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

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 “Mummy Printing in the Rare Book Collection”

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.

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).

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 www.janeaustensummer.org.


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.

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: https://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/exhibits/show/maya/intro

Screen Shot Maya Online



Zine Machine Fest

Two Saturdays ago, I had a chance to visit the second annual Zine Machine Fest at the Durham Armory in Durham, NC. I spent the afternoon perusing several aisles of booths arranged with a variety of printed matter including zines, comics, original illustrations, screen prints, buttons, stickers, and more. The Triangle was well-represented by many local artists and artist collectives. Several out-of-state guests attended as well.

Triangle Printed Matter Club’s booth at Zine Machine Fest
Zines and stickers by Barefoot Press, Tristan Miller, Brianna Gribben,
and Thomas Sara

Zines are typically small, printed pamphlets centered around a particular topic. (The word “zine” is short for “magazine”—just as zines are shorter versions of magazines.) Zines can trace their beginnings to science fiction “fanzines” of the 1930s. Fanzines were a type of printed media that could be cheaply and quickly produced by amateurs, particularly in subcultural scenes. Zines gained popularity in the mid-twentieth century, coinciding with the Beat Generation and, later, DIY and punk culture. In the 1990s, the Riot Grrrl movement popularized zines as a method of spreading political messages, ideas, and stories, while circumventing mainstream media outlets.

“Beatitude,” one of the first major poetry magazines produced by Beat poets, included poetry by Allen Ginsberg (“Ellen Ginsboig”), Jack Kerouac (“St. Jacques Kanook”), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (“L. Foolingheppi”), and many others whose work mainstream publishers considered too provocative.
Beats PS536 .B37

Today we can find zines on almost any topic imaginable, and in many different formats. At Zine Machine Fest, I encountered poetry, art, and photography zines, as well as those that told personal stories. Many comic artists attended the fair, bringing with them mini comics, which overlap with zines in the DIY publishing realm.

A zine printed by Barefoot Press (Raleigh, NC) using fluorescent ink, viewed here under a blacklight
“Jetty,” a mini comic by Rio Aubry Taylor (image source)









Below are several examples of zines and mini comics from the RBC’s collection of Latino comic books. These items show how it can be difficult to draw a line between different types of printed media, be it a personal zine, comic book, or even coloring book, but the media chosen by these artists allow for playful and open discussions of sensitive topics.

“A Caxcan Guerrilla Takes Over the Awkward Girl,” by Liz Mayorga-Amaya (Spunky Cat Comix, 2011)
“Un chorrito: libro para colorear,” by Malchico (Bogotá: Muestra Rellena, 2009)
PN6790.C7 M373 2009

Traces of Vitruvius in Game of Thrones

For many avid readers and pop culture enthusiasts, Sunday evening marked an important date this spring: the premier of the long-awaited, much-anticipated Game of Thrones, season 6. Based on George R. R. Martin’s popular novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, the series follows the complex lives and trials of characters who struggle to survive in the dangerous “game of thrones,” where the only options are victory or death. This fantasy world is plagued by war, civil unrest, religious uprising, corrupt politics, dark magic, and more war. These conflicts create a desperate need for weapons, fortresses, and machines of war.

Game of Thrones Season 4 Trailer (via Youtube)

Most, if not all, of these weapons and war machines are inspired by ancient prototypes from our own world history. Vitruvius’s De architectura is an important record and source of modern day knowledge of Roman architecture, design, and military machines. Vitruvius (c. 90–c. 20 BCE) was a Roman military engineer and architect who designed and built structures for the Roman Empire. He served as the military’s head engineer and architect under Julius Caesar from 58 to 51 BCE.

Vitruvius Pollio, De architectura (Venice: Franciscum Franciscium Senensem, & Ioan. Crugher Germanum, 1567) | PA6968 .A2 1567

Written sometime between 30 and 20 BCE, De architectura is the culmination of Vitruvius’s time as a Roman military engineer and his travels throughout Greece, Asia, North Africa, and Gaul. It is a treatise combining the history of ancient architecture and engineering along with his personal experience and advice. The work is comprised of ten books that range from the ideal education of an architect (book one) to the optimal layout of a private home (book six) to machines and gadgets (book ten). Book ten includes detailed instructions for building and using catapults, ballistae, siege engines, and other military machinery.

The scansoria, a device for scaling enemy walls

The oldest surviving copy of De architectura dates to the 8th century, and the first printed copies were produced in Rome in 1486. This particular edition (1567) is the first of its kind, a Latin edition annotated by Daniele Barbaro (1514-1570). It includes illustrations by architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), which were originally produced for Barbaro’s 1566 Italian translation.

Examples of Palladio’s illustrations for some of Vitruvius’s hydraulic machines.

Remembering Easter 1916

Yeats PR5904 .E3 1916

One hundred years ago on Easter Monday (April 24, 1916), members of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army occupied the General Post Office in Dublin. Upwards of 2,000 Irish men and women participated in the Rising.

On the first day of the insurrection, Pádraic Pearse read aloud the Proclamation of the Republic, which stated, “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.”

After six days of fighting against the British Army, the leaders of the Rising surrendered. The seven signatories of the Proclamation, along with nine others who participated in leading the rebellion, were executed.

W. B. Yeats began writing “Easter, 1916” during the last of the executions. According to George Mayhew, the final drafts were completed while Yeats stayed in France with his long-time muse, Maud Gonne, and her daughter Iseult. Gonne’s estranged husband, John MacBride, was one of the executed leaders of the Rising. His death prompted Yeats to propose marriage for the second time to Gonne and then to her daughter; both women rejected him.

Yeats PR5904 .E3 1916

Easter, 1916 was privately printed by Clement Shorter in a run of 25 copies for distribution among Yeats’s friends, likely in October or November of 1916. The copy above, held at the University of North Carolina, is numbered 19.

In the poem Yeats struggles with the personal and political complexities of the Rising, and the difficulties of grappling with these within a memorial poem. Gonne wrote to Yeats: “No, I don’t like your poem, it isn’t worthy of you & above all isn’t worthy of the subject.” Today it is the most remembered and read poem of the Easter Rising, particularly for Yeats’s refrain, “A terrible beauty is born.”

“Easter 1916” wasn’t distributed widely until it was printed in The New Statesman October 23, 1920, and then in Yeats’s 1921 volume of poetry, Michael Robartes and the Dancer. The 1916 version reveals its differences upon comparison to the 1921 version.

Yeats PR5904 .E3 1916, Yeats PR5904 .M52 1920

Salute to St. Patrick’s Day

"St. Patrick's Flag Day ..." London: Johnson, Riddle & Co. | Gray A-99
“St. Patrick’s Flag Day…” London: Johnson, Riddle & Co. | Gray A-99

This World War I-era poster by the Irish Women’s Association calls for the recognition of Irish regiments and their prisoners of war during St. Patrick’s Flag Day (an alternate name for the holiday) on March 17th, 1917. An Irish soldier stands in front of a large shamrock emblem, flanked on each side by the names of the four historical provinces of Ireland: Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connaught.

The year 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, a major uprising against British rule that took place in various locations throughout Ireland. The event heightened tensions between Britain and Ireland, which would only worsen until the Irish War of Independence erupted just three years later, in January 1919. The poster above was created in the period between the uprising and the beginning of the war.

In the early 20th century, Ireland was governed by home rule, meaning that it was self-governed, but still under the ultimate authority of British rule. The arrangement is clearly demonstrated by RBC’s poster, which was presented by the Irish Women’s Association, an organization based at Kensington Palace in London. This poster represents a short-lived transitional period for Ireland, while also commemorating an important Irish holiday and calling to attention the plight of Irish soldiers.

This poster is part of the Rare Book Collection’s Bowman Gray Collection of World War I and II Graphic Materials, of particular interest as we pass through the centenary of World War I (1914-1918).