Boston Public Library
Collections of Distinction

A book of islands

Posted on December 15th, 2014 by Jay Moschella in Collections of Distinction
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Isolario

The Greek islands of Paros and Antiparos

One of the many “firsts” in our collections is this unusual book of sea charts. Printed in Venice ca. 1485 by Guglielmo da Trino, the Isolario of Bartolomeo da li Sonetti is both the first printed book of nautical charts and the first printed version of an isolario, or “island book.” The so-called island book was a kind of precursor to the modern atlas: a curious work of cartography in which maps of the Aegean archipelago were accompanied by descriptive verses intended to help guide seafarers through the region.

Bartolomeo’s Isolario presents the modern reader with a series of recognizable, though, to our eyes, strangely crude outlines of familiar landforms. Each chart is set atop an eight-pointed compass rose, with orientation varying from chart to chart and page to page, the arrow always denoting north and the cross east, toward the Levant.

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The Charles Tarbox Pocket Diary

Posted on December 1st, 2014 by Lauren Schott in Collections of Distinction

Charles Tarbox PhotographOf the hundreds of treasures throughout the Collections of Distinction, one of the newest and most thought provoking is a recent addition to the American Civil War: 20th Massachusetts Regiment Collection.  It is the pocket diary of Charles Tarbox from Haverill, Massachusetts. This little journal holds the personal recollections of the young Civil War Union soldier as he traveled south with the Massachusetts 35th Regiment, Company G in the summer of 1862. The journal is accompanied by a photograph of Tarbox, looking very solemn, young, and stoic in his army uniform.

Upon its acquisition, the journal and photograph were immediately sent to the Conservation Department at the Central Library in Copley Square to be assessed. Often when a book finds its way there, the objective is to mend the tiny paper tears, holes, and binding malfunctions that make an item difficult to handle in order to maintain its structure and usability for patrons of the future. For the journal, however, there was an entirely different strategy because it is the object’s flaws that make it so very special.

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Making the private lives of our rare books public

Posted on November 25th, 2014 by Jay Moschella in Collections of Distinction
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(Above): a current-day view of the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, where our copy of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium lived during the 16th century (photo from wikimedia commons)

The record of ownership of a book, commonly referred to as its “provenance,” is one of the most exciting and important areas of research for rare books librarians. Though time consuming, this kind of work is a great chance to comb through centuries of bibliography, reconstructing the historic record and establishing important connections between different people and their exposure to different ideas. Over the past several months, we have been able to uncover many of these important connections within our own collections. Below are just a few examples.

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