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Scrolling Back In Time

Scrolling Back In Time
Buffalo & Erie County Public Library's Rare Books 101

More treasures from the library Rare Books Room. An exhibit called Rare Books 101, in and just outside the library main floor exhibit area. Complementing the Milestones of Science Books exhibit upstairs, and no less interesting.

Books and other rare or one-of-a-kind items, such as a letter from Benjamin Franklin from London, and a watercolor by William Blake. A single page from a thirteenth-century missal in variously red—rubric—and black Gothic script—difficult for a modern reader to decipher even single letters—and intricate Book of Kells-reminiscent initial letters. Together with a fifteenth-century Book of Hours, in Gothic script again and small illustration—possibly of a writer writing on a scroll—surrounded by elaborate pattern of swirls and coils of vines and flowers.

While in another vitrine, William Morris’s Kelmscott Press 1896 masterpiece edition of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, open to the first page of the Canterbury Tales. Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote / the droghte of March hath perced to the roote... In legible text now but with a medieval hand-lettered look to it, surrounded by swirls and coils of vines and grapes.

And right next to the Chaucer, a new modernism example Doves Press English Bible open to “The First Book of Moses called Genesis,” in a signally crisp and clean typeface based on Renaissance models, but with oversized initial letter and first line in red. The Doves Press book was published in 1906, around the time Elbert Hubbard was publishing a miscellany of Roycroft Press volumes—just part of how he was a major mimic of William Morris—with crisp and clean modernist looks but with a distinct medieval air. A little in the mode of the Doves Press book. Or is the Doves Press book a little in the mode of the Roycroft Press books? With its nuance medieval rubrics, and ersatz old-style title, reminiscent of Elbert Hubbard’s similarly phony antique lingo title for one of his more famous volumes, The Song of Songs which is Solomons.

None of the Elbert Hubbard books on display open to text, unfortunately. One volume closed and gripped in a kind of vise apparatus to display a watercolor painting of the Roycroft Campus along the fore-edges of the leaves.

But much else of interest. A bound volume of the Federalist essays promoting adoption of the federal Constitution, published 1788, said to have been sent to Thomas Jefferson in Paris by John Jay, with an annotation on one page in Jefferson’s handwriting, that “the 15th article of the bill of rights of Virginia [of which Jefferson was the author] condemns standing armies in time of peace without any reference [?] to the consent of the legislature.” Something to think about maybe for the armed to the teeth Oregon bunch taking over the wildlife refuge.

Some rare children’s books, like the mint condition Mickey Mouse Waddle Book with punch-out three-dimensional figures (once the cardboard pieces would be fitted together) of Mickey and Minnie and Pluto that can be made to waddle-walk down a ramp. The Mickey book is from 1934. And from about the same time a Pop-up Pinocchio book by Carlo Collodi, open to a page with pop-up Pinocchio learning his ABCs from a pop-up book within the pop-up book. Wall text notes that the Buffalo Public Library was one of the first libraries in the country to have a separate Children’s Room, established in 1896. No Children’s Room any more, since (former) County Executive Chris Collins’ cuts to the library and cultural institutions in general a few years back. A children’s “space” now, off the fiction area.

Other items include a bound volume of early Buffalo property records, open to a page of hand-drawn maps of lots along Abbot Road abutting into the Buffalo River. And bound volume of The Western Star newspaper published in Buffalo, open to an issue from the year 1834, two years after Buffalo was incorporated as a city.

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