Rare book collecting at Mary Washington College began on August 2, 1963 with the first meeting of the “Advisory Committee on Rare Books.” Daniel H. Woodward, a professor of English, was the founder of the idea and served as committee Chair. The other members were Sidney H. Mitchell (English), Pauline G. King (Art History), and Lawrence A. Wishner (Chemistry). Dr. Gordon W. Jones, an OB/GYN and—in the words of Carrol H. Quenzel, head librarian of the College—“Fredericksburg’s most distinguished book collector”—served as an outside member. At its September meeting, the committee identified three topics for “systematic collecting”: 1) Claude Bernard, a 19th century French physiologist; 2) James Joyce, the first figure in a projected collection of modern Irish Literature; and 3) Landscape design and architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries. Dr. Jones and Professor Wishner worked on the first; Professors Mitchell and Woodward on the second; and Professor King on the third. In fall of 1964, a quaint “Rare Book Room” opened in Trinkle Library (currently the CPR seminar room in James Farmer Hall). Its wooden bookshelves with grilled double doors were ideal for housing the growing collection.
The science collection grew with a string of purchases in 1963 that included first editions of Claude Bernard’s Leçons de physiologie expérimentale (2 volumes, 1855-56), Mémoire sur le pancréas (1856), and Leçons sur les propriétés des tissus vivants (1866). In 1965, Professor Wishner praised its merits in a College pamphlet: “Although not yet exhaustive, the Bernard Collection is already richly representative of the Bernard canon, and contains a number of his most important single volumes.” By the 1970s, MWC would own over eighteen books by Bernard. The physiologist made three major conceptual contributions to our understanding of the human body. The first of these concerns the relation between internal secretions and metabolic regulation. The second is his refutation of vital duality; he stressed instead a metabolic unity between humans and animals. The third is his deterministic method for experimental medical practice. In May of 1965, the Bernard collection went on display in the Trinkle Library rotunda, one of several curated rare book exhibitions that took place about ten times per year in the 1960s. This one on Bernard accompanied a lecture in the Science Building (now Combs Hall) by Dr. Jay F. Spencer, a professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine of the Medical College of Virginia.
Cover, informational page, and title page of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), the first acquisition in the literature track and UMW’s first official rare book.
The architecture collection began by stressing the European heritage of the College and its place within the state of Virginia. The first acquisition in 1964 was a first edition by French architect Charles-Louis Clérisseau, an authority on Roman ruins. The oversized and lavishly illustrated Antiquités de la France (1778) found an admirer in a young Thomas Jefferson. The book helped shape Virginia’s neoclassical architecture after Clérisseau collaborated with the future U.S. president on the Virginia State Capitol in 1785. Clérisseau advocated on behalf of the Palladian style that Jefferson used for his design of the University of Virginia in 1819. Mary Washington College, UVA’s sister school from 1944-1972, followed a similar model during its founding. A second strength of the collection is the eighteenth-century English landscape architect Humphry Repton. Editions of his books—all of them capturing an admiration for wild landscapes (even within commissions for the landed gentry)—entered the College in the 1960s and 1970s. These include the romanticist Odd Whims; and Miscellanies (1804), An Enquiry into the Changes of Taste in Landscape Gardening (1806), and Design for the Pavillon at Brighton (1808), which captures the British vogue for orientalist motifs in the early nineteenth century.
Pamphlet produced by the Associates of Trinkle Library, 1978.
User log records indicate that the Joyce materials were the most visited among the rare books holdings during the 1960s. In 1972, the College lost Professor Woodward to the Huntington Library in California. Himself a collector of seventeenth-century British literature, Woodward was a passionate advocate for rare books learning, overseeing the collection while also serving as Trinkle’s head librarian from 1969-1972. In an issue of “Alumnae News” from 1969, he rendered his pedagogical philosophy thus: “Because of their historical significance, their intrinsic value, their beauty, and sentimental associations, rare books, when intelligently grouped, have power to excite imagination and stimulate the intellectual curiosity of the student. A rare book collection, no matter how modest, can be made by alert librarians to play an educational role, and to enliven the library, increase its prestige, and to draw alumni and friends” (5). Upon Professor Woodward’s departure, Mary Washington College officially renamed its reading room the “Daniel H. Woodward Rare Books Library,” commemorating it with a bronze plaque. Once the library moved from Trinkle to Simpson in January 1989, the Woodward Collection turned into the first part of “Special Collections and University Archives,” which currently resides in Simpson 217.
Title page of UMW's copy of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).
University Librarian Dr. Carrol Quenzel (right) and an unidentified colleague in the original Rare Book Room.
The cover pages of UMW's copy of Leçons de physiologie expérimentale, vol. 1 and 2 (1855-56), the first acquisitions in the science track.
As Professor Daniel Woodward noted in 1965, Mary Washington College “already has a core of reference books about Joyce (but no Joyce first editions).” The Irish collection began with a first U.S. edition of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). It is the first item logged into the Mary Washington College rare books registry on October 16, 1963. The College purchased dozens of rare books by or about Joyce, including first editions of his four major works. Besides the autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, these consist of a remarkably scarce British first edition of the short story collection Dubliners (1914), and U.S. and British first editions of the highly experimental Finnegan’s Wake (1939). Moreover, one of the crown jewels of UMW’s collection today is a book Woodward purchased from a Florida bookseller in October 1963: a Shakespeare and Company first edition of Ulysses (1922). With its radical stream-of-consciousness technique (and a history of censorship that hindered its dissemination), the novel is a modernist tour de force still unmatched in world literature. Published in Paris by the American expat Sylvia Beach, the UMW copy is #552 in a limited publication run of 1,000. The library owns over a dozen editions of this magnum opus, including examples from the U.S. (as first serialized in The Little Review), the Netherlands, France, and England. Today, the James Joyce collection comprises the largest single author focus, totaling over 175 items.
Title page of UMW's copy of Antiquités de la France (1778), the first acquisition in the architecture track.
Although the Rare Book Library began officially in 1963, the College already owned important volumes that would fit into its special collections. These came mostly from gifts and sometimes from the lending stacks. One treasure of early Americana is Alonso de Molina’s Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana (1571), a dictionary of Spanish to Nahuatl authored by a Franciscan friar. The author aided religious conversion during the Spanish Conquest of Mexico through this first dictionary printed in the Americas. It appeared just decades after the introduction of the printing press in Mexico City (the first in the Western Hemisphere) in 1539. The UMW copy once belonged to Dr. Gordon Jones, who donated it to the College in 1960, and continued to serve as a rare book donor for three decades. In addition to his work as co-founder on the “Advisory Committee on Rare Books,” Dr. Jones chaired “The Associates of Trinkle Library of Mary Washington College,” an affiliate of the Mary Washington College Foundation. These “Trinkle Associates”—its membership consisting of bibliophiles and book collectors—formed in December 1977 with the goal of creating a book-oriented community on campus. Dr. Jones authored his own bibliophile column in the College’s “News and Views from Trinkle” quarterly newsletter. Another column, “From the Woodward Collection,” served as an organ of the Rare Book Room from 1972-1985. Here, faculty authors wrote about collection artifacts linked to their disciplines. Until their disbandment around 1987, the “Trinkle Associates” organized guest lectures, held book fairs, ran student trips to DC area libraries, and facilitated alumni donations of rare books to the College (most of all when commemorating special occasions, such as graduations, anniversaries, and retirements).
Dr. Antonio Barrenechea in the current Rare Books Room, located in Room 217 of Simpson Library.
Over the span of sixty years, Special Collections has amassed new volumes in line with its founding mission. As a living and breathing collection open for consultation, it has also expanded in other areas. It is strongest in Anglophone literature, having acquired materials by Shakespeare, Chaucer, Marvell, Donne, Dickens, Wilde, Orwell, Wheatley, Melville, Poe, Stein, and many others. At times, librarians created new targets, such as the “Fifty Authors” acquisition project that began with the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. The initiative came after the cataloguing of “Negro Authors Represented” in the holdings of the library collection during the 1970s, an effort to expand the curriculum. Noteworthy tomes span the arts and sciences. Among them is a first edition of the crowning intellectual achievement of the Enlightenment, Denis Diderot’s multivolume Encyclopédie (1755-66), the basis for the modern encyclopedia. From this same period comes a British first edition of Dictionary of the English Language (2 volumes, 1755), Samuel Johnson’s foundation for Anglophone letters. A 1645 edition of Dutch mapmaker Joan Blaeu’s Le theatre du monde with fanciful plates depicting the early Americas (including John Smith’s map of Virginia) shares shelf space with other cartographies. One of the collection’s prized possessions is more modest in appearance, reminding us of the University’s origins—a first U.S. edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). The book holds pride of place in a Special Collection at a state institution that began as a women’s college.
Professor Antonio Barrenechea currently serves as faculty liaison to Special Collections. He joined UMW in 2005 after receiving a PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale. He is the author of America Unbound: Encyclopedic Literature and Hemispheric Studies, a book about how big books generate meaning in the print humanities. He currently holds fellowships from the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley and Rare Books School at the University of Virginia.