Friday, March 12, 2010

Middleton Quarto

A page of faded marbled paper.It doesn't look like much, but then, it wasn't supposed to.  This unassuming book is a quarto edition of Thomas Middleton's The Spanish Gipsie (London: Printed by I.G. for Richard Marriot, 1653).  In the 16th and 17th centuries, most plays were seen by printers as ephemeral materials, and they issued them as inexpensive quartos, loosely stitched together with flimsy paper covers. If a reader of a play decided to keep the cheap publication, he or she would usually bind it together in an assemblage of plays collected over a period of time.  In the 19th century, collectors broke up these assemblages and had them individually bound--often in very expensive bindings expressing the new importance society placed on these publications.

A title page for "The Spanish Gipsie."This first printing of one of Middleton's plays somehow managed to escape being stripped of its original paper wrapper and survived to the present day with cover intact.  It is now a perfect example of the way plays by Rowley, Middleton, and Shakespeare appeared to their first readers.

You can see this extraordinary survival by asking for Rare PR2714.S7 1653.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Washington Didn't Sleep Here

An embossed leather cover enclosing a lock of hair.To the best of our knowledge, George Washington never graced the plains of Hanover, but we do have a relic associated with him: a lock of his hair bound into John Marshall's The Life of George Washington (London: Printed for Richard Phillips, 1804-1807).  This particular copy was "extra illustrated" by a collector, meaning that the original book was disbound, interleaved with additional material such as illustrations from other sources or manuscript materials associated with events described in the book, then rebound.  The collector's prize, a documented lock of Washington's hair, was framed into the binding of the first volume.

This is not the only lock of hair in the collection.  Others can be found within manuscript collections and an extra-illustrated edition of Samuel Picard's Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier (Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1894) has a lock from the graying poet.

While the hair is an interesting fetish object, our collections also hold original Washington material of high scholarly value.  MS-1033 contains original correspondence, a mathematical exercise attributed to a 13-year-old Washington, as well as a copy of Washington's Valley Forge announcement to the people of Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

To see Washington's hair ask for Rare E312.M34 1804 v.1; to see the manuscripts, request MS-1033.