Mortimer Rare Book Room History

The Smith College Libraries’ Millionth Volume

Aldus Manutius’ edition of St. Catherine of Siena’s Epistole devotissime was selected in 1987 as the millionth book acquired by the Smith College Libraries. Aldine editions are notable for their scholarly texts and commentary and for their elegant design and legible printing. Aldus is acclaimed for commissioning the first italic type; Francisco Griffo’s italic font makes its first appearance on the title page of the Epistole, as the words within the open book and the heart held by St. Catherine. In 1984 Ruth Mortimer had acquired a collection of approximately two dozen 16th-century books either printed in or influenced by the italic of Arrighi.

St. Catherine’s letters are important to the rare book collection for multiple reasons. The book marks a milestone in sheer numbers for the Smith College Libraries, it is a notable typographic achievement, and the contents were written by a woman. When Smith chose to celebrate this millionth volume, the Friends of the Libraries supported the publication of a translation of five letters from the Epistole by Margaret Edson, class of 1983, who had worked closely with Ruth Mortimer on studies in the Italian renaissance. Edson, who teaches elementary school in Atlanta, GA, is also a Pulitzer Prize winner for her play Wit.

Twenty years of frequent use led to the deterioration of the binding (not original) of this incunable, printed in 1500. Curator Martin Antonetti decided to have the volume rebound by local bookbinder Peter Geraty, both to guarantee the safe use of the book now and in the future and to create yet another teaching tool for the collection. Geraty’s full leather binding is based on binding designs (with geometrical patterns and arabesque ornaments) done for the renowned 16th–century French diplomat and book collector Jean Grolier. The Latin motto stamped in gold at the foot of the front cover is an homage to Grolier’s own and can be translated as: “This [binding] was done by Peter the Bookbinder at the expense of Martin the  Curator in 2008.” Smith’s purchase included the translucent template used to transfer the design onto the  leather and the stamping tools which were made especially for this binding.

St. Catherine of Siena. Epistole devotissime. Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1500.
PURCHASED ON THE SALLOCH FUND AND WITH THE GIFT OF ESTHER B. WILEY, CLASS OF 1934

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