Category Archives: new attention on old item

a visit from the cast of For Colored Girls

idriscastIn December of 2015, Idris Goodwin directed a sold-out production of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide … When the Rainbow is Enuf at Colorado College. He and the cast (Alexandra Farr, Lyric Jackson, Jazlyn Andrews, Jaiel Mitchell, Justice Miles, Brittany Comancho, Deaira Cooper, and Erica Willard) stopped by Special Collections last week to take a look at a first edition of the book, which was first published in 1975 by Shameless Hussy Press in 1975.

tunnel books at CC Special Collections

Thames Tunnel coverThames Tunnel interiorTunnel books have been made and sold since the mid-18th century in Europe. The earliest one in CC Special Collections, History of the Thames Tunnel (1861), was sold to tourists in England, as was our next-earliest, The Picture-Post Coronation Peep-Show Book (1953).

Our copy of the Thames Tunnel book is quite worn, suggesting that many people looked through its eye-holes over the years before it came to the library.

Coronation 1Our Coronation book, on the other hand, was purchased in kit form and never put together. Luckily, the Journal of Wild Culture offers a photo essay showing what the book looks like from various angles.

tunnel book Arizona



Our other tunnel books are artists’ books made in the last two decades. Edward H. Hutchins’s  Arizona Wildlife (1999) is made from picture postcards.



Jill Timm’s Falling Leaves (2006).




Laura Russell’s Nocturne (2004) shows a fanciful version of the neon signs on Colfax Avenue in Denver and is a favorite among CC students.




Kyoko Matsunaga’s Aoyama Airport (2013).

For a good overview of tunnel books, see Jean-Charles Trebbi’s The Art of Pop-Up: The Magical World of Three-Dimensional Books (Promo Press, 2012), available at many libraries.

The Book of Mormon at CC

Book of Mormon spineNo one had requested our copy of the first edition of The Book of Mormon in at least fifteen years, but that all changed last month. First one request, then another, and then eighty Mormon visitors in one day, broken up into four groups in order not to overcrowd the reading room.

The Book of Mormon, the foundational text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was first published in Palmyra, NY in 1830. 5000 copies were printed, of which at least 144 are currently in libraries. book-of-mormon-deseret-alphabet-1Joseph Smith’s text has been reprinted hundreds of times and translated into many languages and alphabets, including Brigham Young’s Deseret alphabet (one of several alphabets developed to simplify spelling in the 19th century, including one invented by Melvil Dewey, yes, he of the card catalog system).

The first edition of the book contains a number of typographical errors, including page 487 printed as 48, and, in some copies (not ours), “rumderers” for “murderers” on page 521. (For a full list, see Janet Jenson’s “Variations between Copies.”) [Addendum, January 2016: volunteer JoAnn Hendershot has discovered that the CC copy of The Book of Mormon also has page 212 printed as 122. She went through Jenson’s list and found no other variations in our copy.]

Book values change with the times, and the monetary value of this book has increased exponentially. According to library records, Colorado College purchased our copy for $250 in 1962. It was one of the first purchases made using the Hulbert Fund, honoring Archer Butler Hulbert, CC professor and scholar of the American West. The book is now worth perhaps $100,000. Our copy, however, is not for sale.

Book of Mormon purchase


the building that never was

Cutler New West imaginary


This illustration is from E.P. Tenney’s The New West, published 1878. It shows — or purports to show — the western facade of Colorado College’s Cutler Hall (also known as Palmer or simply “The College,” depending on the date).

Doesn’t it look enticing? A potential CC student could picture herself sitting with classmates and faculty in rocking chairs on that big back porch, talking together about Aristotle as they gazed out at a glorious Pikes Peak sunset.

Except that the porch, indeed the whole western piece of the building, was never built.

Nothing in The New West suggests that this illustration is any less real than the illustration of the building’s eastern facade, and indeed, at the time, they were equally imaginary. In 1878 the college did not yet have a freestanding building and operated out of a storefront in downtown Colorado Springs.

The middle piece of the planned building opened for classes in 1880, looking rather lonely out on the prairie:


Around 1882, wings were added:

Cutler exterior 1883But the western-facing bit was never built.

The Ghosts of My Friends


ghostsinstructionsThe Ghosts of My Friends is an autograph book with a twist. Published in the early 20th century, it’s a near-blank book meant to be used for sideways signatures to be turned into “ghosts,” that is, humanoid (or ghostoid) shapes representing the signers.




The “ghosts” pictured here were made in 1916 from the signatures of Polly McKeehan and Geo. B. McDonald.

ghostsexample ghostsexample2
There are about 40 copies of The Ghosts of My Friends in U.S. libraries. Each one, of course, would contain different ghosts. We brought our copy out recently during a class discussion about identifying people from their handwriting. This book takes that idea a step further, suggesting that a person’s handwriting is that person in a profound way.



spooooooooky x-rays from 1896

In honor of Halloween, I present spooooooooooky x-ray images made by Colorado College professor Florian Cajori ca. 1896. These are probably the first x-ray images west of the Mississippi.

Cajorihandxray1896 Cajoriratxray1896 Cajoribirdwingxray1896 Cajorishoexray1896 Cajoriscissorxray1896

What you’re seeing are a spooooooooky hand, a spoooooooky rat, a spooooooky bird wing, a spooooky foot in shoe, and a spoooooky pair of scissors. The hand and the foot belonged to CC professor Frank Loud. Colorado Springs photographer Horace S. Poley developed and printed the photographs and labeled them. He did not use any form of the word “spooky.”

For more information, see: J. Juan Reid, “Florian Cajori: First X-ray Photographs in the West,” Colorado College Bulletin, February 1982, pp.12-13.

temporarily part of the Blumberg collection

In the 1980s, Stephen Blumberg stole thousands of books and manuscripts from American libraries, amassing a collection worth millions of dollars. (For the full story, see his Wikipedia entry or the “Bibliokleptomania” chapter of Nicholas Basbanes’s A Gentle Madness.)

VillerscoverColorado College was one of the many stops on Blumberg’s cross-country book-stealing tour. He stole at least two books from us. One of these was no big deal, a 1930s pamphlet on Bent’s Fort, easily replaceable. The other, however, was quite rare: Henry Villard’s The Past and Present of the Pikes Peak Gold Region, published in 1860. Currently, it’s held in only a handful of U.S. libraries and isn’t available from any dealer. The FBI valued the CC copy, in its crummy modern binding, at $10,000.

Blumberg may have stolen as many as a dozen books from our library, but only these two were recovered. Library staff worked with the FBI to get the books back. It was particularly complicated because Blumberg not only removed or covered over library ownership marks from books, he also added false library marks. So, for example, a book stolen from Harvard might get a University of Michigan bookplate slapped onto it, and then a “withdrawn” stamp on top of that.

VillersmissingbookplateAs was his wont, Blumberg used his own saliva to remove the CC bookplate from our copy of this book. (He frequently chose to lick bookplates off, whether he was in library reading rooms or at home.) Nevertheless, the FBI tracked the book down, and it was returned to CC after Blumberg’s 1991 trial. He spent almost five years in jail. Since 1996, he has been convicted twice more for similar thefts.

Because researchers often want to see the book that Blumberg stole, but can’t always remember the name of it, we now state in our catalog record that our copy of the Villard book was “temporarily part of the Blumberg Collection.” It’s a good book to bring out with classes when we want to talk about the ethics of book collecting, and always sparks an interesting discussion.

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.

History and Future of the Book printing projects

postbook cover postbook page postbook doublespread

In support of Colorado College’s minor in book studies, Humanities Liaison Librarian Steve Lawson and Curator of Special Collections Jessy Randall co-teach a half-block class, “The History and Future of the Book,” offered every other year since 2010. Each time, students (classes of five, eighteen, and twenty-five) worked with the printer at The Press at Colorado College to make some sort of book-like object of their own devising. At least one copy of each of these is now preserved in Special Collections (along with other student-made printing projects for other classes). The projects are PostBook (2014), Title (2012, also available digitally), and Book Quotes Book (2010).

titlecover book quotes book 2010


rats, rumps, and a nightmare

rump songsDuring a recent book move in Special Collections, we discovered, by chance, some wonderful surprises in our rare book vault. For example, it turns out we have a full Rump … a nineteenth century facsimile of a two volume set first published in 1662, officially titled Rump: or An Exact Collection of the Choycest Poems and Songs Relating to the Late Times. The books contain political poems and songs and, well, as you can guess, a lot of butt jokes. Mark McDayter at the University of Ontario has a rather thorough website about Rump, and a digital version of the  facsimile is available at the Internet Archives. (I learned from McDayter that you can tell the difference between the 1662 first edition and the 19th century quasi-facsimile by looking at the S’s. The original edition uses the long ∫ throughout; the quasi-facsimile never uses it.)

ratsWe also learned that we have Rats, or rather, Histoire des Rats by Claude-Guillaume Bourdon de Sigrais, published 1737, containing this gorgeously creepy engraving (detail). A digital facsimile of Rats is available from Google Books A digital facsimile of Rats is available from Google Books.

nightmareAnd if that illustration wasn’t enough to give you a nightmare, here’s a different kind of nightmare for you, from another recent discovery, George Cruikshank’s Comic Alphabet (1837). (We have many other alphabet books, including a popular pop-up.) A full version of the Cruikshank is available digitally here.