Exceptional selections

The transformation of the John M. Olin Library provides a new home for the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections. With more than 1,000 collections, the ­department is among academia’s largest and most diverse.

University Libraries hold some 1,000 collections in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections. On display on Level A of the Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration is Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu’s “Atlas Maior…” (Amsterdam, 1665) (James Byard/Washington University)
University Libraries hold some 1,000 collections in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections. On display on Level A of the Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration is Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu’s “Atlas Maior…” (Amsterdam, 1665) (James Byard/Washington University)

Historically significant, artistically beautiful and just plain cool, the objects contained in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections are the crown jewels of University Libraries. Here, Garth Reese, head of curation for special collections, tells the story behind five of his favorite objects now on view in the transformed John M. Olin Library.

Joan Blaeu, Atlas Maior… (Amsterdam, 1665)
Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration, Level A

“Blaeu’s Atlas was a major publishing event — a massive multi-volume collection of nearly 600 maps documenting the known world at the time. This particular copy has survived in excellent condition and features wonderful hand-colored and hand-illuminated images throughout. It’s a truly beautiful book. Blaeu had planned further volumes, with maps of the seas and sky (imagine the coloring for those!), but due to a fire that destroyed his shop, he never produced them.”

“The Song of Solomon” (Chelsea: Ashendene Press, 1902) is on view in the Newman Tower of Collections and Explorations, Level 1.
“The Song of Solomon” (Chelsea: Ashendene Press, 1902) is on view in the Newman Tower of Collections and Explorations, Level 1.

The Song of Solomon (Chelsea: Ashendene Press, 1902)
Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration, Level 1

“The hand-set text is printed on vellum (calfskin), and all gilding and illustrations are done by hand and customized for each copy by Florence Kingsford, the premier illuminator of the Arts & Crafts Movement. These facts alone are enough to set this volume apart, but when one looks at it, the beauty is profound. Ashendene Press and other fine printers of this period were committed to reviving traditional printing and binding methods and, in the process, fostered an artistic movement that continues to this day.”

Julie Chen’s “World Without End” (Berkeley: Flying Fish Press, 1999) is on display in the Newman Tower of Collections & Explorations, Level 1. (James Byard/Washington University)
Julie Chen’s “World Without End” (Berkeley: Flying Fish Press, 1999) is on display in the Newman Tower of Collections and Explorations, Level 1. (James Byard/Washington University)

Julie Chen, World Without End (Berkeley: Flying Fish Press, 1999)
Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration, Level 1

“University Libraries hold an extensive artists’ book collection, and one of my favorite artists is Julie Chen. She regularly pushes the boundaries of what we think of as a ‘book,’ but it’s not just whimsy. In this work, the book’s form is a diamond-shaped globe, and the poem considers life’s journey and the maps that (sometimes) guide us. The turning of the globe and the progress of the poem intertwine to create a unique experience for the reader.”

Johannes Trithemius, Polygraphiae… (Joannis Haselbergi, 1518)
The Jack E. and Debbie T. Thomas Gallery

“Trithemius was one of the greatest scholars of cryptography of the early modern period (or possibly ever). However, his ciphers were not limited to the mundane; indeed, Trithemius claimed to have developed a system of summoning spirits to convey messages more secretly than human codes could. (This may have been cover text for an even more secret code system … or was it?).”

John Ezell, Maquette for Othello (1990)
The Jack E. and Debbie T. Thomas Gallery

“I’ve always been a fan of dioramas, but these theater maquettes take one’s imagination to a new level. Ezell created an elaborate structure of columns and levels in this design, conveying an overall sense of claustrophobia and of space closing in on itself. Shakespeare Quarterly called it ‘the most visually powerful production’ to be seen at the legendary Shakespeare Theater at the Folger Library in Washington, D.C.”

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