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Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Our Smallest Books

The Mortimer Rare Book Room is home to a sizable collection of miniature books, defined as being three inches or less in height. They cover a variety of subjects and styles: English literature, the bible, Latin classics, alphabets, fine bindings. Also represented are the tiniest of volumes, dollhouse miniatures.

Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Our Oldest Objects

In the fall of 1993, the Department of Religion and Biblical Literature transferred 370 Babylonian clay tablets to the Rare Book Room. The tablets were probably excavated in what is now Iraq and were gradually procured for Smith since 1915 by professors Irving F. Wood and Elihu Grant.

Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Before they were “rare”  

The genesis of the rare book collection came in the 1940s when early printed books were brought from the general library stacks into a more protective environment. The presence of library call numbers on the spines of many books now in the Rare Book Room indicates that they circulated at one time: students could check them out for use outside the library.

Mortimer Rare Book Room History

The Dimock Collection

On the occasion of an exhibition in October 2000 of selections from the Dimock Collection in the Mortimer Rare Book Room, director of Libraries Christopher Loring remarked:

Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Henry Latimer Seaver, 1878-1976

In April 1960, College Librarian Margaret Johnson wrote a memo about fundraising possibilities for the planned new Rare Book Room. At the top of her list of people who “have shown definite interest in the Rare Book Room through their gifts,” was Henry L. Seaver, a member of the architecture faculty at MIT.

Mortimer Rare Book Room History

The McConnell-Bohning Fund

In February 1976, the Rare Book Room acquired an unusual dance instruction book , one of Ruth Mortimer’s earliest purchases as curator. This ballroom dance for one couple was choreographed by English dancing master Mr. Isaac (circa 1640-1720) and preserved in Feuillet notation which visually traces the pattern of the dance. The bar lines in the dance pattern correspond to bar lines in the music score. One of the dance patterns was reproduced for a number of years on the cover of the Rare Book Room brochure.

Mortimer Rare Book Room

Private Press Books

One of the largest collections within the Mortimer Rare Book Room consists of finely printed limited edition books issued by private presses, starting with William Morris’ Kelmscott Press at the turn of the 20th century and continuing to the present day. This area of western Massachusetts in particular has been a mecca for artists, printers, calligraphers, bookbinders, and the like, since the arrival of Leonard Baskin in Northampton in 1953.

Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Unique Artists Books

The Mortimer Rare Book contains a large collection of contemporary artists books from the 1960s to the present.

Mortimer Rare Book Room

Artists Books and Bindings

In France in the mid-20th century, a tradition developed which paired visual artist not known for book illustration with texts to produce lavishly printed livres d’artistes. The Smith College Museum of Art and the Mortimer Rare Book Room both have substantial collections of these books, as well as more modern ones produced elsewhere in Europe and the United States.

Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Louis H. Silver

In 1964 the Newberry Library in Chicago paid an astounding $2,750,000 for 800 rare books and manuscripts belonging to the late Louis H. Silver. Ten years earlier, 50 of those books—literature, philosophy, history, and science from the 15th to the 19th centuries—were on loan for an exhibition in Neilson Library. Silver’s connection to Smith was his daughters, Loretta Silver Lipton, class of 1952, and Carol Silver, class of 1955.

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