Swem Library has a great many books in very bad bindings. Most modern books, for instance, are held together only by glue at the spine. Even modern hardcovers have the same binding. Other than the hard shell surrounding them, they are in all other respects exactly the same as a cheap paperback. In the past, however, bindings were much stronger.
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.
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.