I first found Charles Dickens while at the Worrell House in 1979. I have read many of his works over the years and have enjoyed them immensely. When I started working in Special Collections & Archives, I was very excited to find out that we have some of Dickens’ works in the original parts. One of my responsibilities here in the department is the make sure everything on the shelf is cataloged. There are many titles that have been on the shelf for many years, but for some reason, were never been put into the online catalog. While doing this, I realized that the British and American literature sections were cataloged using a hybrid Library of Congress classification system. Instead of grouping titles together, everything was done chronologically. This made titles hard to find. So, starting with the British literature, I started to re-catalog using the correct Library of Congress classification system. This led me to some surprising discoveries. By far the most exciting for me were two folios that were cataloged with Charles Dickens works. These two books were by James Peller Malcolm published in 1808 & 1811. Anecdotes of the manners and customs of London: during the eighteenth century, with a review of the state of society in 1807. published in 1808 and Anecdotes of the manners and customs of London from the Roman invasion to the year 1700… published in 1811. Now these two items, while rare, wouldn’t have gotten my attention normally except for two things, one they really should have been cataloged with history titles, and two, they had two bookplates on the front inside cover, one that said Charles Dickens, and another that stated “From the library of Charles Dickens, Gadshill Place June, 1870.” These particular bookplates stated that these items were in Dickens’ library at Gadshill when he died. Wanting to know more about these titles, I started to research more about them and found out that not only had they been in Dickens library, but the one published in 1808 had been used for his novel Barnaby Rudge. In J. H. Stonehouse’s Catalogue of the Library of Charles Dickens from Gadshill published in 1935, in the entry for these titles he states: “In Vol. 2 is the plate of a charming girl, in a picturesque costume, immortalized in Barnaby Rudge, and here named in Dickens’s handwriting — “Dolly Varden”. Needless to say I was very excited to learn about this important association with Dickens works. It isn’t very often that you can trace a book’s provenance other than bookplates or knowing who gave the book, but to realize that a important author actually used these books for his research makes this discovery all that more exciting. In this case the books were listed in the online catalog, but nothing had been added that stated this association with Dickens. I guess previous catalogers thought that if they were cataloged as Dickens’ works, the association would be self-explanatory. The books were bought in 1974 for $135.00 apiece for the rare books collection. There is a note handwritten in pencil on the front inside cover of the 1808 volume that indicates that the plate number #8 is the plate when Dickens made his notation. It is possible that this was written by the book dealer where we purchased the books. The books were in pretty bad shape when I cataloged them in 2011. The 1811 volume is in better shape than the 1808 volume. The 1811 volume has a back cover that is loose, and some pages at the front that have come unbound. The 1808 volume was in much worse shape with the spine completely split and many loose pages. I sent the 1808 volume down to Craig in preservation to do some repair work. It has now been beautifully repaired and is ready for scholars in English literature as well as English social customs and history to use. I will be sending the 1811 volume down shortly. If you would like to take a look, please come up to the special collections reading room and I will be glad to show you both volumes. It is times like this that I know that I am in the right profession. Not only was I able to provide better access to our collection by cataloging the volumes correctly, but I was able to work with something that belonged to and was used by my favorite author. Most days I love what I do, but on days like the day I found these volumes I can say with a huge smile on my face that I love my job!
As I have been re-cataloging books in rare, I have come across many titles that even though they have call number slips in them, have no record for them in the catalog. It has gotten to the point when I am more surprised when a book is actually in the catalog than when it isn’t. One that I came across recently seems to be one of just a few copies still in existence. The Aitken Bible was published in Philadelphia in 1782. It was the first complete Bible printed in the United States, and considered the Bible of the Revolution. It even includes a 2 page resolution from Congress authorizing the sale of the Bible. It was published at a time when the British had a monopoly over the publication of such material which means that it was published illegally. Robert Aitken is said to have buried the type so that it wouldn’t be destroyed by the British soldiers. Earlier editions of the New Testament were published during the years 1777-1779. Our copy was bought in 1952. Included is a copy of the book seller’s catalog supplement advertising the Bible. It has the history of the Bible as well as information about how many copies were still available in 1952. When I downloaded the record, I noticed that OCLC said we held it, but it was never entered into any computer catalog system. There are only 33 other libraries that have copies. As I continue going through the shelves, I am sure that I will find others books that haven’t been cataloged. I am hoping for a something really big such as a first folio of Shakespeare or a Gutenberg Bible! A librarian can only dream.