kedzie, a distinguished Civil War surgeon and professor of chemistry at MSU from 1863 to 1902. In this seminal study, Kedzie described the deadly effects of the arsenic-based pigment known as Paris Green, a popular coloring agent in 19th century wallpaper. Literature included with our copy summarizes his findings:
Kedzie showed through chemical analysis that the Paris Green
pigment was poisonous and that it was only weakly bonded to the paper. As a result, it detached from the wallpaper
easily, floating into the air as fine dust particles. Those who breathed in the poisonous dust
suffered from bronchitis, rheumatism, weight loss, severe headaches, and
Kedzie immediately reported his findings to the Michigan Board of Health. To spread the word about the dangerous pigment, widely used throughout the country, he cut up samples of the arsenical wallpaper and bound them together in books. Kedzie produced 100 such volumes, which he sent out to state libraries along with his scientific data and conclusions.
Before long, Kedzie’s shocking study had made its mark, and Paris Green was banned from use as a wallpaper pigment.
Most of the 100 copies of Shadows from the Walls of Death were eventually destroyed due to their poisonous content. MSU Special Collections houses the only complete copy of the wallpaper book known to have survived, and it sits unassumingly on our vault shelves.
Fortunately, our conservators have worked to lessen the threat of this deadly arsenic-laced volume. Each wallpaper specimen has been individually encapsulated to protect library staff and patrons.
Some books in old bindings may not be entirely what they seem… in addition to housing the text of the main book, they may also harbor fragments of much older manuscripts! Known as “manuscript waste,” these fragments range from single teeny tiny strips to reinforce the binding’s inner structure to entire pages that could be recycled into covers. The strength and durability of vellum means that sometimes when such waste is found, its work of origin can be determined.
From around the 15th to the 17th century, attitudes towards religious practice fluctuated throughout Europe. A particularly violent shift occurred in England under the reign of Henry VIII, in which monasteries (and their books) were all but destroyed. This, as well as numerous less noticeable changes of religious opinion, meant that many religious manuscripts (particularly liturgical works like songbooks) were suddenly outdated; And due to the fact that the majority of medieval manuscripts were written on vellum, an expensive and sturdy material, people were loath to simply throw them away. Instead, they recycled the vellum in creative ways, reinforcing not only book bindings but clothes as well!
(The practice of reinforcing bindings with waste didn’t stop in the 17th century- examples of books using printed paper waste can be found in bindings done all the way up to the 20th century!)
(Books from Senate House Library, the University of Glasgow Library, and my personal collection)
Spirit Rapping Unveiled: An expose of the origin, history, theology and philosophy of certain alleged communications from the spiritworld, by means of “spirit rapping,” “medium writing,” “physical demonstrations,” etc. by Rev. Hiram Mattison, 1855