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Distributed October 15, 2004
Contact Mary Jo Curtis

Through January 5, 2005
John Carter Brown Library hosts 19th-century book collecting exhibition

The John Carter Brown Library is presenting a new exhibition, “A Matter of Taste: Discrimination in 19th-Century Book Collecting,” now through Jan. 5, 2005, in the library on The College Green. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The John Carter Brown Library is giving patrons a chance to learn more about the book-collecting practices of its namesake and other collectors in a new exhibition, “A Matter of Taste: Discrimination in 19th-Century Book Collecting,” now through Jan. 5, 2005.


Does book collecting affect the design of books?
The stamped and tooled leather binding holds one of John Carter Brown’s most precious possessions, De insulis inventis Epistola, a Latin version of Columbus’s “letter on the newly discovered islands,” printed in Basel in 1493. The decorated binding was done for Brown by A. Cuzin, a celebrated 19th-century specialist.
Photo: John Carter Brown Library

Curated by Susan Danforth, the exhibition demonstrates how the urge to collect, preserve and ultimately share books can, however subtly, affect the physical character of the book itself. With a focus on acquisitions made in the 19th century – including a number of acquisitions made by founder John Carter Brown – this exhibition uses selections from the John Carter Brown Library collection to illustrate some of the effects that taste and trends in book collecting have had on the book as an object.

Some typical practices of the era – such as the use of book brands, ink library stamps on title pages and elaborate bindings – did not affect the integrity of the book as an expression of an idea, but according to Danforth, other practices are more problematic. The 19th-century collector’s acceptance of “sophistication” – that is, the gathering together of bits and pieces of several copies of a publication to make one “complete” volume – is a concern to scholars interested in textual integrity. Similarly, the use of carefully constructed facsimiles to complete imperfect books encouraged the specialized talents of artists and printers; the work of these skilled craftsmen could fool the eye of the casual observer – and sometimes cause consternation in scholars' and collectors' circles. Knowledge of these past practices is helpful to today’s scholars who use rare books as primary sources for research.

The JCB exhibition has been grouped into broad categories: identification, embellishment, restoration, and an exploration of the challenges presented by facsimiles. Among the items on display are long-collected books published by Aldus Manutius and Theodor DeBry, as well as a section on the Aldines. The latter group of special books was actively collected as early as the 16th century – and just as enthusiastically presented to the buying public in forged editions.

The John Carter Brown Library is an independently funded and administered institution for advanced research in the humanities, founded in 1846 and located at Brown University since 1901. The library houses one of the world's outstanding collections of books, maps and manuscripts relating to the colonial period of North and South America from 1492 to ca. 1825. It also offers fellowships, sponsors lectures and conferences, regularly mounts exhibitions for the public, and publishes catalogues, bibliographies, facsimiles and other works that interpret the library's holdings.

The library is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, except during University holidays. The Simón Bolívar Room is open on request. For more information, see or call (401) 863-2725.


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