Category Archives: Rare Books

Frederik Ruysch’s Anatomical Art

Anatomical specimens emerged as an art form near the end of the seventeenth century. Although they may seem morbid today, at the time of creation, they were viewed as striking a balance between the scientific and the artistic. They served to educate people on human anatomy as well as to remind them of the fleeting nature of life.

Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.
Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.

One of the more notable creators of anatomical art is Frederik Ruysch, a Dutch botanist and anatomist who lived from 1638 to 1731—an impressive 93 years in a time when many died young. A capable researcher, Ruysch was the first to describe bronchial blood vessels, the vascular plexus of the heart, and the valves of the lymphatics. However, his real interest lay in anatomical preparations, and he has been described by a recent biographer as “probably the most skilled and knowledgeable preparator in the history of anatomy” (Gould, p. 20). Ruysch served as the chief instructor to midwives and the “legal doctor” to the court of Amsterdam. Through these positions, he had easy (and legal) access to the bodies of stillborns and dead babies.

The preparations were initially created to use in his classes, but they eventually gained an interest from the public. To showcase his vast collection (he created more than 2,000 from 1665 to 1717 alone), he opened his own cabinet of curiosities to the public, which for many marked the first time they were able to see human internal organs. The collection was also noteworthy because of the lengths to which Ruysch went in an effort to make the specimens appear more natural. For example, embalmed children were clothed or held bouquets of preserved flowers. In 1717, Peter the Great, who was an admirer of Ruysch, purchased the entire cabinet of curiosities for 30,000 guilders. The collection was then shipped to St. Petersburg, and along with the cabinet of curiosities formed by Albertus Seba, they became the core of the Kunstkammer—the Academy of Sciences of Russia’s first public museum.

Although a number of Ruysch’s wet preparations still exist today (a fact which he would find unsurprising), none of his dry specimens have been located. He used fetal skeletons and other body parts to create multi-specimen scenes. These scenes served as the centerpieces for each of the literal cabinets within the rooms of his museum. As Gould points out, these tableaux were focused on allegorical themes such as death and the transience of life. The small skeletons are decorated with symbols of death and short life: mayflies rest in hands, skulls weep into handkerchiefs made of mesentery, and snakes made of intestine wine their way through bones. Today, these still-life scenes exist for us only through second-hand descriptions and, fortunately, through a number of engravings.

Fortunately for those interested in seeing these illustrations up close, the History of Medicine Collections has two volumes from the multi-volume Opera omnia anatomico-medico-chirurgica. On October 29, from 2-4 pm, they will be on display as part of Screamfest in the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room.

Recommended Reading:

Post contributed by Amelia Holmes, Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections.

Screamfest III: The Cutening

Date: Thursday, October 29, 2015
Time: 2:00-4:00 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room
Contact: Amy McDonald,

Y’all, we hear you. The semester is getting more and more intense and sometimes Duke is just so . . . gothic, you know? Sometimes you just need to eat some free candy and look at cute things. And what better time to do that than in celebration of that traditionally cute holiday, Halloween?

Your cuddly Rubenstein librarians would like to invite you to visit us for Screamfest III, an open house featuring creepy ADORABLE things from our collections.

Halloween Postcard
Like this postcard of these sweet black kitty-cats, bringing you Halloween joys in their happy hot air pumpkins.

Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.

Or this illustration of these precious babies from our History of Medicine Collection’s Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica by Frederik Ruysch. Yes, fine, they’re skeleton babies, and they’re standing on a pile of human organs, but they’re totally listening to a song by The Wiggles.

Ghost at the Library. From the 1984 Chanticleer.

You can also page through the 1984 Chanticleer to view the photos of this friendly library ghost, who just wants to bring you fuzzy slippers so you can study comfortably.

Demon Miniature from Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Role-Playing Games.

And sure, scourge and sword-wielding demons are very scary when they’re life-sized. But swing by our open house and you’ll be able to bravely make kissy-faces at this little dude (paperclip for scale) from the Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Role-Playing Games.

In fact, we promise that there will be so much cuteness (and candy) that, well, you might die. See you there!

New Collection Spans Five Centuries of Women’s History

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University has acquired one of the largest and most significant private collections on women’s history, documenting the work and intellectual contributions of women from the Renaissance to the modern era.

Isotta Nogarola, humanist, 1418-1466, from Jacopo Philippo Bergomensis' De Claris Mulieribus, 1497
Isotta Nogarola, humanist, 1418-1466, from Jacopo Philippo Bergomensis’ De Claris Mulieribus, 1497

Carefully assembled over 45 years by noted bibliophile, activist and collector Lisa Unger Baskin, the collection includes more than 8,600 rare books and thousands of manuscripts, journals, ephemera and artifacts, including author Virginia Woolf’s writing desk.. Among the works are many well-known monuments of women’s history and literature, as well as lesser-known works produced by female scholars, printers, publishers, scientists, artists and political activists. Taken together, they comprise a mosaic of the ways women have been productive, creative, and socially engaged over more than 500 years. The collection will become a part of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture within the Rubenstein Library.

Cabinet card sold by Sojourner Truth to support her work, 1864 Photographer is unknown
Cabinet card sold by Sojourner Truth to support her work, 1864
Photographer is unknown

The materials range in date from a 1240 manuscript documenting a respite home for women in Italy to a large collection of letters and manuscripts by the 20th-century anarchist Emma Goldman.  The majority of materials were created between the mid-15th and mid-20th centuries. Other highlights include correspondence by legendary American and English suffragists and abolitionists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emmeline Pankhurst and Lucretia Mott; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s publicity blurb for Sojourner Truth’s Narrative, written in Stowe’s own hand; exquisite decorated bindings by the celebrated turn-of-the-century British binders Sarah Prideaux, Katharine Adams, and Sybil Pye; and Woolf’s writing desk, which the author designed herself.

Baskin and her late husband, the artist Leonard Baskin, were both avid book collectors. Leonard also founded The Gehenna Press, one of the preeminent American private presses of the 20th century. Lisa Unger Baskin began collecting materials on women’s history in the 1960s after attending Cornell University. She is a member of the Grolier Club, the oldest American society for bibliophiles.

“I am delighted that my collection will be available to students, scholars and the community at Duke University, a great teaching and research institution,” Baskin said. “Because of Duke’s powerful commitment to the central role of libraries and digitization in teaching, it is clear to me that my collection will be an integral part of the university in the coming years and long into the future. I trust that this new and exciting life for my books and manuscripts will help to transform and enlarge the notion of what history is about, deeply reflecting my own interests.”

Materials from the collection will be available to researchers once they have been cataloged. Some items will be on display in the renovated Rubenstein Library when it reopens to the public at the end of August 2015.

For more information about the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection visit

Eating at the Rubenstein Library

We are still digesting the feast that was Wednesday’s Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen tasting event, but the bloating has died down enough for us to be able to share some photos from the celebration!

The Desserts!

Delicious sweet potato custard pie, apple kuchen, and blueberry pie, ready and waiting to be devoured! And we’d only just recovered from Thanksgiving!

There was so much eating to be done, but Duke people are very determined people.

Getting food!So much eating!

Here’s Rubenstein librarian Elizabeth Dunn serving Soldier Soup!

Serving soup!

And, to our very great surprise, the Velveeta-creamed corn ring was gone in the first half hour of the event. We’d even made two! We retract any previous skepticism about the appeal of this most excellent “cheese food.”

No more Velveeta!

Of course, we had the historical cookbooks and advertisements that provided the sources for our wonderful recipes out on display (with the stipulation that there could be no simultaneous browsing and eating; goblin sandwich filling would be tough to get off a 1777 cookbook…..).

Students looking at Rubenstein Library cookbooks!

Our intrepid taste-testers received zines containing all of the recipes and made by Rubenstein Library staff. If you couldn’t make the event, you can download a PDF copy of the zine here: Test-Kitchen-Zine-2014

Thanks to everyone who attended! We’ll have another tasting event—featuring recipes from our next round of test kitchen blog posts—in the late spring!

Building the Gottmensch: The Library of Ordensburg Sonthofen

A grim symbol is stamped inside nearly 60 books at the Rubenstein Library: the eagle and swastika; symbols of the German Nazi Party. The markings also indicate that the volumes belonged to “Ordensburg Sonthofen.” What was this place, what constituted its library, and furthermore, what happened to its holdings?

KIC Image 1
Der Wille zum Kind

In 1933, the same year Adolf Hitler’s party came to power, the Ordensburgen were built as elite training facilities for high-ranking officers in the military called Junker. The program was under the direction of Robert Ley, and the purpose of instruction was, as he stated in Der Weg zur Ordensburg, for the “spiritual and philosophical education of the NSDAP.” Qualifying candidates between the ages of 25 and 30 were sent to three facilities and spent a year at each: Vogelsang in the Eifel, Krössinsee in Pomerania, and Sonthofen in Allgäu. Each facility had its own training focus. The focus of instruction at Sonthofen, intended to be the third and final year of training, was diplomacy and administrative tasks. The libraries at each location would have facilitated such research and instruction.

Construction of the main building at Sonthofen, from Der Weg zur Ordensburg by Robert Ley, 1936
Construction of the main building at Sonthofen, from Der Weg zur Ordensburg by Robert Ley, 1936

Although the exact story of how Sonthofen’s books ended up at the Rubenstein is unknown, Nazi-related material did come to the United States through the efforts of the Library of Congress and were then distributed to institutions throughout the country, including Duke University. The program was called the “Cooperative Acquisitions Project for Wartime Publications,” and details about the program can be found in Volume 16, number 2 of the Duke University Libraries magazine. Parts of German libraries and archives, if not destroyed outright at the end of the war, were broken up and distributed. Tracking down the remainders of the collections, which can be aided by the ownership stamps, and analyzing the content, is invaluable for understanding the operations of facilities such as Sonthofen.

Rohstoffe und Kolonien
Rohstoffe und Kolonien

Analyzing the stamps and markings in the Rubenstein’s collection can help to at least partially recreate the library at Sonthofen and give insight into its functioning. Some books are marked “Hauptbücherei” (main library), while others are marked with specific group or class designations such as “Seminar Völkische Behauptung” (racial assertions). This shows, for example, that the instruction at Sonthofen was not strictly limited to understanding military strategy. Titles in the collection also indicate a variety of subjects, including Was wir vom Weltkrieg nicht wissen (What We Don’t Know About the World War), a justification of rapid militarization after World War I, and Der Wille zum Kind (The Will to Child), part of a series called “Political Biology,” which encourages procreation to build the perfect Aryan race.

The opening of Vogelsang in 2006, held until then by the Belgian military, created the opportunity to investigate the ultimate destination of its library. For example, Michael Schröder (article in German) reveals that of what is thought to be almost 70,000 items, 40,000 were probably plundered or destroyed, and the rest ultimately ended up at the University of Bonn. The opportunity is here for a similar investigation to be conducted regarding Sonthofen, also now a historical site, and its 57 books held by the Rubenstein present a window to view its history. This material is also just a small part of the rich German language holdings at the Rubenstein Library, which also include the extensive Harold Jantz collection.

Post contributed by Sarah Carrier, Research Services Coordinator

Uses for an 11th Century Latin Manuscript

At an unknown moment in the 16th century, no earlier than 1520, a European bookbinder reached for scrap vellum to complete the binding of a recently printed book, an edition of Suetonius’ De Vita Duodecim Caesarum Libri XII (Lives of the Twelve Caesars) printed by Johann Prüss in Strassburg.

Title page of De Vita Duodecim Caesarum Libri XII
Title page of De Vita Duodecim Caesarum Libri XII

The bookbinder’s exterior work, beautifully blind-stamped calf over oak boards, stands in contrast to what’s found inside. The first interior views for a reader would be these centuries-old vellum scraps, encountered as paste-downs and flyleaves, before and after Suetonius’ work.

What’s found on these vellum pieces is something wonderful. The vellum features a manuscript of Lucan’s Pharsalia, or Civil War, Book 4, lines 634-659, 667-692, and 700-725. The epic poem, which narrates the war between Caesar and Pompey, was written in the first century C.E. This book of the Pharsalia recounts a legendary battle between Hercules (Alcides) and the terrible Antaeus, a creature who gains renewed strength simply by touching the earth beneath his feet. In the end, Hercules understands that to defeat his enemy, he has to lift him from the ground—and at last he’s victorious.


This manuscript is very clear, clean, and legible, and can easily be read. For instance, the leaf above begins with lines 634-637:

nec sic Inachiis, quamuis rudis esset, in undis
desectam timuit reparatis anguibus hydram.
conflixere pares, Telluris uiribus ille,
ille suis.

Even in the Inachan waves, although he was inexperienced, he was not afraid when the hydra regenerated her snakes after being cut.

They struggled equally, one with the strength of Mother Earth, the other with his own. (trans. Paolo Asso)

It’s striking that the bookbinder used fragments of the Pharsalia, a poem concerning Caesar, in his work on the Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Was the choice purposeful? Was it accidental?

Dating as early as the 11th century, this fragment of Lucan is one of Duke’s earliest Latin manuscripts (Duke Latin MS 125). The book bears evidence of its provenance. It was purchased by Duke in 1970; in its distant past, the book was owned by classical scholar Pieter Burman (1668-1741) (or his son, also named Pieter Burman!) and bears annotations by him. It bears the (somewhat intrusive!) bookplate of a British owner named Campbell.


Duke holds many important early manuscripts, including a complete 12th century Italian manuscript of the Pharsalia. Many of these manuscripts need scholarly attention: contact us to learn more about our collections!

Post contributed by David Pavelich, Head of Research Services.

Where’d you get this book? Bertha Payne Newell and the Book of Mormon

title page

Many visitors to the Rubenstein Library have asked about the provenance (origin) of this particular copy of the first edition of the Book of Mormon (1830). Until recently, we knew only what the bookplate states: that it was donated by “Mrs. W. A. Newell.” Its history was lost, until some diligent research turned up a very interesting story about a remarkable woman.

Book Plate listing Mrs. Newell as the donor

We now know that this copy of the Book of Mormon was donated by Bertha Payne Newell to Duke University, late in the summer of 1941.

Bertha Payne was born in Racine, WI, on January 20, 1867. She was home schooled, but later attended classes at the University of Leipzig (Germany) and Clark University (Worcester, MA). Eventually Payne found her calling as a school teacher and educational reformer. She was progressive in her philosophy and soon found exciting outlets for her evolving pedagogy. In her early teaching career, according to The University of Chicago Magazine, Payne was “associated with Hull House, the Chicago Froebel Association, and the Chicago Institute under Colonel Frances W. Parker.”

She attended the University of Chicago, where she matriculated in the autumn of 1899 at the age of 32. She arrived at Chicago during John Dewey’s influential years as the head of the nascent School of Education. During her eight years as an undergraduate, Payne also taught many courses in the School, and among them were “Pedagogy of the Kindergarten,” “Froebel’s Educational Philosophy,” “Mental Development in Early Childhood,” and “Kindergarten Theory and Practice.” She received her PhB (bachelor’s degree) in March 1907.

Payne quickly distinguished herself as an expert on kindergarten education, publishing many articles on the subject and serving on the editorial board of the journal, The Elementary School Teacher.

On August 2, 1909, Bertha Payne married the Rev. William Allen Newell in Asheville, NC. Rev. Newell was a Methodist minister from Cabarrus County, NC. They eventually settled in Morganton, N.C.

After her move to North Carolina and after the birth of their daughter, Olive, in 1910, Bertha Payne Newell became an activist for racial justice, labor rights, and peace. She worked hard to end lynching in the American South. She was a leading member of the influential Commission on Interracial Cooperation, which she directed 1931-35, and from 1931 to 1938 she served as secretary to the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching.  She joined several other committees and commissions in the 1930s and 1940s that advocated for child labor laws and other social change.

Attendees – including Bertha Payne Newell – of the joint meeting of the ASWPL and African American members of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation at Tuskegee Institute, 1938.
From Jessie Daniel Ames Papers, 1866-1972, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Her husband, Rev. Newell, died February 26, 1940. 18 months later, Bertha Payne Newell donated more than 100 books to Duke University, including this copy of the Book of Mormon. It’s likely that the university’s Methodist origins and the proximity of the school to Morganton were factors in this important gift.

Bertha Payne Newell died September 4, 1953, in Greensboro, NC.

The provenance of this book was surprising to us; assumptions about who might have donated it were challenged and proven incorrect by archival research. Our books and manuscripts come to us in many ways and through many means (gift, purchase, abandonment!). We continue to be enthralled and inspired by the history of these important cultural treasures.


Post contributed by David Pavelich, Head of Research Services

Fortunes Told at the Rubenstein

Did Valentine’s Day leave you with more questions than answers? Wondering who sent you that sweet Valentine? Want to know when you’ll meet your own Rapturous Codfish? Perhaps Mother Shipton’s Gipsy Fortune Teller and Dream Book can be of help.

Shipton - Cover


Not which of your many admirers sent you that “love token?” Get your crow quill ready and try this spell on Friday:



You’ll have to wait until June to try this one – plenty of time to find a tobacco pipe full of pewter so you can augur your future husband’s career:
know your husband's trade


Did two pigeons fly around your and your darling’s heads this weekend? Or maybe a rabbit crossed your path on Saturday morning? Both good signs:
speedy marriage

But Mother Shipton thinks you should be careful if your love is the quiet mysterious type “given to musing and melancholy.”

signs to choose

‘Tis the Season: Gifts to the Rubenstein Library, Day Five

To celebrate the holiday season this week, we’re highlighting a few of the many wonderful books that the Rubenstein Library has received as gifts over the past year.  We are truly grateful for the generosity of our donors.  A hearty “Happy holidays” and thanks and to all of those who have contributed to making 2013 a wonderful year for the Rubenstein Library!

A beautiful copy of one of the pinnacles of American literature, the 1854 first edition of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods, has been donated to the Rubenstein Library by Professor Leland Phelps.


Thoreau’s genre-bending record of his experiment in simple living in the forest by Walden Pond has been an WaldenSpineCoverimportant influence and inspiration for literary scholars, naturalists, environmentalist, philosophers, economists, and many others for over 150 years.  While it was immediately recognized as an important work by many of Thoreau’s transcendentalist contemporaries, such as his friend (and owner of the land on which Thoreau  Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 2000 copies printed for the first edition took almost five years to sell.

The copy donated by Professor Phelps to Duke was formerly owned by Professor Frederick Whiley Hilles and is in excellent condition, with its original binding and remarkably bright pages.  Thanks to this gift, students and scholars at Duke will have the opportunity to experience this iconic text in its original form, nearly as it would have been encountered in 1854, fresh from the press.

Walden is one of the highlights of a large donation by Professor Phelps this year, which also includes other editions of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature such as a remarkable collection of William Faulkner’s works (including many first editions), and many important books in art and architecture.  We are honored by his support of the Rubenstein Library and thankful for his remarkable donation!

‘Tis the Season: Gifts to the Rubenstein Library, Day Four

To celebrate the holiday season this week, we’re highlighting a few of the many wonderful books that the Rubenstein Library has received as gifts over the past year.  We are truly grateful for the generosity of our donors.  A hearty “Happy holidays” and thanks and to all of those who have contributed to making 2013 a wonderful year for the Rubenstein Library!

The Münchener Bilderbogen are a famous series of illustrated broadsides produced in Munich for over fifty years, from 1848 into the first decade of the twentieth century.  Important documents in the development of comic strips and cartooning, and quite influential in Europe’s visual culture in the nineteenth century, the Bilderbogen were created by German artists, illustrators, and writers such as Wilhelm Busch, Lothar Meggendorfer, and Adolf Oberlander.

“Der Stallmeister und sein Pferd” (“The Stableman and His Horse”), Munchener Bilderbogen no. 1014, ca. 1886.

Seventeen bound volumes of the Bilderbogen were donated this year to the Rubenstein Library by Christine L. Shore in honor of her mother Ottilie Tusler Lowenbach.

“Vom Osterhasen” (“The Easter Bunny”), Munchener Bilderbogen no. 1015, ca. 1886.

This generous gift complements existing Rubenstein Library holdings related to caricature and cartoons, and our comic book collections.  Our thanks to Christine Shore!