Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Rare Books Defined

In the 1980s, curator of rare books Ruth Mortimer created a list of definitions or guidelines for both readers and possible donors to the Rare Book Room. The handout included this caveat: Rare books, by their nature, do not adapt well to definition … The pleasure of collecting rare books lies in assessing the peculiarities of each volume. The current rare book collection contains items ranging in date from approximately 3,000 B.C. (cuneiform tablets) through 2012 (artists books) and includes books, manuscripts, and artwork from a broader range than on Ruth’s brief list. These are items from the Mortimer Rare Book Room that fit each of the categories listed on the handout “Rare Books Defined.” These books also represent a number of significant collections and special donors.

Book printed before 1500 (incunabula)

Hyginus. Poeticon astronomicon. Venice, 1485.
PURCHASED ON THE ELIZABETH AIKENS LYON MEMORIAL BOOK FUND
This is one of approximately seventy books at Smith, printed between 1455 and 1500. A new comprehensive catalogue of this collection, written by Mark Morford, will be published in 2013.

Book printed before 1700 in any country

Justus Lipsius. Saturnalium sermonum libri duo: qui de gladiatoribus. Antwerp: Plantin, 1590.
PRESENTED BY MARK MORFORD IN MEMORY OF MARTHA WOODBURY DUNN MORFORD, CLASS OF 1948
Justus Lipsius (1547-1606), a Belgian philologist and humanist noted for his works on stoicism and Christianity and for critical editions of the work of Seneca and Tacitus, also wrote about gladiators and their role in the  Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival  which honored the god Saturn. Among Lipsius’ close friends was Christopher Plantin of Antwerp, whose notable family printing office produced this and many of Lipsius’ works. An engraved portrait of the author is shown here.

Mark Morford, a professor emeritus in classics at the University of Virginia, is the Salloch Fellow in the Mortimer Rare Book Room. Lipsius is one of his specialties, and Morford also is nearing completion of a catalogue of the seventy incunabula at Smith.

Books printed before 1800 in England, Scotland, Ireland

Isaac Newton. Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica. London: Royal Society, 1687.
PRESENTED BY THOMAS S. DERR, PROFESSOR OF RELIGION AND ETHICS, SMITH COLLEGE
This is one of a number of seminal scientific books, including works by Galileo and Benjamin Franklin, from the library of Thomas Derr’s grandfather.

Generally known as Newton’s Principia, this book is important not primarily for its date and place of origin, but because it is one of the most influential publications in the history of science. Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy presents Newton’s laws of motion and universal gravitation. It was written in Latin, the universally accepted scholarly language well into the 17th century.

Books printed before 1820 in America

Isaiah Thomas. The History of Printing in America. Worcester: The Press of Isaiah Thomas, Jun.,1810. PURCHASED
Isaiah Thomas was an American newspaper publisher, who narrowly escaped from Boston to Worcester at the start of the American Revolution at Concord and Lexington. Smith’s copy of his definitive work on the history of printing in America was published by his son. In 1812, the elder Thomas founded the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, partly to care for his extensive reference library.

Books printed before 1850 in Northampton, Massachusetts

The American Musical Miscellany: A Collection of the Newest and Most Approved Songs, set to Music. Northampton, Massachusetts: Printed by Andrew Wright for Daniel Wright …, 1798.
PRESENTED BY MRS. WILLIAM ALLAN NEILSON
This book was donated in 1946, the year The Library was named for Smith’s President Neilson.

First editions of selected 19th & 20th century authors

Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice: A Novel. London: Printed for T. Egerton, 1813. Three volumes. PRESENTED BY ANA ROIGT DANIEL, CLASS OF 1960

Early children’s books (before 1900)

The Poetic Gift: or Alphabet in Rhyme. New Haven: Sidney Babcock, 1844

Infant Stories with Beautiful Pictures. New Haven: Sidney Babcock, 1831
PRESENTED BY MARJORIE BACHE MENDEN, CLASS OF 1930

The Snow Drop. Northampton: E. Turner, 1828.
PRESENTED BY ESTHER C. CUNN

These are examples from the extensive children’s book collection at Smith. They are small “toy books” generally issued in colorful illustrated paper wrappers.

Private press books

Cancelleresca Bastarda Displayed in a Series of Maxims and Mottos. With Alphabets and Ornaments. Northampton: Gehenna Press, 1965
PURCHASED
This delicate book embodies many aspects of private press printing. It was issued in a limited edition of 100 copies, signed by the designer, Leonard Baskin. Baskin used one typeface and various type ornaments in differing configurations with brief quotations. The crisp, multi-colored printing was achieved by Baskin’s long-time master printer Harold P. McGrath. This page in particular also represents Baskin’s sense of humor; the elegance of the design belies the fact that the Latin phrase can be translated as “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Books printed by women

Pensées ingenieuses des anciens et des moderns. Paris: Chez la veuve de Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1692.
PRESENTED BY MARJORIE BACHE MENDEN, CLASS OF 1930
This book was printed by the widow (veuve) of Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, whose grandfather obtained in the 17th century the family privilege to print royal French documents. It was common for a wife to continue printing and publishing upon inheriting a business from her husband or son; Mabre-Cramoisy’s widow, Loir Françoise, ran the business until 1698. Of added interest, this volume was once owned by the 18th-century British diarist, author, and patron of the arts Hester Lynch Piozzi (also known as Mrs. Thrale), whose marginal notes are found scattered through the volume (one is reproduced here).

Books with illustration in original print medium

Charles Hullmandel. The Art of Drawing on Stone. London: C. Hullmandel and R. Ackermann, 1824.
PURCHASED ON THE FUND ESTABLISHED IN MEMORY OF ELIZABETH MCCONNELL, CLASS OF 1918, AND ANNE L. BOHNING, CLASS OF 1915
This manual by the early English lithographer Charles Hullmandel provides instruction in various styles of drawing on lithographic stones, as well as “methods to … ensure success.” The plate shown here illustrates a multitude of “causes of failure,” including flecks of grease falling from the hair of the artist (D), spittle falling onto the stone (A), and perspiring fingers which leave black stains on the stone (D) and thus ruin the drawing.

Association copies (inscribed by author or by owner in subject field)

Ernest Hemingway. The Killers in O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1927. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1928.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY COLLECTION PRESENTED BY BEATRICE OENSLAGER CHACE, CLASS OF 1928
This inscription by the author is quite nice, since it is much more than merely a signature: “2nd Prize Story. Two hundred and fifty dollars! Honor, glory, cash, invitations to Banquet! Writers have a wonderful life don’t you think so … E.H.”