Building a Library in the Seventeenth (and the Twenty-first) Century

Many of the books in Swem Library’s Special Collections have been gifted by individual donors who have themselves built up their own private collections. This practice of endowing educational institutions with the tools of study has long antecedents, but in the seventeenth century a librarian actually laid out a plan for building a library and advocated wider access for scholars. Shown here is a translation of such a plan, a 1627 book by Gabriel Naudé, addressed to his patron, the President of the Parlement de Paris. Naudé later became librarian to a number of famous figures, including the chief minister of France, Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661), and built him an enormous library which was open to the public on a regular basis and which remains to this day the oldest public library in France, the Bibliothèque Mazarine.

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Is Smaller Better? (When talking about textbooks)

The University of Leiden in the Netherlands, founded in 1575, is the country’s oldest; it is also now one of the study abroad opportunities offered to William & Mary students. In the first three quarters of a century annual enrollments showed a four-fold rise, with the result being that the Elsevier family in Leiden, who already operated a printing press, decided to get into the early modern equivalent of the text-book industry. To that end, they began in the early seventeenth century to publish small editions of important texts, used by scholars and students, which would be cheaper, in part because their small format and small type required less paper.

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“A Christmas present of real and enduring value” : Ferdinand Seidel’s Natural History with 179 Copperplate Engravings.

“Buy 5 Get 1 Free” – that is how the publisher advertised the 1805 edition of Ferdinand Seidel’s Naturhistorisches Kupferwerk : mit erklärendem Texte nach Büffon, acquired this fall by Special Collections (Rare Book – Chapin-Horowitz  QH45. B84 S45 1805).

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“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”

Everyone knows these famous lines even if the rest of the poems escapes them. “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” more popularly known as The Night before Christmas, was written in 1823 by Clement C. Moore (1779-1863) and is a staple in many families’ holiday traditions. But what accounts for the poem’s enduring popularity?

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Lasting Impressions: Printing from the Fifteenth Century to Today

In the basement of Swem Library is a room used mostly for storage. Along two walls are machines and wooden cases full of drawers. The machines are printing presses and the cases are filled with type – individual letters cast in metal, designed to be set by hand and printed on the machines. The basic principle–of metal type used in a press–was a technology in use for five hundred years in the West, from the mid-fifteenth century until the twentieth. Now, however, our printing is done by different machines, with jets of ink replacing the metal letters of the past. An upcoming exhibition at Swem Library examines printing from the early days to the present, using some actual equipment, as well as early modern rare books and modern day private press books, all from Special Collections.

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