rare-book-library

Here in the northern hemisphere, the Perseid meteor shower should be peaking sometime soon, as Earth crosses into the dust trail left by comet Swift-Tuttle. Are you watching for shooting stars?

- Kelli

Pérégrinations d’une comète, from Un autre monde : transformations, visions, incarnations … et autres choses by Grandville. Paris : H. Fournier, 1844. MU Ellis Special Collections Rare NC1499.G66 A42. Original image at https://exhibits.lib.missouri.edu/items/show/8.

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What is the deadliest book on your shelves?

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 ultimately death.

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.

~Andrew

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Reading in Restraint: The Last Chained Libraries

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. 

Come with us for a tour of the world’s last remaining chained libraries, on Atlas Obscura!

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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.

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The Libraries of Chinguetti 

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.

More at Messy Nessy Chic: The Lost Desert Libraries of Chinguetti 

Petition to start using these names for tertiary colors…

This color wheel is from The Grammar of Painting and Engraving (1874) by Charles Blanc, translated from the French by Kate Newell Doggett. 

Our current exhibition, Color in a New Light explores the Smithsonian Libraries’ collection through the topic of color. It’s on display in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum  until March 2017, though you can visit the online exhibition, including a Digital Library for the exhibition. 

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Shakespeare’s sonnets : in two parts / illuminated by N. Leoni.  [Cambridge, Mass.?] : Geo. D. Sproul, 1901.  Saint Dunstan ed. 

MERLIN catalog record

“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.

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The May Queen by Alfred Lord Tennyson

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. [63]
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
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The World’s First Mobile Library; A ‘Jacobean Kindle’

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.

Story and  more images at Daily Mail Online.

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. 

The Virtue and Use of Coffee with regard to the Plague and other Infectious Distempers

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.

We’re getting in on the whole animated gif thing and our first one is this delightful illustration from the Paris Music Hall collection in our Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscripts Library.

The original image used for this animation is a design by George Barbier, who has four other images also in the gallery.

We’d like to say a special thanks to University of Iowa Special Collections uispeccoll for inspiration and to smithsonianlibraries and their tutorial for convincing us we could do it, even with very little experience. 

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Holy Books, Hole-y Books

Just like marginalia, holes in the pages of books come from diverse sources. However, it seems that insect actions in some form or another are the cause of the majority of the damage!

In the first set of images, the holes in the vellum actually come from bug bites that occurred before the death of the animal. Such holes wouldn’t become visible until the animal’s hide was stretched, and as vellum was (and is!) such an expensive commodity, some late-presenting holes wasn’t always enough to put off medieval bookmakers. The holes in the 5th image probably come from a similar source.

The 3rd and 4th images show holes made by a human hand. It’s unclear why this manuscript was so thoroughly mutilated, although it’s likely that it fell victim to an illumination collector from the Victorian era or earlier. Such collectors had no qualms about cutting up an manuscript to extract illuminations and decorative initials, sometimes pasting them into scrapbooks. This kind of mutilation can also occur when teachings or sentiments within the text fall out of favor, and owners want to make sure their books don’t contain anything offensive.

The final image shows holes from the librarian’s old nemesis, the bookworm. A whole family of bookworms had quite a good time chowing down on the paper of this Incunable page! These holes were clearly made after the book was made, as the bookworms managed to tunnel through about half of the book before giving up.

(MS Hunter 85, MS Hunter 279, MS Hunter 366, and MU7-x.5 from the University of Glasgow special collections)