Recent Acquisitions feature: Thirty Different Drafts of Guinea

In anticipation of the Rare Book Collection’s Recent Acquisitions Evening on March 22, we’re highlighting a number of the items that will be on display.

One notable work is William Smith’s 1728 Thirty Different Drafts of Guinea.

Smith was a surveyor for the London-based Royal African Company, and Thirty Different Drafts of Guinea represents a record of the British slave trade in West Africa in the early part of the eighteenth century. A large folding coastal map shows the locations of slave forts on the African coast from Gambia to Whydah (in present-day Benin).

This appears to be a pre-publication copy, in which some of the plates are in an early, less complete state — later printings of the plates include alterations and additions.

This copy belonged to Edward Deane, director of the Royal African Company’s fort at Whydah, whose annotations appear in the book. It also contains a subscriber list that enumerates people committed to purchasing it. The list includes Barbados merchants, Royal African Company agents, and Irish noblemen and clergymen, as well as John, Thomas, and Springett Penn — sons of Quaker and Pennsylvania founder William Penn.

This and many other 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 remarkable items up close.

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RBC Books Go to the Museum 

The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) in Raleigh has borrowed six volumes from the Rare Book Collection for their current exhibition, Glory of Venice: Renaissance Paintings 1470-1520. Four of the books date from the Incunabula period, the first fifty years of printing with moveable type, 1450-1501. This group of volumes included a copy of Summa theologicae pars quarta by Antoninus (1480), La Commedia by Dante (1491), Aristophanis Comoediae novem by Aristophanes (1498), and Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499). Two slightly later Renaissance volumes, also printed in Venice, include Pliny the Elder’s Historia naturale di Caio Plinio Secondo (1510) and Hamishah humshe Torah (1533), also known as The Five Books of Moses, with Prophets and Hagiography. These books, printed in Venice and illustrated with woodcuts or painted miniatures, reflect the publishing and printing innovations happening in the city during the period represented by the exhibition’s paintings.

Loaning materials from the Rare Book Collection (or any of the Library’s special collections) is part of our outreach and research mission, and this arrangement with the NCMA is a particularly good example of how this kind of collaboration is beneficial. The choice of these six books was made after extensive research in Wilson Library’s reading room by the exhibition’s co-curator, Lyle Humphrey, and the page openings to be shown in the exhibition were also selected. The next step in a loan of this type was for the Library’s conservators to evaluate the condition of the volumes, carry out any minor repairs that might be necessary for safe display on the bindings or leaves, and to construct custom-fit supports for each of the volumes to remain open to the selected pages for the duration of the exhibition.

The books and the custom supports, referred to as cradles, were picked up by the NCMA art handlers and taken to the museum in advance of the day for installation of the books in the gallery. On Monday, February 27, 2017, the Library’s conservators and our colleague from Duke’s Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which was also lending books, went to the Museum to install the collection materials.




After associating each book with the specific cradle made for it, we stabilized the placement of the pages with narrow strips of polyethylene plastic to be certain that the pages remained open at the correct place.

Rebecca Smyrl, Assistant Conservator for Special Collections, placing a book in its custom-fit cradle

Henry Hébert, Conservator at Duke’s Rubenstein Library, strapping a volume from Duke in its cradle

Jan Paris, Head of Conservation for Special Collections, securing one of the UNC volumes in its cradle

Digital image of two pages of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, considered by many to be the most beautiful book of the Venetian Renaissance, was produced by the printer Aldus Manutius and includes 120 woodcuts. Because only two pages of a book can be seen in the static display of an exhibit case, the curator has included a digital surrogate of the entire volume on an iPad nearby, so visitors can see all of the visually arresting illustrations in this book.

Installation complete!

Once all of the books were placed correctly and strapped for stability on their cradles, the vitrines that protect the volumes on display were installed. The books will return to the Rare Book Collection in a few months. Until then, Glory of Venice will be open at the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Meymandi Exhibition Gallery from March 4, 2017 – June 18, 2017.


This post was written by Jan Paris, Head of Conservation for Special Collections, Wilson Library

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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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