As I mentioned in a previous post, a few weekends ago was alumni weekend. On that Friday, an alumnus came in and asked to see an item that caused most work in the library to stop. All of the student interns came to see the book the alumnus requested, namely a copy of Shakespeare’s first folio.
Oooh. Ahhh. I was really surprised that we had something as rare and precious as a first edition Shakespeare work. There are 228 still in existence of the approximately 1,000 originally printed. A copy stolen from Durham University was valued at 15 million pounds or approximately 25 million U.S. dollars. I was astounded that I could read through this book just for fun.
Then John Anderies, the Head of Special Collections, told me that this was only one of a few astounding works that we had in special collections. Apparently we also have a 1472 Foligno edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. This astounding book is even rarer than Shakespeare’s first folio; there are only 14 copies of the Foligno edition in the world, and it is the first printed edition of the book. It is so old that the book still has illuminations, ornate pictures or letters done in gold leaf and painted.
I and a few other students came to the archives the next day to study the Foligno copy.
I was thrilled and astounded to be able to handle amazing manuscripts like the Foligno Dante and Shakespeare’s first folio. These pieces are part of the William Pyle Philips collection. Philips was the class of 1902, and donated a number of priceless artifacts to the library including a first edition of Paradise Lost, the famed Descartes letter, and a copy of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium. Seeing and leafing through these pieces reminded me of the amazing hidden resources that our library holds, and wish that more students availed themselves of the absolutely unique opportunities that Special Collections provides.