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We’ve moved!

Early Modern at the Beinecke has become … Early Modern at the Beinecke!   We’ve switched to wordpress 3, and incorporated the blog into a new collection guide for the Beinecke’s early modern British and European collections.  This site will remain on, but the lively times and happenings of the early modern collections will move over onto the new site.

Please join us at the new Early Modern at the Beinecke, for news on recent acquisitions and other doings of the Beinecke’s British and European collections, in print and manuscript, 1500-1800.

Birds of Yore: An Interlude

In a new take on the roles and methodologies of public history, crane chicks have been hatched in England for the first time since their extinction in the seventeenth century, and crane chick specialists will dress as birds to teach them English crane culture.   In honor of this—and in a bid for historical ornithological re-enactment as a league sport—Beinecke early modern is proud to host a brief Birds of Yore interlude, featuring engravings from the work of George Edwards, author of A Natural History of Uncommon Birds, printed for the author at the College of Physicians, [1743]-1751.

A tip of the hat to our early modern feathered friends and their fans!

For the ornithologically intrigued, visit some of the Beinecke’s online bird collections in the Beinecke’s Digital Images & Collections.  Below, an 1843 sighting of a woodpecker, in John Bell’s Diary of an Expedition with John James Audubon (call number: WA MSS S-1752, in the Beinecke’s Yale Collection of Western Americana).

From the Reading Room: Block Book Printing

Contributed to Early Modern at the Beinecke by Morgan Swan.  Morgan, who completed his doctorate in the Yale University English Department, works in the Beinecke Library Access Services department and is finishing his Master’s of Library Science.

From the Reading Room: This series of postings highlights the research of students, research fellows, and other scholars working in the Beinecke’s early modern collections.

Johannes Gutenberg’s refinement of the printing process in 1450 profoundly altered the relationship between reader and text in the western world.  However, the division between manuscript and printed text was not nearly as clean-cut as is often believed. Block books were books that contained both images and text, all printed from the same carved wooden blocks. These liminal books had been in production for several decades before Mainz’s most famous son began issuing his Bibles; they represent an often overlooked link between the cultures of manuscript and print.

These books, also known as xylographic texts, were mainly printed in the Netherlands and Germany during the first half of the fifteenth century. The printing process was simple: one purchased a carved set of blocks from the woodcutter, wet them with ink, placed a sheet of paper on top, and rubbed the back of the paper vigorously with an implement until the ink was transferred from the raised ridges on the block to the surface of the paper. For this reason, most block book pages have printing only on one side, although some later versions were produced in a printing press and therefore have images on both sides. The simple, stark nature of the images, combined with the rough and sometimes illegible text, belied the artistry that was necessary to shape such an unforgiving medium as wood.

Because each block had to be carved by hand, the artisans who carved and sold these images would often only create sets that they knew would sell. As a result, there are only a limited number of books remaining from the era of the block book. One such text is the Dutch Apocalpysis Sancti Johannis, known to English readers as the Apocalypse of St. John (or the Book of Revelation) and considered to be the most extensive and artistically pristine of block books. The examples above and immediately below are from a facsimile (a rarity in its own right) held by the Beinecke, depicting Revelation 16:8-11.

In addition to the facsimile copy of this popular block-book, the Beinecke Library holds an original single sheet printed from a different set of blocks:

Note the coloration in this second example. Decoration would have been commissioned by the buyer or printer of the block book or, as seems to have been the case in this example, done with their own unskilled hand. Another point of interest is the variation in the style of the woodcutters of the two blocks. The Beinecke’s artisan appears to have had greater skill than that of the facsimile’s original creator; note the delicate width of the fingers on the lower angel, for example. It is a shame that the illustrator of the Beinecke page lacked the same degree of finesse, even if the splashes of vivid red on the mouths of blasphemers in the lower right image, representing their bloody tongues rent in anguish, are disturbingly appropriate.

Ironically, the advent of Gutenberg’s moveable type also signaled a step backwards for such a sophisticated artistic interrelation of text and image. It would be many centuries before printers would find a way to intertwine the two in so closely-knit and stylistically satisfying fashion as is found in the block book.

Item 1: H. Theodor Musper, Die Urausbagen der hollaendischen Apokalypse und Biblia pauperum (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1961); Beinecke call number: X183 A64 +961.  Item 2: Apocalypsis Sancti Johannis.  Netherlands, ca. 1470?  Beinecke call number: Zi +40.

Goodbye to Johnson and All That

Goodbye, goodbye, to 2009! But linger first for one last glimpse back o’er the annus Johnsonianus, with its wild lexicographical wonderments. Below, some favorites from Dr Johnson’s Dictionary, which ended today:

Those of you in Johnsonian withdrawal are invited to visit a web exhibition of the Beinecke’s 2009 Samuel Johnson exhibition, to browse the scanned copy of the annotated Sneyd-Gimbel copy of Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (from which most excerpts for the Dr Johnson’s Dictionary blog were drawn), or to ramble through the digital archive of the James Boswell papers, held in the Beinecke Library collections.

For the rest of us, there is always the anniversarial literature of 2010. Why not a bracing dip into the quadringentesimal translation of William Camden’s Britannia—or, for those of you seeking inspiration for your new year’s resolutions, perhaps the tersemicentennial Peter Whitehorne translation of Machiavelli’s Arte of Warre. For the royalists among you, there are always the festival books for the 1610 coronation of Louis XIII—let’s hear it for the roi!

In the interim, do but consider this small dust, here running in the glass by atoms mov’d. Beginning on January 1, the Beinecke’s new Early Modern Paleography blog will begin its wander through the manuscripts and annotations of the Beinecke’s early modern collections. It’s not too late to resolve that 2010 will be the year of reading the early modern word, as scratched, copied, blotted by the early modern hand. Below, death, time, and love from the other Jonson, to mark the beginning of 2010.

Commonplace book, mid-17th century. Beinecke call number: Osborn b205.

Welcomes, Introductions, Explorations of Purpose

Welcome to the new academic year for Early Modern at the Beinecke, a blog for the British and European print and manuscript collections, 1500-1800, at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.


Each month, Early Modern at the Beinecke will explore an area of the early modern collections, introducing not only the materials themselves but their stories as objects or collections. As items in a rare book library, books and manuscripts are met and understood in many spaces and contexts. These essays will delve into the translations which occur as works move between the database and the reading room, the stacks and the footnote, the conservation lab and the classroom.


Early Modern at the Beinecke also peeks inside the reading room. The voices of researchers in the Beinecke collections can be heard in “From the Reading Room,” a column featuring postings by visiting researchers, Yale graduate fellows, and other researchers in the collections.


Early Modern at the Beinecke invites its readers to participate in the social life of the Beinecke’s early modern collections. Exhibitions, lectures, new resources, and events relating to the early modern collections will be announced; these are always free and open to the public. Further information on events can be found on the Beinecke’s calendar of events. Questions on the Beinecke’s location and hours can usually be answered on its web-site.


For further information on Early Modern at the Beinecke or on the Beinecke’s early modern collections, please feel free to contact Kathryn James, the Beinecke’s Assistant Curator for Early Modern Books and Manuscripts & the Osborn Collection at

Half-Portrait of Woman, Obscured at Edges

This untitled piece is one of a portfolio of forty drawings attributed to Samuel Cooper (1609 -1672), the English miniature painter. The works are of unidentified subjects, traced in red ink on transparent paper. Beinecke call number: Osborn fb 122.





There are forty drawings in Osborn fb 122, all of which have been scanned and included in the Beinecke’s Digital Images and Collections. The Cooper portfolio is in the public domain, and these images can be used or downloaded without any need for permissions.

A new and easy English grammar

All you ever needed to speak Dutch (or English):

“will you believe me?  Wilje my geloven?

are we obliged to do it? Zijn wy verpligt het te doen?

hath she so much boldness?  Heeft zy zoo veel stoutigheyt?

Is he an honest man?  Is hy een eerbaar man?

Can you doe that?  Kung gy dat doen?

Are you a man of your word?  Zijt gy een man van u woort?

Is he dead?  is hy doot?”

From J.G. van Heldoren’s A new and easy English grammar, containing brief fundamental rules, usual phrases, pleasant and choise dialogues concerning the present state and court of England.  Whereunto is added a nomenclature, English and Dutch (Amsterdam: Mercy Bruining, 1675), p. 27.  A recent purchase in the Macclesfield sale.