A splash of color against a black and white background is always visually arresting, whether it’s the world of Oz outside a Kansas farmhouse door or a nineteenth-century chromolithograph tucked inside a sixteenth-century Bible. This brilliant commemorative print issued during the 1891 exposition of the Heilige Rock (Holy Coat) of Trier fairly leaped out at me from between the leaves of a 1573 French edition of the Vulgate presented to the Penn Libraries as part of the Peter Way Collection of Early Modern Texts. The Heilige Rock, which has been identified with the seamless robe (Greek χιτών) of Jesus Christ described in the gospel of John (19:23), is one of the Christian relics reportedly discovered by Saint Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, during her pilgrimage to Palestine in 326-328. Medieval Trier, following a tradition first recorded in the ninth century, claimed Saint Helena as one of its own—indigena civitatis Trevericae, in the words of the twelfth-century Inventio S. Mathiae (quoted in Pohlsander 120)—and the seamless robe of Christ as her gift.¹
As anyone who’s edited a paper, article, or blog post knows, it’s impossible to avoid errors. The Fehlerteufel delights in seeding prose with typos, while other gremlins cheerfully wreak havoc on images and layout. The hand press period is no exception. Take, for example, the curious case of quire (2D), a gathering of eight leaves in the second volume of Charles Cotton’s English translation of Michel de Montaigne’s Essais (London: Printed for T. Bassett, M. Gilliflower and W. Hensman, 1686) held in Penn’s Geoffrey Day Collection of Laurence Sterne. Its pagination has clearly fallen victim to the Fehlerteufel, thus:
The experienced reader of early printed texts, seeing this mish-mash, might simply sigh and move on. Since pagination is less important to the correct ordering of a hand press book than signature marks—letter- or symbol-number combinations on the rectos (front pages) of leaves which indicate how to fold the sheet and arrange the quires—or catchwords—the first word or syllable of the next page printed as the last line of the current one—errors in pagination proliferate. So it’s more troubling to note that quire (2D)’s signature marks are also disordered:
The 1541 Meturgeman is a fascinating volume that I recently had the privilege of cataloging for the Rare Book Collection. It was exhibited on October 23rd for the Archives Month Philly event: “From Antartica to Zimbabwe: Around the World with Archives, Books and Codices;” see the full announcement here.
The Meturgeman is an important work and there is a lot to say about it; the 1541 edition (the editio princeps, or first edition) is one of two volumes of lexicography printed in Isny im Allgäu by Paul Fagius and written by Elijah Levita.
Levita was a scholar and a teacher of Hebrew grammar, proofreader, a prolific lexicographer, and writer; he was a literary figure who even wrote the first Yiddish novel (the bovo bukh) and among the periods of travel throughout his life, he settled in Isny im Allgäu, Germany.
I recently cataloged a volume of the Maḥzor printed by the press of Uri Phoebus ha-levi in Amsterdam 1670. The outstanding features of the volume are highlighted below with photos of the details and typography.
History of Amsterdam Printing, and of the work
Amsterdam was a major center of 17th Hebrew printing. There were a multitude of editions and editiones principes from Amsterdam; for example, Yeshayahu Vinograd’s Otsar ha-sefer ha-ʻivri (1993 printed edition), Amsterdam is listed as the most numerous (using numbers of titles) by far at 2860. This far surpasses other major printing centers such as Prague, Vilna, Venice, Livorno, and Frankfurt am Main.
To be able to stand out as a special item printed in Amsterdam is understandably difficult because of the vast amount of printing that was done there. However, there are still items from Amsterdam which do stand out, and this volume is certainly one of those.
Most people have hidden a little cash in a book at one time or another, and librarians are never surprised to encounter examples of things tucked into books about them, like dried plants pressed in herbals. That said, I wasn’t expecting to find medieval coins laid into an eighteenth-century numismatic handbook, but that’s exactly what happened when I paged through the Kislak Center’s copy of the second volume of Mikuláš Voigt’s Beschreibung der bisher bekannten Böhmischen Münzen nach chronologischer Ordnung (Prague: Gerlische Buchhandlung, 1771-1787). The Piarist Voigt (1733-1787) was a pioneering Czech numismatist who studied the Podmokelský poklad—a hoard of Celtic rainbow cups buried in a bronze cauldron and unearthed by a farmer at Podmokly in western Bohemia in 1771—as well as writing this inventory of then-known Bohemian specie. A previous (unidentified, alas, but possibly 20th-century) owner of our copy of volume 2 laid in four small envelopes containing two thirteenth-, one fourteenth-, and two fifteenth-century coins next to the engraved illustrations depicting them.
Adam and Eve are having a bad day: they disobeyed God, got caught, and are being run out of Eden by an angel with a flaming sword. Undoubtedly they’re in no mood to appreciate the invention of death metal, pace the skeletal guitarist shredding the soundtrack to their misery. Judging by his grin, though, he doesn’t care, certain that eventually they’ll notice his riff’s got a good beat and they can dance to it—that, in fact, they must dance to it …
This woodcut from Hans Holbein‘s Dance of Death and Icones Historiarum Veteris Testamenti (both produced ca. 1523-1526) also illustrates the third chapter of Genesis in an edition of the Vulgate (Paris: Guillard and Desboys, 1552) annotated by the French theologian Jean Benoît (1484?-1573), a copy of which was recently acquired by the Penn Libraries as part of the Peter Way Collection of Early Modern Texts. Continue reading
Catalogers are no less tempted than anyone else to put off ’til tomorrow what they’d rather not do today. (Sorry, Ben!) But fortunately we have curators to poke through the resulting backlog of curious items, which is how a seventeenth-century German folded quarto sheet purchased for the Penn Libraries in 1959 landed on my desk in 2018. (Thanks, Mitch!) A search on the title—Des Edlen, Ehrnuesten vnd Mannhafften Heinrich Quaden von vnnd zu Eisengartten, Obersten, Gründlicher aussführliche vnd warhaffte Verantwortung vnd Bericht, auff etzliche vnterschiedliche Articul—in the VD17 database of seventeenth-century German imprints quickly brought up an entry and a link to a digitized version of the copy held at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany. And that’s when I realized I was looking at something more interesting than the disjecta membra of a late Renaissance pamphlet: a copy-edited proof of four pages of a late Renaissance pamphlet, printed on a scrap sheet from an entirely different work.
As the current exhibit OK, I’ll Do It Myself: Narratives of Intrepid Women in the American Wilderness at the Kislak Center attests, the Penn Libraries’ Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness is a wide-ranging one. Aphra Behn and Willa Cather sit cheek-by-jowl with Betsy Bell and Mary Harwell Catherwood; anthologies of Native American folklore occupy the same shelf as a novel about Japanese mail-order brides. The collection is also rich in juvenile literature, from classics like Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s Yearling and L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables to picture books, readers, and series both familiar (The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew) and largely forgotten (The Motor Maids, Three Vassar Girls). Even when the stories are formulaic, the authors’ lives seldom are, as a glance at the careers of Mildred Wirt Benson or Elizabeth Williams Champney demonstrates. Such is no less true of Marjorie Vetter (1898-1977): author, editor, reviewer, and—as a result of sexist twentieth-century immigration and nationality laws—an American citizen twice over, both native-born and naturalized.
This extremely Gothic bookplate appears on the front pastedown of Armine von Tempski’s 1929 novel Fire in the Caroline F. Schimmel Collection of Women in the American Wilderness. It was designed in 1933 by the American medical illustrator, Atlantean scholar, and First Fandom member Henry M. Eichner (1909-1971), whose career is as fascinating as his ex-libris. Continue reading
On the weekend of August 11-12, 1945, mere days after the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States released the first thousand copies of A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes.* Written by Princeton University physicist and Manhattan Project contributor Henry DeWolf Smyth, it had been commissioned in the spring of 1944 by General Leslie R. Groves, head of the Project, and its purpose was twofold: first, to inform “men of science in this country” about nuclear military technology in order that they might “help their fellow citizens in reaching wise decisions” in the future (Smyth, Atomic Energy 226); second, “to say as much as possible [about the Manhattan Project] in an official statement carefully prepared and reviewed and then to instruct people on the project to say nothing more even after they had left the project” (Smyth, “Smyth Report” 180-181).
On September 15, a small but canny group of booksellers began offering for sale the Princeton University Press edition of the report, now titled Atomic Energy for Military Purposes: The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb Under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945. The book became an unlikely bestseller: according to Princeton University Press director Datus P. Smith, from 1945 to 1973 the Smyth report (as it came to be known) sold over 125,000 copies domestically, and though “neither Harry Smyth nor the Press had any systematic way of keeping track of translated editions … we had some kind of evidence of translations into about 40 languages” (Smith 199).