Rare Book Highlights: new purchase by William Morris

Page on left hows a black and white print of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve is seated on a fallen log with a fur wrapped around her lower abdomen and long hair somewhat covering her naked breasts. At her feat are two young children, one with its arms wrapped around her leg. Adam is standing, bending over to push a spade into the ground. Printed text at the bottom reads, "When Adam Delved and Eve Span Who was then the Gentleman. There is an intricate black and white printed border around the image on the left page and the text on the right page. Both borders have design sof leaves, and the righth one includes bunches of grapes.

Frontispiece and first page of William Morris’s “A Dream of John Ball; and, A King’s Lesson.”

Just look at that frontispiece! Is that classic William Morris, or what? The book featured here is among our newest additions to the rare books collection.

William Morris was a Victorian British designer, craftsman, and author, known for his wallpaper and textile design and associated with the Arts & Crafts Movement. You may be familiar with his famous quote:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

In rare book circles, he is known as the founder of the Kelmscott Press and the designer of the famous Kelmscott Chaucer.

William Morris believed in the importance of manual labor and skilled craftsmanship. In the wake of mechanization during the Industrial Revolution, he made sure that his own decorative arts company performed impeccable handwork in crafts that he first made sure to master himself. In 1891 at the age of 56, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press to produce books that were a pleasure to look at and to read. Following his principles of skilled craftsmanship and handiwork, he learned the skills of hand printing, type design, and paper making. Taking inspiration from the type of the famed 15th century type designer Nicholas Jensen, who created one of the earliest Roman typefaces, he designed three typefaces for use by the press–Golden, Troy, and Chaucer–that were clear, readable, and beautiful. He also designed ornamental letters and borders. You can see that the ornamental borders in the image above look very similar to Morris’ wallpaper and textile designs (see examples here).

The book we purchased is William Morris’s A Dream of John Ball; and A King’s Lesson (1892). It includes two of Morris’s own writings. The illustration for the frontispiece was designed by Morris’ friend, longtime business partner, and Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. See more pictures of this book below:

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The founding of the Kelmscott Press marks the begininng of the private press movement that flourished around the turn of the 20th century, in which private individuals set up presses that were focused on producing high-quality handmade books emphasizing the book as a work of art and generally without a strong profit motive. Other famous private presses include the Doves Press and the Ashendene Press.


Rare Book Highlights: A Sophisticated Copy of “On the Origin of the Species”

During a class visit to Special Collections last week, the professor brought something to my attention that I had not noticed before. Our supposedly first edition of Charles Darwin’s famous On the Origin of the Species, which he had requested for his class, was a sophisticated copy.

Sophisticated. That’s good, right? It means that the book is refined, polished, cultured, right? Wrong. In this case, the definition of sophisticated relates to the origins of the word, pointing to the ancient Greek Sophists, or teachers that specialized in the subjects of philosophy and rhetoric. Plato criticized Sophists for teaching deceptive reasoning and rhetorical skills to those seeking political office. You might think of the term spin doctor today. Well, a sophisticated book is ‘spinning’ the truth of its own origins, in a way, since it refers to a doctored book, or one that is deceptively altered. In this case, the title page from a first edition has been bound at the front of the text of a second edition.

This wasn’t a new discovery–it was noted in the catalog entry for this copy, so it was likely known from the time the library purchased it. This was just new information for me; something I hadn’t noticed before. The catalog doesn’t actually use the word “sophisticated,” but what it describes fits the definition of “sophisticated” to a T. What it actually says is this: “Composite copy having t.-p. and half-title of 1st ed., 1859, and text of 2d ed., 1860.

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What does it really mean, though, to add the title page from one edition onto the text of a different edition? Let’s start by defining what an edition is. An edition refers to the entire set of copies printed from one setting of type. After printing up the first edition of a book, it may or may not sell well. If the book does sell well, a printer may want to print more copies to sell. During the handpress period, this would most likely mean that he would have to set all the pages of type again. Below are images showing what it looks like to set lines of type using a composing stick (left), and a fully set page of type (right):

Chances are, in setting them by hand, the new set of pages will not exactly match the original set: words may end up on different pages, typos from the original edition may have been corrected, while new typos may have been introduced. But the changes can be so small that, unless you know just what to look for, it can be very easy to be taken in by a misleading title page.

In the case of the Origin of the Species, I wondered what those differences were the gave away the fact that we had a sophisticated copy. Since we don’t have an actual first edition copy to compare it to, I went searching online. I found Darwin Online, which, among other things, provides scans of the major early editions of Darwin’s writings. It also gives publication history of his major works. In the essay for On the Origin of the Species, it lists a number of textual differences between the first and the second editions. I will focus on one of them to illustrate how we can see that the text of our copy is, in fact, a second edition.

Page 20, line 11 of the first edition has a typo in the word “species,” misspelling it as “speceies.”

Page of text from book, with a red circle around the misspelled word s-p-e-c-e-i-e-s.

Misspelled word “speceies” from the first edition.

Page 20 of our copy looks completely different. As you can see, the typesetting turned out differently. In this edition, that same word doesn’t appear until line 14. And here it is spelled correctly.

Page of text with the same word circled in red, but appears lower on the page.

The same instance of “species” is spelled correctly in the second edition.

Why would anyone sophisticate a book? There are a couple of main reasons. One reason is profit. First editions have a special allure, which tends to make them in high demand by collectors. High demand = high selling price. Perhaps an unscrupulous bookseller had a second edition that wasn’t moving off the shop shelves as quickly as they would have liked. Perhaps they also came across a poor condition first edition that wouldn’t make as much money as one in fine condition. Well, perhaps that bookseller removed the title page from the first edition and bound it into the second edition copy. Caveat emptor*, as the saying goes.

Another reason for sophisticating a book is in order to achieve a “perfect,” or complete volume. The “perfecting” of books was a fashion among 18th and 19th century book collectors. Books deteriorate with use, and with highly used books, it is not uncommon for pages to become worn, torn, or removed entirely. In order to achieve a perfect volume, some collectors would cannibalize pages from another copy and bind them into their own copy. To read more about this practice, see this blog post from the Folger Shakespeare Library about the practice of sophisticating the First Folio. In the case of the Darwin that we have been examining here, it seems clear to me that this instance of sophistication was likely for the purpose of profit.

*So I won’t be accused of defamation of my fellow book lovers working in the book trade, I want to clarify that modern booksellers associations have adopted codes of ethics meant to establish trust in the antiquarian marketplace by laying out standard expectations for ethical business behavior. The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America in their Code of Ethics and Standards, for example, specifies in point 3 that “An Association member shall be responsible for the accurate description of all material offered for sale. All significant defects, restorations, and sophistications should be clearly noted and made known to those to whom the material is offered or sold. Unless both parties agree otherwise, a full cash refund shall be made available to the purchaser of any misrepresented material” (my emphasis added). So, a bookseller knowing her business should have identified and described any sophisticated copies as such. But even the experts can sometimes miss a clue! So, it never hurts to do your own research if you are purchasing book.

Works Cited

Charles Darwin. On the Origin of the Species By Means of Natural Selection. London: J. Murray, 1859 [ie, 1860]. Call number: QH365 .D259o

John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)


Rare Book Highlights: ISU’s oldest book in chemistry

Pulling a book of the shelf. Book is bound in vellum with a leather title label.

Pulling the book off the shelf.

Let’s take another trip back into the rare book stacks to find the library’s oldest book in chemistry. I’m defining chemistry broadly, here, to include the precursor to chemistry, alchemy. Basically, I’m looking at everything we have that falls under the Library of Congress Subclass QD. And, in fact, when we check the shelves, the oldest book in the QD section is Geberi philosophi ac alchimistae, maximi, De alchimia libri tres, or The Three Books on Alchemy by Geber, the Great Philosopher and Alchemist, printed in 1529.

Book's title page has black and white illustration showing a large piece of chemical equipment in the center foreground. In the background are two figures working at a table with different smaller pieces of chemical equipment.

Book’s title page.

Geber is the Latinization of Jabir ibn Hayyan (circa 721–815), thought to have been born near Tus, in modern-day Iran. Around 3,000 works on a wide range of topics, including alchemy, cosmology, numerology, astrology, medicine, and philosophy, are attributed to Jabir. Scholars agree that one man could not have written all of these works on such a wide range of topics. Still, he seems to be an important figure in Arab chemistry, and he is credited with a number of significant contributions to the field, including describing chemical processes such as crystallization and distillation, and discovering aqua regia, a mix of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid, which is able to dissolve gold.

 

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The book we are examining today is translated into Latin. It contains three parts: examining the properties of metals, alchemical techniques, and the properties of the planets.

Notes on the flyleaf signed by Edward Stark indicate which works of Jabir, or Geber, are included here, including information on which translations are used. I’m not sure who Edward Stark is, but I presume he was a previous owner. Clearly, he has a large knowledge of the body of work attributed to Geber as well as the various Latin translations of those works. From his notes, it seems that this book is a compilation of incomplete pieces of Geber’s works.

Flyleaf reads: “This Book contains the Summa Perfectionis of Geber. See also Manget I. 519 & Alohemiae Gever Arabis 1545 pp 16-164 & Russell’s Translation 1678 pp 22-238. Pages 56-61 do not seem to belong to Geber at all. Pages 61a-66 contain Geber’s Investigatione perfections nearly the same as that in Alchemiciae Geber Arabis 1545 pp. 1-15. Neither this book nor Manget appear to have teh Liber Formacum. The latter contains Geber’s Testamentum [I p 562]. Edward Stark”

Our individual copy is bound in vellum with paste paper pastedown fly leaves in the front and rear.

Inside cover of book covered in a paper that has large blocks of colors (red, blue, gold, and black) that have been sponged onto the surface of the paper.

Pastepaper was used on the inside of the cover.

This may not have been the original binding, since you can see that the tops of the pages have been trimmed. See the image where the words at the very top of the page are almost entirely cut off? It should read, “Tertius,” indicating the third part in the book.

View of an open book. At the top of the right page, you can see only the bottom portion of letters forming the word "Tertius." The tops of the letters have been trimmed off.

Top edge of pages have been trimmed in a rebinding.

This book has been very well used, with underlinings and marginal markings appearing throughout the book. There is no indicating, unfortunately, as to who the early owner may have been. At any rate, this early reader certainly found many things of interest in the text!

Page of text. Several lines across teh page have been underlined in pen.

A well-underlined text.

Sources:

ISU’s oldest book in chemistry

Jabir ibn Hayyan. Geberi philosophi ac alchimistae, maximi, De alchimia libri tres. Johannis Grieninger, 1529. Call number: QD25 .J113g

Jabir ibn Hayyan

Amr, Samir S. and Abdelghani Tbakhi. “Jabir ibn Hayyan.” Annals of Saudi Medicine, vol. 27, no. 1 (Jan-Feb 2007): 52-53. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6077026/

Marshall, Vicki. “Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan.” 175 Faces of Chemistry: Celebrating Diversity in Science, Royal Society of Chemistry, published June 2014.  http://www.rsc.org/diversity/175-faces/all-faces/abu-musa-jabir-ibn-hayyan/

Newman, William R. “Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, updated August 3, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Abu-Musa-Jabir-ibn-Hayyan

“The Three Books on Alchemy by Geber, the Great Philosopher and Alchemist.” World Digital Library, updated April 3, 2018. https://www.wdl.org/en/item/10675/


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)


Happy 50th! The Origins of Special Collections and University Archives Part 2: Collection Highlights

2019 marks the Special Collections & University Archives’ (SCUA) 50th year in existence. This blog post is the second in a series of blog posts celebrating SCUA’s 50 years at Iowa State University. My first post in this series gave a brief history about the origins of SCUA. Today’s post will highlight a handful of items from our department that represent milestones for the library and also the university’s emphasis on innovation and technology.

top of image is quarts balance (glass) on wooden mount with illustration of a similar balance below.

Quartz microbalance made by Harry Svec while working at ISU during the Manhattan Project, circa 1942–1945. Artifact Collection 2003-203.03.

I selected the quartz balance because I wanted to highlight the Harry Svec Papers and Svec made the balance while working at ISU, during the Manhatta Project. Harry Svec came to Iowa State University (then Iowa State College) as a graduate student. World War II interrupted his studies and he, instead, worked on refining uranium in the Ames Laboratory on the Manhattan Project, working under the direction of Frank H. Spedding. At the conclusion of the Manhattan Project, Svec continued his graduate studies and built the first mass spectrometers at ISU. In 1950, he earned his Ph.D. and was granted faculty status. When Svec retired in 1983, he had been associated with ISU for 42 years.

Group of faculty and students in front of a chalkboard.

Photograph of Harry Svec and his research group on April 2, 1962. Harry J. Svec Papers, RS 13/6/53, box 20, folder 69.

Featured next are volumes that represent significant milestones for the University Library. Below is the title page of the book acquired as the ISU Library’s one-millionth volume, Trattato della pittvra di Lionardo da Vinci, purchased circa 1975. This is a first edition, written in Italian, and published in 1651.

Title page with engraved half-title illustration.

Title page for the one millionth volume. Leonardo da Vinci. Trattato della pittvra di Lionardo da Vinci. 1651. Rare Book Collection ND1130 .L5 1651.

The images below are of the title pages for the University Library’s two millionth volume, purchased in 1994. The title is a two-volume treatise on mathematical concepts by Italian mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi.

This is the University Library’s three millionth volume, purchased in 2016.  This volume includes Galileo’s defense of heliocentrism and led to his heresy trial and subsequent house arrest for the remainder of his life.  This is a copy of the second vernacular edition in Italian.

Title page of Galileo Galilei. Dialogo di Galileo Galilei (for full title see caption). Stains on pages due to age and illustration beneath title text.

Galileo Galilei. Dialogo di Galileo Galilei. Rare Book Collection, QB41 G35 D5x 1710.

What items do you think would best represent Special Collections and University Archives’ 50th anniversary?


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 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