This Just In: Breaking Bad

No, not that “Breaking Bad”!  In fact, this writer confesses to having never seen the television series. Rather, this post concerns the practice of “breaking,” that is, disbinding a book or manuscript and dispersing the individual leaves, plates, or sections. The breaker believes that, at least in some instances, a book or manuscript is worth more broken up than intact.  Breaking up a book or manuscript may increase its monetary value, enhance its pedagogical utility, result in irreparable harm to the cultural record, or paradoxically, all of the above.  The question is a complex and controversial one, and opinions run the gamut from a willingness to break up anything for any expedient reason to the view expressed in the latest edition of John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors: “Breaking up books, whether for filthy lucre or from higher motives, is wrong.”

Disjecta membra: disbound, but not dispersed.

Disjecta membra: disbound, but not dispersed. Six recently acquired leaves from a mid-14th century manuscript of Giordano Ruffo’s De Medicina Equorum.  (MSS 15703)

It has long been, and remains, a frequent practice among book and print dealers to break up color plate books—especially imperfect copies—and sell the plates individually, with the text often discarded. Although this practice has effectively placed John James Audubon’s spectacular double elephant folio Birds of America on the endangered editions list, how else could one hope to possess one of its hand-colored engravings? Some might cast a kinder eye on the bookseller Gabriel Wells, who in 1921 broke up a modestly imperfect copy of the Gutenberg Bible, selling the nearly six hundred leaves individually or in sections, tipped into a specially published “leaf book.” Thanks to Wells, dozens of educational institutions worldwide have been able to acquire Gutenberg leaves for instruction and exhibition (U.Va. owns two at present). And by breaking up dozens of imperfect copies, some significant and valuable, U.Va.’s Rare Book School has created an extraordinary teaching resource for the history of book illustration and typography that has been used by several thousand students to date.

Perhaps nowhere has the practice of breaking been more fraught than in the realm of medieval manuscripts. In the last century alone, hundreds of medieval codices (especially Books of Hours) have been broken up, with the illuminated and more highly decorated leaves sold as works of art, some of the remaining leaves repurposed as specimens in paleography study collections (such as Special Collections’ Rosenthal Medieval Manuscript Collection), and others turned into collectibles or simply discarded.

The manuscript leaves are finely rubricated in red and blue with incipits, paragraph marks, chapter numbers in the outer margin, and fine initial letters with penwork embellishments in red or purple.

The manuscript leaves are finely rubricated in red and blue with incipits, paragraph marks, chapter numbers in the outer margin, and fine initial letters with penwork extensions in red or purple.  (MSS 15703)

Consider Special Collections’ most recent medieval manuscript acquisition: six finely rubricated vellum leaves from a mid-14th century Latin manuscript, written in Italy, of Giordano Ruffo’s De Medicina Equorum, a treatise on the care of horses originally composed in the 13th century. Secular manuscripts on such topics from the medieval period are of great rarity—indeed, a survey conducted fifty years ago located only 21 manuscript copies of Ruffo’s text, all in European libraries—and we jumped at the opportunity to add these leaves to our Marion duPont Scott Sporting Collection.

Here is what we know about their provenance. In December 2011, 21 leaves from an imperfect copy of Ruffo’s manuscript were offered at a Sotheby’s auction in London. The leaves went unsold but were bought privately following the auction. This past fall we learned of the manuscript when an American bookseller’s catalog, in which eight of the leaves were offered, arrived in the mail. We promptly placed an order for all eight leaves, but two had already been sold. The bookseller subsequently reported that he had originally acquired 11 of the 21 leaves, three of which were sold to two different American research libraries, and two to private collectors in the U.S. and Europe, before U.Va. bought the remaining six. Eleven leaves, five new owners on two continents, with ten leaves still unaccounted for. U.Va.’s interest is primarily in the text, given our extensive holdings on the horse and equestrian sports, though the leaves will also be quite useful for research and instruction in the medieval book, paleography, &c. The other institutional and private collectors presumably were more interested in the leaves as paleographical specimens.

Verso of the manuscript leaf shown above. the chapters concern treatments for certain equine ailments.  (MSS 15703)

Verso of the manuscript leaf shown above. the chapters concern treatments for certain equine ailments. (MSS 15703)

All parties have benefited from these transactions: the booksellers made money, and the five new owners have acquired useful materials for their collections. But what of the manuscript itself? Any attempt to study the text and its relation to other exemplars has been seriously, perhaps fatally, compromised. (Fortunately, the bookseller kindly sent us study images of the five leaves we missed.) This is a chronic dilemma for any researcher using medieval manuscripts as primary sources. Various efforts are under way to reunite dispersed manuscripts virtually—Manuscriptlink (to which U.Va. intends to contribute its six Ruffo leaves), a project based at the University of South Carolina, is but one example. But these initiatives are unlikely to redress more than a small fraction of the losses already sustained, and still to come. And digital images—it bears constant repeating—can never supersede access to the original artifact.

This Just In: Horsing Around!

From time to time the Small Special Collections Library receives a transformative gift that reshapes its collections and collecting in unexpected, unusual, and ultimately very beneficial ways.  One such gift was the 1985 bequest of the Marion duPont Scott Sporting Collection.  A direct descendant of E. I. du Pont de Nemours (founder of the eponymous chemical company), Marion duPont Scott (1894-1983) was an internationally renowned horse breeder and equestrian who lived for many years at Montpelier—once the home of president James Madison—some 25 miles northeast of Charlottesville.  She also formed a major collection of sporting literature—especially books, manuscripts, and periodicals relating to horses and horse-racing (though sports such as fishing, hunting, even cockfighting, are also represented)—that was entrusted to the U.Va. Library.  Accompanying the 1,200-item gift was a generous acquisitions endowment that has so far enabled us to more than double the collection’s size.

Frontispiece to part 2 of Cesare Fiaschi, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, maneggiare, et ferrare cavalli (Bologna, 1556)

How does one build such a collection in ways that not only honor the donor’s wishes but enhance its value to U.Va. and the international research community?  The challenge has been an exciting one, for sporting and horses are subjects that permit us to forge stronger connections between the Scott Collection and our other diverse holdings.  Here are a few examples drawn from many recent Scott Collection acquisitions.

Woodcut illustration from Cesare Fiaschi, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, maneggiare, et ferrare cavalli (Bologna, 1556)

We were able to obtain at auction a fine first-edition copy of a classic sixteenth-century work on horsemanship: Cesare Fiaschi’s Trattato dell’imbrigliare, attegiare, & ferrare cavalla, published in Bologna in 1556.  This book now takes pride of place as the earliest work in the Scott Collection.  Master of a famed riding academy founded in Ferrara in 1534, Fiaschi distilled in his book a lifetime’s knowledge concerning the training, equipping, and shoeing of horses.  The work is also a notable example of early Italian book illustration, filled with dozens of woodcuts depicting bits, bridles, and horseshoes. Of particular note are the unusual diagrams mixing horse, rider, and music, which accompany Fiaschi’s famous explication of why tempo and rhythm are crucial to expert riding.

Engraved plate from Johann Elias Ridinger, Verstellung und Beschreibung derer Schul und Campagne Pferden nach ihren Lectionen (Augsburg, 1760)

Another classic equestrian manual, published two centuries later, is Johann Elias Ridinger’s Verstellung und Beschreibung derer Schul und Campagne Pferden nach ihren Lectionen (Augsburg, 1760).  A noted German engraver, Ridinger (1698-1767) was renowned for his depictions of animals, especially horses.  For this rare self-published work Ridinger prepared sixty finely engraved plates to illustrate the bilingual German and French text.  As was typical of the time, Ridinger’s manual concentrates on riding maneuvers useful for a cavalry officer.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, some of the finest color-plate books ever created were published in England.  These works, which embraced a wide range of subjects, typically were illustrated with hand-colored aquatint plates.  One of the most popular English illustrators working in the genre was Henry Thomas Alken (1785-1851), who combined a gift for caricature and love of sporting to illustrate many notable works on horse racing, fox-hunting, and other sports.  The Scott Collection contains copies of nearly half of Alken’s sporting books, many of which are quite rare, and we are actively pursuing the remainder.

A one-foot section from Henry Alken’s panorama, A trip to Melton Mowbray (London, 1822), which is 26 feet in length.

Our latest Alken acquisition is his delightful A trip to Melton Mowbray, published in 1822.  This 26-foot-long panorama consists of 14 hand-colored aquatint plates pasted together end-to-end and was originally issued wound around a wooden spindle.  In our copy the plates have been separated and mounted in an album for easier viewing.  The Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, known for its pork pies and Stilton cheese, has for centuries also been famous as a fox-hunting mecca.  In this work Alken imagines first the comic misadventures of a sporting party journeying from London to Melton Mowbray, and then its participation in the hunt.

One of two newly acquired pencil drawings by Henry Alken for his book, Ideas, accidental and incidental to hunting (London, ca. 1826)

As fine as they are, the color-plate works cannot do proper justice to Alken’s artistry, for something is inevitably lost in the process of translating his exquisite line drawings into the tonal process of aquatint.  Hence we were delighted to acquire two original Alken pencil drawings made for another sporting book: Ideas, accidental and incidental to hunting and other sports (ca. 1826).  By placing the drawings side-by-side with Alken’s books, we can teach in the most effective way possible both Alken’s remarkable artistry and the manner in which etchers translated his work to aquatint plates.

Advertisement for Sloan’s ointment in The complete farrier, or, Horse doctor (Chicago, 1848)

The Scott Collection is also strong in ancillary literature concerning horses.  Here we are less interested in collecting comprehensively than in acquiring the particularly rare, significant, and out-of-the ordinary works that add distinction to a major research holding.  In the area of veterinary medicine, for instance, we snapped up the second known copy of an early Chicago imprint: The complete farrier, or horse doctor, published by W. B. Sloan in 1848.  Sloan was a Chicago purveyor of patent medicines, and the primary objective of this veterinary handbook was to advertise his horse ointment (“The best horse medicine in the world!”) and related products to upper Midwest horse owners.

Frontispiece and title page to The wonders of the horse (New York, 1836)

Literature featuring horses and equestrian sports also figures prominently in the Scott Collection.  An unusual acquisition in this area is The wonders of the horse, recorded in anecdotes, and interspersed with poetry (New York, 1836).  Written for a juvenile audience and first published in London in 1808, this illustrated work anthologizes short extracts about horses from contemporary literature and periodicals.  This fine copy is resplendent in its original publisher’s binding of dark green ribbon-embossed cloth with a red glazed paper label printed in gold pasted to the front cover.

Horse breeders take pedigree as seriously as humans take genealogy, and we have taken advantage of an unusual opportunity to acquire several hundred late nineteenth-century catalogs issued by American horse farms and auction firms.  Today these catalogs are extremely rare, especially in such a concentrated holding, yet they are essential sources for tracing race horse  pedigrees.  These join other catalogs and several complementary manuscript collections previously acquired for the Scott Collection that document the history of the American horse breeding industry.  We have also added a variety of early trade catalogs featuring products suitable for raising and racing horses, such as an 1890 color-illustrated booklet featuring blankets for the well-dressed horse.  These provide a wonderful complement to the extensive and diverse collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century trade catalogs recently given to us by Albert Small.

An opening from Jesse Haney’s Art of training animals (New York, 1869)

Other items in the Scott Collection document the roles horses have played in providing entertainment in circuses, exhibitions, and touring shows.  Equestrian and other animal acts have long been circus staples, and they became even more popular in the mid-nineteenth century with the rise of the touring circus.  Haney’s art of training animals (New York, 1869) was one of the first general handbooks in the field.  It begins with a long section on training horses to perform various tricks and to “act” in horse dramas, followed by another long section on training dogs. Other chapters concern elephants, lions, tigers, monkeys, pigs, rats and mice, seals, and birds, though we are told that “cats do not appear to be favorite subjects of the trainer’s art.”  Another new acquisition is a profusely illustrated “autobiography” of famed circus horse Princess Trixie, the “Queen of all educated horses.”  This pamphlet was sold on the road, wherever Princess Trixie was engaged to perform.

Keepsake pamphlet (ca. 1905) sold at performances by Princess Trixie, “Queen of all educated horses”