Monthly Archives: April 2012

Earth Day, 1648

Happy Earth Day!

April 22, 2012 marked the 42nd celebration of Earth Day.  The first celebration was a grass roots event focusing on education and legislative responses to pollution and ecological concerns.

Title page of Historia naturalis Brasiliae Earth Day gives us a chance to appreciate our planet.  In 2012, amazing photos are available from every corner of the globe (and beyond).  But what if you lived over 500 years ago?  The Americas were full of flora and fauna unknown to Western eyes.  Special Collections is home to many volumes that recorded these new discoveries.

Published in 1648, Historia naturalis Brasiliae records the botany and zoology of Brazil.  With sections on animals, plants, fish, insects, and tropical medicine, the book introduced a wealth of information about the natural world.

Willem Piso was sent by the West India Company as physician  to the governor of the Dutch colony in Brazil.  While there, he learned about herbal medicines used by the indigenous people. His knowledge of medicinal plants, local poisons and tropical illnesses is recorded in Historia naturalis Brasiliae.

In addition to Piso’s contributions, the Historia contains information gathered by Georg Markgraf on plants, fish, birds, animals, snakes, and insects.  Markgraf died before the book’s publication.  Johannes de Laet edited his notes and illustrations for final publication.

The Historia naturalis Brasiliae is full of illustrations, and many of these were the first representation of animals and plants from the new world seen in the Old World.  While some of the volumes were hand colored, Special Collections copy is not.

See the full text of a hand colored copy.  This volume is from the collection of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Click on an image below to see a gallery of selected pages from Historia naturalis Brasiliae.

Illustrations of snakes from Historia naturalis Brasiliae Illustrations of fish from Historia naturalis Brasiliae Illustrations of trees from Historia naturalis Brasiliae




Illustrations of spiders from Historia naturalis Brasiliae Illustrations of quadrupeds from Historia naturalis Brasiliae Illustration of a llama from Historia naturalis Brasiliae

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Preservation Week April 22-28, 2012

Preservation Week Logo

Today begins Preservation Week in libraries across the country.  One of our primary jobs at the Special Collections Department is to identify materials that need certain preservation measures.  One of the most basic measures is producing phase boxes for books with aged bindings.  A simple phase box, which can take as little as five minutes to produce, can protect books from all sorts of harm including:

  • Wear and tear – Rather than grasping the book when pulling it off the shelf, the box is grasped.
  • Fire damage – Books have been saved because they were preserved in a phase box, plus the box saves the book from soot damage.
  • Humidity damage – Phase boxes insulate the book.
  • Water damage – In cases of flooding or the sprinkler system going off, books have a better chance of staying dry in phase boxes.
Damaged Books

Damaged Books

The first step in the process is to select books that are in the most need of phase boxes.  The spine of the book might be split or tearing off, or the book has become too brittle, or one of the covers might be completely torn off at the hinge (near the spine).

Once a book has been selected, accurate measurements of the length, width, and depth of the book must be taken.  We use the metric system in the Special Collections Department.

After a group of twenty-eight books have been measured, we send those measurements to the Preservation Department at Ellis Library.  Librarians and student assistants then work together to produce the boxes, making sure to follow the old saying “measure twice and cut once”.  Once finished, the new boxes are sent back up to the Special Collections Department where we perform the final step of placing the rare books into their new enclosures.  The entire process for each batch of books takes about two to three weeks.

A row of Phase Boxes

A row of Phase Boxes

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Student Spotlight: Lauren Young

Lauren Young is a senior majoring in art history and magazine journalism and minoring in music. She will graduate from the University of Missouri in May.  During the fall 2011 semester Lauren researched and studied Ellis Library’s copy of the Liber Chronicarum for her class on Renaissance figural arts at MU. She is currently working on a research project on fourth and fifth century manuscripts.  She comments on her project and provides an excerpt from her paper below.

The goal of my research project was to study the portraits of cities in the world chronicle, also known at the Nuremberg Chronicle. I discovered that the woodblock images of the cities as well as the content of the chronicle were, in fact, out of date when the book was printed in 1493. However, these images, which the Nuremberg Chronicle is well known for, exposed readers to far away lands allowing them to become armchair travelers.

The World According to the Liber Chronicarum: Selected Excerpts

Origins of the World Chronicle

The concept of a world chronicle was not a new one when the Nuremburg Chronicle was printed in 1493. In fact, the biographer of Emperor Constantine, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, developed the idea. His chronicle, Chronicorum Canones, included a list of dates from Assyrian, Hebrew, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman times up to 325 C.E. Saint Jerome translated and completed Eusebius’ chronicle in 378 C.E. This chronicle became the model for later medieval historiography.

The Birthplace of the Nuremberg Chronicle

The security provided by the stable and growing economy in Nuremberg allowed two local men, Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kamermaister, the ability to finance the printing of a new world chronicle. Hartman Schedel, the city physician, was hired to write the text and artists Michael Wolgemut and Hans Pleydenwurff were contracted to produce the woodcut images. In total there are 1,809 illustrations in the chronicle. Forty-four woodcuts of kings are used for 270 different rulers and 28 woodblocks are used for 226 popes. The reuse of images through out the chronicle may have helped decrease the time and cost of labor during the creation of the world chronicle because woodblock illustrations were one of the least expensive ways to illustrate a book.  This practice also extended to the 101 places pictured in the Nuremberg Chronicle using 53 blocks.

Anton Koberger printed the Nuremberg Chronicle in both a Latin version and a German version. Koberger established his press in Nuremberg in 1470. It was the second press to open in the city and he published his first book in 1471, the same year he became godfather to Albrecht Dürer the younger.  He later purchased the building his press was housed in and added four houses over the years. Koberger’s press had space for 100 workers, 24 presses and living space for his large family. The press even had its own water system used for dampening paper during the printing process. The permit for the pipes from a well at the city wall remained in effect until 1881 when the city bought the water system. This water system helped supplement Koberger’s income because any leftover water he sold to the city.

The Ellis Library Liber Chronicarum

Ellis Library on the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus has in its special collection a nearly complete, uncolored, Latin copy of the Liber Chronicarum. The book was trimmed and rebound at some point before the university acquired it. However, whoever trimmed the book was careful enough to leave many of the notes in the margins intact by creating a series of flaps. This, in a way, increased the interactive nature of the book similarly veiled illuminations in manuscripts did. The reader now has to physically manipulate the book in order to look at the notes. The previous owner of the book who wrote the notes in brown ink was clearly literate and knowledgeable. There are places in the chronicle where this owner has corrected information and page numbers as well as added in their own thoughts. Clearly, they had a strong connection to Prague and may have even lived there because there are extensive notes in Latin below the two-page woodcut of the city.

During the time spent researching this paper, it was discovered that one of the maps in the Chronicle had been cut out of the book some time in the past. Even after consulting with the librarians in the Special Collections department of the library it is still not clear when folios 12 and 13 where removed. However, the other pages containing 26 two-page city portraits, 69 single page portraits and one world map are still intact.

Know an outstanding student you’d like to nominate for the Spotlight?  Email

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