“New” Incunables Arrive in Special Collections

If you have been following any of our social media feeds over the past few days, you may have noticed photos popping up of newly-acquired incunables. So, what’s going on here? First, some background:

Patrick Olson opening a packageIncunables are books printed in Europe during the fifteenth century, between 1450 and 1501, examples of the earliest printed books. The incunabula period is the focus of a great deal of study—the development of printing, and how it affected the design, distribution, and reception of books, remains central to our understanding of book history.

Here at Iowa, we have long held a respectable collection of incunabula, and these books are frequently called for in classes and exhibitions. In recent years, these books have been examined extensively by Tim Barrett for his study of early papermaking, and Iowa is also home to the Atlas of Early Printing, an interactive overview of the spread and development of printing in Europe. The UI Center for the Book continues to pass along the art and craft of letterpress printmaking that first flourished in the incunabula period.

Our recent acquisitions are an attempt to add examples of books and subjects in the incunabula period that we have not had previously. This collection development has been made possible due to the support of the University Libraries acquisitions fund and the Libraries’ Collection Management Committee.

Five 15th century books on a tableSpecial Collections Librarian Pat Olson took charge of this opportunity and identified an outstanding mix of possibilities that enhance our collection in many ways. Among these dozen new titles is the first illustrated edition of Dante printed in Venice. Until now, our incunables largely represented just a single language: Latin. The occasional ancient Greek was the only exception. Our new Dante, however, is in Italian, and so it’s one of our first incunables printed in a vernacular language. The other, also just acquired, is Monte dell’orazione, a private devotional text intended specifically for women. The copy we just acquired is particularly notable for retaining the very rare illustrated wrapper—or to risk oversimplification, the original illustrated paperback binding.

We filled one of our more significant gaps withzodiac the acquisition of our first 15th-century Bible, and in an early pigskin binding to boot. Another first for us is our first Spanish incunable, a book of music printed in red and black at Seville in 1494. We purchased our first 15th-century edition of Ovid, too, here in its original leather-covered wooden boards and retaining its original brass furniture. Early science has been another sparsely covered subject for us, so we acquired a lavishly illustrated astrological text. (NB: What passed for science in the 1400s may not pass for science today.) We also acquired a rather crude dialogue intended for children and the less sophisticated—a rare survival, insofar as such texts were less commonly printed and more commonly read to pieces.

In all cases, we sought books in early (if not original) bindings. Given the serious interest in earlymusic incunable papermaking here at Iowa, we made it a point to pursue books with untrimmed leaves, which serve as uncommon witnesses to original paper sizes. We searched for books with valuable marginalia, interesting provenance, and varying degrees of decoration by hand. Most of these books do have early marginalia, an invaluable resource to support the growing scholarship on the history of reading. Perhaps the most remarkable in terms of provenance is a sammelband (multiple books bound together) printed by the famous scholar-printer Johann Amerbach. Our copy is not just a well preserved example of a 15th-century sammelband, but it contains an inscription noting its donation to a local monastery by the printer himself. As far as textual decoration is concerned, these new acquisitions run the gamut from crude DIY initials to professionally executed penwork and illumination.

There really is something for everyone, and we can’t wait to share them. Once they have been catalogued and properly housed, these books may be viewed by request in our reading room during regular hours. And keep an eye out for an announcement coming at a later date of an opportunity to view these new acquisitions in person, while learning about how incunables are being studied today.

Leigh Hunt’s Fireplace

Last week we opened, for the first time, a wooden shipping crate that had been stored in the department for many years. It had been sent to the Libraries in 1986 by Desmond Leigh-Hunt, the great-great-grandson of the Romantic poet and editor Leigh Hunt. Desmond Leigh-Hunt described it in correspondence as the fireplace surround from the last home Leigh Hunt lived in, at 16 Rowan Road in Hammersmith, London. He included a document signed by Rodney Tatchell, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, asserting its authenticity and dating it to the early 1840s. After it arrived the crate was stored, unopened, primarily in the basement of the Main Library.

In 2012 we moved all of our departmental collections out of the basement to the third floor, including the 300 pound crate. We resolved to open it and examine its contents, and the winter doldrums of January seemed the perfect time to do so. The opening and unpacking is well documented in photos, which can be viewed on Flickr.

The crate. Unboxing. The pieces spread out.

We have managed to arrange some of the pieces into an approximation of what the fireplace surround might have looked like, but what does this piece tell us about Leigh Hunt? Does it bring us closer to the real person whose books and manuscripts line our shelves?

To tell the story, we start back in the presence of Rodney Tatchell, whose signature affirms the statement about the fireplace surround at the time of its removal from the house. Tatchell was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and he lived at 22 Rowan Road, the same street as Leigh Hunt’s old house. His wife, Molly Tatchell, shared his interest in their historical neighbor—in 1969 she published a book through the Hammersmith Local History Group entitled Leigh Hunt and His Family in Hammersmith. Her book provides an account of the final years of Leigh Hunt’s life, and includes detailed descriptions of his house at 16 Rowan Road (known as 7 Cornwall Road in Hunt’s time):

“[Regarding the cottages] no two are exactly the same. One type has two small reception rooms on the ground floor divided by a passage with staircase, the other has two larger rooms connected by double doors, so that they can be thrown into one: Leigh Hunt’s was one of this type. They have three or four bedrooms, the small one over the kitchen now being usually converted into a bathroom. The houses originally had, of course, no bathroom, and the privy was situated outside, near the back door.

“Such was Leigh Hunt’s simple, but not undignified, last home. Some of his visitors were to describe it in unflattering terms, but from what we can see of it today, and from what we know of its surroundings in the mid-nineteenth century, it cannot have been an unpleasant place in which to end one’s days.”  [p. 10]

Molly Tatchell's book Leigh Hunt and His Family in Hammersmith. A map from Tatchell's book showing the location of Hunt's house. Hunt's house at 16 Rowan Road. From Arthur St. John Adcock's Famous Houses and Literary Shrines of London.

Leigh Hunt and his wife Marianne moved to Hammersmith in 1853, leaving behind a house in Kensington steeped in the memories of a deceased son, and into a house near other family already settled in the area. Leigh Hunt was 69, had made peace with many of his former foes, and finally could rely on a relatively secure income. Marianne, however, was by this time entirely bed-ridden, and remained so until her death in 1857. As he aged, Hunt took on the air of an esteemed elder statesman of letters, in contrast to his youthful rebellion. He welcomed visitors to the house at 16 Rowan Road, including those who travelled from afar to see him, such as Nathanial Hawthorne.

One of Hunt’s visitors in Hammersmith was Charles Dickens, who had bitterly wounded Hunt with his portrayal as Harold Skimpole in Bleak House. The two had reconciled their differences, however, and Dickens visited Hunt on July 3, 1855. The following day, he wrote to his longtime friend Charles Ollier:

“I had got my new book ready packed to bring you, and the volume containing the passage about Watteau, and an account of some delightful hours which Dickens gave me here yesterday evening; and at a quarter to six o’clock, was obliged to give all up. “

“P.S.—By a curious effect of the evening sunshine, my little black mantle-piece, not an inelegant structure, you know in itself, is turned, while I write, into a solemnly gorgeous presentment of black and gold. How rich are such eyes as yours and mine, how rich and how fortunate, that can see visitations so splendid in matters of such nine-and-twopence!” [The Correspondence of Leigh Hunt, 1862, p. 203]

Now the pieces of black slate with inlaid marble here in Special Collections are tied directly back to Leigh Hunt. He would have been in the front room of his house, the window facing west, allowing the late afternoon sun to shine in and strike the fireplace surround. Curiously, it seems as though we have two complete fireplace surrounds, suggesting that there could have been openings in two rooms sharing a common chimney. This might be reasonable given Molly Tatchell’s description of the house’s layout, “two larger rooms connected by double doors, so that they can be thrown into one.”

For now, the pieces of Leigh Hunt’s fireplace will likely be re-housed in more stable materials, perhaps stored in several boxes rather than one very heavy crate. They will join some of the letters of Leigh Hunt, or the manuscript for Old Court Suburb—other material traces of Hunt’s time in his modest home in Hammersmith, at the end of a remarkable life. Perhaps some future renovation of Special Collections will include room to properly display the fireplace surrounds—but surely that is a matter of nine-and-twopence!

The first page of Hunt's manuscript for Old Court Suburb, containing notes about the work.

Molly Tatchell’s book Leigh Hunt and His Family in Hammersmith is still available from the Fulham and Hammersmith Historical Society’s website.

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In Memory of George Ludwig

The U.S. launched its first satellite, Explorer I, on this day 55 years ago, on January 31, 1958. Under the direction of Prof. James A. Van Allen of the University of Iowa’s Department of Physics, the satellite carried a payload of data-gathering equipment which eventually revealed the presence of radiation belts encircling the earth.

Our observation of this anniversary is bittersweet this year, as one of the Explorer I team’s most dedicated developers, George Ludwig, died at his Winchester, Virginia, home on Jan. 22 at the age of 85.

George Ludwig was a doctoral candidate working on the project with Prof. Van Allen at the time, and he kept a journal chronicling the events. In his entry made at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 1, 1958, he declared:

“Success!! The first U.S. satellite is in orbit. It looks like a good one. … At about 12:41 (Eastern Standard Time) west coast stations started reporting signals. So it was around the earth once! … And so to sleep – the end of a beautiful day.”

ludwig1958-025 ludwig1958journal002

Mr. Ludwig, a Johnson County, Iowa native who completed his doctoral dissertation in 1960, went on to a distinguished career with the Goddard Space Flight Center, and later helped lead the effort to establish the National Earth Satellite Service during the 1970s. In 1981 he became director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Environmental Research Laboratories, a position he held for two years before returning to NASA. He retired in 1984.

His papers are now housed in the University Archives. In addition, the original data he gathered and analyzed from Explorer I, the first scientific data ever transmitted from space, is being digitized and will be made available online in its original raw form. Mr. Ludwig was part of a small, select group of space exploration pioneers whose research laid the foundation for today’s understanding of our planet, our solar system, and beyond.

 

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