Caster’s jerks and knocking up the balls: Adventures in hand-press bookmaking

Me in a printer’s hat.

The first week in June, I had the privilege of attending the Book History Workshop (BHW) at Texas A&M University, where a group of twenty workshop participants and six instructors created a facsimile edition of an 18th century publication–setting the type, imposing the pages, pulling the press, and folding and binding the gatherings into pamphlets–in addition to experimenting with other aspects of book production, such as typecasting, making and decorating paper, and creating woodcut and wood engraved illustrations. These pursuits were all in the name of empirical bibliography, a term coined by Todd Samuelson and Christopher Morrow, instructors of the BHW, which they define as “an effort to understand the manner in which a book was constructed through immediate physical experience (including the systematic and repeatable process of testing and verification based on historical methodology)” (Samuelson and Morrow 86). We made books, therefore, following appropriate practices and technologies of the hand press period (ca. 1450-1800), in order to develop a deep understanding of book construction that would inform our future work with these books as librarians, curators, and scholars.

Reproduction common press at Texas A&M University.

We did indeed develop a bodily understanding of the process and labor of book production–I went to bed physically exhausted every night! Let me take you through some highlights of the workshop.

Our first full day in the pressroom, we came to tables set up with job cases full of type, equipment for composing and setting type, and an assigned number of lines to set individually:

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Once we had set our individual lines of type, we had to join them together into a page–being careful not to pie the type (spilling the lines we had so carefully composed)!

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Once we had our page locked up in its galley, we printed proof pages to see which corrections were needed.

Page of type surrounded by a metal frame with metal pieces holding the type firmly in place.

Locking up the page in a chase for a galley proof.

Finally, all the pages to be printed on a sheet were imposed on the press bed:

Day 2 began with a new experience: “knocking up the balls”–that is, putting wool into wooden ball stocks and fastening pelt over them with nails. These created padded ink balls that we used to apply ink to the type. One of my classmates joined an instructor in knocking up for this first time:

After knocking up and inking the balls, we had the chance to print the pages–wearing our printer’s hats, of course!

We also had another set of lines we each had to set.

My lines to set for day 2–longer this time!

Day 3, we had a final set of lines to set, and we experimented with two illustration techniques, wood cut and wood engraving. I plan to rush over that, however, to talk more about typecasting, which we did on day 4.

Typecasting first began with making the matrix, or the mold used to cast a single piece of type. You begin with a blank (a piece of metal that will become the matrix), and a punch (another piece of metal that is used to make the impression in the blank). Punchcutting is an entire craft unto itself, and the thought of the skill and fine touch needed to make punches blows my mind. We were given punches that we hammered into blanks, after which we filed them down to make sure the impression was centered on the matrix.

Once we had our matrices made, we were ready for typecasting. The matrix is put into an adjustable mold that is held closed with a spring. Then comes the part I was a little bit scared about–molten metal is poured into the mold, while the caster makes a “caster’s jerk.” This is an upward, jerking motion that forces the molten metal all the way into the letter form of the mold. I had some trepidation about handling molten metal, but with safety goggles and gloves, it was all pretty safe. See me below looking a liiiiiittle unsure about this whole process.

Amy getting ready to typecast. Not feeling too sure about this whole idea. Photo credit: Jo Collier.

The metal begins to solidify almost instantly, and it does not take long to cool. What comes out of the mold is a piece of type with an extra piece of metal, called a jet, attached. You break off the jet, plane off any ragged edges, and file the piece of type to type-height. And there you have it! A piece of type!

The end result of our week of labor? A 22-page facsimile pamphlet of Thomas Paine’s Thoughts on the Peace, from an edition published London in 1791. It is printed in three gatherings, or groups of folded leaves. The gatherings are sewn into a blue paper wrapper (paper made during the papermaking part of the workshop) meant to mimic the type of cheap paper wrapper that printers would frequently sell their books in. These paper wrappers were not meant to last. They were a means to hold together the gatherings of a book until the purchaser could take them to a binder to put a more permanent covering on them. In this case, though, I’m planning keep the blue paper wrapper. I’m proud of our work!

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Work Cited

Samuelson, Todd, and Christopher L. Morrow. “Empirical Bibliography: A Decade of Book History at Texas A&M.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 109, no. 1, 2015, pp. 83-109.


Early print features: navigating an errata list

 Last week, I highlighted our oldest book in veterinary medicine. I cut this section from that post for length, but thought it would be of interest to readers who may want to learn more about errata lists in early printed books.

During the printing process, the people that set the type, known as compositors, would occasionally make mistakes–as would anyone who had to set type in mirror-image! If these mistakes were not caught before the sheets were printed, printers would often include lists of errors, errata lists, so that readers could correct the text themselves. Here is an example of a corrected error:

Midway down the page, handwritten in the margin is "+ pugnabis"

Marginal correction made to the text.

Pictured below is the errata list from Jean Ruel’s Veterinariae medicinae libri II, printd by Simon de Colines in Paris in 1530. He has titled his list, Erratorum Recognitio, or recognized errors:

First line reads (in Latin): Repone pro purgabis, pugnabis. folio 2 pagina 2 versu 23.

List of printing errors included by the printer in the back of the book.

Let’s take a look at how a reader understood this section. The first listed error reads, “Repone pro purgabis, pugnabis. folio 2 pagina 2 versu 23,” or, Replace for purgabis, pugnabis. Leaf 2, page 2, row 23. The word “leaf” in this instruction brings me to an aside about the difference between foliation vs. pagination. Foliation means that the leaves in a book are numbered; in other words, if you open a book, the page on the right will have a number, but not the page on the left. Pagination means that every page is numbered. This is what we are used to seeing in books today. Early books, however, were often foliated, which is the case here:

Book opening illustrating foliation. The page on the right is numbered “2.” The page on the left has no number.

So, looking again at the instruction, “Leaf 2, page 2, row 23,” leaf 2 refers to the 2nd leaf of the text, the one that has a number “2” in the upper right corner. Then it indicates, “page 2.” Page 1 would be the side of the leaf that has the number on it, or the right side of the page when the book is held open. Page 2 is the other side of the leaf. Sometimes this is referred to as recto and verso, in which verso refers to the reverse side of the leaf. So here, after finding leaf 2, the reader turns the page for page 2 of that particular leaf.

The next item in the instruction is the row number, row 23 here. Starting from the top line of text on the page, count down the number of lines until you reach row 23. This count will include the line for the chapter heading seen on the page. (Confusingly it does not include the running head at the very top of the page that gives the book’s title.)

Numbers added to the rows on the page. (click for larger image)

So, to recap: for this error, the reader turns to folio 2, turns over the page, and counts down 23 lines. There we find the error, “purgabis.” The reader has marked the word with a small cross, and in the margin given the correct word, pugnabis. This reader petered out after several corrections. After trying the process out on the page pictured here, you may understand why.

A "+" above the word "purgabis" printed in the text to match the handwritten correction "+pugnabis" in the margin.

Close up of marginal correction.


Rare Book Highlights: ISU’s oldest book in veterinary medicine

Iowa State University has the oldest veterinary college at a state school in the United States, founded in 1879. It is fitting, therefore, to examine the University Library’s oldest book in veterinary medicine, Jean Ruel’s Veterinariae medicinae libri II, published in Paris in 1530.

Title page of book includes large, black-and-white line illustration showing a bearded man wearing 16th century European clothing on a horse. In the background is a castle, some smaller houses, a herd of horses or other animal. Behind these are woods and a sky with clouds and a group of three flying birds.

Title page of Veterinariae Medicinae Libri II by Jean Ruel, 1530.

The work’s title page credits Jean Ruel as the work’s “interpreter,” and indeed, the text is a compilation of ancient Greek texts on veterinary medicine, translated into Latin. Ruel, born in 1474, was a French physician and botanist, and in 1509 he became physician to King Francis I, who commissioned the work. Ruel taught himself Greek and Latin, and he published a number of compilations or translations of classical scientific texts. He is best known for authoring his own treatise on botany, De natura stirpium, published six years after the veterinary medical work.

Authors are listed in Latin: Apsyrtus, Hierocles, Theomnestus, Pelagonius, Anatolius, Tiberius, Eumelus, Archedemus, Hippocrates, Aemilius Hispanus, Litorius Beneuentanus, Himerius, Africanus, Didyms. Diophanes, Pamphilus, Mago Carthaginensis.

Greek authors included in Ruel’s compilation.

The work was published by Simon de Colines (c. 1480-1546), a Parisian printer and one of the first of the French Renaissance. Colines was connected to the famous Estienne printing family and likely worked under Henri Estienne. When Estienne died in 1520, he took over his print shop until Estienne’s son Robert took it over in 1526. At that point, Colines had set up his own print shop and printed works for the University of Paris. He printed a number of prominent scientific texts, including Charles Estienne’s De dissection partium corporis humani libris tres (1545), and Ruel’s later publication De natura stirpium (1536).

Table of contents in Veterninariae Medicinae, referred to here as an Index.

Today, when we think of nonfiction or scholarly books, we expect to see features that help us navigate these texts, such as tables of contents or indexes. These features did not always exist, however, and Colines made important contributions to the development of these textual structures in early printing. This work includes a table of contents (pictured above), which he labels an “Index.”

Page showing writings on fevers in horses by Greek authors Eumelus, Agathotychus, and Pelagonius.

The text is organized by malady, beginning with fever in horses, and presents texts on that subject by various classical Greek authors. At the end, Ruel has included a glossary of terms.

Ruel has included a glossary of terms.

Binding

The most unique feature of our copy of Veterinariae medicinae is its binding. It is rather inexpertly covered in in three separate pieces of waste manuscript vellum — the spine and the front and back covers. Take a look at the turn-ins (pictured below), or the part of the covering material which is turned over the outer edges of the boards. See how sloppily they are done? A little bit like how I covered my high school text books using an old brown paper grocery bag. A more neatly crafted binding would have mitered corners that come to a point in the corners, rather than this overlapping one, and the turn-ins will usually be neatly covered by the paste-down endpapers.

The waste manuscript material is of interest, too. I plead ignorance of all things manuscript-related, but this does not look to me like a typical medieval manuscript piece. To begin with, I don’t believe this is Latin. It looks like French to me. At least, I clearly see the word “amour” (shown above, circled in red). Is this a love poem? It looks like it could be lines of poetry. It is written in a large hand with a lot of space between lines and fairly wide margins. Do you have a guess what this piece of writing is? Do you recognize the hand, and could you hazard a guess at the time period it was written? If you have any insights please share in the comments section below.

Shows handwritten text in an old handwriting style, written on vellum.

Can you read this? The ink is a bit faded.

Work Cited

Jean Ruel. Veterinariae medicinae libri II. Parisiis: Simonem Colinaeum, 1530. (Call number SF743 H612v)


Manuscripts Miscellany: William Rankin Civil War Letters

This post offers a peek at a new collection. In 2017, Special Collections purchased a collection of letters from William Rankin, a young Iowan from a farming family who appear to have lived in or near Waukon or Dundee in northeast Iowa. Rankin volunteered in the summer of 1864 for the Union Army as a “Hundred Days Man.” The Hundred Days Men were volunteer troops who served for 100 day enlistment periods during the height of the Civil War. They were intended to serve non-combat support roles in order to free up the veteran units for combat. Rankin served as a Corporal in Company F of the 46th Regiment, Iowa Infantry. His regiment was assigned to guard the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, located near Collierville, TN, a town just outside of Memphis.

The collection includes 30 letters addressed to “Folks at home.” He talks about daily life in camp, rumors from the front lines, news about fellow Iowa soldiers, and the area they were stationed in. He was apparently starved for news from home, as each letter ends with a plaintive appeal that his family answer every one of his letters.

In a letter dated “Coliersville Tenn July 6th 1864,” he describes his experience on picket guard on the 4th of July:

…it was my turn to stand on picket guard so all the fourth of July I stood under a big tree in Tennessee and at night I lay behind a log and watched for rebs but nary a reb did I see. About ten o’clock we heard two guns go off on the other side of the picket line, and in a short time the long roll was sounded. The we heard the officers yelling at the men to fall out and form into line. We could hear the colonel’s voice swearing at the men for not getting out quicker and we had (that is the pickets) to lie still. We lay for about an hour and then we heard the boys going back to bed.

In another letter, dated July 12th, he describes the punishment for some men that were caught sleeping while on guard duty:

Every night the officers of the day and guard go to every picket post to see that every thing is all right. It is called the grand rounds. The other night they found six men and a corporal asleep so they have to sleep in the guard house every night & every morning at four o’clock the guards wake them up. The corporal of the squad has to take a board that is fixed like a banner & on it is written “Sleeping Squad.” The guards then take them out of the guard house & march them to the different companies and they have to carry 6 pails of water for each Co. The corporal has to march ahead with his banner and they have to do this for 8 days.

“Sleeping Squad” written in Rankin’s letter dated July 12, 1864.

He also shares news from the front lines. His letter from August 22, 1864 contains this story:

Yesterday Memphis was attacked by about fifteen hundred cavalry. They dashed into the city and captured Gen. Washburn’s headquarters and about five hundred of our boys. They also took a battery. We heard the firing very plainly but could not find out what it meant for some time for the wire was cut on both sides of us. About ten o’clock they got the wire fixed & then we began to get the news. They were chasing them. They had recaptured the battery. Last night they were fighting at White’s Station which is about half way to Memphis from here. We expect them here about tomorrow morning. They will find us ready. We were called out last night about two o’clock and had to stay up till sunrise. We didn’t like it very well. We expect to have the same thing to do tonight.

The entire collection of letters can be read in Special Collections and University Archives: MS-0711, William Rankin Civil War Letters.

 


Rare Book Highlights: An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex

Title page of second edition of Drakes Essay in Defence of the Female Sex.

In 1696, An Essay in Defense of the Female Sex was published in London, “written by a Lady.” For a long time, this work was attributed to Mary Astell, an English pro-woman writer, known for her work A Serious Proposal to the Ladies published two years earlier. In recent years, however, the authorship has been attributed to Judith Drake, and English intellectual from the same circle as Astell. She was married to the physician and political pamphleteer James Drake, who wrote a poem dedicated to the author, which appeared in the second edition of the book. Another piece of evidence of Drake’s authorship is in the description of the book that appears in a catalog of books sold after 1741 by the publisher Edmund Curll, in which it was noted that it was written by “‘Mrs. Drake, probably a sister of Dr. James Drake, who attended to the publication of the pamphlet'” (quoted in Hill 877).

The book is written in the form of a letter to a female friend, as an outgrowth of “a private Conversation, between some Gentlemen and Ladies, and written at the request, and for the Diversion of one Lady more particularly,” as she writes in the Preface. The essay begins, in its characteristic complex style:

The Conversation we had ‘tother day, makes me, Dear Madam, but more sensible of the unreasonableness of your desire; which obliges me to inform you further upon a Subject, wherein I have more need of your instruction.

Sentence is repeated in text below.

Opening sentence of the “Essay.”

This “essay” takes up 148 pages, in which she uses a rationalist arguments to defend women against accusations that suggest women are inferior to men. Point-by-point, she makes the case that women are not naturally less intelligent or talented than men, but that “due care has not been taken, to cultivate those Gifts to a competent measure in us” (Drake 9). She also lampoons men through a series of satirical sketches that show the follies and weaknesses of male stereotypes, as outlined in the work’s full title, “…in which are inserted the Characters of A Pedant; A Squire; A Beau; A Vertuoso; A Poetaster; A City-Critick; &c.”

Black and white engraving of a man dressed in 17th century fashion with a large wig, a long coat hitting at the knee, stockings, and healed shoes, standing in front of a mirror, while a second man arranges his hair from behind.

Illustration of a “beau” used as the book’s frontispiece.

Take, as an example, her description of a Beau (or dandy):

When his Eyes are set to a languishing Air, his Motions all prepar’d according to Art, his Wig and his Coat abundantly Powder’d, his Gloves Essenc’d, and his Handkercher perfum’d, and all the rest of his Bravery rightly adjusted, the greatest part of the day, as well the business of it at home, is over; ’tis time to launch, and down he comes, scented like a Perfumers Shop, and looks like a Vessel with all her rigging under sail without Ballast.

 

…From hence he adjourns to the Play-house, where he is to be met again in the side Box, from whence he makes his Court to all the Ladies in general with his Eyes, and is particular only with the Orange-Wench. After a while he engages some neighboring Vizor, and together they run over all the Boxes, take to pieces every Face, examine every feature, pass their Censure upon every one, and so on to their Dress; here he very Judiciously gives his opinion upon every particular, and determines whose Colours are well chosen, whose Fancy is neatest, and whose Cloths fit with most Air; but in conclusion sees no Body compleat, but himself in the whole House. (ibid 69-71)

Drake concludes by arguing that women are in the position to teach men certain virtues of character. She writes, “There remains nothing more, but to shew that there are some necessary Qualifications to be acquir’d, some good Improvements to be made by Ingenious Gentlemen in the Company of our Sex. Of this number are Complacence, Gallantry, Good Humour, Invention, and an Art, which (tho’ frequently abus’d) is of admirable use to those that are Masters of it, the Art of Insinuation, and many others” (ibid 135).

Drake also pokes gentle fun at herself, apologizing for the long-windedness of her essay, writing, “One Experience I have gain’d by this Essay, that I find, when our Hands are in, ’tis as hard to stop ’em, as our Tongues, and as difficult not to writ, as not to talk too much” (ibid 147-148).

There is just one more things that I wanted to note before I conclude my own essay, which is also in danger of growing long-winded. That is the provenance of this particular copy of Drake’s Essay from our collection. Did you notice the author signature on the title page above? Let’s look at it again.

Description in text below.

Ownership signature on title page.

“Matthew Steel” is written in full on either side of the words “In which are inserted the,” and below is a location and date, “Quantico 1753.” One of the back fly-leaves has more:

Description in text below

Year and location of owner noted on back fly leaf.

Ann. Domini 1755

the Year of our Lord 1755

Quantico

Quantico

Dumfries

Quantico and Dumfries are towns in Virginia that were settled in the 17th century by Scottish colonists. This copy of a book published in London was at some point brought to the American colonies and owned by a Matthew Steel in the colony of Virginia. Though by no means our oldest book, there is something thrilling in looking at this book and knowing it traveled so early on across the Atlantic.

Works Cited

Drake, Judith. An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex: in which are inserted the characters of a pedant, a squire, a beau, a vertuoso, a poetaster, a city-critick, &c. in a letter to a lady. Second edition. London: Printed for A. Roper and E. Wilkinson at the Black Boy, and R. Clavel at the Peacock, 1696.

Hill, Bridget. “Drake, Judith.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.


Rare Book Highlights: Illustrated editions of Paul Laurence Dunbar

Black and white photograph of Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was an influential Black American poet. Born in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio to former slaves from Kentucky, Dunbar excelled in school and was considered the class poet in high school. Unable to afford college, he looked for work, but was rejected by Dayton businesses and newspapers because of his race. He finally took a job as an elevator operator. Continuing to write poetry, he was invited by a former teacher to read his poetry to the Western Association of Writers meeting in Dayton in 1892. This experience brought him wider recognition and led him to publish his first book of poems, Oak and Ivy, in 1893. Included in this book were some of his earliest dialect poems that he came to be famous for.

Plain gray cloth cover with titel and author stamped in gold. Speckled with white areas of possible insect damage.

Cover of Majors and Minors by Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

Dunbar published a second book of poetry in 1895, Majors and Minors, one of the several Dunbar books that we hold in Special Collections. This second book included both poems written in standard English, grouped under the heading “Majors,” and poems written in dialect, under the heading “Minors.” Dialect poetry developed out of the Plantation tradition genre of writing in which white writers presented a romanticized vision of the Antebellum South and used dialect in a way that reinforced negative racial stereotypes. But Dunbar and other Black dialect poets “sought to use the problematic plantation-tradition background in a way that rescued both the form and its subjects from the more demeaning aspects of the tradition on which they drew,” as described in the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. “In so doing, the poets moved dialect poetry away from caricature and even, in the view of some writers and critics of the time, toward the presentation of a distinctive African-American cultural heritage rooted in the folk life of the rural South.”

Pages showing on left a black man hunched over in front of a wood shack; on right, the text of the poem, "Philosophy."

Dunbar’s dialect poem “Philosophy” from the book “Joggin’ Erlong” is an example of his use of the genre to subvert the negative racial stereotypes associated with the Plantation tradition of writing. (click for larger image)

Special Collections has nine of Dunbar’s 20 books of poetry and fiction. Including his second book of poetry, Majors and Minors, shown above right, and his final published book of poetry, Joggin’ Erlong, shown above (1906). We also hold three of his works of of fiction: The Strength of Gideon, The Love of Landry, and The Uncalled.

I’d like to focus on a set of photographically illustrated works of Dunbar’s dialect poetry: six books published almost annually between 1809 and 1906 by Dodd, Mead & Co. These editions were collaborative artistic works, illustrated with photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club and other Art Nouveau-style decorations. ISU Special Collections owns three of these: Candle-Lightin’ Time (1904; first published 1901), When Malindy Sings (1906; first published 1896), and Joggin’ Erlong (1906).

The Hampton Institute Camera Club, which ran from 1893-1926, was a group of predominantly white faculty and staff at the Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, a historically Black university in Hampton, Virginia. They practiced a form of photography  known as Pictorialism, in which photographers used their medium to create fine art images, emphasizing beauty, composition, and tonality over creating a strictly documentary visual record. Although predominantly white, the Camera Club members portrayed members of the African American community in Hampton, recreating scenes described in Dunbar’s verse. Ray Sapirstein, who has done research on these illustrated volumes, argues that, not only did the Club illustrate some of Dunbar’s racially subversive poems, like “When Malindy Sings,” but also that their artistic choices in illustrating the poem “actually makes explicit some of Dunbar’s subtly subversive content” (“Out from Behind” 172).

The poem pokes fun at one singer, Miss Lucy, who sings with proficiency, but cannot compare to the untaught but wholehearted singing of Malindy. Sapirstein points out that the poem does not specify the racial identity of Miss Lucy but implies that Malindy is African American based on the gospel songs that make up her repertoire. However, in the photograph that illustrates the first three stanzas of the poem, the photographers made the decision to depict a white woman at the piano facing a black man. Sapirstein writes, “The illustration from the photo-text makes Dunbar’s statement about the inferiority of Lucy’s ‘nachel o’gans’ far more racially explicit and transgressive. … In this specific instance, it was the Hampton photographers who were responsible for making Dunbar’s subversive implication explicit, as well as depicting a young white girl in a domestic interior with a self-possessed, well-dressed (and married) young black man, potentially as social equals. Published in 1901, the tension and uncertainty on the models’ faces also reveals the transgressive nature of their proximity. The headpiece of the poem depicts Malindy as a joyous singer in a homespun vernacular calico dress” (ibid, 173).

Left page has a black and white photograph showing a Black woman kneading dough in a kitchen. Left page has the second stanza of the poem.

Pages from the poem “Dinah Kneading Dough” illustrated in “Candle Lightin’ Time.”

As Sapirstein points out, these illustrated editions were largely compilations of poetry previously published by Dunbar, with a few exceptions, and they appear to be largely assembled by the Camera Club and later approved by Dunbar, as indicated by documents held in the Hampton University Archives. For example, a mockup of the first book of the series, Poems of Cabin and Field, held in the Hampton University Archives, contains a note reading, “‘Mr. Dunbar says no to the first print'” (198), indicating that Dunbar exercised some editorial jurisdiction over the work. Still, there is little evidence of Dunbar’s feelings about the Camera Club’s overall project with the illustrated editions. He did benefit from them in multiple ways, however. The editions were very popular and allowed him to support himself through his writing. He received a thousand dollars in royalties from each publication, which enabled him to cover medical expenses as he grew ill with the tuberculosis that ended his life at age 33. Beyond that, the illustrated editions had an influence on later African American writers and photographers, including Langston Hughes, Roy de Carava, Gordon Parks, Richard Wright, and Walter Dean Myers, who worked on similar collaboratively illustrated books of poetry (Picturing 327).

The last of the editions, Joggin’ Erlong, was published in 1906, just after Dunbar’s death that same year. A note on one of the pages indicates that “Slide Along” was the last dialect poem written by Dunbar.

Left page gives first stanza of poem along with a black and white photograph of a well-dressed Black couple stopped at a fence under trees. On right page a black and white photograph of the same coule, but closer up. The man and woman are facing each otherk, the woman wearing a nice dress and fancy hat, the man wearing a suit and hat.

“Sling Along,” from book, “Joggin’ Erlong,” was the last dialect poem written by Dunbar.

Bibliography

(note: The information on the illustrated editions of Dunbar’s poetry came from the following two sources.)

Sapirstein, Ray. “Out from Behind the Mask: Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Hampton Institute Camera Club, and Photographic Performance of Identity.” Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012. 167-203.

Sapirstein, Ray. “Picturing Dunbar’s Lyrics.” African American Review, vol. 41, no. 2, Summer 2007, 327-339.

 


Rare Books Highlights: ISU’s oldest botany book

Text: Aemilius Macer De herbarum virtutibus iam primum emaculatior, tersiórque in lucem aeditus. Praeterea, Strabi Galli, poetae et theologi clarissimi, Hortulus uernãtissimus, Vterq; scholijs Ioãnis Atrociani illustratus. Basileae.

Title page of “Virtues of Plants”

Next in my new occasional series on ISU’s oldest book in a subject area, I am examining our oldest botany book. De herbarum virtutibus (Virtues of Herbs), by Aemilius Macer, is an early herbal, or book about plants that refers to their medicinal properties. Before the 16th century, botany did not exist as a branch of science apart from medicine. It wasn’t until three 16th-century German physicians published herbals whose illustrations and descriptions of plants was based on field work and not on the works of previous writers that the study of plants as a field unto itself began to emerge.

Our copy of the Virtues of Herbs was published in Basel in 1527, but it was actually written much earlier, during the 9th century. Charles Loomis Dana writes about it in his book Poetry and the Doctors: A Catalogue of Poetical Works Written by Physicians (1916). This is one of a group of popular medical works from the medieval period written in verse. According to Dana, the author Aemilius Macer, also called Macer Floridus or Odo, likely lived in France and based his work on the writings of Pliny and other classical writers. His materia medica was popular for a few centuries after it was initially written. He describes the work as written in “bad Latin hexameters” that define the characteristics of 88 plants.

Pocket-sized book held in a single hand.

Cover of Virtues of Herbs bound in calfskin leather that has been “mottled.”

The 1527 Basel edition is pocket-sized, perfect for field work, perfect for carrying for easy reference. And our copy is, indeed, much used. Some pages show stains, and there are underlinings and manuscripts notes in the margins throughout the text.

Book opened to a two-page spread.

Pages from Virtues of Herbs, showing marginalia (that has been trimmed in a rebinding), and stains.

It has likely been rebound–you can see that some of the marginalia has been trimmed–and the binding is mottled calf, a style popular from the 18th century on. The binding also has a stamp “Bound by Wood. London.” A quick internet search leads me to believe that this refers to the London bookbinding firm of Henry T. Wood, established 1875. This firm did some eye-catching 19th century bindings, although this early one is less ornate.

Gold-stamped into the inside front cover, “Bound by Wood. London.”

This work has no illustrations, but to give you a taste of the text, I will quote the English translation of the first entry in the work, given in Dana’s book:

De Artemisia

Herbarum varias dicturus carmine vires.” Being about to describe in song the various powers of plants I hold it just to put forth, first, that mother of all herbs to which the Greek gave the name Artemesia. For Diana, who is called Artemis in Greek, is said to have first discovered its power and thence the herb takes its name. It is especially healing in the sickness of women. A decoction of it drank brings on the menses. The root does this also if prepared in the same way, or if the crude parts steeped in wine are drunk. (xii)

First page of the text of “Virtues of Herbs” showing the entry for “Artemisia.”

ISU’s oldest botany book:

Aemilius Macer. De herbarum virtutibus iam primum emaculatior, tersiórque in lucem aeditus. Basel: Ioannem Fabrum Emmeum, 1537. (Call number: QK99 M156d)

Also cited:

Dana, Charles Loomis. Poetry and the Doctors: A Catalogue of Poetical Works Written by Physicians. Woodstock, Vermont: Elm tree Press, 1916.


Rare Books Highlights: ISU’s oldest book on agriculture

Cover of book shows leather covering one half of the book going around the spine. The other half is an exposed wood board with clasps holding it closed. The wood board has a number of small holes about a milimeter in diamter..

Cover of ISU’s copy of De Agricultura Vulgare.

In this month’s Rare Books Highlights post, we’ll be taking a look at the oldest agricultural book we currently own in Special Collections. It is Pietro de’Crescenzi’s De agricultura vulgare, published in 1511. With that publication date, it just misses the incunabula period, or the first 50 years of printing, but it still has many features of an early printed book. This book is an Italian translation of a much earlier work, Ruralia Commoda, a standard agricultural manual first written circa 1305.

Let’s start by taking a look at the book’s interesting binding. It is quarter-bound leather over wood boards, which means that leather is used to cover the spine only, and the wooden boards are exposed. It also has some clasps with lovely seashell-shaped catches. The boards have seen some wear–look at those chewed up corners! It also is peppered with wormholes. (That’s right–bookworms are a real thing and include a number of beetles that, in their larval state, will tunnel through wood and paper.) Based on the style, I’m guessing this is the original binding.

One of the things I love about this book are the wonderful woodcut illustrations throughout the pages. They show images of herding families, animals in some sort of corral structure with a man praying to God, a group of men threshing grain, and even what looks like a herdsman playing an old instrument resembling bagpipes! I love these illustrations for their simple depictions of medieval life and clothing.

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This book has a colophon, which is a statement at the end of the book with information about the book’s printing. This one gives the place of publication (“Venetiis”–Venice) and publication date (“die sexto mesis Septebris anno dn̄i M.D.XI.”–September 6, 1511). No publisher is listed here, even though that information was often included. A colophon was a feature that carried over into early printed books from manuscripts, where scribes would often write a message to the reader. Early in the 16th century, colophons gave way to the title page. This book is clearly from the transition period. It also has a title page, but it is very basic, listing only the author and title.

This book is Pietro de’ Crescenzi. De agricultura vulgare. Venice, 1511. Call number: S492 C863d.


Rare Book Highlights: Mythical creatures in zoological works

You know that feeling when you are flipping through an early book of natural history and you see illustrations of insects, armadillos, and…mermaids? No? Just me?

Black and white engraving of a creature that is half human with a long fish's tail. The human part is nude to the waste and appears to be female. Script on the illustration reads, "Pece Muger, sive piscis," followed by letters in Greek.

Illustration of a creator that looks like a mermaid, found in Francesco Redi’s work, “Opuscula…” (QH41 R248o).

Truly, you never know what you are going to find when you look through early works of zoology. Mythical creatures aren’t limited to medieval bestiaries. Check out these other interesting creatures from books in our collections.

This two-headed snake-like creature is found in an Italian book on parasites from 1684.

Illustration shows three figures in the shave of a Y, one of which is a two-headed snake.

From “Osservazioni di Francesco Redi” (QL757 .R248o).

And for the Potterheads out there, Charles Owen’s An Essay Towards a Natural History of Serpents (1742) has many delights.

Winged dragons…

Black and white engraving of four types of serpents, the common asp, the winged dragon, the Ethiopian dragon, and the scytale. The two dragons are shown with wings. The Ethiopian dragon is illustrated with wings and two legs.

Illustration of winged dragons from Charles Owen’s “An essay towards a natural history of serpents” (QL666.O6 Ow2e).

a basilisk…

Black and white engraving of four different serpents: two of "the Basilisk or Cockatrice living in the Desarts of Africa," an American serpent, and the elaphis. The top image of the basilisk or cockatrice shows a snake like creature wearing a crown on its head. The second of the two show a creature with a long tail, four pairs of legs, and a bird-like head wearing a crown.

Illustration of the basilisk or cockatrice, from Owen’s work on serpents (QL666.O6 Ow2e).

and various sea serpents.

Black and white engraving of four creatures: the sea serpent, the sea scolopendra, the mistress of serprents, and the natrix torquata. The sea serpents is looped multiple times around intself with a large head, large eye and rows of teeth. The sea scolopendra is shown with a feathery-looking coat down its entire body.

Illustrations of sea serpents in Owen’s work on serpents (QL666.O6 Ow2e).

Owen has interesting things to say about all these serpents. Speaking of dragons, he cites ancient Greek and Roman historians who were said to have seen such beasts. The are supposed to be found in Europe, “between the Caspian and Euxine Sea,” as well as “the Atlantic Caves, and Mountains of Africa.” Surprisingly, “These also have been seen in Florida in America, where their Wings are more flaccid, and so weak, that they cannot soar on high” (192). “The Basilisk or Cockatrice,” he tells us, “is a Serpent of the Draconick Line, the Property of Africa, says Aelian, and denied by others: In shape, resembles a Cock, the Tail excepted” (78). He notes many traditional characteristics of the basilisk–again familiar to Potter fans: “his Eyes and Breath are killing,” “it goes half upright, the middle and posterior parts of the Body only touching the Ground,” and its venom “is said to be so exalted, that if it bites a Staff, ’twill kill the Person that makes use of it; but this is Tradition without a Voucher” (78-79).

Charles Owen (d. 1746), a Presbyterian minister, was following in the footsteps of the authors of early medieval bestiaries, who believed that animals as creatures created by God, were endowed with moral meaning for mankind. Thus, not being a scientist himself, he gathers together what others, particularly the ancient Greek and Roman authors, have written about the creatures and hopes that it “produces in the Reader a more exquisite Perception of God in all his Works” (vii). It comes as no surprise, then, that Owen frequently quotes from the Bible and refers to stories in which serpents play a role, or philosophizes on the symbolism of the serpent as with this passage from his section on dragons:

What is moral Evil but the Venom of the old Serpent? A Venom as pleasant to the Taste, as the forbidden Fruit to the Eye, but the End is Bitterness. And what are Incentives to Sin, but delusive Insinuations of the subtle Serpent? And what is Enjoyment, but a pleasing Illusion, which is no sooner grasp’d, but glides away as a Shadow, leaving behind it a wounded Conscience, direful Apprehensions and Prospects. (193)

Bibliography

Owen, Charles. An essay towards a natural history of serpents. London: Printed for the author, 1742. Call number: QL666.O6 Ow2e

Redi, Francesco. Opuscula… Amsterdam: Apud Henricum Wetstenium, 1685-86. Call number: QH41 R248o

Redi, Francesco. Osservazioni di Francesco Redi … intorno agli animali viventi che si trovano negli animali viventi. Florence: P. Matini, 1684. Call number: QL757 .R248o

 


Rare Books Highlights: Biblio Vault of Horrors!

Illustration of blonde woman with mouth open in a scream.

Oh, the horror!

Gaze–if you dare–on these images of spineless and dismembered books uncovered in our vault.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

Broken spines, missing spines, and detached boards

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This one has been stabbed…

This one makes me cry: laminated title page:

Please don’t do this to your books! The adhesive is acidic (see the browning effect?), and it is basically impossible to remove the lamination without destroying the book.

Remember, be kind to books, and they may last for hundreds of years!