rare books and manuscripts


I got to attend the New York Antiquarian Book Fair for the first time on Friday! It was so lovely to see all of my booky friends, as well as to see the wonders everyone brought to sell– from the very small to the very large, from gorgeously tooled leather to embroidered cloth, and from fore edge to spine, everything was dazzling! If you can ever get to an antiquarian book fair, even if you don’t have the money to buy anything, I highly recommend it! It’s such a treat to see the wide variety of books that are out there, and to wonder at their beauty.

With thanks to @maggs-bros , Sokol Books, Quaritch, Jonathan A. Hill, @justincroft-blog and everyone else ♥

Here’s an adorable marginal caterpillar from our early sixteenth-century processional for your #ManuscriptMonday this week. MU Ellis Special Collections Rare Vault BX2032 .A2 1510z 

The Monk Who Saves Manuscripts From ISIS
Why a Christian wants to rescue Islamic artifacts
By Matteo Fagotto

As ISIS militants have destroyed countless artifacts, Stewart has attempted to counter them by working with Christian and Muslim communities in hotspots such as Iraq and Syria. He has trained local teams to photograph centuries-old books with the help of the non-profit organization he directs, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML). Based out of Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota, HMML is dedicated to preserving endangered manuscripts on microfilm and in digital format. So far, it has managed to photograph more than 140,000 complete manuscripts, for a total of more than 50,000,000 handwritten pages,

Happy World Book Day!

For all you book lovers, pictured here (from our 200th anniversary exhibit at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library), Harper’s New England School Library, published by Harper & Brothers in 1842-43. This set 75 volumes was issued and shipped in its own pine board cabinet fitted with shelves, a door with a lock and key, and a top piece on the back that allowed it to be hung on a wall. 


Girl’s Book of Famous Queens // 1887 // Lydia H. Farmer

This book is a pretty comprehensive list of great and famous queens throughout history.

The author, Lydia Hoyt Farmer, wrote a number of books in her life, for which she became somewhat well-known. Her obituary, from 1903, can even still be viewed on the New York Times website.

From the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection. Photographed and written by Shafer Ross.


It took at least 14 full cow skins to make the Voynich Manuscript. Here is some of the rest of what we know about this mysterious book.


The Luttrell Psalter
London The Folio Society 2012
624 pages - Over 600 pages of illuminations
Limited edition 34/1480 copies only

Bound in the finest grade Nigerian goatskin, Blocked with a design by David Eccles using gold, silver and coloured foils
The binding design using motifs from the Psalter and the Luttrell coat of arms of six martlets argent.
Presented in a hand-made solander box, with a leather label, the Psalter is accompanied by Professor Michelle P. Brown’s fascinating scholarly commentary.


Manuscript music .. 

The front of the book has an index for the music score of the psalms listed - 220 pages [one or two leaves left blanktowards the end] + 37 pages unused but ruled + 75 pages starting from the back of the book with both music and some lyrics - [but no index for that section]
the book measures 210mm x 110mm [approx 332 pages + index]
no date - the paper is watermarked 1812 - each page has 4 lines of ruled staff

The owner’s? name appears in gilt on the front ‘John Singleton’ sadly at this time we do not have any further information about him.


Charting the rough waters of Easter

Well, it appears Easter Sunday came and went without any schisms or epic arguments between branches of the church. However, in c. 1150 northern England, when this manuscript was written, Easter without a great deal of disagreement would’ve been a relatively new concept!

You may recognize the bearded fellow above from my previous post on book holes. He is, in fact, the Venerable Bede, ‘the father of English history’ and all-around Renaissance man before there was even a Renaissance. It is he that we have to thank for not only the BC/AD dating system and the first scholarly books in English, but for the recording of the standardization of the methods used to calculate the yearly date of Easter. Before standardization, people were excomunicated or worse for celebrating Easter on an “incorrect” day. The Synod of Whitby in 664 set the Easter rules in stone, and Bede’s record of the event is the most detailed that remains in existence.

These charts come from a manuscript volume of works that include Bede’s Treatise on the Reckoning of Time, as well as writing by Dionysius Exiguus, whose research and figures laid the groundwork for Bede’s own calculations. I don’t pretend to know what exactly the figures mean, but I marvel at the amount of mathematical work that went into them. The 5th graph looks positively modern!

(bunny from Edinburgh MS 2, other images from Glasgow MS Hunter 85)


In our second video on books and the history of fashion, Alla Barabtarlo takes you through the process of making a manuscript, and what that means for research on the history of dress.

Behind the Scenes at The Huntington: The Library Paging Process

The Huntington Library is a bustling research center with around 1,700 researchers using the collections each year. Some 33,000 rare books and manuscript items are paged annually, and those items are retrieved and delivered by a talented team of library staffers. We recently met up with reader services assistant Alisa Monheim for a behind-the-scenes tour of the book-paging process. Here’s how it all goes down:

When a reader (our in-house term for someone doing research in our Library collections) wants to see an item in the collections, s/he fills out a request on our computer system and the request is sent to the paging team. Alisa is on that team. Here she is checking a couple of new requests.

Printout of a request in hand, Alisa heads to the trusty and beautiful and ever-useful (and I want one so bad) card catalog to gather info on the item being paged—what collection it’s in, where in the many-roomed, many-floored Library it’s located, etc.

Then it’s off to the stacks to track down the item, which in this case happens to be 19th-century cookbook.

Next, she enters the retrieved item into the system and places it in the holding area with other paged items.

Then one of the fabulous reading room staff members hands it off to the reader who paged it. Blammo! Paging process complete!

Gustave Flaubert’s travel diary among rare books at historic sale 

“The handwritten manuscript is page after page of scratched out notes, smudges, comments and ink blots that reveal just how arduous the French novelist Gustave Flaubert found the writing process.

Celebrated for his first and most famous published work, Madame Bovary, which took five years to write, Flaubert was meticulous about the style and elegance of his work.

The 277-page Flaubert travel diary […] was written in 1848 when Flaubert and his friend Maxime Du Camp went walking in Brittany and decided to write a joint work: Flaubert the odd-number chapters, Du Camp the even. They were never published in his lifetime.” [source]