Monday, July 10, 2006

Early Printed Books Profiled

The Republican has an interesting profile story today on the rare books collections at several Massachusetts institutions, playfully headlined "Valley home to ancient tomes." The focus is largely on the earliest printed books that have found homes in college and university rare books collections: Smith College's 1467 copy of St. Augustine's "De Vita Beata"; Amherst's 1471 "Suetonius Vitae XII Caesarum" (a biography of Julius Caesar); and Mount Holyoke's 1471 copy of Valla's Latin grammar.

Early books of New England importance also are mentioned, including Amherst's 1684 edition of an Increase Mather essay on supernatural happenings and the Springfield Library Association's copy (one of four) of William Pynchon's "The Meritorious Price of our Redemption" (printed in London in 1650, but burned en masse in Boston).

Of course the article wanders toward monetary value, but then meanders back around to security questions, mentioning the Smiley case. Most importantly (and apparently surprisingly to the author) is that the books are made accessible. She quotes Martin Antonetti, curator of rare books at Smith College: "We're not trying to keep people away from the books. In fact, we want people to have contact with these objects from the past. What other artifacts from the 15th century can people hold and handle? To me, that is part of the excitement of these objects. They are so rich and the experience of handling them can be so emotional."

Exactly. And that, of course, is their true cultural worth.