Getting Ready for Rooms of Wonder


Andrea Knowlton, UNC's Assistant Conservator of Special Collections, at work

Andrea Knowlton, UNC’s Assistant Conservator of Special Collections, at work

It takes a lot of hard work to make an exhibition happen. There are labels and graphics, and, of course, the mounting of the actual items. The Rare Book Collection is lucky to have great colleagues in the Wilson Library Conservation Lab. They’ve been busy fabricating cradles to display safely the marvelous books lent by alumna Florence Fearrington for Rooms of Wonder: From Wunderkammer to Museum, 1565-1865. The  show opens next week on Thursday February 20 at 5 p.m., with a viewing in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room, followed by a lecture from the leading authority on cabinets of curiosities, former Ashmolean Museum curator Arthur MacGregor. It should be a great evening, and we look forward to seeing you!

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The Year of the Horse

Er ya yin tu / PL2475 .J4 1801

Guo Pu, Er ya yin tu (Beijing? 1801) / PL2475 .J4 1801

The Rare Book Collection celebrates the Chinese Lunar New Year and the beginning of the Year of the Horse with images from an edition of the Er ya yin tu. The famous Chinese dictionary/encyclopedia was first compiled during the Han Dynasty (260 BCE – 220 CE). The woodblock-printed edition above (1801) is based on the text annotated by the scholar Guo Pu (276-324), which became the preferred version during the Song Dynasties (960-1279). The RBC’s Er ya yin tu—which translates as “Approaching the Correct”—was featured in the spring 2013 Wilson Library exhibition The Encyclopedic Impulse.

The Chinese zodiac has a time cycle of twelve years, each year being named for a different animal. Those humans born in a particular year are believed to share some of the traits of its animal. And so, 2014’s babies to come are forecast to be intelligent, popular, and clever, as horses are judged to be.

Tonight is the night for firecrackers and red envelopes, as well as horses, according to Chinese tradition. Happy New Year!

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BSA Annual Meeting at Bibliography Week

UNC Curator of Rare Books and outgoing BSA President Claudia Funke presided at the annual meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America last Friday at New York City’s Grolier Club.



There, she had the great pleasure of introducing the BSA’s annual speaker, Matthew Kirschenbaum, associate professor at the University of Maryland and one of the leading researchers and thinkers in the digital humanities.

Prof. Kirschenbaum gave the talk everyone in the bibliographical community needed to hear: “Operating Systems of the Mind: The Bibliographical Description and Analysis of Born-Digital Texts.” Exploring John Updike’s use of his first computer, as well as his typewriter ribbons, Kirschenbaum highlighted key aspects of technology that have serious implications for analyzing computer-generated texts. The address was both profound and witty, and beautifully plotted and illustrated.

Those who were unable to attend in person, look for the lecture’s printing in the December 2014 issue of the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. 

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Bibliography Week in NYC

Today in NYC, Bibliography Week begins: five days of events and meetings hosted by the nation’s leading organizations for the study of books and their history.

photo 1

Bergdorf Goodman store window with “Cary Collection” of “vintage books,” available through the 7th floor Decorative Home department.

photo 2

Maria Fredericks, Morgan Library book conservator, ponders light levels of the Fifth Avenue display as UNC curator Claudia Funke snaps away.

Just a stone’s throw from some of the principal proceedings, Bergdorf Goodman, one of NYC’s upscale department stores, is oddly in sync. Its Fifth Avenue windows feature a collection of “vintage books” for sale through its Decorative Home department.

Bibliography Week, however, looks at books as more than mere wallpaper or window dressing. Topics to be examined in lectures include the unauthorized publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the bibliographical analysis and description of born-digital texts. The annual meetings of the Grolier Club, the Bibliographical Society of America, and the American Printing History Association will also highlight ongoing programs, publications, and business.

And of course, there will be plenty of time for informal but serious book talk over a glass or two. . . .

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Warm Hearts In Cold Regions

It’s headed for 10 degrees. And we’re ready! Floating icebergs, walruses sporting, seals on the ice, narwhals, and the haunt of the sea-birds. We’ve got our books–and our sweaters–to keep us warm.

Charles Ede, Warm Hearts in Cold Regions: A Tale of Arctic Life (London, 1886) / PR4639.E267 W3

Charles Ede, Warm Hearts in Cold Regions: A Tale of Arctic Life (London, 1886) / PR4639.E267 W3

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Siberia in Chapel Hill: A Blad for the Blog

It’s forecast to feel like Siberia here in the Southern part of heaven. So we’re dressing for it in our Northern sweaters. And turning to our Travel Book Collection for tales of frosty lands.

J.W. Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia (Hartford, Conn., 1883) / Travel DK26 B93 1883

J.W. Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia (Hartford, Conn., 1883) / Travel DK26 B93 1883

This volume has to have one of the most evocative of 19th-century decorated bindings—with its images of an angel, chaos, a shackled prisoner, and icicled letters. However, looking for the story inside, one is disappointed. The book is a salesman’s sample, a dummy book, or “blad,” and has only a hundred of the title’s 545 pages. Blads were used by traveling salesmen as samples of books that could be purchased by subscription. On the inside front cover, specimen spines of alternative binding styles were customarily mounted, as shown below.

SpineThe back of this book features a notice on “Conditions of Subscription,” which lists the price in a cloth binding at $2.50 and a leather one at $3.00. It stipulates that the book is for sale by subscription only “and will never be for sale in book stores or on railroad trains, and persons desiring to purchase must do so from the canvassing agent.”

subscrThe terms further state that “Persons signing their names in this Prospectus as subscribers, will be expected to receive and pay for the book when delivered by the Agent, only on condition that the complete book is as here represented.” Of the twenty-two individuals subsequently signing, seventeen requested that the book be bound in leather, a decision that mystifies us, enamored as we are of the pictorial binding.

To view this book’s cloth covering—and the decoratively patterned coverings of the RBC’s stewards—come out of the Chapel Hill cold and get warm inside Wilson Library’s North Carolina Collection / Rare Book Collection Reading Room.


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Cheers! To the New Year!

The Toast Master's Companion (Derby, n.d.) PR3991 A1 T57 1830

The Toast Master’s Companion (Derby, n.d.) / PR3991 A1 T57 1830

Tonight’s the night for making toasts, and so we turn to a rare chapbook in the RBC for some ideas. Alas, many phrases from The Toast Master’s Companion don’t work, written as they were for Great Britain in the early 19th century. The overwhelming number are gathered under headings like “Loyal and Patriotic,” “Military,” “Naval,” and “Masonic,” and are often inflected with the concerns of their time and place. However, other categories, such as “Love” and “Friendship,” offer ageless sentiments for raising a glass: “May the unions of persons always be founded on that of our hearts,” or “May the hinges of friendship never grow rusty.” (We like that one.)

Another heading, “Bottle,” collects toasts that directly address the power of wine and spirits to promote conviviality, as well as the need for moderation. Which is apt and also interesting in that our copy of this chapbook is labeled in pencil over the frontispiece as a George Cruikshank “disassociation copy.” The ink inscription at bottom has been taken to be his disavowal of a role as illustrator. (We admit we haven’t done any recent authentication of the handwriting.) In later life, the famous British caricaturist became an ardent member of the Temperance movement, reacting against the excesses of alcohol consumption in British society.

So as the beer distributors say, “Celebrate responsibly.” Or to steal a toast from this little book: “May the moments of mirth be regulated by the dial of reason.” Happy New Year!

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A Working Christmas

IsaiahThomas_XmasIn 1802, the great American printer Isaiah Thomas retired from business to write his landmark book The History of Printing in America (1810). At that time, he handed over his firm to his son of the same name. The latter made a serious start at business, as this advertisement indicates, announcing his services on Christmas day (note the date at the bottom of the oval). The single leaf is bound with another Thomas imprint held by the RBC, the first Greek New Testament printed in the U.S., in 1800.

Working on Christmas was common in the early years of our nation. And so we honor our industrious forebears by posting this ephemeral printing dated exactly two hundred and eleven years ago today.

Just know, however, that UNC and the RBC are closed on Christmas. We wrote this in advance and programmed it for posting.  Happy holidays!

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In Living Colour

The Cambridge University Library has just mounted Printing Colour in Tudor England, a display informed by the research of Munby Fellow of Bibliography Dr. Elizabeth Upper. The exhibition traces the history of color printing in England from its earliest example, the Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Heraldry (1486)—also referred to as the Book of St. Albans, after its place of printing—through the sixteenth century.

Dame Juliana Berners, supposed author, The Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Heraldry (St. Albans, England, 1486) / Incunabula 533.7, superv'd.

Dame Juliana Berners, supposed author, The Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Heraldry (St. Albans, England, 1486) / Incunabula 533.7, superv’d. / Hanes Foundation

The Book of St. Albans is certainly well known here at UNC, as the Rare Book Collection acquired a copy in 1974 as the University’s second millionth volume. The RBC copy was featured in the Meaningful Marks: Image and Text and the History of the Book exhibition at Wilson Library in 2011. And this past semester the artistically significant rarity made an appearance for Professor Tatiana String’s course “Art and Culture in Tudor and Stuart England.”

The Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Heraldry is the first printed English sporting book and the first English printed armorial, as well as the first English book to employ color printing—most interestingly, in the heraldry section. Heraldic symbols became widespread in Europe in  the thirteenth century. They were certainly an effective means of visual communication in a preliterate society, particularly in warfare, serving as they did to announce loyalties. Color was of course integral to the power of armorial designs, as the woodcut illustrations in this volume demonstrate. That’s the Tudor coat of arms, bottom right, on the page above.

Millionth volumes are a grand tradition at UNC-Chapel Hill, thanks to the John W. and Anna H. Hanes Foundation. Our millionths are always very special single volumes or book collections that promote ongoing conversation, like the Book of St. Albans. We look forward to celebrating another millionth volume—the seventh—on March 20, 2014. Stay tuned to our blog for further details.

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Nelson Mandela (1918-2013): The Zulu Beadwork Letter, South Africa, and North Carolina

The world mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, who passed away on December 5 at the age of 95. We pay special tribute to him here by examining a unique object in the Rare Book Collection: a beadwork Zulu love letter from South Africa.

Zulu beadwork letter

Zulu beadwork letter

In 1937, Daniel M. Malcolm, Chief Inspector of Native Education in Natal, South Africa, brought the letter to UNC-Chapel Hill as a visual aid for a lecture he gave at that year’s “Conference on Education of American Negroes and African Natives.” Malcolm explained that the letter was written by a girl to her beloved. The white beads indicate the purity of her heart, and the red beads show that her heart is broken and bleeding for her beloved. The four black squares represent four questions about their relationship that he must answer. Malcolm gave the love letter to UNC and its Hanes Foundation for the Study of the Origin and Development of the Book. It subsequently became part of the RBC’s “Curiosities Cabinet,” which houses many other non-codex objects of significance for the history of the book, such as cuneiform tablets and papyrus fragments.

Dr. Malcolm’s visit to Carolina was before the implementation of apartheid segregation in South Africa in 1948, although black South Africans had been severely restricted by the 1913 Natives Land Act, which reserved the majority of the country’s land for whites. In fact, Nelson Mandela had studied at South Africa’s prestigious University of Witwatersrand in the 1940s, after attending Fort Hare University, the South African Native College. Witwatersrand, along with the University of Cape Town, followed a policy of academic non-segregation, which began because of inadequate training facilities for black natives to study medicine. The University of Witwatersrand remained an “open” university until 1959, when the government passed the Extension of University Education Act, also known as the Separate Universities Act. Witwatersrand, although “open” until then, was not a particularly hospitable environment for blacks, as the research of B.K. Murray indicates. Mandela failed to gain his law degree, going on to become Witwatersrand’s “most famous non-graduate.”

The first African-American students at Carolina arrived in 1951, four law students and one medical student, because there were no equal facilities for them in the state, according to a federal court ruling. In 1954, the Supreme Court abolished segregated public schools, and Carolina admitted its first undergraduate black men the next year. Fifty years ago, in 1963, Karen Parker became UNC-Chapel Hill’s first African-American female undergraduate. And the following year, the Civil Rights Act ended public segregation in Chapel Hill and the United States. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela was tried for sabotage in 1963 and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. International pressure led to his release in 1990, and in 1994 he became the first black president of a democratic South Africa.

The Zulu beadwork letter is a tangible artifact of the parallel and divergent histories of segregation and education in South Africa and North Carolina. In the 2004 motion picture Zulu Love Letter, an adolescent girl makes a letter for her mother, who is haunted by the horrors of her past under apartheid. Its images of solitude, loss, hope, and love are intended to encourage the mother not to give up the fight. In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, we turn to our own Zulu love letter and remember a great man, a man who did not give up the fight.

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