Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rare Books in the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection

What qualifies a book as being "rare"? Although there are no strict rules, we define books are "rare" based on whether a book meets one or more of the following criteria: a printing date before 1850 in the Americas or before 1775 in Europe and other continents; importance (i.e. whether the book is a seminal work); limited edition; unique/significant autograph, marginalia, or annotations; known to be very scarce or of exceptionally high monetary value; unique characteristics as a physical object.

The rare book collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library includes approximately 90 volumes. A few highlights from the collection are included below. Please visit the Library to learn more about our rare book collection.

Title page of Miscellaneous Works by Eliphalet Nott, 1810. This book is important not only because it is written by an important figure in Schenectady's history; it is also significant as an example of an early book printed in the city of Schenectady. The book was published by William J. McCartee, bookseller, and printed by Ryer Schermerhorn.

Front cover of Love Poems by Famous Authors, printed ca. 1911. This book is an excellent example of a book as an interesting physical object -- the cover is made of metal, which has been etched and embossed with designs on both the front and back cover.  

Signature of Mark Twain on inside front cover of his book The Stolen White Elephant, printed in London in 1906. It was the property of Mrs. Helena Rowe Fuller Crooks (1881-1962) of Scotia. Crooks had bequeathed the book to historian Larry Hart, who in turn gave the book to his son, Alan, who donated the book to the Society.  Larry Hart, in a 1959 newspaper column about Crooks, wrote: “It was while vacationing in Bermuda in 1908 that Helena met and became good friends with that whimsical author, Mark Twain. She still has the book The Stolen White Elephant, that he gave her. On the flyleaf is penned the inscription: The main difference between a cat and a lie is that the cat has only nine lives. Truly yours, Mark Twain…Bermuda, March 1908."
Colorful endpapers swirled with designs are a common feature of 19th-century books, such as these endpapers from Dr. Daniel Toll's A Narrative Embracing the History of Two or Three of the First Settlers and Their Families of Schenectady, printed in 1847 in Schenectady.
Title page of Symon Schermerhorn's Ride, privately printed from type by J.B. Lyon Company of Albany, 1910. The printing is a limited edition of 225 copies. This copy was owned by Rev. W.N.P. Dailey, a missionary, pastor, and an active member of the Schenectady County Historical Society.

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