Harvard’s Parchment Holdings at the Houghton

As the piles of snow remained on the ground in Cambridge Mass. it was farewell to the Manchester primavera and welcome to the Houghton Library at Harvard to undertake a survey of their printed parchment books thanks to a short-term Katharine F. Pantzer Jr. Fellowship in Descriptive Bibliography.Houghton The elegant and beautifully appointed Edison Newman Room gave some indication of the riches of the Library’s collections, lined as it is, with a spectacular display of incunables from the major European printing centres of the fifteenth century including many a Venetian tome.Incunbale room With the kind help of Hope Mayo, Bill Stoneman and Rachel Howarth, and some ingenious catalogue cross-searching, some 30-40 printed parchment books were identified not only in the Houghton but also in Special Collection in the Law Library and Countway Library of Medicine. While the Italian volumes form a core holding there are also examples from Germany, France, Spain, Holland, England, and Sweden ranging from beautifully decorated humanistic texts such as the 1487 Barbarigo presentation copy of Sabellicus printed by Torresani and purchased for William King Richardson at the famous Hoe sale of 1911-12 to a fragment of John Lathbury’s Liber moralium printed in Oxford in 1482.IMG_3087
IMG_3086 By no means as striking as a Venetian presentation copy but in some ways just as beautiful, and even rarer, is a fantastic parchment 1467 waste sheet from Peter Schoeffer’s Mainz printing of Aquinas’ Summa theologica replete with ink stains.IMG_3322 At the other end of the chronological range, Hope Mayo was kind enough to alert me to the limited edition St Dunstan volumes printed locally by the University Press of Cambridge, Mass. and all printed on parchment imported from England and Italy. As if to bookend the Houghton’s 1501 parchment copy of Petrarch’s Le cose volgari here is the 1902 equally limited edition of Sonnets from Petrarch illuminated by A. Formilli IMG_3225 As luck would have it, there was also the chance to pop back over to the Weissman Preservation Center and hook up with Katherine Beaty who is just completing work on the Harvard Business School’s Selfridge Medici collection which was purchased at the same 1919 auction as the Medici collection secured by Quaritch for the Rylands back in Manchester.IMG_3582 As if that wasn’t enough, it’s next stop New York and the chance to catch up again with Randall McLeod and Scott Clemons at the Grolier Club’s Aldus Manutius seminar to accompany their current exhibition ‘Aldus Manutius: A Legacy more Lasting than Bronze’. Watch this space.

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