Campus News

'50 Books' Exhibition Spotlights Library's Rare Collections

Story posted October 06, 2006

"50 Books," an exhibition of notable works held by the Bowdoin College Library's George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, will be on display on the second floor of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library between October 6 and December 8, 2006.

Taken as a whole, these volumes reveal the remarkable breadth of the Library's rare book collections, ranging widely from classical texts printed during the Renaissance to 21st-century artists' books.

"Ferruginous thrush," from Audubon's The Birds of America.

They also expose the richness of the Library's holdings. Such rarities as Audubon's double elephant folio The Birds of America, E. S. Curtis's monumental The North American Indian, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's obscure first novel, Fanshawe, are featured along with other pieces that exemplify extraordinary skill in printmaking, literary accomplishment, and hallmarks in publishing.

Items featured in the exhibition were selected for their importance either in the history of the printed book, in terms of their significance for scholarship or literature, or as elegant examples of fine printing, bookbinding, or artistic achievement.

Among the exhibition's highlights:

• Audubon's The Birds of America (1831). Fewer than 200 copies of the "double elephant folio" were printed, and about 120 complete sets survive. The images were reproduced from Audubon's paints by copper etching, aquatint and engraving — the subsequent prints were then hand colored in watercolor. "Double elephant" refers to a specific paper sheet size that was required to accommodate the large engraved plates.

• Edward S. Curtis's The North American Indian (1907-1930). The cost of these lavishly produced volumes and portfolios proved prohibitively expensive, so only about 230 were issued. Each set includes 2,226 separate images, all printed in exquisite photogravure.

Isaac Newton's Opticks.

• Isaac Newton's Opticks, or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions, and Colours of Light... (1704). The book is essentially a collection of papers describing experiments Newton conducted at Cambridge over several decades. It is the first work that delineates the color spectrum in light, and includes two treatises on linear equations and fluxions, staking Newton's claim to mathematical discoveries. The exhibition displays a first edition.

Nancy Leavitt's The Sacred Cut.

• Nathaniel Hawthorne's Fanshawe (1828). Hawthorne's (Class of 1825) first novel, and the earliest "college novel" in America. It was quickly disavowed by the author, and surviving copies are extremely scarce. The fictional "Harley College" is more than likely based on Hawthorne's experiences at Bowdoin. The exhibition copy was donated to the College as the Library's 500,000th volume.

• Nancy Leavitt's The Sacred Cut (2006). A unique artist's book focusing on the theme of geometry in architecture. The text is hand lettered in gouache and is accompanied by paste paper, as well as other hand-made papers, and illustrations were accomplished with painting, straight-edge, pen, and brush.

Other notable books on view: the first printing (1544) of Archimedes' works in the original Greek; a first edition of Captain James Cook's A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1784); Albert Einstein's Annalen der Physik article (1905) first formulating the scientific concept E=mc²; The Smallest Dictionary in the World (ca. 1890), which was issued in a locket; the first formally published The Constitution of the State of Maine, and that of the United States (1820); and Arthur Rimbaud's Les illuminations (1949), the Library's millionth volume, acquired in the spring of 2006.

The exhibition is open to the public daily. Click here for Library hours. For more information call 207-725-3288.

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