-Contributed by Nicole Dunlap.
Incunabula. Vellum. Colophon. It may sound like I’m speaking another language, and although it is technically English, rare books kind of do have a language of their own. My duties here at the CHP are usually limited to processing and digitizing the apparatus collection. However, lately I decided to expand my horizons and dive into the world of old and rare books at the CHP. I had no idea of the vast amount of analysis and study that goes into this specialization, not to mention a whole set of vocabulary!
This month’s Book of the Month blog is going to be a little different. Usually someone here at the CHP takes some time to highlight one of the books we have in our collection. I’m going to highlight THREE books. But I’m not going to discuss content. We are going to explore some of the physical aspects of these books. I want to give you, and myself, a little taste of the kinds of things rare book librarians and collectors concern themselves with. You may be surprised. I sure was!
The books we are going to talk about are three very different works. One is in French, one in Latin, and one in English, and the publishing dates range from 1634 to 1842. I’m going to take some time to investigate each book a little further to show you the kinds of things specialists in this field look for.
Title: De Lacrymis Libri Tres (Roughly translates: Book Three of the Leading Physicians of Paris)
Author: Pierre Petit (1617-1687)
Publisher: Parisiis, Apud Claudium Cramoisy, 1661
Physical Characteristics: 221 pages (but page 221 is wrongly numbered as 212)
-Possible vellum binding. Vellum is the skin of a calf used for book binding.
-Includes index in the front of the book with a list of chapters.
-Includes index in the back of the book that includes a list of vocabulary terms.
-Stamp at the end of the book that translates to “Thank you Jesus.”
-Illustration on the inside of the front cover.
-Illustration on cover page. Text translates to “I will sacrifice fat or lean offer.”
Title: Pantology; or, A Systematic Survey of Human Knowledge
Author: Roswell Park
Publisher: Hogan & Thompson, Philadelphia, 1842
Printer: C. Sherman & Co.
Physical Characteristics: 540 pages
-Unique gold design on binding, front cover. Possible illumination. A book is illuminated when it is decorated by hand, often with gold, silver and colored inks.
-Includes bibliography and index.
-Stamp on inside of cover that says “H.H. Thompson” with date of June 30th, 1883. Often times, incunabula (books printed in the infancy of printing, typically before 1501) have what’s known as supralibros, which are heraldic motifs stamped on the outer surface of the binding in order to identify the owner.
-Includes many illustrations throughout text.
Title: Nouvelles Pensees Sur Les Causes de la Lumiere, du Debordement du Nil et de l’Amour d’Inclination (Roughly translates: New Thoughts on the Causes of Light, Overflow of the Nile, and the Love of Inclination). There is also a second text included titled: Nouvelles Coniectures sur la Digestion (Roughly translates: New Conjectures on Digestion).
Author: Marin Cureau de la Chambre
Publisher: Pierre Rocolet, Paris, 1634
Physical Characteristics: 163 pages
-Rebound with colorful patterned binding.
-Marginal notes included throughout the text.
-Illustration on cover page.
-Includes an extract from the License of the King
-Detailed illustrations included throughout.
There are many other features that rare book collectors look for when examining these kinds of texts, such as:
-Colophon: a note at the end of the book that includes name of work, author, printer, place of printing and date
-Rubrication: when a heading or section of a book is written or printed in red letters
-Tooling: a designed impression made on the cover of a book, engraved by a metal tool
-Woodcut: when an illustration is made using wood rather than metal
And many more! Like I said, it’s like there is a whole other language to describe these books!
I learned a lot while examining and researching these old texts. I had no idea how much goes into collecting and preserving rare books. Every little detail is evaluated and deciphered. It’s amazing! Although I only got a tiny little taste of what it would be like to specialize in old and rare books, I enjoyed every last minute. It really is a special treat to touch something made in 1634. Ah, and the smell! (You book nerds out there know what I’m talking about). Take some time to explore something you know very little about; it may surprise you how rewarding it is. So, open up that book into the unknown, whatever that may be for you, turn the pages, and dive in!