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A 'Rare' Opportunity

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I know it is late notice, but if you have some time on your hands this afternoon (and you’re in DC), you might want to stop by an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections Division (the Lessing J. Rosenwald Room, across from room 239 in the Thomas Jefferson Building).

The Division will be featuring several new acquisitions, a few of which I’ll describe after the jump.  Light refreshments will be served.

Starry Messenger

The first edition of Siderius Nuncius, Galileo’s Starry Messenger, was one of the top items on the Library of Congress’s desiderata list.  As fundamental as the Bay Psalm Book is to our American collection, Galileo’s study of the heavens was the key title missing from our holdings of works documenting the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century.  Siderius Nuncius is Galileo’s second important work.  In it Galileo borrowed from a Dutch discovery of using lenses to magnify objects, and created the first powerful telescope that he trained on the moon and the stars and then published his findings.  The results of his observations were monumental.  First, they demonstrated the importance of the new scientific instrument, the telescope.  Second, his observations of the moon revealed the spherical dimensions of the planet and its density not unlike the physical structure of the earth.  Classical astronomy described the moon as a crystalline sphere, without a core of matter.  Third, for the first time the Milky Way, visible to the naked eye, was described in detail and he included the discovery of numerous stars that were hidden in the dense mist of the constellation.  Fourth, with the use of his telescope, Galileo identified four new planets circling Jupiter, and he named them the Medicean stars, after his patrons, the Medici family of Florence.

Galilei, Galileo.
Sidereius Nuncius:
Venice, 1610

First Original Mexican Cookbook

This is a later, but still very early edition of Simon Blanquel’s important early Mexican cookbook, which was first printed in 1831 and stands as the first original Mexican cookbook printed in Mexico.  It stands as a significant work in the culinary history of Mexico as one of the first publications to recognize a national gastronomy in Mexico.  Its primacy was mirrored in its popularity; nine editions of the cookbook appeared between 1831 and 1893.  The present 1845 edition adds quite a few additional recipes.  It lists several hundred recipes for all manner of dishes: meats, moles, albóndigas, pasteries, vegetables, chocolate, candies (cajetas, dulces finos), jaleas, buñuelos, and more.  The lithographic plates depict various cuts of meat, how to prepare roast chicken, trout, and a fish called rombo.

[Blanquel, Simon].
Novisimo arte de cocina o escelente coleccion de las mejores receta.
Mexico: Imprenta á cargo de Manuel N. de la Vega, 1845.

Mark Twain and His Canadian Publishers

The Division’s collection of the works of Mark Twain is one of the hallmarks of the Library’s nineteenth-century holdings in American Literature.  Twain’s influence was vast, and recent scholarship has highlighted the fact that Twain held a presence in Canada as well.  Between 1870 and 1890, at least nineteen of Twain’s titles appeared in Canadian editions before, between or just after their appearance in great Britain and the United States.  They were published in at least twenty-three different imprints in at least sixty printings.

It is impossible now to determine the total number of copies sold.  Twain must have lost thousands of dollars in possible royalties, and a t least some of these must have crossed the border to cut into his American sales.  Shown here, in superb condition, are various Canadian printings of Old Times on the Mississippi (1876, 1878, and 1883), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1878, 1895), Tramp Abroad (1880), Twain’s Library of Humor (1888), and Sketches (1880).

Jules Verne Freely Translated

According to Brian Taves, author of the Jules Verne Encyclopedia, “The Library of Congress holds the most comprehensive Verne Collection of any institution outside the writer’s native land.”  In an effort to complete our holdings, the Division has pursued various editions and states of Verne’s publications.  Many of the titles shown here are scarce or unusual in some degree.  The copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1873), for example, is the true first American edition and is one of only two known copies in salmon-colored cloth.

The publication of The Baltimore Gun Club (1874) underlines the competition for Verne’s work.  Soon after De la terre a la lune was translated from the French into From the Earth to the Moon, variant editions appeared.  Here this very scarce copy of The Baltimore Gun Club is listed as a work “freely translated”; competition was fierce enough to absorb this kind of poaching.  Similarly, the two volumes To the Sun? and Off On a Comet, originally published by the Seaside Library (also in the Division’s collections), appeared together in 1878 as a pirated edition.


  1. Very Interesting

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