Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation

Posts from the Rare Books Division

Before Kermit, There Was Catesby

My devotion to Kermit has led to a love for frogs in print as well, from Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books to Ken Kimura's 999 Frogs. And whenever I examine illustrated natural histories in the Rare Book Division where I work, I'm always on the lookout for Kermit's amphibious ancestors.Read More ›

400 Years of Banned Books

September 21 – 27 is Banned Books Week, when libraries and other members of the book community support the freedom to read and raise awareness of challenges to this freedom. Sadly, the banning of books is not a new phenomenon—while Catcher in the Rye or Huckleberry Finn come to mind, you can find books banned as early as the sixteenth century in the Rare Book Division.Read More ›

Mark My Words: Printers’ Marks in the Rare Book Division

The penguin. The borzoi. When we peruse our bookshelves, we see spines decorated with the symbols of publishing houses. But this tradition is not modern: starting with the second book ever printed, members of the trade were making their presence known. These marks were words and illustrations carved into wood and included at the beginning or end of a book to indicate the printer responsible. In NYPL’s Rare Book Division, we have a treasure trove of printers’ marks to explore. Read More ›

Lydia Maria Child and Archival Research

By all accounts, Lydia Maria Child should be famous. An author, abolitionist, and advocate for human rights a full generation before that stance became widespread, Child remains an unsung hero—even though we continue to sing her lyrics to “Over the River and Through the Wood.” Read More ›

Documenting Tiananmen Square

Twenty-five years ago, the world watched Beijing's Tiananmen Square, as demonstrations by Chinese citizens rallying for democracy drew the attention of Chinese military, with deadly results. Read More ›

Picturing Walt Whitman

The life and work of Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892) are prodigiously documented in the Oscar Lion Collection, held in the New York Public Library's Rare Books Division. Read More ›

The True Delights of Penny Dreadfuls

What’s not to love about Showtime’s new gothic series Penny Dreadful? It features Doctor Frankenstein and his monster, Dracula’s Mina Harker, and Wilde’s Dorian Gray, along with séances, ancient Egyptian vampires, gunslingers, serial killers, and maybe even a werewolf, set against the mysterious backdrop of Victorian London. Read More ›

Stuffed Animal Husbandry: Caring for Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends

The New York Public Library is the proud home of the REAL Winnie-the-Pooh, the actual toy teddy bear that once belonged to Christopher Robin Milne, son of A. A. Milne, and the basis for the character Christopher Robin in the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh stories.Read More ›

Camouflaged Anti-Nazi Literature

In the early eighties, rare book librarian John Rathe pulled down a dusty box, wrapped in twine, from a remote corner of the Rare Book room. Attached to the box was a label that said: "Do not open until war is over." Which war? The Civil War? The War of 1812? What he discovered was a box filled with disguised anti-Nazi tracts hidden in packets of tea and shampoo and concealed in miniature books both popular and scholarly.

Notice the concealed pamphlets sticking out of the packets of shampoo, tea, and tomato seeds.

A Brief History

On January 30, 

... Read More ›

Winter Fun for Kids and Cats

This snowy Saturday afternoon has brought to mind a couple of scenes from nineteenth-century children's books in the Rare Book Division. First, a scene of "Wintervergnügen" (winter fun) from Jugendspiele zur Erholung und Erheiterung (Tilsit, 1846). This is a two-volume work, one devoted to girls and one to boys. Sledding is categorized as one of the boys' games (Knabenspiele), but of course that needn't stop 

... Read More ›

What to Draw? A Turkey, of Course

Happy Thanksgiving to you! In honor of the holiday, here's a page from one of my favorite drawing manuals in the collection, 1913's What to Draw and How to Draw It by E. G. Lutz.

This turkey (along with his tiny companion, the fantail pigeon) is just one of dozens of possibilities — like owls, elephants, pelicans, pigs, castles, cats, and men and ladies — you'll find in these pages. Want to see the entire book? It's been digitized and you can

... Read More ›

Rare Books: Machinae Novae of 1595

We often get asked about firsts in printing history in the Rare Book Division. Machinae novae Favsti Verantii siceni (Venice, 1595) known as Machinae Novae, or New Machines, contains some of the first printed images related to engineering and machinery.

Machinae Novae was written by scholar-diplomat and scientist Fausto Veranzio in Venice; only a few copies 

... Read More ›

Made of Corn But Not Quite Edible

George M. Rommel, an early twentieth century animal husbandman and farm expert, was not one to shy away from novel solutions to agricultural challenges in America. In 1905, he championed the import from Bermuda of a breed of “woolless” sheep to address America’s “alarming appetite for lamb” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/5/1905). And he was always on the lookout for potential new uses for leftovers from agricultural enterprises. It should not, therefore, come as a surprise that his book on agricultural refuse industries, 

... Read More ›

Iceland Moss and Charles Dickens

Thanks to bibliophile George Arents, the Rare Book Division's holdings include an extensive collection of nineteenth century books in parts, and they are fascinating artifacts of their time. Little did I know, however, that I'd learn about a healthful and tasty lichen drink while reading 

... Read More ›

The Pompadour's Book: A Mystery Manuscript Owned by Madame de Pompadour

It's a small volume, neatly but unostentatiously bound in mottled calf. The gilt ornamentation is discreet, except for an impressive coat of arms on both boards. That becomes even more impressive when we identify it as the blazon of one of the standout personalities of 18th-century France, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, marquise de Pompadour — elevated from her haute-bourgeois background and a boring union with a certain M. Lenormand d'Étioles (nephew of her mother's lover) to become the official maîtresse-en-titre to 

... Read More ›

Hough's American Woods

Romeyn Hough (1857-1924) was single-minded in his devotion to trees. He was also a New Yorker, and when he embarked on The American Woods, he turned to the trees of his state first in what would eventually grow to be a 14-volume masterwork. The American Woods remains invaluable today due to the range and age of the tree samples Hough included, and the Library's Rare Book Division holds a complete set of this delicate and 

... Read More ›

Emblem Books, or, What's Going On in this Engraving?

This is one of over a hundred such puzzling images you can find in Symbolorvm & emblematvm ex animalibvs qvadrupedibvs desvmtorvm centvria altera, a 1595 book printed in Nuremberg, Germany.

Emblem books like this one were common in 16th- and 17th-century Europe, and a typical example of this genre contained dozens of emblems — each made up of an image and some explanatory text meant to be approached as a small mystery to be solved by the reader (and often designed to impart a moral lesson). Because 

... Read More ›

Fancy a Cuppa? Tea in the Rare Book Division

"Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea."— A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith*

On the coldest winter days, I must say I agree with Smith. And while reading through a little 1863 recipe book called The Book of One Hundred Beverages in the Rare Book 

... Read More ›

The Boar’s Head in Hand Bring I

No, I’m NOT referring to the deli meat company. It’s the Boar’s Head Carol that’s on my mind. This traditional English holiday song, which celebrates the arrival at the feast of a greenery-garlanded boar’s head, has been sung for over 500 years. And it is still being sung today, even though my colleagues denied ever having heard it before. (They have since been subjected to a few versions on YouTube.)

The lyrics to 

... Read More ›

Christopher Morley's Christmas Salute

Perhaps it is not surprising, but lovers of printing have a long history of honoring the holidays in print. In December 1935, for example, rare book dealer Philip C. Duschnes published a limited edition of a small letterpress booklet called A Christmas Salute. This little printed keepsake incorporates glittery cardstock and bright red and green ink.

The text itself, by American writer

... Read More ›
Page 1 of 3 Next

Chat with a librarian now