The island of Taiwan, once commonly known in the West by the Portuguese name of Formosa, has recently resurfaced in the news in connection with the One China policy. In the past it was also a subject of interest, although information coming from Taiwan itself was often scarce. Because of that scarcity it was possible in 1704 for a European to appear in London claiming to be a Formosan and to publish a book about the island that was fiction masquerading as a true travel account. Special Collections has just acquired a first edition of one such work with funds from the Gale H. Arnold ’58 Special Collections Endowment.
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.
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.
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.