This binding is from the famous collection of Jacques-Auguste de Thou, whose melding of his arms with both of his wives was one of the sweet stories in Jan Storm van Leeuwen’s Rare Book School class this year (if you are at all interested, and haven’t already: take this class!). Though I frankly can’t remember which coat of arms was which, the catalog record for today’s book, NC6.Em663.599r, helps me by pointing out that this is the arms of him and his second wife,  Gasparde de La Chastre. Though the book was published in 1599, this would date the binding to after 1602. It is bound in red morocco.

NC6 Em663 599r upper cover, de Thou

NC6 Em663 599r spine, de Thou

NC6 Em663 599r lower cover, de Thou

Today, all of the images are from early 19th century Italian libretti from the Ward Collection in the Harvard Theatre Collection. All of the decorated wrappers appear to be later than the original libretto which they protect, but they are no less interesting and beautiful for it.

TS 8232.172 1806

TS 8070.253 1814

TS 8193.419 1816

TS 8154.591 1818

TS 8415.428 1820

TS 8587.231 1822

German treatise about Bezoars (made famous these days by Harry Potter). Caught my eye as parchment reuse in a limp binding, with remains of ties.

GC5.W7854.589b upper cover

Upper Cover, with reused parchment from late medieval (gothic) latin manuscript.

GC5.W7854.589b spine

Spine, with dye or some other coloring to hide parchment – make it look more like leather?

GC5.W7854.589b lower cover

lower cover, more of the same manuscript

GC5.W7854.589b end-leaves

inside lower cover, showing the limp structure, and the verso of the same manuscript, with better preserved color in the rubricated letter


WKR 24.7.7. Binding of Pietro Duodo, with his arms (upper) and motto (lower) on covers. In citron morocco (for medicine and botany in his color-coded subject system). 1590s.

WKR 24.7.7 upper cover

Upper Cover

WKR 24.7.7 spine


WKR 24.7.7 lower cover

Lower cover

 fBr 1201.15.7 lower cover detail

Text on the lower cover of fBr 1201.15.7, rotated and flipped. How did it get there?


This is a bibliographic mystery from a book that I recently ran across in the Houghton Library, f Br 1201.15.7, which is a Life of Ælfred the Great, in Latin, from 1678. For this question, the content of the book isn’t so important. The contemporary vellum cover, over paper boards, is the highlight. The lower cover seems to have an impression of type on it, lighter than the vellum surrounding. It’s rather difficult to read any of it, since it is reversed and not very clear, but it seems to have come from a printed text — not, I should note, the text of the book it covers, which has a much larger typeface.

When the book came to Harvard in 1904, it went to Gore Hall (shelf mark 3451.29), and was shelved with other books on English history on the East Stack – Fourth Floor, rows 1-8. Then, when Widener Library opened in 1915, the call number was changed to Br 1201.15.7, and it was shelved with other Br books. If a shelf guide from before the 1999 Widener renovation was accurate in 1915, the book would have been shelved on level 2, south or west. When it came to Houghton is not entirely clear, but it was most likely in the 1940s or 1950s. I would guess the text impression dates from before the 1940s, and one would hope before it came to Harvard in 1904.

How did the impression get on the vellum? Was a printed page pressed onto the vellum? Could that have caused the discoloring that seems to have lasted quite a while? Was heat or moisture involved? There is definite sign of other interesting events in the life of this book, including some trauma that propagated more than a dozen pages in, tearing the paper in the process. Has anyone seen another example of this in their collections? Any thoughts are welcome in the comments. [Below, are images of the whole lower cover, first rotated 180 degrees and flipped horizontally, to make the text most readable; second, in the original orientation]

fBr 1201.15.7 lower cover, rotated and flipped fBr 1201.15.7 lower cover

Too late, and too tired to write a proper summary. I will say that the LSU campus was beautiful, and I appreciated the time that I had to explore a bit. My favorite session was the Pecha Kucha teaching presentations. Perhaps the restrictions led to more focused presentations, or perhaps it was refreshing that even a less than stellar presentation would only last 6:40. In any case, I came away inspired to try some new approaches at Houghton.

Lunch at The Chimes was quite good, and we stopped in for some good coffee at a local coffee shop, which  is perhaps the first time I’ve been asked, when ordering an espresso drink, to choose between mild and dark roast. Nice. (I chose dark) Unfortunately, I went to Mike the Tiger’s habitat before he was awake, and so missed the pleasure of meeting him, though I lived vicariously through the #rbms11 twitter feed.

The highlight of the day was the reception at the Rural Life Museum. There was much good conversation, drink, and food, surrounded by hanging quilts and other artifacts of material rural culture of the south. Tomorrow is sadly the last day of RBMS, and I will be heading to New Orleans and ALA on the chartered bus. I’m preparing to be mildly overwhelmed by the size of the conference to come.

My first RBMS has begun in splendid fashion. After a first evening of meeting many people at the opening reception (eating and drinking while filtering among rare book dealers) and the new members mixer (eating and drinking at a local bar), the pre conference got off true start today.

The highlight of the first plenary was Greg Gibson’s stories of the changing landscape of collecting influenced by the internet and auction houses. The questions afterward really helped focus and delve into the meat of the issues.

The first break-out session I attended, called Yes We Scan!, modeled three different responses to the issue of patron initiated scans, along the spectrum outlined in Scan & Deliver, the OCLC report on patron scanning. The Getty, University of Chicago, and San Diego State represented the outside, middle, and inside tracks. Each gave good presentations about their unique patron scanning needs and responses. None perhaps go quite so far as Houghton does in producing metadata and depositing the images for future use, but none perhaps have the resources and staff time to devote to it that Houghton does. One does wonder what would happen if we were to open up patron BookEye scanning in the reading room… perhaps some sort of chaos would ensue.

The Case Study on Collecting in the 21st Century was an overpacked house in a room whose air-conditioning seems to have given out.
John Sherlock of UC Davis told of the unique issues that attempting to collect pamphlets and ephemera of the far right bring to a library, including financial staff balking at cutting a check to the Klu Klux Klan, and the Montana Militia refusing to trust the banks, and instead being content to trust the postal service and their money orders. It makes one wonder what other controversial or extremely anti-rational literature is not being collected by serious research libraries. Scientology? Harold Camping’s Rapture publications? (Adam When?) The list could go on, and as a colleague from Texas A&M asked, do we really want to support these organizations with our money?

Another presenter in that session, Sandra Ludig Brooke, from Princeton’s Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology, spoke about the unique issues, mostly to do with preservation and access, for Art in video. The quagmire of license restrictions placed on edition and non-edition videos seems staggering. The somewhat humerous highlight of this was the final video, Jonas Jones’ 1972 “Duet,” which featured two figures howling at each other quite loudly. It brought a hotel worker from the hallway running in to see what the racket was. Ah, art.

Finally, the second plenary was concerned with Regional Collections, and their importance. I admit to some flagging of energy level by this time, and since for the most part this was outside of my expertise, I actually did better with monitoring the Twitter feed #rbms11 to see other attendees notes.

I have been trying, despite the spotty wireless in the Hilton, to read and contribute in a small way to the twitter backchannel. I hope that tomorrow will bring better internet at LSU. It is somewhat overwhelming, but I appreciate the glimpses into other concurrent sessions that I am not able to attend. (I’m intrigued, for instance, to see the Yale security video)

The day finished quite nicely with a trip to Parrain’s for dinner with the Aeon contingent (Thanks, Christian!). I was somehow seated on an all Texas table, and met many nice people from a couple of different libraries. I reminisced about Houghton before my time there, talked Old English, and ate some tasty cole slaw and fish. A fine time, despite the deluge that awaited our departure.

Pictures may be found in a Picasa album online.

If you haven’t yet seen it, please take a look at the Reference Shelf page of this blog. I’ve been working, quite sporadically, to populate the page with links to digital versions of reference books useful to rare book and special collections librarians. I’ve also done some listing of the contents of each volume to make it somewhat easier to find citations that bring you to those works.

My excitement of the title of this post is I now have links to all volumes of Sabin (thank you, Internet Archive!). When I had first been looking for them last year, I found all but volume 21. That one is also online now, and either it was an addition since I last looked, or had somehow been missed. It could well have been the latter. I hope you find it useful.

Two great new tools to further education in rare books and manuscripts are now available online for all.

The first concerns Books of Hours, and is hosted by Harvard College Library, the joint work of professor of Art Jeffrey Hamburger and librarian of Houghton Library, William Stoneman. It assumes no prior knowledge of this genre, and especially helpfully, reviews the structure of these books, which I admit is something I’m something less than an expert on. Also, which fits in quite well with the next great tool, is a comparison tool based on the structure earlier described, so the student or researcher may see different examples of each from books in the Houghton library.

Similarly, comparison lies at the heart of the educational value of the Shakespeare Quartos Archive, a project supported by NEH and the UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). It will one day feature all the quarto editions printed before 1642, but currently features only Hamlet. Even with this one play, one can see the amazing pedagogical and scholarly use. Opening, say, the 1603 British Library copy and comparing it with one Folger Library copy from 1611 in the main archive screen, is easy and revealing from the start. Bernardo and Francisco are absent as named characters in the first, though someone has helpfully inked in “now called Bernardo & Francisco,” which is evident in the 1611 copy, where they are introduced as “Enter Bernardo and Francisco, two Centinels.” What a wonderful tool for teaching bibliography and editing to graduate and undergraduate students of literature.

It’s the night before the last day of class, and I have to say that it has gone fairly quickly. I’m sad to be without Silver’s commentary and insight after this class, but have the completion of my assignments to look forward to (which I just couldn’t seem to manage to finish while I have been here).

Today was a whirlwind of sources, including “Miscelaneous” subjects, like Art & Architecture, Music, and Children’s Books, and Book Arts and the physical aspects of books in general. It was a bit overwhelming. Outside of going over those sources, the highlight for me, which has encouraged my thinking most, was an aside Silver made while we were covering sources for bookbinding reference. He bemoaned the lack of opportunity people have for connecting with the physicality of books, both as private collectors and as a part of an institution. On the private side, many book stores and booksellers are taking their stock outside of public browsing and selling solely on the internet, leaving less opportunity to serendipitously encounter books. On the institutional side, collections move to off-site storage, and more attention to conservation has led to many volumes, especially older and more climate sensitive items, to be boxed, thus hiding their bindings, and making it much harder to answer reference questions about, for example, how many books of a certain peroid one has in contemporary bindings. Some of this information is available in an electronic catalog, but as has been my experience, those records are often either incomplete or non-existent (or not easily searchable).

I had thought of another aspect of this when he was talking and since, and that is placement of the books in rare book libraries, even in closed shelves, and the priority of cataloging. The idea of the most efficient way to shelf books has come up a few times in my short time at Houghton, and I had often thought that accessioning everything and shelving as things came in would be easier for space planning and retrieval. However, without like things being shelved together, it would be nearly impossible to answer a question about period bindings by walking to the stacks. There simply wouldn’t be any sections with enough like books to make that possible. Of course, the choice of call number system determines what characteristic of similarity is used for shelving.  For Houghton “Author” class, for instance, it is the author’s origin place and time. Though most of the books might be from that time period and country, even first editions could be outside that country (not to mention later editions and translations). For instance, one of our final assignment questions for this class concerns More’s first edition of Utopia. Though classed *EC M8135U (as all of More’s Utopia editions will be in the Author system), it was published in Belgium, not in England. It might not therefore be a place to look for an English 16th century binding — and the Hollis record doesn’t set up any expectation of what binding we will find, contemporary or not. And the many other classification systems used for Houghton’s shelves (Old Widener, Typ, Accession Numbers, LC, etc.) will create different local similarities.

These may seem like trivial questions, but I actually think answering them refines the sense of the usability of the collection for staff and patrons. I fear with the rise of “folksonomies,” “tagging,” and keyword search supremacy in the general library world, we resist grappling with important questions of priority and classification that will in the long run not serve our patrons in the best way.  Especially when small typographical and technical mistakes can lead to things falling through the cracks in an electronic environment, it pays for an item to be logically catalogued and traceable by some reproducible method (e.g. a systematic call number).

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