Jewels In Her Crown: Treasures from the Special Collections Of Columbia’s Libraries.
(New York. Columbia University) 170pp. $US25
A Book of Her Own. Robert G Babcock.
(New Haven. Yale University. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.) 78pp. $US15
‘Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures from the Special Collections of Columbia’s Libraries’ commemorated the 250th anniversary of Columbia University. The exhibition of 250 items included books, manuscripts, archives, drawings, ephemera, musical scores and works of art.
The Librarian of Columbia, Jim Neal, highlights in his Foreword to the illustrated catalogue, that the treasures “are not museum pieces” but rather “vital components” to support learning and research. Jean Ashton, the Director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, provides an historical overview in her Introduction as to the development of the collections which transcend “time, space and cultural difference”. ‘Jewels in Her Crown’ is designed, in Ashton’s words “less as a display of traditionally defined treasures … than as a map of territories that include both well-known paths and unfamiliar by-ways”.
The exhibition catalogue therefore ranges widely both in time and subject matter. It is organised by theme, such as law, literature and printing history and book arts, both in the catalogue and in an excellent on-line version at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/eresources/exhibitions/treasures/
Items include a Buddhist sutra dating from the year 1162 C.E.; Mrs Alexander Hamilton’s wedding ring; a set model for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1931; a fragment of the Iliad on papyrus; Audubon’s Elephant Folio edition of ‘The Birds of America’; the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare’s ‘Works’; the manuscript of Anton Bruckner’s ‘Fourth Symphony’; the typescript of Alan Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’; Tennessee Williams’s black glasses owned by him at his death; and selections from the September 11, 2001 Oral History Narrative and Memory Project tapes.
The illustrated Yale exhibition catalogue ‘A Book of Her Own’ is more specific in its focus. The title reflects Virginia Woolf’s famous words ‘A Room of One’s Own’ in terms of the historical conditions which inhibited women both collecting and writing. The exhibition’s subtitle ‘Manuscripts and Printed Books in the Yale University Library That Were Owned By Women Before the Year 1700’ provides the chronological framework, which was even more limiting in terms of collecting by women.
The exhibition was curated by Robert Babcock, who notes in his Introduction that the idea for the exhibition was formed as long ago as 1987, but initially there were too few items in the Yale collections to comprise a significant exhibition. Thus more material was acquired in the intervening years from the antiquarian market. The curators determined relevant items from physical evidence in the books, such as signatures, book plates and corrections that “re-gender the text”.
Given the period surveyed, a number of the books came from convent libraries or the libraries of individual nuns, and others belonged to aristocratic women. As a result the exhibition includes some of the Beinecke Library’s most richly illuminated medieval manuscripts. The great majority of the rest were owned by middle-class women and the inscriptions in the books are in some cases the only records of their lives and interests. The time frame of the exhibition means that the geographical coverage is almost totally European but the Yale copies of the first American edition of Anne
Bradstreet’s ‘Several Poems’ (Boston, 1678) signal a burgeoning American
‘A Book of Her Own’ clearly and cogently illuminates female ownership, readership and social habits of the period.