Category Archives: Rare Books Collection

Women’s History Month Highlights: Mary Wollstonecraft in Rare Books

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As we wrap up Women’s History Month, staff in Special Collections and University Archives would like to briefly highlight two items from proto-feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft that we have here in our Rare Books collection.

Painted portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, c. 1797

As a quick introduction, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was an English writer and philosopher who brought attention to women’s rights at a time when such things were not commonly discussed. She had an unconventional life for her time, pursuing a career as a writer when it was nearly unheard of for a woman to do. She pursued an affair with a married man and bore a child with another out of wedlock.

Wollstonecraft lived in France during the Revolution, sympathizing with the cause of the revolutionaries. During this time, she wrote A Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution, which was published after the fall of the Jacobins in 1794. It presented Wollstonecraft’s analysis of the conditions and causes of the Revolution and the perspectives of French people.

She returned to England in 1795 and soon embarked on travels through Scandinavia. The letters she wrote to Gilbert Imlay—the father of her daughter, Fanny—would be published in 1796 as Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. After her relationship with Imlay broke apart, she eventually ended up marrying William Godwin, who she met through her literary friendships. With Godwin, she became pregnant with her second daughter, Mary, who would grow up to establish her own literary fame as Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. Sadly, Wollstonecraft died resulting from an infection following Mary’s birth.

Title page, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects by Mary Wollstonecraft. Printed at Boston, by Peter Edes for Thomas and Andrews: Faust's Statue, No. 45, Newbury-Street, MDCCXCII.

Title page, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects by Mary Wollstonecraft. 1792.

Possibly her most famous work is A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. Published in 1792 and considered by many to be an early feminist manifesto, A Vindication speaks powerfully to the fundamental rights of women, largely concerning a woman’s ability to receive an education and to hold a position of respect in middle-class society equal to that of men.

Introduction, page 1 of A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

Introduction, A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

“I shall first consider women as human creatures who, in common with men, are placed on this earth to develop their abilities.”

Wollstonecraft’s strong advocacy for women’s rights would serve as an inspiration for activists to come, including those involves in the women’s suffrage movement of the 19th century. Users of UMW Special Collections and University Archives can come in to view a first edition of the work for themselves and see how Wollstonecraft’s words resonate today.

Title page, Letters Written During A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, by Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Printed for J. Johnson, St. Paul's Church-Yard. 1796.

Title page, Letters Written During A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, by Mary Wollstonecraft. 1796.

The second work of Wollstonecraft’s in our collection is a first edition 1796 printing of her Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, the last of her books published during her lifetime. This is a travel narrative composed of letters written to her lover, Gilbert Imlay. They were separated at this time, and Wollstonecraft embarked on this journey as an attempt to win him back by locating a ship of silver stolen from Imlay by a Norwegian captain. It didn’t work. The letters explore her own philosophical, social, and emotional perspectives, as well as observations of the communities in which she traveled. As such, scholars have described it as a memoir as much as travel writing.

To see these books in person or to find out more about other items in our collections, please contact us at to schedule an appointment or visit us in Simpson Library, Room 217, during our open hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 1:30-4pm.

March 31, 2022


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Dubliners and James Joyce fans around the world celebrated Bloomsday through the wee hours of this morning. The festival celebrates Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, and takes its name from the novel’s central character, Leopold Bloom. The book follows the life of Bloom and others from the morning of June 16, 1904, to the early morning of the next day. In Dublin the single day has expanded into a week-long literary street carnival with performances, readings, pub crawls, and reenactments. Photos of Bloomsday celebrations can be browsed in The Irish Times.

But at the heart of all the festivities is the novel that was banned in the United States for twelve years. In Ulysses Joyce wrote about the everyday intimacies of his characters which in the 1920s and early thirties was deemed obscene material. It wasn’t until December 1933 that US District Judge John Woolsey ruled that Ulysses was an artistic rather than pornographic work, and therefore could not be ruled obscene.

In Simpson Library’s Rare Books Collection, the works of James Joyce comprise one of our  largest and best collections. There are 14 editions of Ulysses, including the highly collected first edition.  Only 1,000 copies were printed in 1922 by Sylvia Beach, the American woman who owned an English-language bookstore in Paris. Beach had opened her bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, two years before, but despite her lack of experience, Joyce and Beach came to an agreement that she would print his book.  UMW’s copy is #522 printed on handmade paper and finished in blue wrappers.

Ulysses First Edition. 1922

Ulysses First Edition. 1922

Other editions of Ulysses in our Rare Books Collection include:
Henri Matisse’s illustrated edition. In 1935 George Macy, an American publisher, offered Matisse $5,000 to create as many etchings as this budget would afford for a special illustrated edition of Ulysses.  While Joyce was thrilled that an artist of Matisse’s stature would illustrate his masterwork, he worried the artist might not actually read the book.  He was right, Matisse did not read the book and turned in drawings based on six episodes from Homer’s epic poem Odyssey, assuming that Joyce’s book was based on the ancient Greek hero Odysseus, known as Ulysses in Roman mythology!

Ulysses, Illustrated by Henri Matisse, 1935

Ulysses, Illustrated by Henri Matisse, 1935

The first authorized American edition from Random House in 1934 is in our collection, as well as the first 1936 British edition. The latter is a beautiful copy with a gilded Homeric bow embossed on the front cover.

Green cover with bow of Ulysses, British edition, 1936

Ulysses, British edition, 1936

So as the Irish say, Tabhair Cuairt Orainn (Visit Us!), and you can see all of our many additional editions of Ulysses.

Mitchell, Sidney H. “Ulysses and The Holy Office”. News and Views from Trinkle, December, 1972.
“Ulysses by James Joyce, 1934 American edition.” British Library: Discovering Literature: 20th Century. Accessed June 16, 2109.

June 17, 2019

Dog Days of Summer

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It’s always interesting to read blogs from fellow colleagues across the state, and this summer I’ve been enjoying the College of William and Mary’s Must Love Dogs  series. It’s a dog-lovers delight, and after immersing in their last post on royal pooches, I decided it was time for a  post on UMW’s own canine collections.

One of the most picturesque pups in our collections is Pompey the Little from Francis Coventry’s 1773 book about a lap dog’s adventures in European society. Told from Pompey’s perspective, it is a witty guide to the culture and manners of the period. Simpson Library also has a 1974 circulating copy that you can check out and read further about Pompey’s doggy exploits.

Image of the The grand Pompey the Little

The grand Pompey the Little.

Another much treasured dog photo is this early 1912 image of Fido with his student friends welcoming all to the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Fredericksburg (UMW).Early 1912 image of Fido with his student friends welcoming all to the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Fredericksburg (UMW

Campus canine companionship continues through the years, as we see former student John Jolissaint (below), a 100 years later, also enjoying a beautiful day on campus with his dog Lola (Photo by Norm Shafer, 2012).

A student enjoying a beautiful day on campus with his dog Lola

Holidays also provide the perfect photo op for students to include their canine friends.

Not surprisingly, with its many dog lovers Fredericksburg takes top honors as home to the oldest dog mart event in the U.S. The event is still held and will celebrate its 350th anniversary this September. Originating in 1698, the Dog Mart started when the Manahoac Indians of King William County came to the area that would later be called Fredericksburg to trade furs for English hunting dogs. In the late 1940s, the Dog Mart drew huge crowds (up to 15,000 in 1949), and Mary Washington students regularly attended, taking part in the grand event.

Dog Mart Program

Of course, I would be woefully remiss if I finished without including UMW’s current top dog, Oscar, who resides with President Troy Paino and his family at Brompton.

Oscar poses with President Troy Paino, wife Kelly, and daughters, Sophia and Chloe.

If you’d like to see the originals of any of these materials come visit us in Special Collections, I’m sure Oscar and Pompey would approve!

Sources consulted:
“Fredericksburg Dog Mart,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed July 22, 2018).


July 22, 2018

Guest Post: Rare Book Favorites

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Written by Student Aide, Marianne Brokaw ’18

I was so excited when the Special Collections staff contacted me regarding a summer job at Simpson Library. Being a non-traditional student (I graduated high school in 1984!), I am constantly seeking ways to enhance my learning experience. As a History major, I also seek the historical context of every situation presented to me.

Although I enjoy working on the digital side of things, nothing can take the place of holding, reading, and referencing a print book.  The past two weeks, I have lived the dream of a historian. Tasked with verifying barcodes for the rare books located in the oversized section, I have had the opportunity to go through and look at numerous books as I verify their number. As an employee, I knew I needed to focus on the task at hand. However, as a historian and book lover, it was easy to get a  little sidetracked……

The Oversized Rare collection contains more than a few interesting, to say the least, volumes. Reading about Colonial America in the leaflets of The London Chronicle, published in 1764, was surreal. It was amazing, not only to be perusing a document that is over two-hundred years old, but to read about the Stamp and Tea Acts from a British perspective was fascinating!

The London Chronicle, December 4 - 6, 1764

The London Chronicle, December 4 - 6, 1764

The London Chronicle, December 4 – 6, 1764

Equally interesting is John Gerard’s The Herball: Or General History of Plants published in London in 1633. This second edition of Gerard’s catalogue contains over 2,500 “woodcut illustrations of plants.”

John Gerard's The Herball 1633, London, England title page.

Title page and columbine illustrations from John Gerard’s The Herball …, London, England, 1633. This publication proves that even within the study of plant life, historical content lingers.

Title page and columbine illustrations from John Gerard’s The Herball …, London, England, 1633. This publication proves that even within the study of plant life, historical content lingers.

My personal favorite however, is a Bible published in 1528. The binding is old and worn. Worm holes dot the front and back covers. The hardware ensuring the Bible’s safety from theft has long since broken and the leather binding on the spine has disappeared.  Latin is the language in which it was written.  In spite of all its imperfections, it is perfect!

Biblia, 1528

Biblia, 1528

The deterioration, composition, and language allow for multiple quests of a historic nature. This book encompasses so many facets of study opening windows of education for students studying Latin and/or the Classics. A Journalism or English major would likely find the physical structure and composition worth studying. The book as a Bible would engage theology and religious studies students in philosophical debate.

As my work continues this summer, I am likely to find many more interesting texts. My goal is to stay focused on the task at hand. However, as a historian, I may veer off the path occasionally and become lost in the history of it all.


June 24, 2018

Celebrating 200 Years of Henry David Thoreau, 1817 – 2017

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2017 marks the bicentennial of writer and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau’s birth.

Image of Henry David Thoreau from the 50 cent daguerreotype taken of him in Worchester, MA, 1856. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of anonymous donor.

In celebration, Simpson Library staff created several exhibits throughout the Library and in the process learned a lot about Thoreau and his renowned literary colleagues, all of whom lived in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. As with every new exhibit, the creation process presents an opportunity to delve into the Library’s collections to see what materials we have that complement the exhibit’s theme.

For Thoreau, I knew we didn’t have any first editions of his master work, Walden, waiting to be discovered on our shelves but that Special Collections owns an impressive complete set of the Transcendentalists publication, The Dial, from 1840-1844.  Although a financial failure, the magazine under the editorial direction of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, was the launch pad for Thoreau’s writing career.

It is in The Dial’s inaugural issue, dated July 1840, that Thoreau’s poem “Sympathy” and his essay on the Roman poet Aulus Persius Flaccus were first published.

Two years later in 1842, The Dial published the first of Thoreau’s outdoor essays, “Natural History of Massachusetts.”

“A Winter Walk,” one of my favorite essays and a great read on a Snow Day, is published in October, 1843, establishing Thoreau’s naturalistic writing style.

Take a close look and you will see where our copy shows a former owner’s inscription of the correct pronunciation of Thoreau’s last name “Thorough.” What you can learn from notations! The Dial ceased publication with its April 1844 issue, but in its short run it was responsible for publishing more of Thoreau’s writing than any other magazine of the period.

All the Thoreau-related exhibits at Simpson Library will be on display through September, so stop by and see our exhibits and especially come upstairs to Special Collections to view the journal that gave Thoreau his start.

September 17, 2017

Chained Books

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Chained books are suddenly in the news! Recently the popular Game of Thrones premiere showed the vast fictional Citadel Library’s chained books, and last month in response, the American Library Association newsletter highlighted a real chained books collection in England’s 17th century Hereford Cathedral. The Cathedral is home to the largest surviving collection of chained books with about 1500 examples – all with their chains, rods and locks intact!

Drawing of the chained library in Hereford Cathedral

Drawing of the chained library in Hereford Cathedral.
Source: Libraries in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods Figure 4.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository,

Simpson Library’s rare books collection does not have anywhere near the Cathedral’s volume of chained books, but we do have one example of a chained book, John Foxe’s 1610 edition of Acts and Monuments of Matters Most Special and Memorable Happening in the Church …, commonly called The Book of Martyrs. First published in 1563, the narrative tells the story of the victims who suffered for the Protestant cause. It’s always been my favorite book to show students, as it is a wonderful example of a book from another age when knowledge was only for the privileged and books were so rare and expensive that they had to be either locked away and used under supervision or secured with a chain to a desk close by.

Acts and Monuments of Matters Most Special and Memorable Happening in the Church

Acts and Monuments of Matters Most Special and Memorable Happening in the Church, London, 1610. Volume 2 of the set.
The text is incomplete, starting on page 842 but the volume has a complete set of woodcuts.

How were these books chained? As you can see in the photographs from our copy, a chain was attached at one end to the front cover of the book; the other end was slotted on an iron rod running along the bottom of a shelf. The “check-out” process allowed the book to be taken from the shelf and read at the desk, but not removed from the bookcase as it would remain attached.


The Library’s unique chained volume also has the royal arms stamped in gilt on its covers and an ornate bookplate of an 18th century Duke.
Royal Arms


So if your budget can’t stretch this year to include a trip overseas, stop by Special Collections and University Archives and take a step back to the Middle Ages without even leaving campus!

August 7, 2017

Poems, on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

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When the Rare Book Room was first set up in Trinkle Library in 1964, one of the factors influencing its creation was the number of valuable and historic books in the open circulating stacks that needed to be moved to a safer location. Today in our Rare Books Collection, you can quickly spot those early “stacks” volumes as their covers display chalky-white Dewey Decimal call numbers. “Rare” is also distinctly marked on their front covers in the same white ink. Such practices make librarians shudder today but were commonplace fifty years ago when the focus was on making sure that each book would be duly returned to its rare collections designation.

Phyllis Wheatley. Poems, on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1816

Among the group of books moved for safe-keeping is notably Phillis Wheatley’s, 1816 edition of Poems, on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Wheatley, the first female African- American poet to be published, was born in West Africa and sold early in her life into slavery. She was sent to North America and sold to a Boston merchant and his wife, John and Susanna Wheatley. The Wheatleys permitted Phillis to learn and receive an education in Latin and the classics.

Title page

Copy of John Wheatley’s letter sent to the publisher.

Simpson Library’s copy of Wheatley’s poetry is actually the third New England printing of her book, preceded by the 1802 Walpole and 1804 Hartford editions. The book’s first printing was in London in 1773 and not reprinted in Philadelphia until 1785. Our 1816 copy lacks the famous frontispiece of Wheatley present in earlier volumes.

Portrait of Phyllis Wheatley by Scipio Moorhead in the highly collectible 1773 edition. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

It does, however, sport an early library card pocket inside its back cover, stating wisely: “To get what you want – Ask the Librarian.”  Sage advice!

Remember April is National Poetry Month so stop in Special Collections and see this wonderful volume of verse.

Source Consulted:

Shields, John C. and Eric D. LaMore, eds. New Essays on Phillis Wheatley. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2011.

April 14, 2017

Autumn Treasures

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The first day of fall, the Autumnal Equinox, arrived today welcoming in cooler temperatures and a new season. In celebration of the seasonal change, I’m highlighting an autumn issue of Harper’s Bazaar from our Rare Books and Journals collection.

Harper's Bazar: A Monthly Magazine for Women, October 1901

Harper’s Bazar: A Monthly Magazine for Women, October 1901

First published in 1867, this well-known American fashion magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, showcased fashion from Germany and Paris in a newspaper design format. In 1901, the year this fall cover was published, Harper’s changed to a monthly issue format. Today the magazine still considers itself to be the style resource for “the well-dressed woman and the well-dressed mind.”

The Library has issues of Harper’s Bazaar dating back to the very first 1867 issue, as well as the  most recent October issue. So grab your most fashionable fall garb and stop by Special Collections and University Archives to view this wonderful early journal collection.

September 23, 2015

Rare Books’ Explorer

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Manicules, volvelles, and quires – oh my! The rare book materials community definitely has its own terminology to describe and catalogue holdings. A fun and scholarly place to begin looking at what these terms mean and view images of how they relate to rare books is ArchBook, “an open-access, peer-reviewed collection of richly illustrated essays about design features in the history of the book.” The site, begun to make the diverse history of the book available to everyone, is now supported by the University of Saskatchewan Humanities and Fine Arts Digital Research Centre.

My favorite parts of the site are the entries and image database sections. The entries give readers the definition and historical overview of a book’s feature and spotlight how that feature transitions in a digital context. The image database is the visual link to the features discussed in these essays.

So if you are interested in knowing more about manicules, marks found in early text margins in the shape of a pointing fist or hand to denote notable passages, you can look here in ArchBook. Or you can stop by Special Collections and University Archives to view President Grellet Simpson’s 1602 copy of The Works of our Ancient and Learned English Poet by Geoffrey Chaucer. This volume has some wonderful examples of manicules, as seen below.

Frontispiece of Chaucer Work

First page of Chaucer book

July 10, 2015

A Visit from Germany

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This week we had the pleasure of hosting two archivists from Schwetzingen, Germany.  Schwetzingen, located midway between Frankfurt and Stuttgart, is Fredericksburg’s newest Sister City.  Joachim Kresin is the archivist for the city of Schwetzingen, and Wolfgang Heinz manages the Central Archive of the Protestant Church of the Palatinate.  As part of a larger group of visitors to Fredericksburg, Joachim and Wolfgang toured some of our area’s natural and historical attractions in addition to the University of Mary Washington campus.

During their visit to Special Collections and University Archives, the archivists viewed some of our German-language holdings from the Rare Books Collection, including a German bible from 1696.

Suzanne Huffman displays pages from a German bible printed in 1696

Digital Resources Librarian Suzanne Huffman displays pages from a rare German bible printed in 1696

We also introduced the visitors to the Library’s Digital Archiving Lab so they could examine our new rare book scanner, which just happens to have been made in Germany.

Visiting archivists excited to see the Lab's rare book scanner

Visiting archivists view the Lab’s rare book scanner

It was wonderful to meet some fellow colleagues from one of our sister cities, and we wish them well as they continue their travels!

June 25, 2015