Recent Acquisitions feature: The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Game

This is the first in a series of posts featuring items that will be on display during the Rare Book Collection’s Recent Acquisitions Evening on March 22.

The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Game is a parlor game based on William Combe’s satirical poem The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque.

Combe’s poem skewered the aesthetic ideal of the picturesque, which was ascendant at the time of the poem’s publication in 1809. Lovers of the picturesque prized rustic, natural, and asymmetrical scenes that reconciled the tension between the beautiful and the sublime. English writer, artist, and educator William Gilpin articulated the notion of the picturesque in a 1768 essay and depicted it in sketches that often featured ruins in the English countryside.

The picturesque ideal caught on like wildfire among England’s educated and moneyed classes, who had increasing access to the countryside with the expansion of railroads. Soon England’s Lake District filled with tourists observing and sketching rustic scenes.

As with any cultural movement that captures the public imagination so completely, the picturesque and its devotees became ripe for satire at the height of its popularity. With his poem The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque, writer William Combes seemed to relish the opportunity.

Originally published with humorous caricatures by artist Thomas Rowlandson, the poem depicted a Don Quixote-style “hero,” probably modeled on Gilpin. The character Dr. Syntax undertakes a series of adventures in which he’s so blinded by his quest for picturesque scenery that he falls victim to all manners of peril.

The poem itself became wildly popular, becoming the subject of a variety of cultural adaptations. One of them is this parlor game.

With a complicated set of instructions (“The lines refer to the picture whose number is next in rotation. Namely No 1 card refers to No 2 picture…”) and a colorful teetotum to spin, the game is a fantastic example of literature adapted as a board game.

This and many other intriguing items will be on display at the Rare Book Collection’s Recent Acquisitions Evening, a not-under-glass display of some of the Collection’s notable acquisitions. We hope you’ll join us on March 22 for the unique opportunity to see these incredible items up close.

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Recent Acquisitions Evening 2017

We’re excited to announce that the Rare Book Collection will host its biannual Recent Acquisitions Evening on March 22. The event, a not-under-glass display, is a unique opportunity to closely examine some of the notable items we’ve acquired in the past two years.

William Webb, A Record of my Journey from London Bridge to Berlin Thence to Persia via The Baltic Volga & Caspian Sea. Printing Office of the Royal College of Teheran, Persia. [1870].

This year’s event features important works on the history of printing, books that invite interaction between viewer and object, and a number of items that challenge the traditional meaning of the word book. The Rare Book Collection’s global focus will also be emphasized, with books printed in London, Mexico City, Cameroon, Paris, Augsberg, Tehran, Saigon, Rome, Mexico, Nigeria, and more.

One item of particular note that will be on display is the Library’s eight-millionth volume, presented by the Hanes Family Foundation.

In the weeks leading up to the event, we’ll feature a selection of these items on the blog — but nothing compares to seeing them in three dimensions, so we hope you’ll join us!

The Rare Book Collection Recent Acquisitions Evening takes place Wednesday, March 22, 2017 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Fearrington Reading Room. The event is free and open to the public.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to visit the exhibition World on Fire in Flames of Blood: Narratives of the Russian Revolution, which features materials from the RBC’s André Savine Collection.

Recent Acquisitions 2017 blog features

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Mummy Printing in the Rare Book Collection


Cover of Seyppel’s Christoph Columbus Logbuch, likely printed in 1890 | PT2639.E9 C47 1890z

Recently added to the Rare Book Collection and now fully cataloged is Carl Maria Seyppel’s Christoph Columbus Logbuch, or Christopher Columbus’ logbook, one of a number of Mumiendrucke (mummy prints) created by the German author and artist. Some scholars believe that Seyppel’s work was a forerunner for the modern comic, and looking through this particular piece and others that have been digitized, that seems a valid assumption (Grüner 7). A Mumiendruck is a work that has been printed on paper and processed to look old, even adding elements, such as sand and seaweed in this case, to add to the aura of aging. The paper is deliberately destroyed and stained to make it appear older than it actually is. Carl Maria Seyppel is the most prominent figure in this form of book-making. Continue reading

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Wilson Library Receives $5 Million Gift

Photo by Mark B. Perry, Jr.

We are excited to announce that Wilson Special Collections Library has received a $5 million gift, the largest in the history of UNC Libraries, from alumna Florence Fearrington (’58). The gift will facilitate infrastructural improvements in the third floor reading room, renamed the Fearrington Reading Room in Florence’s honor, and will enable us to continue building the Library’s collections for future readers.

Read more on the Library News and Events Blog and The Daily Tar Heel.

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Shelter from the Storm, or, ESPN Features the Rare Book Collection


Confessio Amantis (1483) by John Gower and printed by William Caxton (Incunabula 532.5), alongside James Joyce’s first edition of Ulysses (Patton Collection, PR6019.O9 U4 1922)

Fans of UNC football got a glimpse into the Rare Book Collection during Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech. In the second quarter, ESPN featured Wilson Library’s Grand Reading Room as well as two books from the Rare Book Collection. Sports fans across the country had a chance to see UNC’s first millionth volume: John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, printed in 1483 by William Caxton. Alongside it was a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), number 20 of 100 signed by the author.

ESPN chose to showcase Wilson Library’s Grand Reading Room in part because of Hurricane Matthew and the appeal of one of UNC’s most beautiful interior spaces. The Grand Reading Room is open for study—or shelter from the storm—during Wilson Library’s regular operating hours.

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A Family Affair: Lewis David de Schweinitz’s Drawings of Fungi


Title page of Lewis David von Schweinitz, Drawings of fungi (1805–1816) | QK608.G4 S39 v.4

One of the newest additions to the stacks of UNC’s Rare Book Collection at Wilson Library is the unpublished manuscript fourth volume of David Lewis de Schweinitz’s Fungorum Niskiensium Icones, or Drawings of fungi. The volume was separated from a larger set of volumes and a portfolio of additional drawings, which are held by the library of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Together with the four volumes and portfolio, the Wilson volume is the only extant set of this work. This leaves the question: why were these volumes separated? Continue reading

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ABCs of Special Collections

ABCThe second floor of Wilson Library is now home to a new display in what will be an ongoing series showcasing the diversity and variety of Wilson collections. ABCs of Special Collections borrows its title and concept from John Carter’s celebrated reference text ABC for Book Collectors, first published in 1952 and currently available in its eighth edition from Oak Knoll press or freely downloadable as a pdf from the ILAB website.

Carter’s ABC has long been the go-to guide for everyone from aspiring bibliophiles to seasoned librarians who wish to understand the features of books and other cultural artifacts that make their way into Special Collections libraries. In matter of fact, and sometimes tongue in cheek, fashion, Carter’s definitions enliven the vocabulary of rare books, from the physical features (in the printed edition helpfully augmented by the occasional manicule) to the key concepts (for those who have ever wondered just what makes a copy “ideal”).

The small display will be located in the corridor leading to the reading room for the North Carolina Collection and Rare Book Collection, on the second floor of Wilson Library. Library patrons are invited to stop by often, as the display will be updated periodically with new words, new definitions, and, most exciting of all, new books. You can also track the display online by following the Wilson Library Tumblr page. ABCs of Special Collections begins on August 16, and will continue throughout the semester.

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Salt: The Spice of Life

In 1985 Elizabeth Ward made a generous donation to the Rare Book Collection on behalf of her father, Walter Lucius Badger, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. This donation consists of 112 books, newspaper clippings, pictures, and engravings concerning the mining, purification, and general production of salt throughout history. The books were published in either Europe or the U.S. and have publishing dates ranging from 1553 to 1952. This is an exclusively unique assortment of books all pertaining to salt production. The collection contains many volumes that are both exceedingly rare and very interesting. A select few are presented, in brief, here.

Olaus Borrichius’s Hermetis, Aegyptiorum, et chemicorum sapientia ab Hermanni Conringii animadversionibus vindicata (1674) is an important source on the early history of alchemy. This first edition copy is one of few that possess a folding leaf of plates. The plate shown is a copy from a manuscript by Zosimus, one of the most famous alchemists of his time (ca 300 A.D.).1 It depicts one of the earliest known illustrations of a distilling apparatus. Distillation is used to purify a liquid by first volatilizing it to remove impurities, then cooling the vapor, and collecting the resulting liquid.


Ole Borch, Hermetis, Aegyptiorum, et chemicorum sapientia ab Hermanni Conringii animadversionibus vindicata (Hafniae: Sumptibus Petri Hauboldi, 1674) | QD25 .B73

Another book on alchemy is the RBC’s copy of Limojon de Saint Didier’s and Alexandre Toussaint’s, Le Triomphe hermetique; ou, La pierre philosophale victorieuse (1689). It contains an engraving showing the preparation of the “La pierre philosophale” (the philosopher’s stone), via alchemical processes. The philosopher’s stone is a legendary alchemical substance that was believed to turn abundant and inexpensive metals such as mercury or lead into precious metals like gold or silver. It was also known as the elixir of life for its foretold ability to extend one’s life, rejuvenate, and ultimately provide immortality. The philosopher’s stone was considered the alchemist’s ultimate goal and is often presented as a central symbol of alchemy.


Extraction of the Philosopher’s Stone. Le triomphe hermetique (Amsterdam: Chez Henry Wetstein, 1689) | QD25 .T75 1689

Finally, the collection includes two books by the mysterious and popular 15th century alchemist Basilius Valentinus: Fratris Basilii Valentini Benedicter Ordens Tractat von dem grossen Stein der Uhralten, daran so viel tausendt Meister Anfangs der Welt hero gemacht haben… (1612) and Basilii Valentini Tractatus chymico-philosophicus De rebus naturalibus & supernaturalibus metallorum & mineralium (1676). These books deal with metals, minerals, and other elements of the natural world as well as the supernatural. In particular, the first outlines the “Twelve Keys” required to open the doors of knowledge of the most ancient stone (philosopher’s stone), thereby unlocking the secret of the fountain of health. In addition to the twelve keys, Valentinus demonstrated considerable chemical knowledge and is well-known for mastering the acquisition of ammonia from ammonium chloride (a salt). Some believe he may have belonged to the Benedictine Priory of Saint Peter in Erfurt, Germany; however, the name “Basilius Valentinus” does not appear on any records until 1600 and is not present on any rolls in Rome or Germany. Modern scholars believe salt manufacturer Johann Thölde may have been a contributing author publishing under the Valentinus alias, but why he chose to do so is unknown.2


“Synthesis of Alchemy” or the “Hermetic Seal.” Basilius Valentinus, Fratris Basilii Valentini Benedicter Ordens Tractat… ([Leipzig]: Verlegung Jacob Apels Buchhändl, 1612) | QD25 .B37 1612


“Der Vierste Schlüssel,” meaning “the fourth key”, details the necessity of human flesh, which came from the earth, to be returned to it. From the flesh, the earthly salt will produce a new generation via “celestial resuscitation.”



Basilius Valentinus, Tractatus chymico-philosophicus… (Francofurti ad Moenum: Sumptibus Jacobi Gothofredi Seyler, 1676) | QD25 .B38 1676

1. Source: H. S. El Khadem, “A Translation of Zosimos’ Text in an Arabic Alchemy Book,” Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 84 (1996): 168–178.

2. Source: John Maxson Stillman, “Basil Valentine: A Seventeenth-Century Hoax,” Popular Science, December, 1912. See also: Lawrence M. Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2013).

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Mansfield Park: Texts and Contexts

IMG_1877June 16–19, 2016, marked the fourth annual Jane Austen Summer Program (JASP) at UNC, a yearly event that brings students, scholars, and fans of Austen from across the country for a weekend-long immersion in one of Austen’s novels. JASP’s sophomore rare book exhibition, along with new events at the Ackland Art Museum and the Chapel of the Cross, drew guests to the University of North Carolina’s main campus. The program’s opening thus became an exciting opportunity for patrons to experience many of UNC’s impressive historical repositories.

Mansfield Park: Texts and Contexts,” a one-day exhibition of rare materials drawn from Wilson Library’s Rare Book Collection, was curated by graduate students Rachael Isom and Taras Mikhailiuk, both of the Department of English and Comparative Literature, and featured a special guest label contributed by UNC undergraduate Jacqueline Leibman. With the generous help of Wilson Library staff, we collected 22 items that not only featured selected editions of Austen’s Mansfield Park but also drew on the literary, political, and aesthetic contexts in which Austen composed one of her most culturally conscious, if not always universally admired, novels.


Visitors view the display the Grand Reading Room of Wilson Library

The more capacious nature of Mansfield Park inspired a decided shift in the structure of this year’s exhibition. Whereas our first exhibition, Emma at 200,” relied on direct textual allusions to recreate the insular world of Emma Woodhouse’s Highbury, “Mansfield Park: Texts and Contexts” sought to present just what its title denotes: a view of Austen’s third novel that remains conscious of, indeed expressive of, the cultural contexts that inform her novel. By dividing the exhibition into five thematic groupings, we were able to touch on several of the cultural conversations of which Austen partakes in Mansfield Park.


Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1866) | Ticknor PR4034 .M3 1866

In keeping with JASP’s focus on Mansfield Park and its afterlives, the first section presented the novel itself, from Austen’s inspiration for Fanny Price in the poetry of George Crabbe to a first edition of the text and through 150 years of Mansfield Park publications. One of my favorite items appeared in this grouping: the owner of an 1866 Ticknor and Fields edition of Mansfield Park used Austen’s text to refute one of her critics. A well-positioned newspaper clipping proves that Austen does not, as the critic suggests, lack descriptions of natural scenery in her novels. Finding objects like this, where we can see readers’ continued engagement with Austen’s work, made curating this group of texts a fascinating and rewarding experience.

The exhibition’s second section drew literary allusions from Mansfield Park to reconstruct Fanny Price’s reading habits and the formation of her mind. Fanny, like Austen, adores Cowper’s Task and admires Wordsworth’s verses on Tintern Abbey. Patrons were excited to see writings beloved of both the novelist and her heroine.

Another significant literary allusion, though one decidedly not admired by Fanny, is Elizabeth Inchbald’s translation of Lover’s Vows, a text that launched our third section on Regency-era drama and theatrical production. From the Anhalt-Amelia exchange famously rehearsed by Edmund Bertram and Mary Crawford to a copy of Henry VIII that could have been read aloud by Henry Crawford in the Mansfield Park drawing room, this group displayed printed dramatic texts alongside contemporaneous advertisements to demonstrate the importance of performance during this period and within Austen’s text.

The exhibition’s fourth section also displayed several literary texts, but it addressed a more serious subject underlying Austen’s novel and its extant scholarship. Poetry by Hannah More, illustrations by William Blake, essays by William Wilberforce, and the Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano represent multiple genres employed to fight the British slave trade.


Thomas Hunt, Half a dozen hints on picturesque domestic architecture… (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825) | NA8302 .H9 1825

The final section, primarily comprised of illustrated texts, demonstrated the rage for picturesque touring and architecture during the Regency era. Humphry Repton’s Fragments (1816), an impressive folio with folding hand-colored landscape images, headlined this section, and our undergraduate contributor, Jacqueline Leibman, wrote an outstanding label description for Thomas Hunt’s Designs (1825), placing it in conversation with Repton and other more famous architects. This section also held an item much noted by guests: William Gilpin’s Observations on the Coasts of Hampshire, Sussex, and Kent (1804), a text that describes Fanny Price’s Portsmouth. Unexpected items like these, along with the first editions and famous titles, provided for our guests a well–rounded introduction to the texts and contexts of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.


Student Jacqueline Leibman (center) and Professor Jeanne Moskal (right) discuss the display

As we reflect on this year’s exhibition, we look forward to again welcoming program participants and members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community to our third annual Wilson Library event next year. The rare book exhibition will join a full weekend of events celebrating the 200th anniversary of Austen’s Persuasion. The fifth annual Jane Austen Summer Program, “Persuasion at 200,” will take place on June 15–18, 2017. For more information, please visit


The curators offer special thanks to Elizabeth Ott, Anna Morton, and Claudia Funke for their tireless assistance in the development and display of this exhibition, and to Inger Brodey and James Thompson for their support of this year’s Jane Austen Summer Program event.

Rachael Isom is a Ph.D. student at UNC working in 19th-century British literature. Her research examines intersections of spirituality and poetics in women’s texts of the Romantic and Victorian periods. She also serves as assistant editor of the Keats-Shelley Journal and works as a project assistant for the William Blake Archive.

Taras V. Mikhailiuk is a Ph.D. student and Teaching Fellow in English at UNC. His research focuses on the negative poetics of Percy Bysshe Shelley and his fellow Romantic poets. He also serves as the editorial intern for the Keats-Shelley Journal. Taras, his wife, and their four young children live in Durham, NC.

Jacqueline Leibman is an undergraduate student in anthropology and pre-medicine at UNC. She is from Fayetteville, NC, where she graduated first in her class at Reid Ross Classical High School. She also has a strong passion for British literature and history.

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The Return of 2012

On Thursday, the UNC Yucatec Maya Summer Institute visited the Rare Book Collection, as it does every summer, to view relevant holdings, including artists’ books made in Chiapas by Taller Leñateros and historical volumes on the Maya from the George E. and Melinda Y. Stuart Collection. The Institute offers beginning, intermediate, and advanced instruction in modern Yucatec Maya, and the annual visit takes place at the end of Chapel Hill coursework, before students relocate to Yucatan for immersive instruction there.

Teresa Chapa, Latin American, Iberian, and Latina/o Studies Librarian, lectures to students about contemporary Maya artists's books in the Rare Book Collection.

Teresa Chapa, Latin American, Iberian, and Latina/o Studies Librarian, lectures to students about contemporary Maya artists’s books in the Rare Book Collection.

The historical books on display were ones featured in the 2012 Wilson exhibition Ancient and Living Maya in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Archaeological Discovery, Literary Voice, and Political Struggle, an element of the “13 Bak’tun” symposium at UNC. We are pleased to write here that an enhanced online version of the exhibition—which tells the story of the Maya struggle for autonomy and self-expression alongside that of European peoples’ decipherment of Mayan hieroglyphic writing—is now available on the UNC Libraries website:

Screen Shot Maya Online



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