Thursday, January 25, 2007

Rare Books

Rarity is the sense that a book is difficult to procure. Rarity is not the only factor collectors use to decide what books to add to their collection; they may simply be interested in a particular book.

The anticipation that a book will always be easily procurable is often unfounded, but, so long as the anticipation exists, it restrains collecting. An example of this: horn-books are much rarer than First Folio Shakespeares. It has been suggested that the ultimate rarity of books varies in the inverse ratio of the number of copies originally printed.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library was a 1963 gift of the Beinecke family. The building, designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft, of the firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, is the largest building in the world reserved exclusively for the preservation of rare books and manuscripts. It is built at the center of the University, in Hewitt Quadrangle, which is more commonly referred to as "Beinecke Plaza". A six-story above-ground tower of book stacks is surrounded by a windowless rectangular building with walls made of a translucent Danby marble, which transmit subdued lighting and provide protection from direct light. Three floors of stacks extend under Hewitt Quadrangle. The sculptures in the sunken courtyard are by Isamu Noguchi and are said to represent time (the pyramid), sun (the circle), and chance (the cube). The library also contains an exhibition hall that, among other things, displays one of the 48 existent copies of the Gutenberg Bible, study areas, reading rooms, the catalogue room, microfilm room, offices, and the book storage areas. The two books of the Gutenberg Bible are left open in a display case, and the librarians at Beinecke are said to turn one page of each book daily.

The display of the original core of the British Library, the original gift of King George III, as found in the new British Library building at Euston in London, is designed as a silent tribute to the elegance of the Beinecke.

During the 1960s, Claes Oldenburg's sculpture "Lipstick on a Caterpillar Track" was displayed in Hewitt Quadrangle. The sculpture has since been moved to the courtyard of Morse College, one of the university's residential dormitories.

Edward Forbes Smiley III, an antiques dealer, was caught slicing maps from rare books with an X-acto blade. He had dropped it on the floor and it was spotted by a diligent worker.


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