Main Gallery Exhibition: A Fine Addition

“A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections” highlights recent additions to the holdings of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, including the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, as well as the Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology. The exhibition is on view through August 5 in the Main Gallery of the Firestone Library.

Vesalius, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, 1543.

Vesalius, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, 1543.

One highlight among many on display is a copy of Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica, first published in Basel in 1543 (read more about the recent acquisition of the first and second edition here). At the official opening on Sunday, April 22, Dr. Eugene Flamm ’58,  Jeffrey P. Bergstein Professor and Chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center, will highlight Princeton’s recent anatomical and phrenological acquisitions with a talk investigating “Observational and Imaginary Anatomy.” The lecture at 2:30 p.m. in Betts Auditorium will be followed by a reception in the Main Gallery. The exhibition and its related events are free and open to the public thanks to the generous support of the Friends of the Princeton University Library.

Exhibition Synopsis

A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections

 Antiquarian booksellers’ catalogs are rife with superlatives: “The finest copy known,” “a splendid example,” “a fine edition of this extraordinary work.” Yet, exceptional rarity and condition are not sufficient justifications for choosing to acquire one item rather than another. How do curators, librarians, and archivists look beyond a “fine edition” and select items that represent a fine addition to collections as vast and diverse as Princeton’s?

Building on strength is one obvious approach. To Princeton’s extensive  holdings of literary archives come new additions to collections of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Recent additions to the University Archives and the Public Policy Papers highlight pivotal moments in the twentieth century: Princeton’s contributions to the Manhattan Project and Secretary of State James A. Baker III’s reactions to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of Operation Desert Storm. And the Cotsen Children’s Library has complemented some of its important series of picture books with the acquisition of original artwork for them, such as the archive of drawings for the 34-volume Gerlach Jugendbücherei (1900–1920) and Nathalie Chelpanova Parain’s drawings and unbound dummy for the French-language edition of Baba Yaga (Paris, 1932).

Early New Jersey and Revolutionary America have always been well represented at Princeton. A recently acquired map of Pennsylvania from 1791 contains the earliest American illustration of a canal; the map once belonged to Robert Lettis Hooper, a New Jersey patriot who served as deputy quartermaster general in the Continental Army. Even a Western Americana addition has a New Jersey connection: The Yo-Hamite Falls, a lithograph made in 1855 from a drawing by New Jersey native Thomas Ayres, was the first published image of Yosemite Falls.

If the pillars of a collection are easily perceived, so are its gaps. A notable omission among Princeton’s landmarks in the history of science has been corrected with the purchase of the first and second editions of Andreas Vesalius’s monumental anatomical treatise, De humani corporis fabrica (Venice, 1543 and 1555). Recent complements to Vesalius in the Graphic Arts Collection and Marquand Library are the original woodblock used for the frontispiece of Realdo Colombo’s De re anatomica (Venice, 1599) and Pietro da Cortona’s Tabulae anatomicae (Rome, 1741).

Emerging areas of scholarship also influence collecting choices. Over the past decade the Numismatic Collection has been acquiring coins to illustrate the monetary interrelationships throughout the Mediterranean area in the later Middle Ages. Princeton’s example of a gold florin issued in Clarentza is only the third known extant specimen. The Marquand Library has added first editions of the most renowned works of woodblock print artists Katsushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro. Hokusai’s experimentation with the “colors” of black ink and Utamaro’s mica-sprinkled images can be truly appreciated only in these originals. Likewise, scholars wishing to study the beginnings of the modern artist’s book (livre d’artiste) can turn to the Graphic Arts Collection to find Pierre Bonnard’s personal copy of his masterpiece,  Parallèlement (Paris, 1900).

Curators, librarians, and archivists strive to enrich collections by acquiring materials that build on existing strengths, fill perceived gaps, and assist new paths of teaching and scholarship. The diverse acquisitions on display do just that, presenting fine additions to a fine collection.

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