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The Rare Book Room

By Ella M. Hymans, A. B., Curator of Rare Books

The Rare Book Room of the UniversityLibrary occupies the south wing of the fourth floor of the building. In it are valuable and scarce volumes in all classes of knowledge, but the room consists mostly of special collections in several fields, mostly in that of English Literature.

Book rarities are kept in the Rare Book Room to lire-serve them for the use of research workers, now and in the future. The average student seldom finds it necessary to consult the edition of a work shelved in theRare Book Room, as usually the regular stacks can furnish him with a copy, which will meet his needs. But if he must consult the Rare Book Room volume he may do so, under proper supervision. And the collections in the Rare Book Room are constantly used by workers doing research in various subjects.

The Rare Book Room owes much to its first curator, Isaac N. Demmon, who filled that office until his death in 1920. He was also Professor of English from 1881-1919 and his deep learning in his subject, especially in dramatic literature, combined with his bibliographic knowledge and shrewdness and ability as a purchaser, were of inestimable value in securing for the Rare Book Room volumes at a price much less than they now command and which today are only infrequently offered for sale.

The largest and one of the best and most important of the Rare Book Room collections is the McMillan Shakespeare Collection, so called because money for the purchase of its beginning was generously given by James McMillan, of Detroit, UnitedStates Senator for Michigan from 1890 until his death in1902. The nucleus of the collection was the Shakespeare section of the library of Edward H. Thomson, of Flint, 746 volumes of text and an a, purchased in 1882. Three years later came the opportunity to secure 400 volumes from Joseph Crosby, of Zanesville, Ohio, a Shakespeare scholar and authority in matters relating to the textual history of the plays. This addition supplied many rarities, and Professor Demmon's constant search through booksellers' and auction catalogues filled other gaps, until the collection has become one of the best in the country. Not even now can it boast of the possession of a single original quarto, or the First Folio, but it does include the other three folios, as well as several rare 17th and 18th century editions and adaptations of the separate plays. Only the best edited, finely printed, or unusual issues of the present editions of the works and separate plays are bought for the collection, but an attempt is made to secure everything published in regard to Shakespeare and his works.

In addition to the drama in the Shakespeare Collection, the Rare Book Room has a large collection of the works of other dramatists. It contains the earliest folios or collected editions of most of the important early writers of plays, those of Beaumont and Fletcher. Ben Jonson, Marston, Killigrew, Dryden, Wycherley. Vanbrugh and Southerne, besides many single plays, chiefly first editions or early re-issues. The collection is also rich in the plays of the 18th and first half of the19th centuries, and during the past eight years about two thousand additions have been secured for this period of the drama collection. An effort is made to obtain all the plays written by each author, in some edition, preferably the first.

Besides the 850 volumes of collections of drama and5000 volumes of single and collected plays of individual authors, the collection contains about 1000 volumes of dramatic biography and history, among which are several scarce tracts on the question of the morality of the stage, by Jeremy Collier, and others.

Two years ago the family of Charles Sanders, of Detroit, gave to the library his collection of unusual dramatic material, consisting of over 7000 playbills, programs, and posters of plays of the 19th century, mostly of the second half, and a great many photographs of actors of the same period, as well as 350 volumes of dramatic history and biography, a very welcome addition to the drama collection.

Other special collections in English Literature are those of the works of Milton, Carlyle and Tennyson, In the Milton section are 220 volumes of works and an a, including the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth editions of "Paradise Lost" and the first edition of"Paradise Regained", also twenty-four stage adaptations of "Comus", dated from 1738-1799. The CarlyleCollection consists of 800 volumes of works and an a, three-fourths of which were purchased from the library of Dr. Samuel A. Jones in 1912. The 300 volumes, which comprise the Tennyson Collection, include most of the first editions of his works, besides the first twenty consecutive editions of his Poems, and several of the so-called 'trial books'. Tennyson liked to see his poems in print months and even years before publication for, as he said, ''Poetry looks better, more convincing, in print", and the 'trial books' were the result of this opinion.

The first editions of some contemporary English and American authors of high literary value are also to be found on the Rare Book Room shelves. These are not 'rare' now, but may be in years to come, and it is much easier and cheaper to purchase such works as they are published, than it will be to try to obtain them if they do become scarce and valuable. A second copy of the works of these modern writers is always bought for general use and kept in the stacks.

The Rare Book Room has been most fortunate in its receipt of valuable gifts. In 1925, shortly before her death, Mrs. James H. Campbell, of Grand Rapids, gave the Lucius Lyon collection of letters. Lucius Lyon was territorial representative and first Senator from Michigan and a member of our first Board of Regents, so these letters to him give an interesting bearing upon the early political, social, and economic history of the state. At Mrs. Campbell's solicitation, Dr. Maria Norris, also of Grand Rapids, gave the library the Mark Norris letters, fewer in number but similar in content to the Lucius Lyon letters, and with added local interest, as Mark Norris was the first Postmaster of Ypsilanti, and the letters relate to Washtenaw County.

In 1922 and continuously since, Regent Lucius L.Hubbard presented his Imaginary Voyages Collection of 2500 volumes. About half of these are various editions of "Robinson Crusoe", translations into seventeen languages, adaptations and imitations or 'Robinsonades'. The collection also includes 650 volumes of the works of Swift, largely his "Gulliver's Travels". Bibliographical and critical works relating to Defoe and Swift, and other voyages, some real, but most of them fictitious, make up the rest of this unusual collection.

"Robinson Crusoe", published in April 1719, was so well received that four editions were printed in as many months, with a fifth in 1720 and a sixth in 1722. Its favorable reception prompted Defoe to write a continuation, and the second volume was published in August 1720. The appearance of four pirated editions in 1719 is further proof of Defoe's popularity. With the exception of two of the pirated editions, both of which are very rare, Dr. Hubbard has all these in his collection, and many other 18th and 19th century editions, including much abridged chap-books and modern beautifully illustrated children's editions. Individually, not all of these are valuable, but as part of a large collection they are necessary and important.

The "Swiss Family Robinson" is perhaps the best known Robinsonade, or imitation of "Robinson Crusoe". The Rare Book Room has the original four-volume German edition, published in 1812-1827. The first Robinsonade. "The Adventures, and Surprising Deliverance, of James Dubourdieu, and His Wife", was published in 1719, probably just six months after the initial appearance of "Robinson Crusoe". Dr. Hubbard had been searching for this volume for years, and about two years ago was able to add it to the collection, the only known copy in the United States.

Swift’s great satire was published anonymously in London in October 1726. It, too, became instantly popular; the second and third editions followed before the end of the year, and a fourth and fifth appeared in 1727. Not until the Faulkner edition of 1735 did Swift's name appear as that of the author. However, although the style of "Gulliver's Travels" is better, and it lacks the inconsistencies apparent in "Robinson Crusoe", it has not been so extensively imitated, probably because its satire makes imitation difficult.

The Imaginary Voyages Collection is unusual and well known, both in the United States and in Europe, as is shown by the number of queries received in regard to some of the volumes, which it contains.

Another extensive and valuable addition to the Rare Book Room is Dr. Lewis S. Picher’s gift of rare and early books illustrating the history of medicine, anatomy, and surgery, most of which was received in 1926. Dr. Picher. '26, '66m, is an alumnus of Michigan now residing in Brooklyn, N. Y., and he has described his collection in catalogue he has compiled: "A List of Books by Some of the Old Masters of Medicine and Surgery, together with Books on the History of Medicine and on Medical Biography." Some of these volumes are modern works on the development of medicine, but the greater number are early volumes of high importance and value. The works of Vesalius, the founder of anatomical science, and of the great surgeon Pare, and the eleven medical incunabula stand out as the best sections of the collection. Within the past year Dr. Pilcher has increased his gift of 388 volumes by the addition of 18 volumes from his collection of the works of William Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood. Since 1908 the Rare Book Room has owned a complete though shabby copy of the first edition of Harvey's "De Motu Cordis", published in 1628, considered by some authorities the rarest medical work in the world. Dr. Pilcher's gift is a fine addition to the works of this great scientist, which the library already holds.

The Haass medical incunabula is another outstanding gift. Nineteen early works on medicine have been purchased by Dr. Aldred S. Warthin from a fund given by Walter F. Haass, '04l, in memory of his brother, Ernest W. Haass, '92m. Incunabula are those books printed within the first fifty years of the invention of printing from movable type, that is, before 1501. These early printed books, together with those in the Pilcher Collection, greatly increase the library's resources for the study of the history of medicine and surgery, and establish a foundation for a notable and valuable collection on the history of medical science.

In addition to the medical incunabula, in the Rare Book Room there are over 100 books printed before1501, on other subjects, mostly written by early theologians and the Italian humanists. These incunabula include works of Sacro Bosco and other astronomers, showing interesting tables. The "Suma de Arithmetica"of Paciuolo, printed in 1494, gives the first explanation of the method of keeping accounts by double entry; and there are several encyclopedias and histories among the volumes.

The earliest incunabula in the collection was printed at Rome by Ulrich Han in 1471. The early printers used manuscripts for their models in making their type and hence these first printed books exhibit many features found in books written by hand. Often the initial letters of the paragraphs and even of the sentences were left blank, to be elaborately filled in later by scribes or rubricators. The paper and ink used in printing was of such uniformly good quality that now, after four and one-half centuries, these incunabula are perfectly legible, just as when they first came from the press. Some are illustrated with woodcuts, and some are decorated with woodcut initials. The leaves were seldom numbered as are our pages, but the signatures at the bottom of the leaves, made up of a letter of the alphabet used with a figure, gave the binder the consecutive order of the leaves. These early printed books are without a title page, but most have an elaborate colophon at the end of the book, in which the name of the printer, his place of business, and the date, even to the days of the month upon which he finished the work is given. A few show the characteristic mark of their printers. Some are in a good state of preservation and some are falling to pieces. Some have been rebound but many are in their original binding of vellum, or stamped pigskin, or oak or beech boards covered with leather. These boards literally were good feeding for worms, and several incunabula show the path made by the bookworm as he ate his way through the pages. A few have covers made from manuscripts, and some show metal corners and clasps or the marks of them.

The collection boasts two printed by the Aldine press, established by the Manuzio family, which became the most famous in Venice because of its cheap editions of the classics, together with the fine character of its printing, and three splendid specimens of the work of Nicolas Jenson, another early Venetian printer whose fine Roman font of type was used as a model by nineteenth century presses.

Within the last twenty years, this most interesting collection has grown from less than twenty to one hundred and fifty. Most of the additions have been made by the librarian's careful purchase but some have been received as gifts. The library is grateful to H. C. Hoskier of South Orange, N. J., Dr. H. H. Martin of Laport, Ind., Lt. Col. Thomas M. Spaulding of Baltimore, and V. V. McNitt of New York City for recent additions to its incunabula collection.

All books printed before 1550 are kept in the Rare Book Room but it also is building a collection of the history of fine printing of all periods. In 1924, the bequest of John S. Lawrence of Grand Rapids, furnished about 200 finely printed editions of the Greek and Latin classics. Specimens of the eighteenth century Strawberry Hill, Bodoni, Baskerville and Foulis presses are found in the room, as well as the work of Bruce Rogers and of the Kelmscott, Doves, Vale, EssexHouse, Mosher, Village and other modern presses.

Quite frequently owners bring books to the RareBook Room to learn their value. The date is not always an indication of a rare book and many points must be considered in estimating a book's worth — its author, title, edition, issue, condition and binding — all are important factors in deciding whether a book is valuable. Most of the books brought to the Rare Book Room for an estimate are not rare, but a few weeks ago one of the treasures of English literature appeared, the 1786 Kilmarnock Burns, the first edition of Burns'"Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect". The volume was in excellent condition, in its original binding of boards with a paper label, by far the most valuable volume brought to the room to be examined as to its worth.

The monthly exhibits in the lower corridor of the library are arranged by the curators of the Rare Book Room. Frequently a professor asks to have a display made, to supplement his lectures. Occasionally material for exhibit purposes is lent by various individuals but usually the exhibits are made from holdings of the library. These displays give students and visitors who may not be aware of the existence of the Rare Book Room, an opportunity to see some of its treasures.

The Michigan Alumnus

May 18, 1929, Page 620

History of the University of Michigan

Library Rare Book Room