Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Masterpieces of Descriptive Bibliography

Harvard College Library Department of Printing and Graphic Arts Catalogue of Books and ManuscriptsAfter graduating from Smith in 1953, Ruth Mortimer acquired a Master of Library Science degree at Columbia University, returned to work briefly in Neilson Library, and in 1957 began her 18-year position as Rare Book Cataloguer for Printing and Graphic Arts in Harvard’s Houghton Library. The first of her two remarkable descriptive catalogues of the Philip Hofer collection at Harvard—French 16th Century Books—was published in 1964 (Italian 16th Century Books followed in 1974). Mortimer sent two copies of the two-volume French Sixteenth Century Books to Smith, one for the rare book collection, and an inscribed copy for curator Dorothy King’s personal collection. King’s thank-you letter to Ruth, dated August 25, 1964, is still in the Rare Book Room office files. King wrote: “I know you are proud of this magnificent publication, and you have every good reason to be. I think it is a remarkable achievement for anyone just ten years out of college, and it gives me satisfaction beyond measure to know that I have been involved in any way at all in your career.”

Harvard College Library Department of Printing and Graphic Arts Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts. Part I: French 16th Century Books. Compiled by Ruth Mortimer. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1964. Two volumes. 
PRESENTED BY RUTH MORTIMER, CLASS OF 1953 [Click on image to enlarge]

King also commented on the Rare Book Room—the current one, which opened in the fall of 1962—in use for only two years at the date of her letter: “This place is working out beautifully, in spite of all the annoying bloopers that are inevitably committed and perpetrated in new buildings. … I look forward to showing things to you.” Dorothy King and Ruth Mortimer remained friends until King’s death in 1974. Ruth Mortimer became curator of rare books at Smith the following year.

Charles de Bouelle. Liure singulier & vtile, tovchant l’art et practique de geometrie. Miss King’s 1964 letter ends: “I shall be using your book a good deal, hoping vainly to discover choice items at Smith that Harvard doesn’t have!” One book owned by both institutions, item 115 in Ruth’s catalogue, is Charles de Bouelles’ work on geometry. Smith's copy belonged to Ruth Mortimer and came to Smith as part of a substantial gift presented by her husband John Lancaster, after Ruth’s death in 1994. 

Charles de Bouelle. Liure singulier & vtile, tovchant l’art et practique de geometrie. Paris: S. de Colines, 1542. PRESENTED BY JOHN LANCASTER IN MEMORY OF RUTH MORTIMER, CLASS OF 1953
[Click on image to enlarge]