Miscellaneous Antiquities

An exhibit of the Mount Holyoke College Rare Book Collection

November 1, 2008 – January 31, 2009

Archives and Special Collections Lobby, Dwight Memorial Hall

Mount Holyoke College’s collection of more than 11,000 rare books, spanning five centuries of book publishing, was moved into Dwight Memorial Hall from the Miles-Smith Library following a major renovation in September, 2008. Pre-dating the invention of the printing press, the collection includes papyri fragments from the 2nd century, a 12th century hand-written Koran alongside renaissance texts to contemporary artists books. The oldest published book in the collection was printed in Venice in 1471 by Lorenzo Valla titled “Elegentia” just 21 years after the first books were printed using moveable type in Mainz Germany in 1450. Major collection strengths include renaissance science, early cartography, and history of North America, Dante’s Divine Comedy, juvenile literature, fine press, as well as the Seminary Textbook collection. The collection has grown over the nearly 175 year history of the College, mostly through generous gifts of trustees, faculty members, alumnae, and other friends of the College. This sampling, highlighting exceptional works from the collection, is now on display in the Archives and Special Collections Lobby.


A manuscript copy of Boccaccio’s De Genealogia Deorum, ca. 1590 transcribed by Franciscus Pichius.

Giovanni Boccaccio is known best for his Decameron. Nevertheless, De Genealogia Deorum, or On the Genealogy of the Gods, was considered to be his most popular work during his lifetime. First printed in Venice in 1492, it gives full range to the complex genealogies of the Greek and Roman gods of antiquity.  This manuscript was written in Italian script in 1590 by Francisco Pichius, in Rome. 


Elegantiae linguae latinae by Lorenzo Valla (Venice: Nicolas Jenson, printed in 1471)

Elegentiae linguae latinae, first published in 1471 in Venice by the French printer Nicolas Jenson, is thought to be one of the first books to teach Latin grammar since classical antiquity. One of Jenson’s first printed books, it was printed in his new style of type, known as roman type. Elegentiae is an example of incunabula, or a book printed in the fifty-year period following the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany.

During the transition period between handwritten and printed texts, Elegentiae books were produced using composed moveable type with handwritten embellishment.  The handwritten portions are the colored capital letters that begin new paragraphs.  A small typed letter next to the colored letter indicates to the calligrapher which letter to draw in later.  In other incunabula of this time, many of the fonts used resemble the style of handwriting utilized in older manuscripts. 


Valentine Giamatti Dante Collection

The Valentine Giamatti Dante Collection comprises more than 200 illustrated editions of the Divina commedia of Dante Aligheiri (1265-1321), representing artists from 1481 to the present. They range from anonymous engravers to well-known artists such as Salvador Dali, William Blake and Sandro Botticelli. This collection of books was given to the library in 1974 by professor Valentine Giamatti of the Mount Holyoke College Italian Department.

Comento di Christophoro Landino florentino sopra la Commedia di Danthe Alighieri poeta fiorentino. Illustrated by Sandro Botticelli & Baldino; commentary by Christophoro Landino. (Published in Firenze by Niccolo di Lorenzo della Magna, 1481)

Christophoro Landino was a prolific writer and renaissance humanist in Florence, who promoted the use of vernacular Italian.  He prepared commentaries on this edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy in 1481. The first edition to feature the commentary of Landino, it is remarkable for the copper plate engravings by Baldino, reputedly after sketches of Botticelli. It is said that this is the first book in which plates by Botticelli were printed.

Dante col sito et forma dell’Inferno (Published in Venice by Alessandro Paganini, 1516)

A very rare illustrated edition, this is the first printed in the smallest pocket size, and it is a typographical marvel.  Paganini dedicated this edition to Giulio de' Medici, who became Pope Clement VII in 1523, and whose uncle was the great Lorenzo de' Medici. This copy is from the collection of Baron Horace de Landau.


Americana Collection

Considerations on the Expediency of Admitting Representatives from the American Colonies into the British House of Commons (London: B. White, 1770)

Extracts from the Votes and Proceedings of the American Continental Congress, Held at Philadelphia on the Fifth of September, 1774 (Philadelphia: J. Almon, 1774)

The Duty of American Women to Their Country by Catherine Beecher (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845)

Catherine Beecher is renowned for her forthright opinions on women’s education.  In 1832, she opened a female seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, where her sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the future author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, studied.


Juvenile Literature

The Three Bears (New York: McLoughlin Bros. Publishers, ca. 1800. )

Thought to be the first printed version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies by Beatrix Potter (New York: Frederick Warne & Co., 1909.)

This is a first edition of The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, an English author, illustrator, mycologist, and conservationist who was best known for her children's books, featuring animal characters.


Renaissance Science

Geographia vniversalis : vetus et nova by Ptolemy, 2nd C (Basileae : Apud Henricum Petrum ..., 1540.)

Geography literally means “writing the world,” and Ptolemy’s Geography, a compilation of what was known about the world's geography in the Roman Empire of the second century, is essentially a mapmaking manual. Many of the fundamental ideas about modern cartography are traceable to the Geography and its interpretation by renaissance geographers as seen in this edition. Claudius Ptolemy was a mathematician, astronomer, and geographer who lived in Alexandria, Egypt and died around 165 A.D.

Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche, Galileo Galilei, (Leiden: Elzevir, 1638). [Bound with:] Chiaramonti, Scipione, Examen censurae Io. Camilli Gliriosiin librum de tribus novis stellis Scipionis Claramontii (Florence: Amador Massi, 1636).

This is a first edition of Galileo's last and greatest work, which summarized his mathematical and experimental investigations of motion and laid the foundations for modern science. It is bound with a rare treatise by Chiaramonti, an anti-Copernican. This volume, with the arms and cipher of the De Thou family stamped in gilt, was bound for one of the sons of the great French bibliophile, Jacques-Auguste De Thou. It was printed in Leiden in the Netherlands, far from the influence of Rome, because all of the works of Galileo works were deemed heretical by the Roman Inquisition and were banned.


Anglo Saxon Influences

A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson (London : Printed by W. Strahan, for J. and P. Knapton; T. and T. Longman; C. Hitch and L. Hawes; A. Millar; and R. and J. Dodsley, 1755)

Written single-handedly in three years and published on April 15, 1755, Johnson’s Dictionary is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language. Johnson established both a methodology for how dictionaries should be put together and a paradigm for how entries should be presented.


John Stuart Mill, 1806-1873

Diary of a walking tour with Henry Cole through Hampshire, West Sussex and the Isle of Wight 19th July - 6th August. 1832.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher, political economist, civil servant and a Member of Parliament, was an influential liberal thinker of the 19th century. Mill’s diary is of a walking tour taken with close friend Henry Cole (1808-1882), his long-time intimate friend. Cole was a great leader for the development of the arts in London, including the Victoria and Albert Museum.

On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill (London: J. W. Parker and Son, 1859.)

On Liberty, first published in 1859, was a radical work advocating moral and economic freedom of individuals from the state: “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”