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.


Reflecting on a Semester’s Worth of Writing about Special Collections & University Archives

Photograph of white female student, long hair with glasses, close-up in a library office setting (cubicle & book shelves filled with books visible in the background).

Photograph courtesy of Cassandra.

This blog post was authored by Curation Services Student Writer Cassandra Anderson.

Writing for Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) has been an eye opening experience. I have found photographs and manuscripts that I would have never even known about had I not started this job. Sorting through photos of campus throughout the years is so interesting, because there are thousands of them and you truly never know what you were going to find. When I came across the photo from last week’s Facebook post of the students carrying the computers through the snow, I was just casually looking for cool snow pictures and I knew that I had to share that one. Within that box, there are some other awesome photos of winters throughout history of ISU including these! The history of our campus is so rich and interesting, you just have to start looking.

When you are researching a topic, it is easy to get frustrated and lose your determination to learn about the subject. One of the hardest parts of my job so far has been researching student organizations. I have found that a lot of times, not every student organization makes it into the ISU yearbook, The Bomb. Sometimes organizations will have manuscript folders in the archives, but they won’t have anything about them within The Bomb which is incredibly frustrating when you want to find photographs of an organization. You just have to remember to keep your head up, and keep digging, because you truly never know when something unexpected is going to appear within your research that may make the struggle worth it.

Cover of book The End of Eternity by Isaaac Asimov, has mn standing in front of what looks like old radio equipment. Text on cover is in white, black, and orange, rest of cover is black-and-white.

Here is another cool cover from a book within the Margaret Young Science Fiction Collection. This is The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov. Call Number PS 3551.S5E5x.

Something I tend to forget about when researching in the SCUA is that we have rare books. In fact, we even have a Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist, Amy Bishop! I know that it seems pretty obvious that a place titled “Special Collections and University Archives” would have rare books, but sometimes it just totally slips my mind! However, I have been doing quite a bit of work researching the rare books recently, from the miniature book collection to the Margaret Young Science Fiction collection, and it is so much fun! There is something so cool about old books, there is always something unique about them. If I had to pick a favorite item to research, it would be rare books. I could easily spend hours going through the pages of a single book. From the cover art to the binding, something sets each book apart from the rest of them. Some books even have crazy backstories, which make them even more interesting! This job has opened me up to a world of new possibilities when it comes to working in an archival field, and specializing in Rare Books and Manuscripts is now on the top of my list.

 


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.


Margaret Young Science Fiction Collection

Photograph of white female student, long hair with glasses, close-up in a library office setting (cubicle & book shelves filled with books visible in the background).

Photograph courtesy of Cassandra.

This blog post was authored by Curation Services Student Writer Cassandra Anderson.

When I was looking for something to write about for this blog post, I found myself scrolling through the Subject Guidelines when I saw the “Rare Books” heading. Recently, I have been working on my applications to graduate school and have found myself to be very interested in the programs that have a “Rare Books and Manuscript” focus, so I thought I would see what we had under the header. That’s when I found the Margaret Young Science Fiction Collection. Now, I have always been a little bit of a nerd, but when I saw that heading I knew what I would be writing about.

Margaret Young was the mother of an Iowa State University Faculty member who decided that she wanted to donate her collection to an repository who would keep her collection together. In total, there are 397 books and 35 serial titles within the collection. The head archivist at the time, Dr. Stanley M. Yates, wanted to protect the cover art of the books, so thankfully the books were brought into special collections. There are wide range of authors within the collection, including famous writers like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clark, H.P. Lovecraft, Jules Vern, Kurt Vonnegut, and H.G. Wells.

The collection has some familiar names to those who may not read science fiction, like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. Other pieces within the collection include Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clark, End of Eternity by Isacc Asimov, The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles Finney, and Out of the Silent Planet by C. Lewis. These are just a few of the examples, you can see a larger list of some of the titles here.

The covers of these books are so cool, I wish I could take pictures of all of them to show the world. However, since I can’t show you all of them, I will show you a few of the cool ones that I pulled today! A lot of these books are paperbacks, so they have to be handled with care when you open them. Book weights and cradles are available at the front desk if you wish to view some of these books!

One of my favorite books that I have found from the collection so far has to be The Island of Dr. Moreau. The famous book has had many covers over the years, but the cover art on this one is just so cool!

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If you are interested in looking at the rest of the collection, come see us! There are so many other cool books that I wish I could have listed for you all to see!

Here are the call numbers for the books that I mention above.

The Island of Dr. Moreau PR5774 .I8 1960z

Childhood’s End PR6005 .L36 C54X

The End of Eternity PS3551.S5 E5X

Fahrenheit 451 PS3503.R167 F3X


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!

 


Rare Books Highlights: Telling the story of wood betony in a book

Portrait in dark tones of a man seated in a chair with long hair, a black shirt and a high white collar.

Nicholas Culpeper. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Nicolas Culpeper. Oil painting. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The best booksellers are storytellers. They make the book leap off the catalog page and into the imagination, as authors, printers, or book owners are brought to life as vividly as any character in a novel. A well-crafted description, like a bird’s brightest breeding plumage, can take a book from “that’s an area we collect in” to “I’ve got to buy this book!!!”

Take, for example, my recent purchase of a 1656 copy of Nicholas Culpeper’s The English Physitian Enlarged. Culpeper, trained as an apothecary, was noted for his efforts to aid the poor, treating patients for free in his pharmacy near Spitalfields in London. He wrote this book as a resource for people to treat themselves, and–unlike other herbals from the time–included only those plants that grew in England, so that people would not expend valuable time and resources trying to find herbs that were not available.

Two leaves with small rounded lobes and long stems encapsulated in clear plastic.

Leaves identified as wood betony found pressed between pages 162 and 163 of the book. They have been encapsulated in mylar to preserve their excellent condition.

The heading for the catalog description immediately points out a unique feature of the book, “With Wood Betony Pressed between its Pages.” Preserved botanical matter certainly adds interest to the book, but the shrewd cataloger at Pirages pursued the trail of the leaves even further. Noting that the book’s entry for “Wood Betony” appears to be particularly well-used, the entry draws an intriguing connection between the medicinal uses of the plant and the year during which an early owner inscribed his name. I’ll let the catalog entry speak for itself:

One hopes the present copy was of use to former owner Richard Hill, who inscribed his name in it in 1666, the “annus horribilis” that saw both the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. The two leaves pressed between two pages here appear to be wood betony, an herb protective against epidemical diseases; its entry in this text bears the marks of frequent consultation.

Opening of a book.

Entry for “Wood betony” shows ink and dirt stains indicating that it was seriously consulted.

Thank you, Pirages, for this ready-made story to delight and horrify my audience when I show the book!

Single page of book shows index with owner's inscription at bottom of page.

Owner’s inscription at the bottom of the last page of the book reads, “Richard Hill his Bowk 1666.”

Culpeper, Nicholas. The English Physitian Enlarged. London: printed by Peter Cole, at the sign of the printing press in Cornhil, neer the Royal Exchange, 1656. Call number: R128.7 .C857 1656


Rare Book Highlights: Volvelles

I’ll confess: I love a book with moveable parts. I mean, who doesn’t? Who can resist the marvels of a pop-up book, or forgo exploring the many forms that artists’ books can take? In our library’s collections, with our focus on science and agriculture, I may not encounter too many pop-up books, but to my immense joy, early scientific books used a variety of strategies to communicate complex information, including different types of moveable parts. (See, for example, see my earlier post on an early 20th century French technical encyclopedia.)

The latest purchase in this category is a book with volvelles. A volvelle is “‘A device consisting of one of more movable parchment or paper discs rotating on string pivots and surrounded by either graduated or figured circles. With its help problems concerning the calendar, tide tables, astronomy and astrology could be solved’ (H.M. Nixon)” (Carter 218). It is a type of movable chart, round in shape with two or more layers. If you think of a star chart, the round kind with a little window that lets you see the stars visible in the sky during a certain time of year, you get the idea of a very simple, modern version of the volvelle.

Video courtesy Amy Bishop

In the days before computers and modern calculators, volvelles provided scientific readers with the means of making specific calculations. The earliest known surviving example of a volvelle is found in a 13th century manuscript by Ramon Llull, Ars Magna, which is held by the British Library. The first printed volvelle appears in 1474 in Johannes Regiomontanus’ lunar calendar (Karr 101).

Earlier this year I purchased Calendrier perpétuel rendu sensible et mis à la portée de tout le monde, published in Paris in 1774, which assists readers with calendar-related calculations, specifically those related to the liturgical calendar of the Catholic church, including saints’ days, moveable feasts, and dominical letters. Read on for a detailed look at the volvelles in this book, with the caveat that I am not a volvelle expert! Any comments and corrections from those with more knowledge are welcome.

This particular book includes three volvelles. The first page includes 2 volvelles on one page. The top one reads, Concordance perpetuelle du cycle solaire avec les lettres dominicales.

Round, movable chart of two discs. Outer disc includes a sequence of letters. Inner disc has the sequence of numbers from 1 to 28.

Top volvelle on page with two matches solar years to dominical letters.

The outer edge of the large disc is inscribed with boxes of dominical letters. Dominical letters are used to determine the day of the week for any given date. The letters A through G are assigned to the days in the week, beginning with A for January 1. The dominical letter for any given year indicates the letter that is assigned to Sunday for that year. For leap years, two letters are assigned because throughout January and February, Sunday will fall on a particular letter. After February 29, Sunday will fall on the next letter in the sequence.

The inner disc on the top volvelle is outlined in numbered boxes from 1 to 28. This corresponds to the solar cycle (cycle solaire), the 28-year cycle of the Julian calendar. There are 7 possible days to start a leap year, and leap years occur every 4 years, thus creating a 28-year sequence of days on which the new year will begin. So, this volvelle appears to match up the year in the solar cycle with the dominical letter for that year.

The bottom volvelle reads, Concordance perpetuelle des nombres d’Or avec les nombres d’Epacte.

Outer disc has a sequence of numbers, not in numberical order. A separately rotating layer gives the label, "Nombres d'Epacte" The inner disc is labelled, "Cycle Lunaire ou Nombres d'Or, and lists a sequence of numbers from 1 to 19.

Bottom volvelle of page with two seems to be used for calculating the date of Easter.

The larger disc appears to give the epact numbers (nombres d’epacte), or the number of days’ difference between the solar and lunar calendars. The inner disc lists numbers 1-19, to indicate a year’s golden number (nombres d’Or), or its position in a 19-year Metonic cycle. The Metonic cycle refers to the period of 19 years after which the new and full moons will return to the same days of the year. These are used to determine the dates of moveable feasts, notably Easter.

The recto, or reverse side of the page, has a third volvelle.

Base disc is encircled by names of months (often two listed together) matched against a letter A-G. Second disc is outlined the days of the week matched against its corresponding astrological sign.

Volvelle matching months/dominical letters against days of the week and astrological signs.

The base disc has dominical letters A-G matched up against the names of their corresponding months. The second disc has the days of the week along with their matching astrological sign. This, I imagine, helps the reader to calculate the day of the week that begins each month in a given year. I assume this is for common years only, rather than leap years.

Aren’t your fingers just itching to move those discs?

Sources

Carter, John. ABC for book collectors. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1997.

G.S.H. Calendrier perpétuel rendu sensible et mis à la portée de tout le monde. Paris: P. Fr. Gueffier, 1774.

Karr, Suzanne. “Constructions Both Sacred and Profane: Serpents, Angels, and Pointing Fingers in Renaissance Books with Moving Parts.” Yale University Library Gazette 78, no. 3/4 (2004): 101-127.

 


SCUA 104

Thanks for coming back to the blog!  This is the 4th post in a series about using the Special Collections and University Archives at ISU.

Today I’m going to talk about your options if you need reproductions of our materials.  While we highly encourage researchers to visit us to see our collection, we understand that sometimes that is just not possible due to distance or other factors. Don’t fear—there are still some options for those who can’t come to the archives in person.

We can make photocopies through our document delivery program.  These are low-resolution photocopies we make on our overhead scanner.  Depending on the size of the order, we can have these copies sent to you via email or through the “snail” mail in about 2-4 weeks, though it can take longer for large or complicated orders.

Bookeye

Our Bookeye overhead scanner. The black pads fold up to create a book cradle!

We are also able to make publication quality high-resolution scans of our images.  Depending on your use, you may also need to fill out a request to publish form when you order your images.  There are fees for both document delivery and image reproduction; please consult our website or send us an email to learn more!

Of course, we must comply with copyright law when making scans and reproductions.  Unfortunately, this sometimes blocks us from being able to make reproductions of things that we do not have rights to, are not in the public domain, or whole volumes.  While copyright law is extremely complicated, a good place to start learning about what is and is not allowed is the library’s page on copyright issues.

Have any questions about any of these services? Feel free to email us at archives@iastate.edu. Want to know more about SCUA?  See our previous posts in this series about our reading room rules, what happens when you visit the reading room, or finding student records in the archives.

3Cys

Our Cy and baby Cys would love to see you, but we understand that sometimes that’s just not possible. Photo credit Olivia Garrison, taken 6/19/18