Book Arts

Medieval Manuscripts

Georgetown's largest collection of late medieval and early renaissance documents, the Scheuch Collection, is described under European History. Besides that collection, however, the library possesses nearly a score of early liturgical and theological manuscripts, including some with interesting and sometimes significant miniatures and illumination. These are for the most part listed in De Ricci's Census or its supplement. But special note should be made of the volume of spiritual opuscules in Old French (gift of John Gooch) and the quintus part of the second set of the "Scots Psalter" (1586) by Thomas Wood of St. Andrews, probably from the library of John Gilmary Shea, as well as of two quite remarkable fifteenth century manuscripts: one with texts of Bede, Hugh of St. Victor, and others (gift of Ralph A. Hamilton); the other containing works by Henry of Hesse, St. John Chrysostom, and others (gift of John H. Drury). The relatively small number of complete manuscripts is supplemented, especially for teaching purposes, by a variety of leaves from individual manuscripts dating from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. The whole in part the gifts of Bishop Michael Portier, Frederick Schneider, Mrs. Beauchamp Hughes, Friedrich von Boetticher, and W. Todd Furniss.

Early Manuscript Facsimiles

For teaching purposes, however, of nearly equal importance is the growing collection of modern color facsimiles of some of the greatest medieval and renaissance manuscripts. These include not only such standard works as the great books of hours, but also include a range of important manuscripts such as the eighth century Ambrosian Iliad, the Vatican Greek New Testament (gift of Pope John Paul II), the Codex Resta, the De arte venandi cum avibus of Frederick II, the Book of Kells in the sumptuous Urs Graf Verlag edition, the Domesday Book, and the reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical studies in the English royal collections (gift of John B. Vermylen). These have been supplemented recently by a second da Vinci facsimile, the gift of Henry Nowik, and a number of early facsimiles of Central American manuscripts sponsored by Joseph Florimond, duc de Loubat, the gift of Mr. and Mrs. A. Grima Johnson.

Early Printed Books

The library is fortunate in having amassed over the years a number of incunabula (approximately 100, including those in the Woodstock Theological Library), and more fortunate yet in that these are broadly representative of the development of the art of printing during the fifteenth century. A complete set of Haebler's portfolios (devoted to German, Italian, and Western European printing, respectively) include selections of original leaves documenting the range of fifteenth century type faces, and it also provides a broad view of the manifold typographical activity of fifteenth century printers. Incunabular holdings are supplemented by representative examples of the work of most of the distinguished printers of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, ranging from Aldus, Plantin, and Estienne to the Elzeviers and the Imprimerie royale to Didot, Foulis (in large part the gift of John C. Hirsh), Bodoni, and Ibarra. While non-European printing is not actively collected, both the Special Collections Division and the Woodstock Theological Library have examples of the block books printed in China in the late seventeenth century at the instigation of Jesuit missionaries. Moreover, the Special Collections Division houses an example of one of the eighth century Japanese prayer scrolls printed at the order of the Empress Shotoku, with its lathe-turned pagoda intact.

The Schulte Collection

The collection, donated by the wife of its creator, Philip W. Schulte, comprises nearly 100 examples of Greek and Roman classical texts in fine and scholarly editions from the fifteenth through the nineteenth century. Noteworthy especially for its representation of the work of John Baskerville, the collection also includes examples from many of the famous printers of previous centuries.
Gift of Katherine A. Bowie

The Gersten Collection

A specialized part of the world of printing is that of the recording of the arts of stenography or polygraphy--shorthand, as we know it. The Gersten Collection, amounting to more than 500 volumes, provides good examples from the seventeenth century to the recent past, including influential early texts by authors such as Addy, Macaulay, and Weston as well as a number of periodicals and reference works.
Gift of Douglas Gersten


The library has good examples of virtually all of the major kinds and styles of bindings of the past several hundred years, including Persian and Qajar lacquer examples as well as the expected European types. In addition, there are two substantial groups of bindings that are of potential scholarly importance. One of these, the so-called "monastic bindings" in white blindstamped pigskin, chiefly of German origin, consists of more than 100 examples covering the entire range of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The second group consists of more than 100 American hand bindings from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, including work by such known and respected binders as John Roulstone of Boston and Frederick Mayo of Richmond (the latter being represented by a splendid three-volume set of Epictetus bound for Thomas Jefferson), but with an especially important gathering of books worked by the so-called "Georgetown binder," probably from the shop of Georgetown publisher and bookseller Joseph Milligan. Among these are some of his most distinguished volumes, including a magnificent set of the first edition of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755).

Modern Fine Printing

Over the past 25 years the library has assembled a group of nearly 1,000 modern "press books," primarily of American origin but including examples of the great English presses as well. Virtually all of the major American presses are represented, from the Elston, Cranbrook, and Village presses to Cummington, the Grabhorns, the various enterprises of William Everson, and Pennyroyal. These are supplemented by a substantial run of volumes produced at various presses for the Limited Editions Club and other publishers using the resources of fine-press printing. The output of one of Washington's pioneer private presses, Stephen Hurlbut's St. Alban's Press, is held nearly complete (gift of Eric F. Menke). Included in the Riedel Collection are many of Eric Gill's private press books and a long run of publications by H. D. C. Pepler's St. Dominic's Press. The library also holds substantial numbers of works from the Cuala and Dun Emer presses, as well as complete runs of Fine Print and Matrix, the two premier modern periodicals of the fine press movement, successors to such older journals as Colophon and Ars Typographica, also held in complete runs. To a large extent these holdings are the result of gifts from Patricia G. England, from Judith McCabe, and from Mrs. William Zimmerman.

Peter Pauper Press

The work of Peter Beilenson (Peter Pauper Press, Walpole Printing Office, Sign of the Blue-behinded Ape) is held in great strength, numbering more than 600 examples beginning with the first book of the press, Synge's With Petrarch (Larchmont, 1928). This phenomenon of American publishing made possible the dissemination of fine-press ideals to the public at large through its long list of beautifully designed and carefully printed works sold, by and large, very inexpensively indeed. The collection is further enriched by the presence in it, or at Georgetown in other collections, of galley proofs of a Walpole Printing Office title (The Kilgore Journal, 1949) of designs and original illustrations by Valenti Angelo and Lynd Ward for various works printed by Beilenson, and by deliberate copies of Peter Pauper Press books created by others to capitalize on the work of Beilenson's press. Major donors to the collection include Patricia G. England (who started the collection at Georgetown in 1984), and Todd Haines.

Book Illustration

Students of book illustration can sample most of the major styles and techniques of the craft in the library's growing collection of illustrated books. Examples from the fifteenth to the twentieth century incorporate specimens of most of the printmaking processes as well as work by artists from Dürer and Holbein to Maillol and Dali. In addition, the library is in the process of developing significant special collections of illustrated books, concentrating principally on volumes illustrated by artists whose work is held by the library in other forms. The largest of these collections is devoted to the work of Lynd Ward (now represented in more than 100 examples, gifts of Robin Ward Savage, Nanda Ward, Dan Burne Jones, and George M. and Penelope C. Barringer). Among other artists whose work is being collected in this form are Eric Gill, David Jones, Arthur Rackham, Thomas Hart Benton, Peggy Bacon, Valenti Angelo, Clare Leighton, Barry Moser, George Cruikshank, Joseph Pennell, Isac Friedlander, and Osbert Lancaster, the latter collection based on the substantial gift of Todd Haines.

Emblem Books

The library is fortunate in having a substantial number of emblem books. These span the years from the mid-sixteenth century to the early eighteenth century, and include, besides such staples as the works of Alciati and Ripa, a number of less familiar items such as the Imago primi saeculi Societatis Jesu (1640), whose historical content is interspersed with a wonderfully elaborate series of emblematic illustrations. Many of the emblem books derive from the personal collection of Georgetown's first officially designated librarian, Rev. Thomas C. Levins.

Clare Leighton Collection

The Leighton Collection consists of the artist's preparatory materials for the illustration of The Book
of Psalms...Proverbs...Ecclesiastes
for the Literary Guild, 1949 and later. Among the materials are an incomplete dummy for the book prepared by the artist, including 28 quite finished sketches for blocks; 19 other sketches for blocks; 140 progressive proofs of the 30 blocks chosen for the book; a 3-sheet set printing all 30 of the blocks in their final form; and correspondence relating to the initiation of the project. The Leighton Collection is supplemented by original prints and a fine run of illustrated books, gift of Maurice Adelman, Jr.

John W. Thomason, Jr., Collection

The collection of this U.S. Marine Corps officer, author, and illustrator (best known, perhaps, for his Fix Bayonets!) includes his own copies of many of the books he illustrated, together with a number of other volumes from his library and a substantial number of original watercolors and drawings for book illustrations and dust jackets.
Gift of Edith S. and John S. Mayfield

Printed Ephemera

While Georgetown will not soon rival the John Johnson Collection at Oxford's Bodleian Library in its holdings, it nonetheless has several significant groups of ephemeral publications, as well as broad general holdings in the field. Of particular interest are "core collections" of a number of varieties of ephemera, including the following:

These relatively large collections are supplemented by smaller groups of great diversity of age and content, for the most part incorporated in collections described elsewhere:

Bibliographical Reference

The Special Collections Division maintains extensive files of auction house and dealer catalogs in the field of rare books, manuscripts, and the graphic arts. These are supplemented by extended runs of the standard price guides such as American Book Prices Current, Book Auction Records, and Bookman's Price Index, together with more specialized guides to current prices in such fields as maps, manuscripts and autographs, and modern first editions. All these materials are available to the public.

Return to Subject guides
Return to Special Collections Home Page