Monthly Archives: September 2014

1598 Aristotle discovery

For many years, Special Collections had about thirty books and boxes on a shelf labeled “cataloging snags.”  We ignored these as long as we could, but finally one day we gave the shelf some attention.

As you might expect, we found mostly 20th century books in non-Roman writing systems — books in Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, etcetera. There was also a box of old coins, including, gasp, a penny from the 1950s, worth perhaps as much as 15 cents to an expert collector. The shelf was full of junk, in other words. Nothing “special” for Special Collections at all.

And then there was this.


The curator opened it up.


Let us try to approximate the sound she made at this point. It was something like this:

aahhAAHHAAHHHHHH?! urghhghhrraahhhhrghhfhfhhhhghhh.

The book is the first published English translation of Aristotle’s Politics, printed by Adam Islip in London in 1598. It has the bookplate of scholar Sir Sidney Lee (b. 1859), editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. He wrote a little bit about Aristotle and a lot about Shakespeare.

We cataloged it right away. How it ended up on the cataloging snags shelf, we don’t know. It wasn’t terribly difficult to catalog — it has its title page, and the Library of Congress owns a copy. It’s in beautiful condition and is one of the more valuable books we have in the library. It’s now in our temperature- and humidity-controlled high-security vault. We bring it out regularly to show to classes in Classics, Philosophy, Political Science, and Book Studies. And we’re thinking about making the kitty cat on the title page the mascot for Special Collections.


Addendum, January 2024: The full text of this edition is freely available from Early English Books Online.