Mortimer Rare Book Room Exhibitions

Exhibitions in the Library

Exhibitions of manuscripts, rare books, and contemporary book arts are shown in three places in Neilson Library: in the Morgan Gallery on the main floor, in the Book Arts Gallery on the third floor, and in the Mortimer Rare Book Room vestibule.

Spring 2015

Paper or Plastic

January 26-February 28, 2015
Books Arts Gallery, Neilson Library, Level 3

An exhibition of bookstore bags from around the world curated by Naomi Sinnathamby, class of 2015. The Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith houses approximately 45,000 books and manuscripts. Our holdings also include objects and ephemera, including a somewhat frivolous collection of 176 paper and plastic bags from bookstores and museum gift shops from the United States and numerous other countries, including England, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Tunisia. An eclectic selection of the bags is on display. 

Elizabeth A. Swaim saved these bags as she bought books around the world. In December 2000, Elizabeth’s sister Kathleen donated the bags to the Mortimer Rare Book Room, along with Swaim’s extensive reference library of books about books. Elizabeth Swaim, a scholar of English literature and book studies, retired in 1998 as Rare Books Librarian and Archivist at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. 

Enjoy this trip around the world. One case is devoted to “mystery” bags, which don’t include the location of the bookstore. Please help us to identify places of origin for these bags.

Paper or Plastic Exhibition poster

Loving Books

January 26-February 28, 2015
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Neilson Library, Level 3

An exhibition of books from the finison collection curated by Emily Rothman, class of 2015. Longtime Northampton residents Myrtle and Harvey Finison were avid collectors of late-19th and early 20th-century decorated cloth bookbindings. They were able to purchase most of their books decades ago, for as little as 50¢ or just a few dollars each. Many of these novels now seem dated and full of purple prose–flowery, ornate, and extravagant–but the stunning, multi-colored designs on the covers still delight viewers. In 1999, after Myrtle’s death, the Finison family donated 2,000 of their parents’ books to the Mortimer Rare Book Room. Many books from the Finison Collection are on permanent display in the Friends Reading Room on the first floor of Neilson Library. 

The books on display here all address love in some way, in their titles, prose, images, or decorations. Note that some of the covers are signed with the initials of their designers, many of whom were women. In an era preceding the modern dust jacket, decorated cloth bindings such as these were commissioned by book publishers to adorn cloth bindings as an eye-catching advertisement.

Loving Books poster

See also Past Exhibitions.