Rare Books and Manuscripts Library

Highlighting our collections and the work that we do

Category: New and Notable (page 1 of 3)

Chester Himes Collection Now Available

This post was written by Diego Arellano.

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Library is excited to announce that the Chester Himes Collection, 1932-1978 is now available. Chester Himes (1909-1984) was an American author best known for If He Hollers Let Him Go and the Harlem Detective series of novels. Many of Himes’ writings explore racism and the experience of African Americans in the United States. He also wrote essays about civil rights, riots, and the relationship between black communities and law enforcement. The collection contains materials related to Himes’ writings and films adapted from his works that were part of the blaxploitation genre.

Chester Himes
Alex Gotfryd/ Corbis

Himes was born in Jefferson City, Missouri. His family later moved to Cleveland, Ohio and Himes attended Ohio State University, but was expelled for playing a prank. In 1928, Himes was arrested for armed robbery and sentenced to jail and hard labor for 20 to 25 years. While in prison, he wrote short stories and had them published in national magazines. Himes’ stories appeared in The Bronzeman in 1931 and began appearing in Esquire in 1934. In 1936, Himes was released from prison on parole. After his release, he worked part-time jobs and continued to write.

In the 1940s, Himes spent time in Los Angeles working as a screenwriter and writing two novels, If He Hollers Let Him Go and The Lonely Crusade. Both of these books dealt with the experiences of African American migrant workers. During this time, he also provided analysis of the Zoot Suit Riots for The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP.

In the 1950s, Himes decided to settle permanently in France, where he met his second wife and was part of literary and political circles. In 1958, Himes won France’s Grand Prix de Littérature Policière.

Four of Himes’ novels were made into movies, including the 1970 blaxploitation film Cotton Comes to Harlem, directed by Ossie Davis. Himes originally wrote the script for the film, but ultimately his script was not used.

The Chester Himes Collection is arranged chronologically and contains materials dating from the author’s career between the years of 1932 and 1978. It includes speech transcripts, screenplays, publicity, correspondence, photographs, and critiques of Himes’ works. Among the screenplays in the collection are those for Baby Sister, Night Hunt, and Cotton Comes to Harlem. To learn more, please visit the Chester Himes Collection finding aid.

You Can Go Home Again

You Can Go Home Again

Geoffrey D. Smith

Thieves of Book Row:  New York’s Most Notorious Rare Book Ring and the Man Who Stopped It by Travis McDade (Oxford University Press, 2013) chronicles the free-wheeling looting of collegiate and public libraries in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Raiding primarily East coast libraries, particularly the New York Public Library, the book thieves would fence their books on Book Row, the legendary used book store center on Fourth Avenue in New York City. Though most book sellers were reputable, others were complicit in the thefts though criminal prosecution proved difficult. Library security was extremely lax those many decades ago and even volumes sequestered as rare books were easily accessible and vulnerable to theft.  Most libraries, then, were easy targets for the highly organized gangs of book thieves who victimized “Columbia, Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton, and other small university and public libraries throughout the Northeast.” (144)

Current security measures in rare book libraries are much more stringent than they were eighty years ago.  Standard operating procedures in most contemporary rare book libraries include dual coverage of reading rooms, sign in sheets and ID requirements, security cameras and improved documentation of holdings.   Still, at Ohio State (and many other institutions) many older, relatively rare books were kept in the general collections for decades and were not transferred to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, on a large scale, until the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  A systematic review of general collections at many research libraries was incited by the influential report “Preserving Research Collections:  A Collaboration between Librarians and Scholars” (1999) issued by the Task Force on the Preservation of the Artifact made up of the Association of Research Libraries, the Modern Language Association and the American Historical Association with input from numerous other learned societies.  Although the transfer process at Ohio State secured many valuable items from general circulation, it also revealed that many volumes were missing, most likely due to theft.

 This past summer, it came to my attention  from John Howell,  a west coast bookseller, that several volumes of eighteenth-century French books, which were being offered for sale, had markings from the Ohio State University Library (perforated title pages, a practice frowned upon today, but, as evidenced here, an effective means of book identification). A search of our catalog records revealed that the items were, indeed, listed as part of OSUL, but that they had been missing since 2001, the period when Rare Books was doing its sweep of the general collections.  Although the items were identified as being missing since 2001, their actual disappearance may have been ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more years earlier.  Heaven knows where they had been in the meantime, but they were now in the hands of Dato Mio, a New York City artist, who cooperated greatly in expediting their return to Ohio State. They are now stored in the Rare Books stacks rather than the general collections.

We can only estimate how many other early books have left the OSUL shelves over the years.  In terms of rare book value, the returned items were modest, $1,500 –  $2,000, but their scholarly value may be of great significance to our faculty, students and visiting scholars.  More importantly, especially during this festive time of year, their return restores faith in the good intentions of people everywhere:  time cannot face good works or good deeds.

Au Claire de la Lune Then, Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) Now

Deborah Zabarenko of Reuters News recently reported on the recovery of Alexander Graham Bell’s voice from “a wax-covered cardboard disc on April 15, 1885.”  (More details are available at http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/29/usa-bell-voice-idUSL2N0DG12P20130429.)  As astounding as the Alexander Graham Bell preservation effort is, I was even more impressed by other recovery work, especially “that scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California [the same group that recovered Bell’s voice] had retrieved 10 seconds of the French folk song Au Clair de la Lune from an 1860 recording of sound waves made as squiggles on soot-covered paper. That was almost 30 years before Thomas Edison’s oldest known playable recording, made in 1888.”  First, I am stunned that “squiggles on soot-covered paper” can produce sound.  Secondly, I am floored that someone has preserved that dirty paper for over 150 years.  And, finally, of course, I am absolutely flabbergasted that the sound was recovered, as noted above.

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Library contends with immediate conservation and long term preservation issues every day.  Barring incidental floods, fire, vermin or mold, books are relatively easy to preserve if housed in a stable and secure environment and monitored constantly from now until eternity.  Of an equal preservation challenge are non-print media – audio, video, computer, etc. – when time has yet to determine the life of these fragile media.  In addition to the materials themselves, there is the challenge of guaranteeing that old formats can be reformatted for new equipment without compromising sound or image.  We are all familiar with the development of audio formats from vinyl records to cassette tapes to CD’s to I-pods.  And, the change will continue: what will people be listening to in 2163?  Rare Books, then, and other special collection libraries around the world, preserve multiple formats of materials with the hope that even if we cannot reformat all our current holdings on a timely basis, technology will prevail.  Certainly, the conversion of “squiggles on soot-covered paper” to an audible version of Au Claire de la Lune is a hopeful sign.  The key, remains, however, to preserving the originals.  The 15th-century print versions of the Bible and the classics would not have been possible had manuscript versions not survived.  Listening to Hard Knock Life 150 years from now will not be possible without conserving some version of it today.

Private Libraries and more

One of the joys of being head of an institutional rare book collection is the opportunity to get away from the office and view private collections.  Such viewings always lead to musings upon the importance of the books themselves, why people collect, the physical place of a book in any given space and any given moment in time, and more.   Often the musings go somewhat astray as they did after I viewed a magnificent private library last week.

The library was comprised of primarily twentieth-century first editions of major authors although there was substantial representation of other major nineteenth-century American authors and notable nineteenth- and twentieth-century British and Irish authors.  As I viewed the array of many of my favorite authors I would look to see if the author’s first book was among the collection:  Robert Frost’s A Boy’s Will, first English edition, 1913 (it was there, though I did not look for or expect to find Frost’s 1894, extraordinarily rare, vanity edition called Twilight); Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time, first trade edition, 1925, Boni and Liveright (it was there).  I checked for landmark books:  James Joyce’s Ulysses, Paris, 1922 (it was there, in addition to the first British publication  by the Egoist Press, also 1922); T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land published by Boni and Liveright, 1922 (it was there and I had moment to pause to consider the astounding literary prescience of the publisher Boni and Liveright). 

I could not help but compare with our own holdings in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and the Charvat Collection of American Fiction.  Yes, we had the 1913 A Boy’s Will, but not nearly in as good of condition as the private collector.  We also had the 1925 In Our Time, but, again, not nearly in as good of condition.  (A significant difference between institutional libraries and elite private libraries, for several reasons, tends to be condition.)  Charvat does, however, have the private press editions of In Our Time, (Paris, Three Mountains Press, 1924, and, an abbreviated edition, titled Three Stories and Ten Poems, Dijon, 1923) both in very good condition.  Our Ulysses (two first editions) compare very well. One copy in original wrappers has recently received treatment from Harry Campbell, Book and Paper Conservator for Special Collections.  An interesting two volume edition of Ulysses in Rare Books is an item smuggled, due to censorship, into the country contained in the bindings for the putative volumes Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and The Little Minister by James M. Barrie.  The private collector did not have such a copy.

We have three copies of the first edition of The Waste Land and they compare favorably with the copy I saw in the private library.  But editions other than the first can have significance as well.  For instance, Rare Books has a third printing of The Waste Land in good condition.  It is a copy from the library of Francis Utley, Professor of English and Folklore at The Ohio State University from 1935 to 1973. Professor Utley’s copy is from a class he took as a graduate student from the renowned Harvard scholar and teacher, George Lyman Kittredge.  The copy is replete with extensive notes from that class and offers the vicarious experience of sitting in on one of Professor Kittredge’s classes.  Although Kittredge was primarily a medievalist, early modernist and folklorist (a love he passed on to Utley), he was undoubtedly attracted to the classical allusions and flood imagery that pervade The Waste Land, a modernist text.

This Ohio State connection to Kittredge caused me to ruminate further.  Kittredge taught at Harvard from 1888 until his retirement in 1936.  (Kittredge had a B.A. only.  An apocryphal story still circulates that when asked why he didn’t have a Ph.D., Kittredge famously answered, “but who would examine me?” ) Francis Utley received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1936, so he studied with Kittredge at the very end of his career.  A colleague and friend Tim Lloyd, Executive Director of the American Folklore Society, who centers his scholarly activities at Ohio State, studied under Utley toward the end of his career.  The scholarly careers of three individuals span from 1888 to 2012 (and continuing), 124 years.  It hardly seems possible, but it is true, an historical fact that generated from a visit to a private library.

Textual Editing Course to Use New RBMS Acquisition

Students in Professor Ulman’s English 8982 in Autumn Semester 2012 will be working on a recent RBMS acquisition, the unpublished mid-nineteenth-century (1862) manuscript journal of Lucius Clark Smith, a farmer and schoolteacher who lived right here in central Ohio during the Civil War. In the course of editing Smith’s journal, students will learn to transcribe, encode, annotate, transform, and describe manuscript materials and reflect on the information gained and lost in the preparation of electronic representations of cultural artifacts. In addition to the hands-on editing project, students taking the graded version of the course will compare print and electronic textual editions of texts and prepare rationales for editing texts in their fields.

Please note that the course does not require any previous experience with textual editing, the technologies involved in electronic textual editing, or 19th-century American literature and culture.   The class will work with the Smith journal in part because its local provenance will enable students to consult local archives for relevant information, but the skills students will learn are applicable to any genre in any period or language.

Examples of other student-edited editions of RBMS materials, completed or in progress, can be viewed via the following links:

Selected Letters from the Ivan S. Gilbert Collection of Stephens Family Travel Letters and Ephemera
Louisa A. Doane’s Journal of Two Ocean Voyages (1852-1853)
Samuel Sullivan Cox’s “Journal of a Tour to Europe” (1851)
William B. Anderson Letters (1862–1864)

Students may contact the instructor directly for further information at ulman.1@osu.edu.

Download brochure.

Mysterious Press Archive – Finding Aid is Ready

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Library acquired the Mysterious Press Archive in May 2011.  An extensive and rich repository of the premier mystery publishing house in the United States, the archive promises to be a profound resource for literary research.  

 We all know, however, that, regardless of the greatness of any library resource, if it is inaccessible then it is essentially of little worth.  It is with great enthusiasm, then, that we can announce the completion of the Finding Aid for the Mysterious Press which is now available to research scholars worldwide. 

The Finding Aid can be accessed via a link on the following page: http://library.osu.edu/find/collections/charvat/charvat-manuscripts/mysterious-press/ 

As Department Head, I would like to offer my greatest thanks to Lisa Iacobellis and her student assistants, Douglas Buggs and Karin Luk, for processing this immense collection with such efficiency and precision.

Funding medieval and Renaissance acquisitions

Although the twenty-first century has been described as the beginning of the “digital age,” physical books and manuscripts are as important today—and will continue to be as important tomorrow—as they have been for the past two millennia. While digital surrogates can provide us with handy access to a book’s or manuscript’s text, they cannot always provide us with the historical, cultural, and material contexts of the physical object itself. If all we want to do is read Thomas Shadwell’s The Squire of Alsatia, for instance, Early English Books Online is a valuable resource. But if we want to learn more about the reception of Shadwell’s play, its place in the larger context of seventeenth-century English drama, or its bibliographical peculiarities, we must be able to turn to actual physical copies of the play itself. OSU’s copy of The Squire is particularly interesting because it is bound into a sammelband containing eleven other plays, all of which, it turns out, were collected and placed between a single set of covers by William Legge, the first Earl of Dartmouth (1672-1750). The physical setting of The Squire amidst this contemporary compilation of plays, the volume’s association with Legge, and the apparent thematic unity of the included works (each spotlights the political turmoil in England during the late 1680s) are all qualities that help us better understand Shadwell’s text and how it reflected and shaped the opinions and concerns of its contemporary readers.

This sammelband of dramatic works is only one of thousands of items held by OSU’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library (RBMS) that can help shed valuable light on the wider social, historical, literary, artistic, and cultural contexts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. RBMS strives to locate and acquire unique, rare, and special resources that can support the growing research and curricular interests of the CMRS’s faculty, students, and friends; but the pursuit of such materials is extremely difficult. The rare books and manuscripts market is finite, and as time passes unique resources become more scarce. Additionally, prices for original rare materials consistently rise year after year. Coupled with this steady inflation is the limited nature of the funds OSU and RBMS have available to support the purchase of rare and unique materials.

In an effort to offset the uncertainties inherent in annual funding levels and market prices, RBMS has established a number of funds dedicated toward the acquisition of materials supporting Medieval and Renaissance Studies at OSU. Each of these funds is committed toward helping build RBMS collections in particular areas, and the monies they supply help ensure the Library’s ability to acquire the truly special materials that will continue to be used by teachers, students, and researchers at OSU for years to come. Listed and described below are the seven current funds specifically tasked with supporting medieval and Renaissance purchases.

Denney Fund for Books in the Age of Shakespeare (#201680): Aids with the acquisition of materials related to the age of Shakespeare (broadly defined as approximately the mid-sixteenth through seventeenth centuries), including dramatic texts, religious treatises, philosophical or historical works, and more.

The Whole Book of Psalms. Collected into English Meeter by T. Sternhold, J. Hopkins, and others. London: Imprinted for the Company of Stationers, 1639; in contemporary embroidered binding.



Donald Wing Endowment for English Imprints, 1640-1700 (#267645): Funds the purchase of materials recorded in Donald G. Wing’s Short-Title catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America, and of English Books Printed in Other Countries, 1641-1700.

John Reynolds. The Triumphs of Gods Revenge against the Crying and Execrable Sin of Murther… London: Printed by Sarah Griffin for William Lee, 1656.


Philip Keenan History of Astronomy Collection Endowment (#204183): Assists with purchases of items illustrating the wide and varied history of astronomy, from the Middle Ages through the Age of Enlightenment and beyond.

Prodromvs und Erster Vortrab oder, Kurtze und einfeltige Erklerung des Cometen oder Beschmäntzten Sterns, so sich im November des 1618, Jahres hat sehen lassen. Gedruckt zu Alten Stettin: In der Rhetischen Druckery, 1619.



Friends Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts Fund (#308498, fmdv): Supports the purchase of medieval and Renaissance manuscript materials of all stripes, including complete codices, individual leaves, diplomatics, and fragments produced across Europe between 500-1700 CE.

Caption: Detail from an early glossed 12th-century Bible, possibly from Germany or Switzerland.


Friends Incunabula Fund (fifteenth-century books) (#308498, fincu): Aids in the purchase of books produced during the earliest period of printing with movable type (ca. 1450-1501), including books printed across Europe in all languages and genres.

Caption: St. Augustine. De contritione cordis. Basel: Michael Furter, ca. 1489.


Friends Reformation/Counter-Reformation Fund (#308498, frefm): Supports the acquisition of materials related to all aspects of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Caption: Johann Cochlaeus. Septiceps Lutherus, ubique sibi, suis scriptis, contrarius, in Visitationem Saxonicam, per D.D. Ioannem Cocleum, ęditus. Leipzig: Valentinus Schumann, 1529.


Friends Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Acquisitions Fund (#308498, fcmr): This special fund is designated for the acquisition of any and all materials that could be used to support the teaching and research missions of the CMRS, including rare books and manuscripts, modern monographs and reference works, research databases, and more.

Each fund is open and accepting donations in any amount. Should you wish to contribute to any of these funds, please forward your check to:

Eric J. Johnson
Rare Books & Manuscripts Library
119B Thompson Library
1858 Neil Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210

Please make your checks out to “The Ohio State University” and be sure to clearly note which fund is to receive your donation by including the appropriate account number(s) and/or code(s) printed in bold after the title of each respective fund (e.g. “#308498, fmdv”). The Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and The Ohio State University Libraries are committed to building our medieval and Renaissance teaching and research collections, and the funds listed above will help insulate us from the vagaries of an ever-shifting antiquarian market and will allow us to continue to meet the needs of our students, teachers, and researchers.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact us directly at:


Thanks for your support!

John Bennett ¨Retiring¨

John Bennett, Curator of the Avant Writing Collection, is retiring, officially, as of Dec. 31, 2010.  I will, however, be coming back in on a regular basis to deal with new acquisitions, collection development and processing, and other issues.   I want to say that the Rare Books & MSS staff is a wonderful group of people, and it has been a real pleasure to work with all of them over the past many years!

I’m pleased to announce a major new book, a comprehensive edition of my work in Globbolalia (my invented language): TEXTIS GLOBBOLALICUS, 3 vols. [997 pp.], Roanoke, VA: mO)onocle-Lash Press, 2010

– John Bennett

Tax time at OSU’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Library

Unless you are an accountant, chances are you probably find taxes and all things pertaining to them to be mundane, depressing and completely uninteresting. However, the Rare Books and Manuscripts library has recently acquired a rather interesting tax record: a 14th century tax roll dated 4 January 1352 (658 years ago this past Monday).


The document is comprised of 53 lines written in brown ink on a roll of irregularly cut parchment measuring 417 mm x 142 mm (16.4 in x 5.6 in).  The roll existed alongside the codex in this period and was used primarily for records keeping. Rolls were easy to add to as pieces of parchment could conveniently be sewn together as the records grew. This particular roll is a single piece of parchment and when rolled there is a shelf mark that would have identified where it was stored in a library or record office.


The text block measures 364 mm x 133 mm (14.3in x 5.2 in) and is written in a Secretary hand.  Although a structured and formalized script like Gothic or any of the many other scriptural styles, Secretary is a more freehand or cursive style that allowed for faster writing. Secretary hand is seen mostly in legal documents such as this, as well as quitclaims, charters and other records of court and government business.


The roll was signed by a notary named Francesco who served Mastino II della Scala (1308-1351).

Roll Franciscus

Notaries in the Middle Ages acted as scribes and authenticators. They were often members of the clergy, however by the 14th century a secular class of notaries had emerged as the Church took a less active role in lay affairs as demand for secular legal services increased. The document also sports a lovely notary symbol before the first line measuring 22 mm x 16 mm (0.86 in x 0.63 in). Notary symbols acted in a way very similar to the stamps and seals that appear on notarized documents today. They were distinct to a particular notary and served as an authenticating feature. Often these symbols would be recorded by a guild when the notary joined.

roll notary symbol

Although this roll is dated to 4 January 1352, sources indicate that Mastino II died in 1351.  Mastino II della Scala was the lord of Verona and was a member of the Scaliger family. After amassing vast wealth and lands, a powerful league of surrounding states forced Mastino II to return nearly all the land he had acquired through conquest and purchase.

This tax roll adds diversity to OSU’s collection of manuscripts because it is neither a codex nor an individual leaf from one. It is only one piece of parchment and yet it is a complete and distinct document in its own right. It also serves as a unique example of 14th century Secretary script, a fact that makes this particular document a useful palaeographical teaching tool.

Isabelle Bateson-Brown, Library Associate

The Summa Aurea of William Peraldus

                                                                Peraldus 1

Last summer OSU’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Library acquired a wonderful book to add to its growing collection of incunabula (books printed prior to 1501). Printed in Brescia by Angelus and Jacobus Britannicus in 1494 (the colophon states that the firm completed the job on 24 December, just in time for Christmas) , this rather unassuming, small-ish octavo volume in its non-descript stiff vellum 18th-century binding offers a good deal more than meets the eye. Between the book’s covers lies the Summa de virtutibus et vitiis (otherwise known as the Summa aurea, or Golden Summa), a thirteenth-century moral-theological encyclopedia written by the Dominican preacher, William Peraldus (ca. 1200-1271?). Peraldus’s summae originally appeared as two separate works, the Summa de vitiis (ca. 1236) which exhaustively treated the qualities and characteristics of the seven deadly sins, or vices, and their constituent parts, and the Summa de virtutibus (ca. 1248), which built upon the earlier work by providing an in-depth description of the seven cardinal virtues standing in direct opposition to the principal vices. But by 1250 the two texts were circulating together so often that they were frequently recognized as a single work. Together, Peraldus’s Summae became two of the most important preachers’ and confessors’ hand­books of the later Middle Ages: the Summa de virtutibus survives in over 300 manuscripts, while the Summa de vitiis has come down to us in approximately 500 manuscript copies. The two works are replete with hundreds of exempla, historical and fanciful anec­dotes, and quotations from Classical, Patristic, and contemporary authorities, and through their influence on preaching and confessional practice, Peraldus’s Summae and the moral and pastoral theology they promote extended beyond the clerical realm to impact the everyday lives of late-medieval Christians across Europe.

Peraldus 3

Massively popular, the Summa aurea was a natural candidate for the efforts and attention of Europe’s first printers who frequently relied upon the literary products of the Middle Ages as sources for their own publishing efforts. Appearing in over thirty incunabular and early printed editions—a fact that along with the large number of surviving manuscripts testifies to the continued popularity and importance of the text during the three centuries after its initial appearance—Peraldus’s work influenced not just preachers, confessors, and theologians, but also famous literary authors such as Chaucer and Dante. In spite of its long-lived popularity and wide-ranging effect on the moral theology and vernacular literature of the later Middle Ages, the Summa aurea has yet to appear in an authoritative modern edition or translation, a fact that makes early printed edi­tions of Peraldus’s work like the one we recently acquired indispensable resources for scholars.
Peraldus 2

Eric J. Johnson, Associate Curator

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