Calling All U.Va. Student Book Collectors!

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Since 1948 the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia has been pleased to sponsor a book collecting contest open to all U.Va. students. Originally held annually, and now biennially, the contest offers all students a chance to showcase their personal book collections, and to win substantial cash prizes as well. Entries are now being accepted for the 52nd U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest. The deadline for submissions is February 12, 2018. Winners will be announced at the BSUVA’s annual meeting on Friday, March 23, 2018 n the Auditorium of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

To enter, students submit a list of items in their collection along with a short essay describing its contents and their objectives in forming the collection. Judges evaluate entries on the basis of the collection’s coherence of focus, method of collecting, progress made in forming the collection, and the quality of the descriptive essay. Collections are not judged on dollar value or size.

The first place winner receives a $1,000 cash prize and a $1,395 scholarship covering the full tuition for a Rare Book School course; the winner is also eligible to enter this year’s National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. Prizes of $600 and $300 are awarded for second and third place respectively. In addition, eight local booksellers have generously contributed gift certificates to be distributed among the contest winners.

Winners of the 51st U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest: Nora Benedict (at left) and Isaac May (at front), with contest judge David Whitesell. (Photo courtesy of David Vander Meulen)

Winners of the 51st U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest: Nora Benedict (at left) and Isaac May (at front), with one of the contest judges David Whitesell. (Photo courtesy of David Vander Meulen)

The previous U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest — the 51st — was held in 2016. First prize was awarded to Nora Benedict, doctoral candidate in the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, for her entry, “Argentine Publishing and the Many Faces of Jorge Luis Borges.”

Selections from Nora Benedict's winning entry, "Argentine Publishing and the Many Faces of Jorge Luis Borges."

Selections from Nora Benedict’s winning entry, “Argentine Publishing and the Many Faces of Jorge Luis Borges.”

Isaac May, a doctoral student in the Department of Religious Studies, was awarded second prize for his entry, “Collecting and Preserving Anglo-American Quaker Publications.”

Highlights from Isaac May's entry, "Collecting and Preserving Anglo-American Quaker Publications"

Highlights from Isaac May’s entry, “Collecting and Preserving Anglo-American Quaker Publications”

In conjunction with each biennial contest, the Small Special Collections Library is pleased to host an exhibition of highlights from the winners’ collections. This year’s exhibition will be on view in the first floor hallway leading to the Special Collections reading room from March 23 through April 13.

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When Santa calls, I answer.

 On this, our last day before the library closes for the holiday, we are delighted to share a post by Regina Rush, Reference Librarian and Special Collections’ resident Christmas addict (resisting all treatment with jolly glee, we should add). Regina starts counting down to next Christmas on December 26, y’all. So, without delay, here she is!

Where does space begin? Can Mars support life? Which is better, Coke or Pepsi? Questions such as these have puzzled, befuddled, and confounded us since the dawn of humankind. But of all the mind-numbing questions in life, none shares the contemplative intensity and gravitas of the question asked by eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897:

“Is there a Santa Claus?”

Is the Old Jolly Elf for real, or have parents for generations been perpetrating a SERIOUS FRAUD?!

Really, she needed to know. Not even Booker T. Santa or Langston Santa would tell her. (Photo by anonymous elf.)

If truth be told, I had my doubts. That is, until one afternoon a couple of months ago, when I answered the phone at the Public Services Desk.

Let me start at the beginning. Mid-October can be a hectic time for the The Desk, as we call it. We field questions from nervous students making their first deep dive into primary research. We provide box after box to the more seasoned researchers who have made our reading room their second home and the staff their second family. Alumni show up for football games and decide to come research their time at the university in the days leading up to the game. Genealogists pop in, often on a cross-country archives crawl to learn about their family history. The Desk, to quote the immortal sage Forrest Gump, “is like a box of Chocolates, You never know what you’re gonna get.”

This particular Wednesday afternoon, the phone rang, as it often does when six things are happening at once. “Special Collections Reading Room, May I help you?” A disembodied, but not unpleasant, voice responded, “Good Afternoon, my name is …” the researcher introduced himself and launched into the purpose of his call: obtaining a copy of an item held in our large collection of American trade catalogs.

–“Is it possible to receive a copy of this item?”

–“We would need to pull the catalog and evaluate its condition. If it looks like it can withstand scanning, I will be happy to send it to you.”

I directed him to our online reference form, and asked him to send all the pertinent information necessary to identify the item. A staff member would research his query and get back in touch with him. “In fact,” I continued, “you can include my name in your query so it can be assigned to me.” The call was quickly forgotten as I turned my attention to other researchers. But the next day, when I opened the researcher’s reference request… It. Stopped. Me. Dead. In. My. Tracks. Not only had I been assigned a reference request from the Jolly Elf himself, I had actually spoken to the big man the day before.

HOLY MAKING A LIST AND CHECKING IT TWICE, BATMAN!

Old Kris Kringle himself was requesting information from one of our trade catalogs concerning a new purchase he had recently made–of what else?!– a sleigh.
See for yourself:

From R. C. at 1:02 PM on Wed Oct 11 2017
Category: Standard Reference
I would like any information on Ames Dean Sleighs.
it could be Jamie Dean out of Michigan.
I bought a Sleigh and would like to know all I can about it
Thank you for all your help.

Mr. C. aka Santa Claus
attn. Regina

Author: Small, Albert H. (Albert Harrison); Alliance Carriage Co; American Carriage Company; Ames-Dean Carriage Co; Anchor Buggy Co; Arkla Industries Inc; Barnett Carriage Co; Biddle & Smart Co; Columbia Carriage Co; Consumers Carriage and Manufacturing Co; … [more]
Format Book
Publication Date1888; 1974
Availability:Available
Special Collections Call Number TS199.A5 C2 (54 volumes)

How I, of all people, had lucked into this reference request, I will never know. Needless to say, I did not disappoint. When Santa calls, I answer. I sent Santa scans from several trade catalogs from the Albert H. Small American Trade Catalogs collection. This collection boasts over 3,000 American manufacturer’s catalogs, mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries, ranging in subject from beekeepers’ and dentists’ equipment to stationery, toilets, furniture, and yes, even sleighs! This collection is one of the many amazing gifts given by alumnus Albert H. Small, the library’s namesake and donor of the phenomenal Albert H. Small Declaration of Independence Collection.

The catalog from the Albert H. Small American Trade Catalogs collection requested by Santa. (TS199 .A5 c2 no. 3)

Images of Sleighs from the Whitney Wagon Works’ Catalogue of Carriages and Sleighs (TS 199 .A5 C2 no. 48) The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library serves researchers across the globe, including the Jolly Ole Elf from the North Pole!

Now, for those of you concerned about violating Santa’s privacy by including his request in this blog, REST ASSURED, I obtained his permission. Sheesh! Not doing so would certainly have landed me at the top of THE Naughty List.) He even let me share his picture with you:

R.C. and L. C. aka Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and their little canine elf. Photo courtney Rich Clarner. For real, you guys.

As the New York Sun allayed the fears of young Virginia in 1897, I hope by sharing my story, I have helped dispel any lingering doubts of Old St. Nicks’ existence. To all the Hoos’ in Hooville who still do not believe, I can say with 100 PERCENT certainty,

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!

Wishing all my colleagues at the University of Virginia Library and all the loyal readers of “Notes from Under Grounds” a very safe and happy holiday!

The Old Bard of Avon has been busy lately reading several books from our McGehee Miniature Book Collection. They’re just his size! Shown are Jolly St. Nick (Lindemann 05410), Yes, Virginia (Lindemann 3004), and Santa Claus By Another Name (Lindemann 6589). All other items pictured are courtesy Regina Rush. (Apologies to Will Shakespeare, we forgot to make him a Santa hat!).

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Unearthing Fiction: Creative Writing Inspired by UVA’s Archive

This week we are pleased to share a guest post from Nichole LeFebvre. Nichole is a Poe/Faulkner Fellow at the University of Virginia, where she teaches creative writing. Her poems can be found in Prairie Schooner and Barrelhouse and recent prose in Lit Hub, Paper Darts, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn. She is the Nonfiction Editor of Meridian: A Semi-Annual and is at work on a memoir.

Researchers may have met Nichole at Special Collections, where she used to work as a graduate student assistant in the Reference department. Now, she’s using that experience to incorporate original materials into her creative writing instruction.

Working at Special Collections, I’d often find myself in awe. Researchers would carry diaries and ledgers to the reference desk, pointing out their surprising finds. Reading Faulkner’s grocery list, I’d wonder about his carbo-loading: “breadsticks, bread, breakfast bread.” I’d show students how to aim a black light at a seemingly blank book. One afternoon, a librarian grinned and said, “Have you seen the bone fragment from the Revolutionary War?”

When I had the chance to design a themed writing workshop, I knew exactly where to go: down the spiral staircase, under the skylights. How many stories hid, waiting latent, below our feet?

Fourth-year Halley Townsend recalls the first time she held an artifact: “There’s something immutable in the feeling of touching history that can be gleaned nowhere else.” And that’s exactly right: in fiction, we focus on creating sensory-rich scenes for the reader. Students in my class, “Unearthing Fiction,” were able to feel that texture first-hand, noticing minor details otherwise forgotten with time.

“Being an engineer, I preferred to look at objects that were manmade and complex,” says Daryn Govender, hailing all the way from New Zealand. For his stories, he studied a field compass from World War II as well as a New Tyme Edison light bulb, patented in 1881. Because these objects are catalogued without specific historical context—letters or diary entries from their owners—Govender felt “allowed to write more freely, unconstrained by a pre-existent scenario or background story.”

Of our first visit to Special Collections, second-year Caroline Bohra writes, “My mind started to race thinking of all the people who could have come in contact with these objects. I could not help but wonder what made these specific objects so special that they had been chosen to be saved and preserved? And what modern artifacts would be deemed important enough to be studied years from now?”

The travel scrapbook of Nina Withers Halsey, 1895, inspired Alexander O’Connor to write about a self-taught American teenager who meets and impresses the Shahzada Nasrulla Khan with her knowledge of tenuous British-Afghan relations (MSS 10719-b). Photograph by Alexander O’Connor.

How archives shape history was on our mind, all semester. Fiction is likewise political: whose stories are told, and therefore remembered? Third-year Hunter Wilson wondered how to write “historical women, on the one hand acknowledging that women often lacked basic rights, while on the other, respecting the character.” She decided to set her first story in 17th Century Scotland, inspired by the ballad of the Outlandish Knight. The twist? It’s the princess who uncovers the dreamy knight’s murder plot. “I wanted Isabel to act accurately in her historical context, but also give voice to the likely frustrations that came with her place in history.”

Fourth-year Matin Sharifzadeh enjoyed the depth of creative control he had over his work. “When we would go down into the library, the artifacts weren’t there for us to write about. They were there for us to create a world.” And like history itself, those worlds weren’t always pretty: the rope used in the hanging of a Charlottesville mayor inspired Sharifzadeh to write “a psychological thriller involving a mentally ill serial killer in the late 19th Century.”

Students faced, first-hand, the challenges of writing historical fiction. First-year Julia Medina found an embroidered handkerchief “depicting a group of children and a school teacher from the early 20th century.” This morphed into her story of an exploitative school for gifted children. But she couldn’t have her characters talking in today’s slang. To research the nuances of 1940s speech, Medina found “a collection of letters than an ordinary military man wrote to his wife.” These “seemingly mundane letters” allowed her to imagine “what he felt, how he talked, and where he’d been.”

Some details will remain buried with time, unless you, dear reader, can read this handwriting.  Elizabeth Oakes-Smith’s diary, 1861 (MSS 38-707-a). Photograph by Veronica Sirotic.

The question of historical accuracy recurred throughout the semester. How do we earn a reader’s trust when we aren’t historians, we’re writers?

The answer? More reading, more research, and a deep personal connection to the material. Second-year Veronica Sirotic pored over radical feminist and music magazines from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, inspired by not only the articles, but the advertisements, as well. A few students returned to the feminist periodical The Monthly Extract including first-year Megan Lee, who tried to get into the mindset of both a feminist and her “tolerant husband,” digging up manuscript boxes of period photographs to build images of these characters, in her head.

Students realized when they were most curious, most personally engaged, their own fiction was at its strongest. Caroline Bohra found a children’s book from 1927 and was “struck by a sort of nostalgic happiness,” changing her initial character’s personality as she researched real-life author Christopher Morley, who “believed in the magic of childhood and instilled that in his children, specifically Louise Morley Cochrane, who went on to produce a children’s television series, following in her father’s footsteps, as well as work directly for Eleanor Roosevelt.”

Finding patterns across time was another an important way in. First-year Alexander O’Connor was struck by former Secretary of State John Hay’s life story. “Two out of the three Presidents he worked for, Abraham Lincoln and William McKinley, were assassinated while he worked for them, and the third, Theodore Roosevelt, experienced an assassination attempt but lived. Coincidence? I think not!”

The class also sought guidance from UVa’s own Jane Alison, Professor and Director of Creative Writing. Students read Alison’s Ovid translations and a section of her novel The Love-Artist, curious how she was able to write from the point of view of the ancient poet. Alison explained her range of primary and secondary sources, as well as her trip to Rome, to see and imagine how the ruins once looked. She placed herself inside the poet’s shoes, inside his head, tried to imagine how he saw and described the world around him.

Alison urged the students to recognize the overlap between historical fiction and memoir, a comment that struck Veronica Sirotic as especially true: “We have the power to shape history to our liking.” Alexander O’Connor, agreed, noting that even “memoir is a retelling of history through the author’s lens.”

“‘Unearthing’ means to dig up, to discover, to recover in an active sense,” writes Halley Townsend. “Throughout the semester, that definition has aligned more and more with my creative writing; I feel like I’m discovering or rediscovering something that was already there in my mind.”

All semester long these students uncovered and re-imagined artifacts into fiction, resulting in eighteen riveting short stories. Whether setting their work in the distant past, or today’s world, they used history to deepen the story’s emotional content and lasting impact—looking forward, while looking back.

“I took this image from a couple’s autobiography about their circumnavigation in the early 1920s,” writes student Halley Townsend. “Based on this picture, I wanted to imagine their relationship. What kind of relationship survives on a small boat during stressful circumstances?”
(G440 .V8 1923).

Thank you, Nichole, for sharing your students’
marvelous insights with us.

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Lumos Maxima: Illuminating the magical presence of Harry Potter at UVa

This week, we are pleased to feature a guest post by Penny White, Reference Librarian and Hufflepuff. Thanks, Penny, for braving our enchanted stacks and sharing these treasures with wizards and muggles alike. Happy Halloween, everyone!
Lovingly referred to as the “Harry Potter” room, the McGregor Room in Alderman Library, with its cozy chairs and caged books, is sure to make any Potter fan feel as though they have apparated right into Hogwarts. The affection for this association is clear in a clever entry from one ickle firstie who visited the room in 2012.

Although Frenchman Nicolas Flamel perished in 1417, myths surrounding his work to decipher an alchemical text that would reveal the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone live on. “Guest Book for the McGregor Room” (RG-12/36/1.141).

Now, what if I said the magic does not stop at the McGregor Room gates? What if I told you that deep under Grounds in the bowels of Archives & Special Collections, fantastic beasts hide, spells are cast, and mischief is made?

The Discoverie of Witchcraft, published in 1584 by Englishman Reginald Scot.

With a tone reminiscent of Vernon Dursley, Scot set out to prove that there was no such thing as magic. And while his text was central to debates about the implausibility of witchcraft, it also proved to be a useful if not always accurate source on supernatural beliefs and practices

Pages from “The Discoverie of Witchcraft” addressing the disposition and aspects of the planets (M 1584 .S36).

 

 

Magical botanicals

While you are unlikely to encounter the mandrake in modern medical texts, Hermione’s definition of the root as “restorative” is historically accurate. Both early Greek and Latin texts, as well as medieval naturalists document the root as being a cure for all diseases, barring death. Ground up the root could even be used in wine, which when drunk could numb patients enough for amputation.

The human-like appearance of the Mandrake in Harry Potter is rooted in first-century Greek physician, Dioscurides’ description of the root as resembling the human form. This belief was reinforced by the medieval doctrine of signatures, which claimed that when eaten, plants that looked like certain body parts could cure what ails those body parts. “The Clutius Botanical Watercolors…” (QK98 .S93 1998).

Magizoology

On the subject of magical beasts, Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner authored one of the most widely read natural histories of the Renaissance. Historiae Animalium published from 1551-1558 is a zoological inventory and depicts everything from the mythical to the factual.  I have no doubt that this four volume set would have found a place on the shelves in Magizoologist, Newt Scamander’s library.

“Merfolk” from Gessner’s “Historiae Animalium” (QL41 .G37 1551 v.2)

A book that bites–literally

I know for a fact that we could find this uniquely bound copy of Fantasy & Nonsense: Poems gracing the shelves of our favorite “mad and harry” Professor’s library. This striking book of poetry is the embodiment of what Hagrid considered funny and Malfoy considered hand severing.

Leather bound, edged with shark teeth, and filled with literary references to fantastic beasts, James Whitcomb Riley’s “Fantasy & Nonsense: Poems” is the quintessential “Monster Book of Monsters” (PS2702 .T77 2001). Binder Gabby Cooksey dreamed up this gorgeously executed volume, which actually bites you a little bit every time you turn a page. Come check it out and feel the pain yourself!

Peevish phantoms

He may have been fond of mischief and caused all sorts of trouble, but it was hard not to love Peeves the Poltergeist. Besides, according to Lewis Carroll’s longest poem, Phantasmagoria, ghosts simply have one job to do and that job is to haunt.

Here the ghost from Carroll’s second canto “Hys Fyve Rules” shows his host just how he feels about being treated so rudely (PR4611 .P6 1869).

Horcrux or just an old cup?  

You do not need to use the Imperio curse on any of our staff to get your hands on this goblet given to Dr. Gessner Harrison by UVa students attending the 1858-59 class session. Visit the reference desk and we will happily pull it for use in the Reading Room. While we do require you to wear gloves when handling this goblet, I can assure you that it is not because it could be one of Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes.

One of two goblets presented to Dr. Gessner Harrison by UVa students attending the 1858-59 session (MSS 12762).

Weapons against the dark wizard

Harry Minor Wilson, Grand Commander of the Knights Templar of Virginia may not have used his regalia sword to help defeat the most powerful dark wizard of all time, but it would make a fine stand-in for the sword of Gryffindor. The sword will appear to anyone who asks for it. We cannot, however guarantee that when requested, the sword will be delivered in a magical hat by Faux the phoenix.

Harry Minor Wilson’s ceremonial sword as Grand Commander of the Knights Templar of Virginia (MSS 8977-a).

 

 

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

– Albus Dumbledore

Like Hogwarts end of the year exams, college can be frightful. Not all of us possess Hermione’s zeal for learning, or her time-turner, which would no doubt help with the overwhelming workload. Thankfully, The Order at UVA, the University’s only Harry Potter secret society, established The Patronus Project, which seeks to educate and change the way people talk about metal illness and wellness.

Started by a group of University students who love Harry Potter, The Patronus Project’s mission is to illuminate and banish the stigma surrounding mental illness like Expecto Patronum expels Dementors (Broadside 2015 .O73 no.01).

 

These are only a few of the many Harry Potter-esque collection items at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Want to uncover more magical materials? Ask a staff member how! No invisibility cloak required.

Nox!

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William Styron’s “Confessions of Nat Turner” at 50

On October 9, 1967, William Styron’s novel from history, The Confessions of Nat Turner, was published to acclaim and controversy. Styron was raised in Newport News, Virginia, about a hundred miles from the site of the rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. The novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, despite controversy over its characterization of Turner and other characters, and the fact that it was written in the voice of a Black man by a white writer. The novel remains in print today, and is still widely read.

The text-heavy cover of the first edition evokes broadsides of the early nineteenth century. (PS 3569 .T9 C6 1967)

Our strong holdings in the history of Virginia include some of the essential source material upon which Styron based the novel. Of particular importance was this text, first published in 1831. It is written in the form of an interview with Turner, who tells his tale in the first person:

Gray’s “The Confession, Trial and Execution fo Nat Turner, the Negro Insurrectionist” (Berlin, VA: R.M. Stephenson,  1881). (F 221 v.163 no. 15)

Also in the collections is another period narrative, shown below. this item is digitized in full and available online:

“Authentic and Impartial Narrative of the Tragical Scene Which Was Witnessed in Southampton County (Virginia) on Monday the 22d of August Last: When Fifty-Five of Its Inhabitants (Mostly Women and Children) Were Inhumanly Massacred by the Blacks! : Communicated by Those Who Were Eye Witnesses of the Bloody Scene, and Confirmed by the Confessions of Several of the Blacks While Under Sentence of Death” [New York]: Printed for Warner & West., 1831. (A1831 .W377)

Styron is also known to have depended on the following two volumes for his project, copies of both of which are likewise held in our collections:

Almost half of Frederick Law Olmstead’s” A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States: With Remarks on Their Economy” (New York: Dix & Edwards,1856) is dedicated to Virginia. (A1856 .O55)

At the turn of the century, William Sidney Drewry composed a book-length study, “The Southampton Insurrection” ((Washington: Neale, 1900). (F232 .S7 D7 1900)

Finally, Styron depended upon M. Boyd Coyner’s UVA dissertation based upon our Cocke family papers collection. As James West tells it, “Styron was alerted to the existence of the dissertation by C. Vann Woodward, and Styron secured a copy of it from Coyner, who was then teaching at Hampden-Sydney.”

The table of contents page of M. Boyd Conyer,  “John Hartwell Cocke of Bremo: Agriculture and Slavery in the Ante-bellum South.” (Diss. 992).

Thanks to donor and Styron bibliographer James West for calling our attention to this anniversary and these fantastic source materials!

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Miniature Books, coming to you from Facebook Live

Today, the folks over at UVA’s facebook page invited curator Molly Schwartzburg to share with them some of her favorite items in the miniature book collection on the Facebook Live streaming video platform. For those of you not on Facebook, here’s the video. We’re impressed that those teeny tiny books are actually in pretty good focus! Check out some of our beautiful and unusual minature treasures.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FUniversityofVirginia%2Fvideos%2F10155802478383331%2F&show_text=0&width=560

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On View Now: “John Burroughs: In Letters & Art”

We are pleased to announce our latest First Floor Gallery exhibition, “John Burroughs: In Letters & Art.” It runs through December 28, 2017.

Inspired by the recent conservation treatment of a portrait of Burroughs painted by Orlando Rouland, this exhibition brings an important American naturalist back to light. The painting serves as the focal point of the exhibition, tying together writer, artist, collector, and library. The exhibition showcases books, manuscripts, and other materials from the Burroughs collection. John Burroughs’ (1837-1921) essays on nature were widely read by both scholars and the reading public during his lifetime. He counted among his friends prominent men including Walt Whitman, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Ford, John Muir, and Thomas Edison.The Burroughs collection is part of the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature at the University of Virginia.

Here are a few tastes of the exhibition in photographs:

The portrait around which the exhibition was planned. Nearby are some of the tools used in its conservation treatment.

 

Part of the exhibition celebrates Clifton Waller Barrett’s work building the Burroughs collection.

 

We look forward to seeing you in the gallery!

 

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POSTPONED: Exhibition Opening

Please note that the exhibition opening and book launch party planned for this Thursday, August 31, has been POSTPONED due to logistical problems produced by the “Unite the Right” Rally earlier this month. We are very sorry for the inconvenience and hope you will share this email with other friends who were planning to attend.

Stay tuned for a new date for this celebration!

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John Dunlap, Charlottesville’s First Printer

The Philadelphia printer John Dunlap (1747-1812) is best known for having printed the so-called “Dunlap Broadside”—the first printing of the Declaration of Independence—of which the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library is privileged to possess two of the 26 known copies.  Less well known is Dunlap’s distinction as the person responsible for bringing printing to Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1781.  On the eve of July 4th, and in celebration of having acquired our very first John Dunlap Charlottesville imprint, here is the story of Dunlap’s brief career as Charlottesville’s pioneer printer.

Title page of U.Va.’s newly acquired 1781 Charlottesville imprint, the first and only item from Charlottesville’s first press to have entered the U.Va. Library collections.

Eighteenth-century American printers were eager for significant business and steady cash flow, which were more easily obtained through newspaper publishing and government printing contracts than through other printing work. John Dunlap did well on both accounts. He immigrated from Ireland to Philadelphia in 1757 and, after serving an apprenticeship in his uncle’s printing establishment, took over the business. In 1771 Dunlap launched the weekly Pennsylvania Packet, or the General Advertiser. Taking advantage of his Philadelphia location and the urgent need for public printing during the American Revolution, Dunlap secured printing contracts not only for the state of Pennsylvania, but also for the Continental Congress.

The two-line imprint crediting John Dunlap and James Hayes as Charlottesville’s first printers. Although undated, this work was printed during September and October of 1781.

In August of 1780, Dunlap expanded his public printing portfolio to Virginia. Directed by Virginia’s House of Delegates to engage a public printer, then-Governor Thomas Jefferson recommended acceptance of the proposal submitted by Dunlap and his business partner (and former apprentice) James Hayes. That fall a press and supply of printing types was dispatched to Richmond, where Hayes was to establish and manage a printing office. But its opening was delayed when the shipment fell into British hands. A second press was sent from Philadelphia to Richmond, and Hayes was at long last able to begin printing in April 1781.

A two-page opening from the Acts Passed at a General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia (Charlottesville, 1781).

The following month, however, the arrival of British forces under General Cornwallis prompted Virginia’s state government to flee Richmond, first to Charlottesville, and then to Staunton. Hayes packed up his printing equipment and followed. But in late June, near Charlottesville on his way back from Staunton, Hayes was captured by the British and then released on condition that he not print “until properly exchanged.” This was soon arranged, and in July 1781 Hayes set up his press in Charlottesville. It remained in operation into October, but by early December Hayes had relocated the press to Richmond. All the while Dunlap remained in Philadelphia.

The list of acts contained in the 1781 Virginia session laws printed in Charlottesville.

In its three months of operation, the first Charlottesville press is known to have printed at least four items: two broadsides, the 52-page Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia for 1781, and the 1781 Virginia session laws. It is a copy of this last publication—a 20-page folio publication titled Acts Passed at a General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia—that has now been acquired by U.Va.  Given the constraints under which Hayes is known to have operated, it is tolerably well printed, bearing the Virginia seal on its title page above the two-line imprint:  CHARLOTTESVILLE: Printed by John Dunlap and James Hayes, Printers to the Commonwealth.

John Cook Wyllie’s bibliographical description of the 1781 Virginia session laws (Charlottesville, 1781) with (at bottom) a census of copies known ca. 1960.

All four known 1781 Charlottesville imprints were printed by Hayes in his role as public printer, and all are very rare. It is likely, however, that Hayes printed a few other items, e.g., broadsides, printed forms, and other jobbing work, during his Charlottesville sojourn. Some day we may be able to identify these through careful typographical analysis. The history of Charlottesville’s first press has yet to be written–this précis is based on unpublished research by former U.Va. Librarian John Cook Wyllie, which is available for consultation in the Small Special Collections Library.

Following Hayes’ departure, Charlottesville would remain without a printing press for another four decades, until Clement P. and J.H. McKennie established a newspaper, The Central Gazette, in 1820.

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