NYPL has recently opened a new, first-ever permanent exhibit called The Polonsky Exhibition of the New York Public Library's Treasures, featuring some of the most extraordinary items from the 56 million in our collection. The NYPL collection has 56 million items.
Among these items are many that will be of interest to the readers of Rare Book Monthly who love rare books and manuscripts. I have included several below. Their full descriptions are at the bottom of the email. We have rare kids books, religion, and Black history from our Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. We encourage your readers and members to visit our resources in person and online.
- · Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes.
- · Die Kleine Puppenköchin (The Little Doll Cook).
- · Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé (Stories or Tales from Times Past).
- · Hornbook.
- · The New-England Primer.
- · A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible.
- Lustige Geschichten und Drollige Bilder (Merry Stories and Funny Pictures).
- · Musée des dames et des demoiselles (Museum of women and girls).
- · The Brownies’ Book.
- · 13th-century edition of the Life of the Prophet (Siyer-i Nebi).
- · A Breviarium.
- · John de Tickhill (fl. early 14th century) Tickhill Psalter.
- · First Printing of the King James Bible.
- · P?li, Buddhist prayer boards.
- · The Gutenberg Bible, printed in 1455.
- · Megillah: Scroll of the Book of Esther.
- Mahzor prayer book.
- · One of “The Million Prayer Towers” and The Nine-Ringed Spire Incantation.
From the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture:
- · The Negro Motorist Green-Book
- · Ida B. Wells. A Red Record Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States, 1892-1893-1894
- · James Baldwin. A page from the draft of "The Novel."
- · Arturo Schomburg's book
- · Phillis Wheatley (Her personal collection). Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
- · Frederick Douglass. My Bondage and My Freedom
- · Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes. The first children’s book printed in British North America, was the work of John Cotton, the preeminent minister and theologian of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In its 15 small pages, Cotton’s catechism encompassed the Reformed Protestant faith in simple, succinct, eloquent language that eventually passed not only into general usage but also, it might be said, into the New England subconscious. Children’s catechisms such as Spiritual Milk are quite rare today—many succumbed to the rough handling of their young readers, while others simply failed to survive the ravages of time. The New York Public Library holds the only known copy of this initial American edition.
- · Die Kleine Puppenköchin (The Little Doll Cook). Puppen Kochbücher, or dolls’ cookbooks, were popular in 19th-century northern Europe, serving as accompaniments to that era’s elaborate, expensive dollhouses, which often featured functioning miniature stoves. They were almost certainly intended for wealthy young women; lower- and middle-class girls, who undertook domestic chores on a daily basis, would have had little time—and, likely, inclination—to amuse themselves by playing cook. The present example of Puppen Kochbücher, featuring not only its toy scale, weights, plate, and bowl but also its original box, is a remarkable survival, given the hard and sometimes careless use to which such toys were often put.
- · Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé (Stories or Tales from Times Past). The earliest printed versions of “Sleeping Beauty,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Puss in Boots,” “Cinderella,” and several other beloved fairy tales appeared in this volume, Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé, better known in English by its translated subtitle, Tales of Mother Goose. The work was written by Charles Perrault, a functionary and leading intellectual within the court of Louis XIV of France.
- · Hornbook. Hornbooks, a form of children’s primer, were common in America and England from the late 16th to the late 18th centuries. These small works consisted of a paddle-shaped wooden frame on which was mounted a single sheet of paper or vellum (calfskin) featuring the alphabet and Lord’s Prayer. The object’s name, “hornbook,” derived from the thin, transparent piece of cow’s horn that served to overlay and protect the text. Like many childhood possessions, hornbooks lived a hard life. Typically hung from a youth’s neck or waist and subjected to regular use, they did not often withstand the rigors of childhood. This example represents a rare survival.
- · The New-England Primer. First printed in Boston around 1690, the Primer became one of the most successful children’s textbooks published in America during the 18th and early 19th centuries. This 1727 printing held by the Rare Book Division is the earliest known dated example. The contents of this small, pocketable volume varied slightly from one edition to the next, but typically contained a mix of secular and religious subjects—reading instruction coupled with moral lessons and Christian catechism.
- · A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible. Was published in 1788 by Isaiah Thomas, one of the premier printers during the late colonial era and early years of the United States. It was intended to help juvenile readers learn both their ABC’s and Scripture, and it functioned in part like a rebus—a puzzle in which words are represented by playful combinations of pictures and individual letters. Featuring nearly 500 woodcut illustrations, it is notable for being the most heavily illustrated American book of its time. While hieroglyphic Bibles were popular during the 18th century, with thousands of copies printed in the Americas and England, only four examples of the present edition are known, making it one of the great rarities in all of children’s literature.
- Lustige Geschichten und Drollige Bilder (Merry Stories and Funny Pictures). Heinrich Hoffmann-Donner, the medical adviser to a lunatic asylum, wrote this collection of negative exempla, or how-not-to-act tales. Pity poor Pauline, who liked playing alone with matches before she set herself aflame. Or ponder the plight of Kaspar, a strong, healthy boy who, having proclaimed that he would no longer eat his soup, died of starvation! The cruelty and violence of these lessons caused them to fall out of favor with 20th-century parents, but not before the book had sold millions of copies abroad and in the States. Shown here is the German first edition, which was so popular it was reissued and expanded with a new title, Der Struwwelpeter (Slovenly Peter), named after the boy with untrimmed nails and unwashed hair.
- · Musée des dames et des demoiselles (Museum of women and girls). During the 19th century, the study of natural science was in vogue among the middle classes of Europe and America, as well as in museums. Book publishers were quick to cash in on this emerging market, issuing books and periodicals for general audiences that covered the scientific discoveries and expeditions of the day. The volumes shown here, printed in France and aimed at young women and girls, reflect this publishing trend. Featuring charming hand-colored plates, the booklets’ texts address the collecting, cataloging, and arranging of natural specimens such as flowers, fruits, and butterflies—pursuits that would have been deemed not only instructive but also socially appropriate for female readers of that era.
- · The Brownies’ Book. An early magazine for young readers, and the first especially designed with African American children in mind, The Brownies’ Book sought to “teach Universal Love and Brotherhood for all little folk—black and brown and yellow and white.” Published by W.E.B. Du Bois and others, The Brownies’ Book featured photographs, stories, songs, and letters from young readers and parents. Prominent Harlem Renaissance figures, including Jessie Fauset and Laura Wheeler, contributed pieces that positively depicted Black childhood experiences. The magazine also featured poetry that encouraged emulation of such luminaries as Booker T. Washington, Sojourner Truth, and Phillis Wheatley, plus a news digest that featured African Americans’ biographies and roles in politics, military, and culture.
- · 13th-century edition of the Life of the Prophet (Siyer-i Nebi). Considered the most complete visual portrait of the life of Mu?ammad in existence. Several of its 128 full-page miniature paintings have been identified as the work of the master known as Hasan, and together they comprise the earliest illustrated version of the text, which begins with the story of the Prophet's night journey.
- · A Breviarium. This rare example of a medieval girdle book, an early portable book, is covered in a large piece of leather knotted at one end--a structure that enabled its owner to tuck it into his belt, or girdle. It is a type of book used for praying the canonical hours. Brother Sebaldsu, prior to the Benedictine monastery in Kastl, in what is now Germany, identifies himself as the owner and scribe.
- · John de Tickhill (fl. early 14th century) Tickhill Psalter. The Tickhill Psalter is among the most lavishly illuminated of all 14th-century English manuscripts. A work of gargantuan ambition, the manuscript features pictorial and textual decorations that include large historiated initials and scenes at the bottom of the page forming a continuous narrative, commencing with the Old Testament.
- · First Printing of the King James Bible. Recognized as the most influential and widely published English-language book. Beyond its broad scriptural reach, the King James Bible’s distinct phrasing—its cadences, imagery, and syntax—has exerted an outsized influence over the development of the English language itself, and has inspired literary works by writers as diverse as John Milton, William Blake, and Herman Melville.
- · P?li, Buddhist prayer boards. Buddhist scriptures, or sutras, have been recorded on palm leaves and bamboo slivers for more than 2,000 years. These texts detail principles that monks in Burma (now Myanmar) were required to follow, as well as sutras from the Buddha for use in instruction and meditation. The text itself is read horizontally from left to right.
- · The Gutenberg Bible, printed in 1455. James Lenox’s copy, the first to be brought to the Americas.
- · Megillah: Scroll of the Book of Esther. A megillah is the common name for the biblical book of Esther written in scroll format. Publicly read during the celebration of the Jewish festival of Purim, the work commemorates the triumph of the Jews of the Persian Empire over their archenemy, Haman, in the 5th century BCE.
- Mahzor prayer book. The mahzor is a prayer book that Jews use on the High Holy Days of Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur as well as on the three pilgrimage festivals of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot.
- · One of “The Million Prayer Towers” and The Nine-Ringed Spire Incantation. Created around 770, the scroll is remarkable for being one of the very earliest examples of printed text. Empress Sh?toku (718–770) commissioned one million of these towers—abstract representations of Buddha’s body and his spoken prayer within—and distributed them to 10 large temples. Created to commemorate and give thanks to the Buddhist deities for their suppression of the Emi Rebellion in 764, the structures and their contents reflect the empress’s desire to restore equilibrium and long-term peace to the nation.
From the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
- · The Negro Motorist Green-Book. (We have the largest collection of Green Books anywhere, including a 1937 edition that focuses on Metropolitan New York. This version and a 1959 version are part of Treasures. The 1959 version isn’t anything special but the primary features could interest because it’s more international. It has listings in Mexico, Bermuda, and parts of the Caribbean and Canada). The freedom of movement that the automobile age promised was circumscribed for African Americans, who faced threats of intimidation and violence as part of the lived experience of racial segregation. Understanding the need for a means to navigate a safe path, New Jersey postal service employee Victor Green (1892–1960) and his wife, Alma (1889–1978), edited a guidebook listing commercial establishments such as hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and beauty salons that African Americans could safely patronize while traveling during the Jim Crow era. In the 1920s Victor and Alma moved to Harlem, where they began the Green-Book (sometimes hyphenated, sometimes not). The annual guide proved popular, with as many as 15,000 copies a year published from 1936 to 1966. Though Victor Green did not live to see the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawing racial discrimination, the cultural significance of the Greens’ guide in delineating racial segregation cannot be overestimated.
- · Ida B. Wells. A Red Record Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States, 1892-1893-1894. The investigative journalist and activist Ida B. Wells spearheaded the anti-lynching movement in the United States. Expanding on her groundbreaking exposé Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases (1892), A Red Record used mainstream white newspapers to document a resurgence of white mob violence, finding that more than 10,000 African Americans had been killed by lynching in the South between 1864 and 1894. Wells compiled statistics on alleged offenses and the geographic distribution and extent of lynching, and tied whites’ increased brutality and violence to their fear of African Americans’ increased political power. Her conclusion exhorts anti-lynching advocates to “[t]ell the world the facts,” for “When the Christian world knows the alarming growth and extent of outlawry in our land, some means will be found to stop it.”
- · James Baldwin. A page from the draft of "The Novel." James Baldwin wrote this speech while he was at work on his third novel, Another Country (1962). The speech outlines some of his thoughts on the characteristics of the novel as a form (which he described on the first page as “the most amorphous form of literary endeavor that exists”) and the particular challenges for the American novelist (“so many visions of America and none of them have much to do with what the country really is”). Compelling as these foundational observations are, so too are the indications of Baldwin’s incomplete thoughts, points to which he must return. The final page suggests Baldwin’s view of the promise the novel holds for African American literature when Black writers—such as Richard Wright, Chester Himes, and Ralph Ellison—write how they see themselves: “a new sense of our identity.”
- · Arturo Schomburg's book. “The Negro Digs Up His Past” published in Survey Graphic magazine. This essay by bibliophile, writer, and collector Arturo Alfonso Schomburg introduces his concept of “vindicating evidences” as records of achievement that not only enabled the “first true” writing of Black history, but also forged a recasting of American history. An early articulation of Schomburg’s collecting philosophy, this essay first appeared in Survey Graphic alongside works by other Harlem Renaissance luminaries, and again in Alain Locke’s groundbreaking volume, The New Negro: An Interpretation. Ernestine Rose, a librarian at the 135th Street Branch of The New York Public Library, instigated the Library’s 1926 purchase of Arturo Schomburg’s collection of books, manuscripts, photographs, and art. This “seed library” has since grown to more than 11 million items that remain publicly available today in five research divisions in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
- · Phillis Wheatley (Her personal collection). Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. A prominent poet in her own time and now a key figure in the literary canon, Phillis Wheatley was born free in Africa, then enslaved and later freed in the United States. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was a literary sensation and is the first known book of poetry published by a Black woman. It would later help drive the abolitionist cause, as it testified to the intelligence and creativity that many Americans then believed peoples of African descent to lack. Arturo Alfonso Schomburg included this book in the collection that he sold to the Library in 1926, the “seed library” that initiated today’s Schomburg Center collection.
- · Frederick Douglass. My Bondage and My Freedom. “For my own part, I had now become altogether too big for my chains.” So wrote Frederick Douglass in My Bondage and My Freedom, describing his first attempt to escape slavery in 1836. Along with his earlier, bestselling Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), this second autobiography by the celebrated abolitionist and social reformer sought to both illustrate the cruelty of slavery and advance the case for its abolition. Written in two parts, “Life as a Slave” and “Life as a Freeman,” the book first recounts Douglass’s early life in Maryland and the violence of his youth, and then his life as a freeman and his work alongside other abolitionists to end the inhuman institution.
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