yale university's beinecke rare book and manuscript library

Tsar Nicholas II and family pose with the Imperial Escort of Cossacks, 1916. Cossacks were first used as personal guards by Peter the Great in the 1690s in an attempt to diminish the role of the streltsy, the previous royal guards. After the Russian Revolution, the association of Cossacks with the royal family caused the Bolsheviks to attempt to eliminate them.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University


The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system. The vellum in the book pages has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century (1404–1438), and may have been composed in Northern Italy during the Italian Renaissance.The manuscript is named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish book dealer who purchased it in 1912.

The pages of the codex are vellum. Some of the pages are missing, but about 240 remain. The text is written from left to right, and most of the pages have illustrations or diagrams.

The Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British code breakers from both World War I and World War II.No one has yet succeeded in deciphering the text, and it has become a famous case in the history of cryptography.

The Voynich manuscript was donated by Hans P. Kraus to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1969, where it is cataloged under call number MS 408.


Model Monday: Beinecke Library

This scale model of the Beinecke Library beautifully illustrates the building’s facade. Granite-clad Vierendeel trusses frame translucent, white marble panels that are thin enough to admit light into the building, but also protect Yale University’s valuable collection of rare books and literary manuscripts from sun damage. Designed by SOM and completed in 1963, the library is currently closed for renovation and will reopen in September 2016.



Inside the walls of Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, it’s like having backstage passes to Coachella. Yale’s historical library isn’t open to the general public, and is only accessible to students and faculty. We in here!

Adjacent to Sterling Memorial is also the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which is one of the world’s largest libraries devoted entirely to rare books and manuscripts. We weightlessly floated through several floors of endless resources, including authentic atlases and maps of historic times. Here are some shots from the archives.


In this week’s issue, Kelefa Sanneh writes about Carl Van Vechten, a “New York hipster and literary gadabout” who was an unlikely champion of the African-American experience as it unfolded on the streets of Harlem in the nineteen-twenties: http://nyr.kr/1eiOoLP

Take a look at Van Vechten’s photographs of luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance: http://nyr.kr/1eiNSO7

Above: Ella Fitzgerald, 1940. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Carl Van Vechten Trust/Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.


Vintage Classic Horror Movie Lobby Cards (Ten Images)

Lobby cards are similar to posters but smaller, usually 11 in × 14 in (28 cm × 36 cm), also 8 in × 10 in (20 cm × 25 cm) before 1930. Lobby cards are collected and their value depends on their age, quality, and popularity.

Typically issued in sets of eight, each featuring a different scene from the film. In unusual circumstances, some releases were promoted with larger (12 cards) or smaller sets (6 cards). The set for The Running Man (1963), for example, had only six cards, whereas the set for The Italian Job (1969) had twelve. Films released by major production companies experiencing financial difficulties often lacked lobby sets, such as Manhunter (1986).

In the United Kingdom, sets of lobby cards are known as “Front of House” cards. These, however, also refer to black-and-white press photographs, in addition to the more typical 8 × 10 inch promotional devices resembling lobby cards.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University holds a collection of lobby cards from silent western films that date between 1910 and 1930.


James Weldon Johnson’s mother and sister: Helen Louise Johnson and Agnes Marion Edwards. 1870. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.


In early 20th century Harlem, New York, these cards would have been your ticket to a good weekend. Advertised as “Harlem Rent Parties”, African American tenants in Harlem would raise money to pay rent by throwing parties. These parties, always held on saturdays, would run well into sunday early morning with hosts charging .25 cents for admission. Here is an old documentary that imagines what it would have been like to attend one. 

These parties played a major role in the development of jazz and blues music. The popular phrase “cutting a rug”, is thought to have come from the Harlem rent parties, as they were often the location of so-called “cutting contests”, which involved jazz pianists taking turns at the piano, attempting to outplay one another. 

These cards are part of a collection of personal items held at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, that belonged to Langston Hughes, a pioneer of the Harlem Renaissance.