Special Collections & Archives Blog

Author Archive

The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1754), by Thomas Chippendale

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 5:30 pm

chippendale plate xvi ribband back chairs detail

By the end of the 18th century, Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) was the most famous furniture designer in England and North America. The term “Chippendale” had come to refer to a style of furniture prevalent throughout Europe and the United States. What started Thomas Chippendale on the road to this renown was the publication of a book.

In 1754 Chippendale was an up-and-coming young furniture designer, recently moved to London. Raised in a family of woodworkers, he presumably received extensive hands-on training in his early life, which no doubt served him well once he began to design his own furniture based on the popular styles of his day. But fashionable London was a competitive market, and Chippendale needed a way to distinguish himself from the crowd.

He hit upon the idea of publishing what was essentially a deluxe catalog of his designs. It was titled The Gentleman and Cabinetmakers Director. A few English furniture makers had published their designs before, but nothing had come close to the scale of Chippendale’s large folio volume.

chippendale title page

Title page from the 1754 first edition of Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director.

The book was, its subtitle announced, “A Large Collection of the most Elegant and Useful Designs of Houshold [sic.] furniture in the Gothic, Chinese and Modern [i.e., English Rococo] Taste.”

The Rococo style, a French import, was the prevailing fashion in the mid-18th century. It was characterized by elaborate carving and sinuous forms, often featuring decorative elements taken from the natural world—leaves, shells, animals.

chippendale chairs plate xii

“A variety of new-pattern Chairs, which, if executed according to their Designs, and by a skillful workman, will have a very good effect. The fore feet are all different for your better choice. If you think they are too much ornamented, that can be omitted at pleasure.”

The Gothic style of furniture was part of the medieval revival in art and architecture, which began in the 18th century and became even more prevalent in the Victorian era. Gothic furniture tended to feature elements found in medieval architecture, such as arches and openwork patterns.

chippendale chairs plate xxi gothic

“[N]ew designs of Gothic Chairs; their feet are almost all different, and may be of use to those that are unacquainted with this sort of work. Most of the ornaments may be left out if required. The sizes … may be lessened or enlarged, according to the fancy of the skillful artist.

And finally the Chinese style of furniture was part of the 18th century’s fascination with Chinoiserie—decorative objects imported from Asia. The European version of Asian decoration stressed its exotic and fanciful elements, such as dragons, birds, and elaborate pagodas.

chippendale chairs plate xxv chinese

“Chairs in the present Chinese manner, which I hope will improve that taste, or manner of work; it having yet never arrived to any perfection…”

Chippendale self-published the Director, financing his venture by recruiting subscribers—buyers who pre-paid for their copies of the finished book. This was a fairly common practice in the 18th century.

The list of over 300 subscribers in the 1754 first edition of the Director includes both categories of reader mentioned in the book’s title: Gentlemen—members of the aristocracy who would purchase Chippendale’s furniture; and Cabinetmakers—Chippendale’s fellow craftsmen who could adapt his designs for their own use.

chippendale subscribers

Subscribers to the first edition of Chippendale’s Director.

Chippendale’s friend Matthew Darly engraved most of the illustrations, based on Chippendale’s own drawings. The 160 plates show the wide variety of furniture and decorative objects that his workshop could produce. Chippendale also included at the beginning of the book a brief discussion of five orders of architecture and instructions on drawing furniture in perspective.

chippendale chairs in perspective text

Chippendale’s instructions for drawing chairs in perspective. He included similar instructions for other types of furniture.

chippendale chairs in perspective plate

Chippendale’s diagram for drawing chairs in perspective.

The more elaborate pieces featured in the Director obviously required a very high level of woodworking skill to execute.

chippendale plate xxxi doom bed

Chippendale’s alarmingly named “Doom [i.e. Dome] Bed” illustrates the elaborate lengths to which “Chinese” style could go in the 18th century. It is also a reminder that English orthography was still somewhat in flux in 1754.

Even before the book was published, Chippendale apparently encountered some skeptics who suggested that the finished furniture could not live up to his drawings. Never lacking in self-confidence, Chippendale addressed his detractors in the Preface to the first edition:

Upon the whole, I have here given no design but what may be executed with advantage by the hands of a skillful workman, tho’ some of the profession have been diligent enough to represent them (especially those after the Gothic and Chinese manner) as so many specious drawings, impossible to be work’d off by any mechanic whatsoever. I will not scruple to attribute this to malice, ignorance and inability: And I am confident I can convince all Noblemen, Gentlemen, or others, who will honour me with their commands, that every design in the book can be improved, both as to beauty and enrichment, in the execution of it…

In fact, many of the designs include instructions for the less experienced cabinetmaker and options for making pieces more or less elaborate, as the craftsman’s skill level and purchaser’s income demanded.

chippendale plate xlix writing table

“A Writing Table, the front feet to draw out, with a double rising top, as in in profile D; ee is the Table top, h is a horse that turns up; G is part of the front rail morticed into the foot, which draws out with the front, and parts at C; G is the end rail morticed into the foot, as you see by the prick’d line; a is the end of the drawer, with its grooves for the slider and bottom as at A in the plan; F is the turn’d column glued into the corner of the foot.”

Chippendale’s catalog offered designs for many other household items besides furniture. Candle holders, clock cases, fire screens, shelves, mirror frames, and many other elaborately carved items were available from his workshop.

chippendale plate cxxxi brackets for busts detail

One of Chippendale’s bracket shelves for decorative busts.

Chippendale’s Director was not an inexpensive book. It sold for £1.17s in unbound sheets, slightly more for a pre-bound copy. But it apparently sold well enough to warrant a second edition less than a year after its appearance. And in 1762 Chippendale published an updated third edition.

chippendale binding

Chippendale’s Director is a very large folio volume. ZSR’s copy has been rebound in early 20th century brown morocco with gold tooling.

As a marketing tool, the Director was a great success. Chippendale’s business took off, and he was soon overseeing a large workshop of skilled craftsmen. With the publication and wide distribution of his book, Chippendale also –unintentionally—insured his legacy as the 18th century’s best known designer of furniture. Copies of the Director circulated across Europe and North America. Chippendale’s influence was particularly strong in the English colonies, later the United States, as woodworkers adapted his designs to American materials and tastes.

chippendale plate xxxviii sideboard table

“Plate xxxviii has two different feet, which are both cut through, as likewise the rail; the dimensions are also to the design.”

Many copies of the Director made their way to North America, and many examples of Chippendale-inspired furniture from 18th century America have survived. The collection of Winston-Salem’s Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts includes a sideboard based on Chippendale’s design pictured above. By publishing his designs in text and illustrations, Chippendale spread his influence far beyond the reaches of his London workshop.

Interested in learning more about American furniture design? Be sure to visit Reynolda House Museum of American Art’s special exhibit The Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design.

Author Event: Lev Grossman

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 4:06 pm

We are very pleased to announce that on Friday, September 5 at 3:00 p.m., Special Collections & Archives will host a talk, Q&A, and book signing event with acclaimed fantasy novelist Lev Grossman.

Mr. Grossman will also be a featured author at the 10th annual Bookmarks Festival of Books, a free event happening in downtown Winston-Salem on Saturday, September 6. His Wake Forest appearance is co-sponsored by Bookmarks and ZSR Library as part of the Bookmarks Authors in Schools program. It is free and open to the public.

Mr. Grossman will discuss his new book The Magician’s Land, the third and final installment of his New York Times bestselling Magicians trilogy.

grossman magicians land

The Magicians trilogy is already being hailed as a modern classic of fantasy literature. And a recent review in the New York Times opined that

The Magician’s Land is the strongest book in Grossman’s series. It not only offers a satisfying conclusion to Quentin Coldwater’s quests, earthly and otherwise, but also considers complex questions about identity and selfhood as profound as they are entertaining.

Mr. Grossman is also the book critic and lead technology writer for Time magazine and has written for the Village Voice, the Wall Street Journal, the New York TimesSalon, Wired, and numerous other publications.

A book signing will follow the talk in Special Collections & Archives. Books will not be for  sale at the library but can be pre-ordered from Bookmarks and picked up at the event. All proceeds from these sales go to support Bookmarks and the Authors in Schools program. For more information, or to place an order, call 336-747-1471 or email info@bookmarks.org .

Devoted fans may also enjoy a special exhibit in the Special Collections and Archives reading room that showcases ZSR Library’s copies of several books featured in Mr. Grossman’s 2004 novel Codex!

The Special Collections & Archives reading room (ZSR 625) is located on the 6th floor of the ZSR Library Reynolds Wing.

For more information about this event, contact Megan Mulder.

Sarum Breviaries (1555, 1556)

Friday, July 25, 2014 10:17 am

One of the shelves in my office has a small label that reads “Problems.” On it are books that were found, in a recent inventory of ZSR’s Rare Books Collection, to have incorrect or nonexistent catalog records. One of my summer projects this year is to evaluate and create records for this small collection of obscure, odd, or otherwise inexplicable volumes.
problems

Recently I pulled down two volumes bound in dark blue velvet.
sarum breviary covers

An order slip tucked inside one of the books indicated that they had been purchased by the library nearly 50 years ago. But we could find no indication that they’d ever been cataloged.
sarum breviary order card

Purchased in 1967 from book dealer Paul Stroock, they were supposedly a two-volume set of a breviary—a Roman Catholic liturgy book—of the type known as the Salisbury (or Sarum) usage. This was by far the most common type of Catholic liturgy used in England in the 16th century. Many editions were printed in England or on the continent for English use, especially during the reign of Queen Mary I (1553-1558), when Catholicism was briefly reinstated as the official religion in England.

sarum breviary 1556 moveable feasts

A page from the Sarum breviary giving a table for calculating dates of “moveable feasts”—liturgical holidays and events, like Easter or Pentecost—whose dates change from year to year.

An initial examination of the books revealed several things. First, the velvet bindings were clearly more recent than the text pages. The decorative metal bosses in the center of the covers, looked like they might date to the 16th century, but the books had been rebound in the 19th or early 20th century, perhaps by a collector or book dealer. What this meant was that the two volumes may not have originally been a matching set, and that the original order of the pages may or may not have been preserved when the books were rebound.

The title page of the first volume indicated that the book was published in London in 1555, but the publisher’s name did not appear.
caly title page

A check of a standard reference work (R.B. McKerrow & F.S. Ferguson, Title-page Borders used in England & Scotland 1485-1640)  indicated that the decorative border and printer’s device originally belonged to Richard Grafton (McKerrow & Ferguson, 48).

Grafton was a successful London printer during the reigns of King Henry VIII (1509-1547) and his son Edward VI (1547-1553)*. He was appointed King’s Printer in 1547. But with the death of the Protestant Edward and the ascension of his Catholic half-sister Mary, Grafton’s fortunes changed, and by 1553 his printing operation had been taken over by Robert Caly, a staunch Catholic. Caly continued to use Grafton’s decorative border, with the printer’s device at the bottom slightly altered to change the initial G into a C. Caly printed many pro-Catholic publications, so it made sense that he would publish a breviary for use in England.

However, at the end of volume I was another publication statement called a colophon. These were common in books from the 16th century (and earlier).

sarum breviary 1556 colophon detail

The colophon indicated that the book was printed in London by John Kingston and Henry Sutton in March of 1556, not by Robert Caly in 1555. Kingston and Sutton had also begun printing in London around 1553, taking over the shop of a Protestant printer who had fled to the continent. Kingston had been Richard Grafton’s apprentice, and in his new partnership with Henry Sutton he produced more Sarum liturgies than any other English printer. So Kingston and Sutton were also very plausible candidates for publishers of our volume. But there was no indication that they had ever partnered with Robert Caly, so it made no sense to have both imprints in the same volume.

Another feature that struck me as odd was that the page following the volume I title page—the first page of the calendar that begins the breviary—was badly damaged and discolored, as though it had been exposed to the elements over a long period of time. The final colophon leaf (pictured above) had shown the same type of discoloration, as though the book had been used, unbound, for many years. But the title page at the front of the book was relatively clean and undamaged.

sarum breviary 1556  leaf1r

Yet another inconsistency in volume I was a bit of text in red on the title page, indicating that it was for the “Pars Estiualis”—the summer section of the liturgy. This made sense, because Sarum breviearies from this period were usually divided into separate volumes for the winter (hiemalis) and summer (estiualis) liturgies. Except that the text of volume I actually began with the winter section, the “Pars Hyemalis.”

Hoping to find some answers, I turned my attention to volume II. It opened with a page indicating the start of the section of services for the summer liturgy.
sarum breviary caly leaf1

Like the title page from volume I, the decorative border on this page was attributed to the printing shop of Richard Grafton (McKerrow & Ferguson, 59), later taken over by Robert Caly.

However, when I turned to the verso—the reverse side of the page– it became clear that this section page was out of place.
sarum breviary caly leaf1verso

How did I know this? In part because the catchword at the bottom right of the page did not match the first word of the following page.

Catchwords are words (or parts of words) found at the bottom of each page of text. They are almost universal in books printed before the 19th century. Catchwords are meant to insure that pages of a books are ordered and bound correctly—the catchword at the bottom of a page should match up with the first word of the text on the following page.
sarum breviary caly leaf1verso catchword

In the case of our breviary, the catchword on the verso of the first page was “Edgarus,” but the next page began with two large initials “B” and “L”.

sarum breviary caly leaf2r

About 100 pages into the volume, I found the text that matched our catchword:
sarum breviary caly aa2 detail

The running heads at the top of the pages also indicated that this was the original placement of the initial leaf. So the “title page” for volume II had been removed from its correct spot and placed at the beginning of the book. But why?

The colophon for volume II further confused the issue. It indicated that the book had been printed in Paris by Francois Regnault in 1535!
sarum breviary caly regnault colophon

So our book had at least three possible printers and three publication dates spanning over 20 years. It was time for some research.

A good starting point for research on 16th century English imprints is A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland, originally published by Alfred W. Pollard and G. R. Redgrave in 1926 (later edited and enlarged by other scholars). Popularly known as the STC, it is a monumental work of bibliographic scholarship, accomplished long before the advent of laptops and scanners.
STC

The STC listed several 16th century editions of the Sarum breviary, none of which matched exactly the volumes in our collection. The STC listings included

  • An edition printed by Francois Regnault in 1535 (#15833)
  • An edition printed by Robert Caly in 1555, which was reprinted from the 1535 Regnault edition and mistakenly included its colophon (#15840)
  • An edition printed by John Kingston and Henry Sutton in 1556 (#15842)

ZSR’s volume I matched up perfectly with STC #15842, except for its title page, which was the one associated with STC #15840. Volume II seemed likely to be STC #15840, except that it lacked a title page. Had there been some mixing and matching of pages in our breviary?

A note at the beginning of the STC’s section on liturgies suggested that this was not only possible but quite likely. Pollard and Redgrave observed that “Most bibliographers are hesitant to deal with liturgies from the period before, during, and after the Reformation” because the multiplicity of textual variants and editions made it nearly impossible to create a definitive list. In addition,

the problem is compounded by the sad state of the majority of copies, some surviving only as fragments rescued from bindings and others having undergone contemporary, near-contemporary, or modern mutilation and/or sophistication: “made-up” copies in every possible sense.

It seemed likely that ZSR’s books were among the many “made-up copies.”

sarum breviary caly initial G

A capital G from a 1555 English breviary nicely illustrates a Rare Books librarian’s frame of mind after she has spent a few weeks on the Problem books.

After weighing the bibliographic evidence, I formed the following hypotheses:

  • ZSR’s volume I and volume II are from two completely different editions of the Sarum breviary, rearranged and bound to look like a single publication.
  • Volume I is a copy of the Hiemalis section of the 1556 Kingtson and Sutton edition whose title page went missing long ago.
  • Volume II is the Estiualis section from the 1555 Caly edition that mistakenly included the colophon from a 1535 Paris edition. (It’s likely that the compositors—the people setting type—in Caly’s shop had used the 1535 Regnault edition as their source copy. Whether through carelessness or lack of facility with Latin, the compositor responsible for setting the final page had included the source copy’s colophon in the text of the new edition.)
  • At some point a person in possession of both volumes had the title page from the Caly edition removed and placed at the beginning of the Kingston and Sutton volume I. Presumably the same person relocated a section page from the Caly edition to the beginning of volume II, to replace the title page that had been moved to volume I.

Most of the bibliographic evidence supported my hypotheses (but experts on Marian liturgical printing are welcome to weigh in with alternative theories!), so I felt confident enough to create catalog records for the volumes. But some mysteries remain, the most obvious being: why would someone go to the trouble of rearranging pages in the two books?

It’s possible that the rebinding and rearrangement were done early in the books’ 450-year history by an owner who actually used the volumes as liturgical books and wanted a uniform set. It’s much more likely that the alternations were a “modern mutilation and/or sophistication,” intended to make the volumes more attractive to a non-expert collector. Perhaps the moral of this story is that anyone setting out to collect early modern liturgical books should be able to translate Latin– at the very least, “caveat emptor.”

*For more information on 16th century English printers see: Peter W. M. Blayney, The Stationers’ Company and the Printers of London, 1501–1557 (Cambridge UP, 2013).

One State, Many Faiths: The Religion in North Carolina Digital Collection Project

Thursday, June 5, 2014 2:11 pm

programannualses1015woma_0017

Image from the Religion in North Carolina digital collection https://archive.org/details/ncreligion

ZSR Special Collections & Archives is pleased to report that the Religion in North Carolina Digital Collection project has received LSTA funding  for its third year. Wake Forest’s ZSR Library has partnered with Duke Divinity School and the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill for this project, which seeks to provide digital access to primary source materials from all religious groups in North Carolina.

Federal funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services has enabled the three partner institutions to collect and digitize nearly 800,000 pages during the first two years of the grant project. A large percentage of this material is drawn from the collections at Duke, Wake Forest, and UNC, but the digital collection also includes substantial contributions from over 200 other libraries and archives throughout North Carolina.

The collection includes a wide array of publications, from sermons and meeting minutes to camp hymnals and cookbooks. Religious bodies with long histories in North Carolina are well represented in the collection. But the project staff has also made it a priority to solicit materials from many underrepresented religious groups. The result is a wide-ranging collection that will serve as an important resource for anyone with an interest in the cultural history of the state.

In this third and final year the project’s emphasis will shift to education and outreach initiatives. Duke Divinity School Ph.D. candidate Ken Woo has been hired as the project’s doctoral fellow for research and education. Ken will be making contact with schools, religious institutions, and community groups throughout the state to give presentations and solicit feedback on the project’s digital resources. Here at ZSR, the Special Collections and Archives department has hired WFU Divinity School student Monique Swaby in a grant-funded summer position. Monique is working to identify potentially interested groups at Wake Forest and throughout the regional community. Monique will also begin the process of developing educational applications for the Religion in NC digital collections, using the primary sources to create narratives that will connect students and researchers to the state’s diverse and fascinating religious heritage. Check this blog later in the summer for Monique’s updates!

For more information about the Religion in NC project, please contact Special Collections & Archives. We welcome questions and input, especially from individuals or groups who would like to take part in our outreach initiatives.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (1969)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 12:39 pm

angelou dust jacket

Dust jacket from first edition of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, ZSR Special Collections

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) never intended to write an autobiography. In 1968 she was active in the civil rights movement and had a busy and successful career as a poet, playwright, performer, and educator. A recent project–  writing, producing, and hosting the PBS series Blacks, Blues, Black– had brought her to California, where she met Jules and Judy Feiffer. The Feiffers, immediately taken with Angelou’s fascinating history and storytelling flair, contacted Random House editor Robert Loomis. With help from James Baldwin, Loomis persuaded the initially reluctant Angelou to write a memoir. The result was Angelou’s most widely read book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

angelou title page

First edition title page, ZSR Special Collections

Published in 1969, the book chronicles Angelou’s life from the age of three, when she and her brother Bailey were sent to live with their paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas.

angelou dust jacket flap 1

angelou dust jacket flap 2

Dust jacket description from the first edition of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, ZSR Special Collections

The book ends with Maya becoming a mother at age 16. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is dedicated to her son, Guy Johnson.

angelou dedication page

Dedication page from the first edition of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, ZSR Special Collections

The book was a critical and popular success, and it brought Angelou to the attention of national media as an important new voice in American literature.

Angelou eventually wrote five more autobiographical works.

angelou autobiographies

Three of Angelou’s later autobiographical works, ZSR Special Collections

She also continued to write poetry, dramatic works, and screenplays. In 1978 Angelou worked on an adaptation of  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for the CBS television movie version of her memoir.

angelou algonquin notes

Maya Angelou’s introductory notes for the screenplay of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, on Algonquin Hotel stationery. From the Maya Angelou Film and Theater Collection, ZSR Library Special Collections and Archives.

angelou caged bird script MS

An early draft of the screenplay for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. From the Maya Angelou Film and Theater Collection, ZSR Library Special Collections and Archives.

In 1982 Maya Angelou accepted the position of Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.  A beloved and influential presence on the Wake Forest campus,  Angelou made numerous appearances in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library. The Rare Books Collection holds a comprehensive collection of her works. And in 2001 Angelou donated to the library an extensive collection of manuscript materials relating to her career in the performing arts. The Maya Angelou Film and Theater Collection now resides in ZSR’s Special Collections and Archives. Materials relating to Angelou’s literary career are housed at the Shomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library.

angelou inscription

Inscription by Maya Angelou from ZSR Special Collections’ first edition of The Heart of a Woman.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has never been out of print since its first publication nearly 50 years ago. The book has inspired countless readers with its story of resilience in the face of adversity. Angelou herself, in a 1990 interview with George Plimpton, commented that

There is, I hope, a thesis in my work: we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. That sounds goody-two-shoes, I know, but I believe that a diamond is the result of extreme pressure and time. Less time is crystal. Less than that is coal. Less than that is fossilized leaves. Less than that it’s just plain dirt. In all my work, in the movies I write, the lyrics, the poetry, the prose, the essays, I am saying that we may encounter many defeats—maybe it’s imperative that we encounter the defeats—but we are much stronger than we appear to be and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be.

Maya Angelou touched many lives and played many roles during her 86 years. But her first love was language, and her literary works, Caged Bird foremost among them, are the durable gemstones that will be her legacy for future generations.

Grant Funding Supports Research at ZSR Special Collections and Archives

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 1:27 pm

Applications are now being accepted for 2014-15 Special Collections and Archives research grants. The Provost’s Grant for Library Research and the ZSR Travel Grants provide financial support for visiting researchers who wish to use Wake Forest’s manuscripts, rare books, or archival collections.

Since its inception in 2009, the ZSR Special Collections and Archives grants program has brought researchers from all over the world to the Wake Forest campus. Recent recipients of Provost’s Grants include Dr. Edward Blum, San Diego State University; Dr. Wendy Raphael Roberts, University at Albany SUNY; Dr. Saverio Giovacchini, University of Maryland at College Park; and Dr. Alan Libert, University of Newcastle, Australia.

The ZSR research grants have an obvious benefit for the researchers who receive financial support. But the program also has a lasting impact on the Wake Forest community, as the visiting scholars share their projects and discoveries while on campus. Although many of our grant recipients are college and university faculty, our researchers have also included students, journalists, authors, and documentary filmmakers. We welcome applications from researchers whose projects make creative use of our special collections and archival resources.

For more information about the library research grants, please contact Megan Mulder, Special Collections Librarian, at mulder@wfu.edu or 336-758-5091.

Complete Book on the Judgment of the Stars, by ʻAlī ibn Abī al-Rijāl (1485 Erhard Ratdolt edition)

Monday, March 31, 2014 4:49 pm

Liber in iudiciis astrorum incipit

Preclarissimus liber completus in iudicijs astrorum, a Latin translation of Alī Ibn Abī al-Rijāl’s principal scientific work, Kitāb al-bāriʻ fī aḥkām al-nujūm.

One of the oldest printed books in ZSR’s Rare Books Collection is a Latin translation of Alī Ibn Abī al-Rijāl’s principal scientific work, Kitāb al-bāriʻ fī aḥkām al-nujūm. The text, commonly known as Liber in iudiciis astrorum,  is a treatise on astrological methods by an 11th century Arab mathematician, printed in 1485 by a German printer working in Venice. The book is featured in the Special Collections exhibit Letters in Lead: Moveable Type and the Books It Created. Its history is a fascinating anecdote in the story of how print culture developed in Renaissance Europe.

Around 1450 a goldsmith in Mainz named Johannes Gutenberg developed a viable method for casting moveable type out of metal. The invention made mechanical printing feasible and gave rise to an entirely new profession in Renaissance Europe. Many aspiring printers learned the craft of printing from Gutenberg’s successors, and within a few years a coterie of printers had formed in Mainz. In 1462, however, warfare between rival sects of German Catholics led to the sack of Mainz and a diaspora of its printers around Europe. One of these displaced printers was Erhard Ratdolt, who transplanted his fledgling business to Venice.

Ratdolt flourished in his new location and quickly gained a reputation as an innovative printer of scientific texts. He experimented with multicolor printing and invented techniques for integrating woodcut illustrations and diagrams into pages of text. Ratdolt is particularly famous for producing the first printed text of Euclid’s Elements in 1482, and he specialized in printing editions of classic works of science and mathematics.

In 1485 Ratdolt printed the book in ZSR’s collection, a work on astronomy by the 11th century Tunisian court mathematician Alī Ibn Abī al-Rijāl, whose name was Latinized to Albohazen Haly or Haly Abenragel in European publications. Ratdolt’s volume bore the Latin title Preclarissimus liber completus in iudicijs astrorum ( The Complete Book on the Judgment of the Stars).

Liber in iudiciis astrorum colophon

Colophon (a printer’s statement found at the end of a text) from Erhard Ratdolt’s 1485 edition of Liber in iudiciis astrorum, indicating that printing was completed in Venice on July 4, 1485.

This astrological text was already well known to scholars in Renaissance Europe. It had been translated from Arabic into Castilian Spanish by astronomer Jehuda ben Moses Cohen in the 13th century, and from Spanish into a number of Latin translations.

In the world of the Renaissance, there was no sharp division between what we would call astronomy (the study of celestial bodies)  and astrology (the influence of those celestial bodies on terrestrial events). Medieval astrology was based on an Aristotelian concept of the universe, as interpreted by Claudius Ptolemy , which posited a universe with a stationary Earth at its center, surrounded by concentric spheres containing stars, planets, and other celestial bodies.

nuremburg ptolemaic universe 2

A woodcut illustration of the Ptolemaic universe from ZSR’s copy of the Nuremburg Chronicle (1493)

Medieval and Renaissance astrologers used mathematical formulas to predict the movement of objects in the sky. These calculations were used to create calendars, to determine propitious times for various activities, and to predict eclipses and other unusual events. Astrology was an important scientific pursuit, and Renaissance scholars eagerly sought to recover Arab and Byzantine astrological texts. The eastern astrologers had developed advanced techniques that were of great interest to scholars in western Europe.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum t8r

A page from ZSR’s 1485 Liber in iudiciis astrorum, with handwritten notes and astrological symbols in the margin.

Erhard Ratdolt’s Venice edition of Liber in iudiciis astroroum made this text available in print for the first time. As an example of incunabula (books printed in Europe before 1500), it is both typical and innovative.

Fifteenth century books share many attributes of the manuscript volumes that existed for centuries before the invention of moveable type.

MS oxford 1240

A page from a 13th century manuscript in ZSR’s collection

Like most early books, Ratdolt’s volume has no title page or table of contents. Its text was printed in  black letter type, which reflected the manuscript handwriting prevalent in 15th century Europe.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum q7r

Another page from the Liber in iudiciis astrorum; notes in red were added by hand by a 15th century reader.

As in manuscript volumes, the text is printed in two columns with minimal punctuation. Medieval and Renaissance manuscript texts, like the one pictured above, relied on rubrication – initial letters and other text in colored ink—to indicate section breaks and other textual navigation. Early printed books often left space for rubrication to be added by hand to printed text, since multicolor printing was difficult and time consuming. Erhard Ratdolt hit upon the idea of using decorative woodcut initials in place of color.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum q5r

Page from Ratdolt’s Liber in iudiciis astrorum, with various large, decorative initials denoting section breaks.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum initial d

Detail of one of Erhard Ratdolt’s decorative woodcut initials.

Ratdolt also pioneered techniques for including tables and woodcut charts in his pages of text, which was particularly important for scientific and mathematical books.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum chart

Page from Liber in iudiciis astrorum with woodcut diagram integrated into the text block.

In the 1480s Erhard Ratdolt also printed editions of several other important astrological works.  As historian Jonathan Green observes, Ratdolt “achieved a near monopoly during that decade for many astronomical and astrological works” [Printing and Prophecy (Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 2012) 135].  

Ratdolt’s edition of Liber in iudiciis astroroum was a large and probably expensive book. But the original purchaser of ZSR’s copy obviously make good use of the volume. It was heavily annotated by its 15th century owner(s), with pages full of manuscript notes, underlinings, added headings, and astrological symbols.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum b3r

Annotated page from ZSR’s Liber in iudiciis astrorum.

Erhard Ratdolt’s Liber in iudiciis astroroum embodies the cultural exchanges and the technological innovations taking place in Renaissance Europe. ZSR’s copy of this book was purchased in 1964 with funds from the Oscar T. Smith endowment. It is on view in ZSR Library’s Special Collections and Archives Reading Room through April 30, as part of the Letters in Lead exhibit, which traces the development of printing type and book design in Europe from its beginnings through the 21st century.

Hoffmann Collection in the News

Thursday, March 13, 2014 3:49 pm

The Gertrude and Max Hoffmann Collection is enjoying the limelight once again. An article by ZSR Special Collections Librarian Megan Mulder about the collection is featured in the Winter 2014 issue of Performance!, the publication of the Performing Arts Section of the Society of American Archivists.

The entire publication is available in PDF format here.  Don’t miss the cover photo of Max, Gertrude, and their photogenic cat!

Gertrude Hoffmann was a dancer, choreographer, and manager of her own dance troupe;  her husband Max was a ragtime composer and musician. Their papers, now part of ZSR’s Special Collections, include music manuscripts, photographs, posters, correspondence, and other materials– many of which are now available as digital collections. The Performance! article describes the Hoffmanns’ colorful careers in early 20th century vaudeville and on international tours, and also explains how the collection came to reside at Wake Forest.

For more information about the Hoffmann papers at ZSR Library, please contact Special Collections and Archives.

Letters in Lead: Moveable Type and the Books It Created

Thursday, February 27, 2014 10:45 am

letters in lead heading 1

The invention of a practical method for printing with moveable type was a watershed event in European history. From Johannes Gutenberg’s first metal types in the mid-15th century to letterpress printing of today, printers and type designers have practiced their craft to create texts that are both legible and beautiful.

baskerville milton

A 1759 edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost by the famous printer and type designer John Baskerville.

Letters in Lead, the current exhibit in the ZSR Library Special Collections and Archives Reading Room (room 625), features examples of type and other materials of printing. The ZSR Preservation Lab houses a small 1906 job press and a large supply of type font. Examples of type and other equipment from the ZSR Press are included in the exhibit.

type drawer

One of many cases of moveable type from the ZSR Press collection

The exhibit also features volumes from the ZSR Rare Books Collection, tracing the development of printing and book design from pre-Gutenberg manuscripts to 20th century illustrated books.

manuscript book of hours

Page from a 14th century manuscript Book of Hours

Letters in Lead will be on exhibit February through April 2014. Visitors are welcome any time during Special Collections and Archives open hours, Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., and other hours by appointment. For more information please contact Special Collections at 336-758-6175 or via our query form.

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, by Robert Burns (1787)

Saturday, January 25, 2014 9:43 am

Title page of the Edinburgh edition of Burns's poems

Title page of the Edinburgh edition of Burns’s poems

In December of 1786 a young country poet from the west of Scotland traveled to Edinburgh. Robert Burns hoped to drum up support for a second edition of the collection of poems that he had recently published by subscription in Kilmarnock. On 6 December Burns wrote to a friend

I have now been a week in Edin[burgh] and have been introduced to a great many of the Noblesse.—I have met very warm friends in the Literati… [Letters of Robert Burns, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985) 61A]

Shortly thereafter he joked to another friend that

I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as Thomas a Kempis or John Bunyan; and you may expect henceforth to see my birthday inserted among the wonderful events, in the Poor Robin’s and Aberdeen Almanacks… [Letters 62]

Burns could hardly have imagined that his birthday—January 25—would indeed be celebrated far beyond Aberdeen. Robert Burns Night is commemorated all over the world with food, speeches, and song in honor of the man now widely known as the national poet of Scotland.

Frontispiece portrait of Robert Burns from the Edinburgh edition

Frontispiece portrait of Robert Burns from the Edinburgh edition

In 1786, however, young Robert Burns was an obscure country poet. The son of a tenant farmer from the southwest of Scotland, Burns always had a talent for poetry and song. He also had a fondness for women, which may have led indirectly to the first publication of his poems. A few months before his trip to Edinburgh, Burns was making plans to emigrate to the West Indies, in part to escape the demands the family of a woman who had recently borne his out-of-wedlock twins. Before quitting Scotland Burns decided to publish a collection of poems based on the traditional dialect and songs of his native land. The very modest volume, titled Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, was printed by John Wilson in Kilmarnock in July 1786, its production paid for by Burns’s friends and supporters.

In October 1786 Burns approached Wilson about the possibility of a second edition, which would include some new poems. But, as Burns recounted in another letter, the printer insisted on an advance of £27 for the paper

[B]ut this, you know, is out of my power; so farewell hopes for a second edition ‘till I grow richer! An epocha, which, I think, will arrive at the payment of the British national debt. [Letters, 53]

Before leaving the country, Burns decided to make an attempt at finding patronage in the much larger city of Edinburgh, where, he had heard, copies of the Kilmarnock edition had been well received. He was indeed eagerly received by the Edinburgh aristocracy, and he quickly secured the patronage of the Caledonian Hunt –an exclusive social club for Scotland’s wealthiest men—for the second edition of his Poems.

Dedication page addressed to members of the Caledonian Hunt Club

Dedication page addressed to members of the Caledonian Hunt Club

Much of Burns’s stay in Edinburgh was taken up with preparations for this second edition, which included some new poems not found in the Kilmarnock edition. Writing to one of his partrons in March 1787, Burns records that

I have today corrected the last proof sheet of my poems and have now only the Glossary and subscribers names to print. . . . Printing this last is much against my will, but some of my friends whom I do not chuse to thwart will have it so. – I have both a second and a third Edition going on as the second was begun with too small a number of copies.—The whole I have printed is three thousand. [Letters, 90]

The average edition size at the time for a work of poetry was under 1000 copies, so an edition of 3000 copies was clear evidence of Burns’s ascendant fame. And the 46-page list, printed at the beginning of the volume, of names and tiles of subscribers provided incontrovertible evidence that the literary elite of Scotland had given their approval.

First page of the subscriber list for the Edinburgh edition of Burns's poems

First page of the subscriber list for the Edinburgh edition of Burns’s Poems

Robert Burns was a gifted poet, but he also had the advantage of appearing at the right time. The antiquarian movement of the 18th century had brought about great interest in the literature and material culture of the distant past. And in Scotland, antiquarianism had a decidedly nationalistic bent. English language and culture had been encroaching in Scotland since the union of the two kingdoms in 1603, and Burns’s poetry provided a direct link to traditional Scottish folkways and dialects. Burns himself embraced his identity as a national poet, writing in 1787:

The appellation of, a Scotch Bard, is by far my highest pride; to continue to deserve it is my most exalted ambition.—Scottish scenes, and Scottish story are the themes I could wish to sing… [Letters, 90]

burns twa dogs

Among the new poems included Edinburgh edition was “The Brigs of Ayr”—a dialogue between old and new bridges over the river Ayr– dedicated to his friend and longtime patron John Ballantine. The desire to see this poem in print was a motivating factor in Burns’s publishing a second edition. In 1786, despairing of being able to raise money for a second Kilmarnock edition, Burns wrote

There is scarcely any thing hurts me so much in being disappointed of my second edition, as not having it in my power to shew my gratitude to Mr. Ballantine, by publishing my poem of The Brigs of Ayr . [Letters, 53]

burns brigs

Burns’s ode to haggis was likely responsible for this rather off-putting concoction (offal, onions, and oatmeal boiled in a sheep’s stomach) being enshrined as the national dish of Scotland.

Burns's ode to haggis, a traditional Scottish dish made of offal, onions, and oatmeal boiled in a sheep's stomach

Burns’s ode to haggis

The glossary included in the Edinburgh edition of Burns’s Poems preserves distinctively Scottish words and pronunciations. But the fact that even his fellow Scots needed a guide to the language attests that the dialect was rapidly disappearing from everyday use.

Burns's glossary recorded the pronunciations and vocabulary of the traditional Scottish dialect

Burns’s Poems included a glossary of distinctively Scottish words

The Edinburgh edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect made Burns’s reputation. It also gave him financial security, at least temporarily. On the eve of its publication Burns wrote that

I guess I shall clear between two and three hundred pounds by my Authorship; with that sum I intend, so far as I may be said to have any intention, to return to my old acquaintance, the plough, and, if I can meet with a lease by which I can live, to commence Farmer. [Letters, 90]

Burns did indeed go back to farming, at least for a while. He married the mother of his twin children and fathered several more children. Eventually he took on a job as an excise officer in Dumfries. But he continued to write poetry and continued to take an active interest in the study and preservation of Scottish culture. One of his best known poems, “Tam o’Shanter,” was published in a volume dedicated to the preservation of Scottish buildings and monuments.

First publication of Burns's poem "Tam o' Shanter" in The Antiquties of Scotland (1791)

First publication of Burns’s poem “Tam o’ Shanter” in The Antiquties of Scotland (1791)

Burns died suddenly in 1796 at the age of only 37. But enthusiasm for his poetry never flagged. Memoirs, tributes, and collections of his works were published, and the 1859 centennial of his birth was the occasion for many celebrations.

Souvenir publication from the Burns Club of New York City's centennial celebration

Souvenir publication from the Burns Club of New York City’s centennial celebration

Since then the tradition of commemorating Burns Night on January 25 has spread throughout the world. Robert Burns would no doubt be delighted that his writings have brought the songs and poetry of his beloved Scotland to a global audience.

ZSR’s copy of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect is from the Charles Babcock collection. It is particularly interesting as an artifact because it has never been altered or rebound. With its original printer’s cardboard binding and untrimmed pages, the book is exactly what an 18th century reader would have purchased from an Edinburgh bookseller.

Original publisher's binding on ZSR's copy of Burns's Poems

Original publisher’s binding on ZSR’s copy of Burns’s Poems


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