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.
In the Middle Ages, books were incredibly scarce, and although many wanted to share knowledge with the masses, they didn’t quite trust the public. So the chained library was born, and while most of these restrained reading collections have vanished, a rare few still exist, looking much as they did centuries ago.
Have you seen our new exhibit in the Ellis Library Colonnade? It’s called Libraries at War, and it features selections from the Poster Collection dealing with libraries in World War I and World War II.
The Library War Service was created in 1917. It was directed by Herbert Putnam, then Librarian of Congress, and administered by the American Library Association.
In an enormous effort to send books and other
reading material to the American forces, the ALA distributed about ten million
books and magazines; collected five million dollars from public donations;
supplied library collections to more than 500 locations, including military
hospitals; and with the financial help of Carnegie Corporation, established 36
camp and military base libraries.
During the Second World War more than seventeen
million books were collected through the National Defense Book Campaign
launched in 1941 and better known as the Victory Book Campaign.
Books were frequently
regarded as powerful ideological tools. President Roosevelt wrote: “No man and
no force can take from the world the books that embody man’s eternal fight
against tyranny. In this war, we know,
books are weapons.”
It was very hard to take good photos through glass AND mylar, but be assured - in person, these posters are quite striking. If you’re in Columbia, stop by and take a look.
It was once known as seventh holy city of Islam. It was also called the “City of Libraries” and home to the cultural elite of West Africa. Now Chinguetti is in the process of being swallowed up in its entirety by the desert and will disappear in a few generations.
Less than ten libraries and thousands of rare books remain including important Islamic manuscripts on religion, science and literature.
I hope an army of conservators and preservationists are on their way.
The year was 1617. William Hakewill MP commissioned it to give as a gift to a friend. And it just might be the first mobile library.
The Jacobean miniature travelling library consisted of 50 gold-tooled vellum-bound miniature books contained in a wooden case that resembled a large folio.
Inside there were three shelves for the books. The inside cover was an illuminated table of contents. The subject matter covered history, poetry, theology and philosophy and included works by Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, Seneca, Horace and Julius Caesar.
It was the perfect gift for a reader on the go and must of been a hit for within the next five years Hakewill had 3 others made.
The rare miniature travelling library is part of the Brotherton Collection of rare manuscripts, photographs and books housed at Leeds University and thanks to a £1.3m Heritage Lottery grant will go on display in late 2015 in a newly built gallery.
The three other known copies live at the British Library, the Huntington Library and the Toledo Museum of Art Ohio.
“Eighteen copies only of this edition have been made for sale in America, and twelve copies only for sale in Europe, and … no future edition will be issued … this copy … has been specially illuminated throughout by Nestore Leoni for John E. Berwind, and no two copies are alike.” Our copy is no. sixteen, signed by the illuminator and publisher.
many people, I saw the new Doctor Strange movie in theaters this
weekend. I expected a fun, visually exciting film (which I got); but I
wasn’t expecting a lot of library screen time, so needless to say, I was
pleasantly surprised! Without spoiling anything, the library is the
scene of some important plot developments, and features some very
interesting set pieces, including books chained to a honeycomb-like
sliding rack alongside the more traditional bookshelves.
the sliding rack may not have been recognizable to librarians of old,
the practice of chaining books certainly was. From the Middle Ages to
the late 17th century, books were expensive and precious objects that
weren’t allowed to be removed from the library willy-nilly. However, due
to both their value as objects and as containers of knowledge, books
were under a very real threat of being borrowed for reference and never
returned. Initially, books were kept in large locking chests for
security, but as libraries began to expand, the chests no longer
provided enough room for storage and the books had to be moved onto open
shelves. And so, much like dogs kept on a leash to prevent them from
running off, the books were chained to the shelves.
It is unclear exactly when and where the first books were chained, but the practice caught on all over Europe.The chains were linked to a metal rod that ran the length of the shelf, which meant that in order to reference the books, readers were literally “chained” to the spot! To remedy this, desk areas were often placed in front of the chained shelves, such as these in the chained library of Hereford Cathedral.
There are some lovely examples of chained libraries that survive today, such as that of Hereford and a smaller one in Chetham’s Library in Manchester. If you get a chance, pay one a visit! It’s amazing to see a snapshot of what a medieval reader would’ve been faced with when entering a library. However, if you can’t make it to Europe, at least you can get a peek of the concept and feeling in Doctor Strange!
Rubricated and illuminated. Colophon: “This manuscript, selected poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson, The May Queen, The sea fairies,The beggar maid, Hero to Leander, and Dora was designed, written out, and illuminated by Alberto Sangorski for Messrs. R. Rivière & Son bookbinders & booksellers to H.M. King George V. London. This manuscript will not be duplicated. This manuscript was executed by me [signed] Alberto Sangorski London A.D. 1912.”– P.  Miniature of Tennyson, three miniatures of the May Queen, miniature of the Beggar Maid, miniature of Hero, two miniatures of Dora are initial-signed by Sangorski, and some are dated 1912. Full blue morocco, inlaid and gilt in an over-all design with semi-precious stones and seed pearls, mounted on upper cover. Beige morocco doublures, inlaid with red, white and green morocco and gilt. Silk protective guards interleaved between some pages. All edges gilt. Stamp-signed on upper doublure: “Bound by Riviere & Son”. In silk-lined green morocco folding case.
Courtesy of Rare Book Collection, Detroit Public Library
Bradley said he could give up anytime he wanted, didn’t even like the taste. Then wrote this whole text in ten minutes after downing twelve cups before passing out in Mrs. Miggins’ pie shop. True story.
Note: Our legal team (Bob) would like me to make clear this is not a true story.
The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in the University of Toronto
Inaugurated in 1973, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in the University of Toronto is named after Thomas Fisher (1792-1874), who played a significant role in the public life of the community from Yorkshire to Upper Canada.
(Photo by Casey Maggs)
The library houses rare collections of Shakespeare, and various twentieth century authors. Since 1973, it has acquired 700,000 volumes and 3000 linear metres of manuscripts.