Boston Public Library
Past Exhibits
Rare Books Department
3rd Floor, McKim Building, Central Library
617-859-2225


Resources

Other BPL exhibits

Books and manuscripts on different subjects are displayed periodically to expand viewers' knowledge of rare, scarce, and uncommon items, the extent of the Library's collection, and also to satisfy the curiosity of the amateur.
À la Mode, 1795 to 1920 Fashion Plates
The Art of Book Covering: Five Centuries of Bookbindings at the BPL
Boston Greets the World
Decorated Endpapers: An Exhibit of the Art of the Book
Don Quijote & Other Books of Chivalry: First, Rare and Illustrated Editions
Emily Dickinson at the Boston Public Library
Ex Libris: Books and Their People
An Exhibition: The Stinehour Press the Work of the First Fifty Years
Five Centuries of Movable Books
John Hancock: Merchant King and American Patriot
The Meeting of Image and Word: Emblem Books from the Collection
Milestones in the History of Printing: an Exhibit of Treasures in Print
The Roman Letter: From Monastery to Modern Revivals
Shelf Life: Visual Responses to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection at the Boston Public Library

 

The Stinehour Press: The Works of the FIrst 50 Years

Currently on exhibit in the Rare Books Exhibition Room is a wonderful collection of the work of the Lunenburg Vermont Stinehour Press. Founded in 1952 by Roderick Stinehour, the press has flourished over its first fifty years in the North Country and is today still a prominent producer of fine quality books. Books printed during its early years to the present reveal the growth of a Press in pursuit of high quality printing and scholarly productions. The beautiful works on display celebrate the fine craft of printing.


Five Centuries of Movable Books

The current exhibit in the Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts is part of a Library exhibition entitled: Five Centuries of Movable Books. A peep into cases on the first floor of the McKim Building and tours through both the Rare Book Exhibit and Jordan Rooms on the third floor will provide you with a delightful feast for your eyes. Books published from the fifteenth through the twenty-first century with movable flaps, pop-ups, volvelles, dissolving pictures, transformations, tunnel and panoramic books, paper sculpture, mechanical movements, and paper dolls from the collections of the Rare Book Department, the Alice A. Jordan Collection and private collector and co-curator of the exhibition, Lin Sasman are on display. Rare material dates as far back as 1485.

The Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the BPL has some wonderful examples of early 'movable' books including examples of volvelles or revolving disks found in books from the 15th and 16th centuries. Other Rare Book items include a first and second edition of Repton's work on landscape gardening with flaps that once lifted reveal Repton's suggestions for landscape design, Little Henry's adventures (1811) and Metamorphosis. Five Centuries of Movable Books: books published from the fifteenth through the twenty-first century from private and library collections will be on display from June 23-September 5, 2003 in the McKim first floor lobby cases, in the Rare Book Exhibit Room and in the Jordan Room.

Display case full of pop-up books Circus pop-up book Fish pop-up books

House pop-up book Ship pop-up books


Don Quijote & Other Books of Chivalry: First, Rare and Illustrated Editions

On display were: First edition of Part I (1605) and of Part II (1615) of Don Quijote; First edition of the first English translation (1620); the first French translation (Paris, 1633); an early German translation (Weimar, 1775); the first edition with plates (Ambers, 1672); the first Tonson edition of 1738 which is the first printing in England of Don Quijote in the original Spanish; there are several modern illustrated editions perhaps the most evocative is the Paris edition of 1863 with drawings by Gustave Dore. We got to peek into Don Quijote's library where we found some of the novels that set his imagination ablaze with extravagant adventures, such as: Amadis de Gaula, Esplandian, Don Belianis, Primaleon and Palmerin de Inglaterra.

Almost all the books selected for display were from the George Ticknor collection.

This exhibit was courtesy of our former Manuscript Curator, Bill Faucon who generously donated his time and expertise to create and mount this wonderful exhibit.


Emily Dickinson at the Boston Public Library

"The Dickinson fad will soon die out…" so predicted an early critic writing in The American Bookmaker for January 1892. The current exhibition in the Rare Book and Manuscript Exhibition Room certainly debunks that prediction. On display through the end of June are examples of the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Copies of original manuscript poems are shown along side early printed versions, first editions and first times in print. From 1852 when her first poem appeared in published form through a 1999 Bow and Arrow fine press edition of one of her poems to a selection of 20th and 21st century publications on Miss Dickinson, Emily's poetry has most certainly not faded from view.


Decorated Endpapers: An Exhibit of the Art of the Book

An exhibit of decorative endpapers from books published over the past three centuries. The display featured marbled papers, gold, floral patterns, art nouveau and other artistic decorations.


À la Mode, 1795 to 1920 Fashion Plates

Rare and precious fashion plates from the Boston Public Library’s collection. In their delicate and beguiling pages, you’ll find 125 years of high fashion. This exhibition begins in 1795 with dresses inspired by classical Greece and Rome. It ends in 1920 with fashions based on modern art principles of cubism and abstraction.


Boston Greets the World

A selection of international treasures chosen and installed for the IFLA Conference.  Each display case is devoted to a different country. The countries represented include: Ireland, England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, South Africa, Morocco, Armenia, Israel, Iran, Iraq, India, Japan, China, Mexico, Canada, Russia and Cuba.


The Meeting of Image and Word: Emblem Books from the Collection

The emblem book is a West European phenomenon that presents symbolic pictures combined with a brief motto or title and a passage of related prose or verse to deliver a moral or amusing message. Emblem books began appearing in the fifteenth century with the publication of Andreas Aliciati's first book in 1531. Success was immediate. These little books continued to be popular well into the nineteenth century. This exhibit will focus on the "best" period of emblem books from the middle of the sixteenth century through the end of the next.

This form's origin is found in the medieval world's taste for allegory as well as its assumption that the entire universe, physical as well as metaphysical, was a mirror of life and death. The symbol upon which the emblems are based became the best way to express the unseen reality on which the visible world was based. In fact, one might say that emblems are allegory in its most succinct form.

Many of the early emblems were playful and amusing, drawing initially upon mythological themes that were so popular during the Renaissance and later on amorous sayings and genre scenes. Over time, however, many began concentrating on presenting and teaching moral themes and truths in a way that was more effective than simple rote memorization generally used in religious education. These books served as guides to moral and religious understanding and conduct beginning in the seventeenth century and continuing through the next.


The Roman Letter: From Monastery to Modern Revivals

The exhibit traces the use of the roman letter from manuscript to the printed page for a period of over  a thousand years, beginning with a lectionary from a Benedictine monastery written in the 10th century to examples from modern fine printing inspired by William Morris, Bruce Rogers and others.

The historical survey of printed examples of roman type begins with the R-printer of Strasbourg, then to the first printing press in Italy at Subiaco.  The city of Venice calls for special attention with a look at books printed by Nicholas Jenson and Aldus Manutius.  A quick stay in Florence to view an interesting work by Dante Alighiere and then we are off to France to look at a few works designed and printed by the Gallic combo Geofroy Troy and Simon de Colines.  From England in the eighteenth century we have some examples from the work of John Baskerville.  From the modern period we will see use of the roman letter in such fine presses as the Kelmscott, Ashendene and Doves.   We end our survey closer to home with the work of Bruce Rogers in Cambridge and William Addison Dwiggins in Hingham, Massachusetts.


John Hancock: Merchant King and American Patriot

John Hancock is perhaps best remembered today for his bold signature on the Declaration of Independence. He was also, however, one of Colonial America's most extraordinary business and political leaders, an influential Boston Selectman, the first president of the Continental Congress, and the first governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Hancock began life as a Tory patrician, but his commitment to freedom transformed him into a fiery rebel and a leader on the road to independence and shaping the destiny of a new nation.

This exhibit draws from the department's extraordinary collection of colonial and early American papers and printed documents. Through them, it explores Hancock's life, from his early days at Harvard College, to his business dealings with his uncle and the House of Hancock, through his initiation into colonial politics, and finally to his assent to high political office in both the Continental Congress and his home state.

Documents on exhibit include a rare Paul Revere hand-colored print of the scene of "The Bloody Massacre" of 1770; a letter written by John Hancock in 1765 accepting the high honor of being elected a Selectman for the town of Boston; another letter written by Hancock on July 6, 1776 to John Bradford that includes a P.S.: "Included is a Declaration for your amusement." The grouping also includes a letter from John Adams relating the joyous activities in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, the day the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence; another letter written by John Hancock as Governor of Massachusetts and Commander-in-chief of the Massachusetts Militia urging the Commonwealth to contribute men, arms, ammunition and money to Washington's Continental Army; as well as a document in Hancock's hand stating the importance of maintaining the neutrality of the various Indian tribes in the on-going conflict. Other documents record Hancock's business activities both in Boston and abroad, his participation in resolving the Stamp Boston Port Acts, the activities leading to the Boston Tea Party, and Hancock's nine terms as governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Included in the last grouping is his letter of resignation in 1785 due to ill health. Hancock had suffered from gout from an early age. A mere two years later in 1787, Hancock was re-elected to the same post by an overwhelming majority; the citizens of Massachusetts simply would not let this charismatic leader retire in peace. The letter notifying Hancock of his victory is signed by Samuel Adams. The final case contains two of the most poignant items in the exhibition -- the official order of participants in Hancock's funeral procession held on October 16, 1893, and a lock of his hair cut from his head two days before he died at age 57 on October 8, 1893.


Ex Libris: Books and Their People

On the supposition that books, more often than not, out-live their various owners, the present exhibit illustrates this through ownership marks such as signatures, bookplates, or special bindings on books from the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries.

A highlight of this exhibition is the oldest known printed bookplate (about 1475) on a book belonging to Hilprand Brandenberg, a native of Biberach, Germany, that illustrates his family coat-of-arms in a beautifully hand-colored woodcut. Another book from about that same time in history comes from the library of William Caxton (1422?-1491), the first English printer. This compilation of fifteenth century manuscripts contains his signature in three places within the volume; no other known examples of this important printer's signature exist.

Along side this volume is a set of books with the bookplate of Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831), the most important publisher in eighteenth century America. Thomas not only owned this set but also was the printer, as is shown on the title page.

Also on exhibition is a volume believed to have belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots as well as one with the armorial binding of Henry the Fifteenth, King of France. Important public figures such as Henry Vane -- a 17th century governor of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin, and presidents of the United States from George Washington to Ulysses S. Grant are well-represented as are English and American writers from Charles Dickens and George Gordon, Lord Byron to Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson.


The Art of Book Covering: Five Centuries of Bookbindings at the BPL

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Department of the Boston Public Library is featuring an exhibition of fine and unique bookbindings from its collections.

Shown in the Rare Books' Exhibit Area on the third floor of the McKim Building, the exhibit includes examples of bindings from medieval to modern times.

Beginning with examples of the extraordinary bindings found on many of the Library's manuscripts and early printed books, the exhibit features embroidered bindings, fine silver work, as well as examples of stamped bindings. Follow along with us as we chronicle the revolution work of the master craftsmen of the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. Take a peek at the formalistic but brilliantly executed work of late nineteenth century craftsmen, and note the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, including the techniques of such binders as Edward of Halifax.

We also share with viewers the introduction of cloth binding and complete the tour with a look at the divergent directions taken by the designers and creators of the bindings of the twentieth century.


Milestones in the History of Printing:
an Exhibit of Treasures in Print

by
Roberta Zonghi

The exhibit in the Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts features examples of the art of printing that trace the evolution of the printed word and image. The volumes on display present a picture of the quality of printing at the various stages of its development from its infancy in the mid-fifteenth century with an early piece from the press of Johann Gutenberg (The Catholicon - 1460) to the productions of the fine presses of today including the magnificent facsimile reprints of the unique manuscripts of our past (The Book of Kells a fine art facsimile photographically reproduced from the original.)

The library is extremely fortunate to have acquired over the years through donations by generous supporters and through wise purchase, a wealth of beautiful and historically important books. The Bay Psalms Book, the Nuremberg Chronicle, Shakespeare's First Folio and the Columbus Letter of 1493 are only a few of the early treasures.

We are proud that we can include names such as Caxton, Aldine, Baskerville, William Morris, and Cobden-Sanderson, just to name a few, in our exhibit. We invite you to sample the work of contemporary and local private presses, and book designers including the Grabhorn and Janus Presses, Dwiggins, Updike, and Rogers here as well. And, in a slightly different approach, we present as printing treasures various editions or issues of famous titles such as Aesop's Fables, Audubon's Birds of America, Defoe's Robinson Crusoe(from the Trent/Defoe Collection), Cervantes' Don Quixote (part of the Thicknor Collection) and Camera Work(purchased at the time of publication).

We are pleased to share these rarely seen volumes from the many diverse collections of the printed book at the Boston Public Library.

The exhibit opened on Monday March 24th, and ended on Friday May 30th 1997.


Shelf Life: Visual Responses to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection at the Boston Public Library

This semester's Exhibitions, Concept, Context, Audience class, taught by John Giordano (Massachuetts College of Art) has been working with the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department of the Boston Public Library on two exhibitions in which students and invited artists have created visual responses to the Boston Public Library collection. The project was initiated in response to a visit by the class to the Boston Public Library's Rare Book collection last Spring. The Keeper of Rare Books, Roberta Zonghi, invited the class to curate an exhibition for spring 2004. The Project is entitled "Shelf Life: Visual Responses to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection at the Boston Public Library". The class, along with invited Boston artists, examined the rare book collection and chose books or objects on which to base visual responses. The work in the exhibitions at the Boston Public Library and the Arnheim Gallery at MassArt range from artists' books, to painting, sculpture and more
conceptual pieces.

The Boston Public Library show opened Tuesday, March 30th from 4-5:30 and ran until May 26th.