In its nondescript cloth binding, the University of Pennsylvania’s copy of The Works of Publius Virgilius Maro Translated by John Ogilby (London : T. Maxey, 1650) at first appears unremarkable. However, the book’s association with the infamous 19th c. forger Harry Buxton Forman (1842-1917) makes it noteworthy. When this volume of Virgil’s works in the Latin Culture Class Collection was rebound, the binder took care to preserve Forman’s bookplate by affixing it to the title page. LatC V5874 Eg1 1650 H. Buxton Forman was a respected bookman of his time. He was a bibliophile and scholar, establishing his reputation with bibliographies of Shelley and Keats. During his years of book collecting and literary pursuits Forman developed a friendship with T.J. Wise (1859-1937), also a collector and respected bibliographer. Their friendship ultimately took a criminal turn as they used their combined bibliographic expertise to fabricate dozens of counterfeit works.

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Found: One Incunable!

As a rare books cataloger, I have learned to trust my predecessors.  (Or, as one of my instructors in the art of bibliography put it, to cheat.)  The notes they have left about an item are usually correct; the habit of checking for such indications has spared me many times from reinventing the wheel.  But every now and then I do have to play wheelwright:  updating old conclusions with new research, remedying oversights, correcting errors.

And occasionally — very, very occasionally — I find something everyone else has missed.

According to its shelf-list card, Folio GC5 H7480R 522d in the Penn Libraries German Culture Class Collection contains two items:

An edict describing measures, financial and other, to meet the threat of the Turks, given at Coblenz in 1522(?) … With this is a 14-line broadside … designed to accompany this or a similar proclamation, and announcing a meeting of the Reichstag in 1523.

The University of Pennsylvania purchased these items in 1955 from a Dutch antiquarian bookseller, A.L. van Gendt.  Their accession record notes that they were acquired with a set of sixteenth-century broadsides, primarily decrees of the Holy Roman Empire.  The shelf-list card quotes the accession record’s description of the 1522 edict verbatim, suggesting that the identification came from van Gendt.  He, in turn, may have been following a German note penciled at the foot of the document’s first page:

Beschlüsse … der Reichsstände zu Coblenz zur Abwendung der Türken- u. Franzosengefahr!  Ca. 1522 [i.e. Decisions … of the estates at Koblenz for averting the threat of the Turks and the French! Ca. 1522]

Since this item is otherwise undated, it seems likely that the impetus to assign it to the early sixteenth century comes from its association with the 14-line broadside publicizing the diet at Nuremberg in 1523.

Unfortunately for van Gendt’s bottom line, however, the two are unrelated.

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“Are you still working on that smut?! You guys, Ellen’s reading the smut magazine again!”

Such was my coworker’s joy at teasing me about my latest finding aid project.

It’s hard to imagine that a monthly called The Adult: The Journal of Sex could be anything but “smut.” But open to the first page of Vol. I and you will find that the “organ of the Legitimation League” is hardly a dirty magazine. Instead, George Bedborough, The Adult’s editor, declares that the journal’s pages will “be open for the discussion of important phases of sex questions which are almost universally ignored elsewhere.”Copy of P1180447

The Legitimation League was founded in England in 1893 for the purpose of securing the legal rights of illegitimate children, rights which were still very much in question in late-Victorian Britain. By 1895, the League had voted to shift its agenda away from advocating for illegitimate children and toward advocating for adults in relationships considered illegitimate by conventional Victorian morality. The new agenda included the promotion of free unions, or cohabiting without marriage; some members of the organization also promoted free love. The Adult was founded in 1897 as a vehicle for advancing this new sexual morality.

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For the Love of Reading: Reading on a Windowseat with a Dog Nearby

Bookplate of Edith Barbara Tranter.

Edith Barbara Tranter was secretary to W. T. H. Howe (1874-1939), president of the American Book Company in Cincinnati, and subsequently administrator of his estate. She appears herself to have collected books and manuscripts; her library was sold at auction by Parke-Bernet on March 18, 1952.

Penn Libraries call number: EC8 B7898 W857g

My Rare Book Cataloging Adventure So Far – A Student Worker’s Perspective

I don’t imagine that “Rare Book Cataloger” is a job most school-age children even know about, much less dream of becoming one day.  When I was in the 5th grade I certainly didn’t.  I was too busy dreaming about becoming an astronaut.  I would never have expected that, 12 years later, I would be shaking hands with the past almost every day by reading and cataloging laws from the early modern period, some of them touched and signed by dukes, revolutionaries, and cardinals.  Then again I also never imagined I’d turn my young fascination with Roman ruins into a classics major studying at an Ivy League university with sights set on a PhD in archaeology.  Rare book cataloging may seem ancillary to that, but without my preparations in Latin and German I could not have handled and read documents that, had I been alive during the time of their creation, I could scarcely have dreamed of holding.  Regan kindly requested that I share my adventures in rare book cataloging so far with you all, and so here is my story.

I am currently studying ancient Greek and Latin in the post-baccalaureate program in classics at the University of Pennsylvania, and traditionally post-bac students are good fits for rare book cataloging due to our prior language work and flexible schedules.  I came to Penn with a B.A. in Classical and Near Eastern Civilizations from Creighton University in Omaha, NE and two semesters each of college-level ancient Greek, Latin, and German.  With these qualifications I earned my position as a rare book cataloging assistant at the Van Pelt Library.  In general I work about 4 hours each day.  The general date range for the material I have worked with ranges from A.D. 1500 to 1800, apparently referred to as the “regular, boring” stuff since by this period printers had generally figured out the rules of their game and there was far less experimentation.

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