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History Professor Donates Rare Manuscripts
To Special Collections

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The illuminated front page of the 15th century Gothic type folio Scrutinium Scripturarum by Johann Mentelin.

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An illustrated page from a version of The Pheanomena of Aratus, a book on astronomy authored by the 4th century author Avienus and reprinted in Venice in 1488.

Rutgers University Professor Karl Morrison has more than just an academic understanding of the medieval literature he discusses in his classes. He has also served for many years as a passionate advocate for and friend of the Rutgers University Libraries.

It made good sense to bring together both interests. So in August, Professor Morrison increased his impact at Rutgers by donating ten rare books and manuscripts to Special Collections and University Archives.

Ranging from a 12th century breviarum manuscript leaf of Easter prayers in German to an autographed 18th century manuscript of the "Prologue" to Andre Chenier's L'Art d'Aimer, the items were all independently appraised for a total value exceeding $100,000. The most notable item donated is a copy of the 15th century Gothic type folio Scrutinium Scripturarum by Johann Mentelin. Printed in Strassburg, Germany before 1470, soon after the invention of the printing press, the folio is the first edition of the first printed work of anti-Semitism. While some of these volumes or manuscripts were purchased from his professional research fund, others came from Professor Morrison's personal collection.

"This is one of the finest gifts we've ever received," said Ron Becker, head of Special Collections and University Archives. "It significantly adds to our growing collection of incunabula, which we showcased in a 1998 exhibition "The First 100 Years of Printing."

One of the exhibition's curators, Rutgers Rare Book Librarian Michael Joseph, noted: "Every donation of rare books is an occasion for rejoicing. But Professor Morrison's gift, in which we have not one, but four incunabula, is particularly exciting. The Scrutinium Scripturarum, with its beautifully painted and gilded initials, and its brilliant binding of hand- stamped leather and brass, is a magnificent example of the art of printing in its first flowering; and the remarkable suite of constellation woodcuts in Avienus's "Epigramma" (1488) really shows off the art of Renaissance Venetian book illustration in all of its power and elegance. Thanks to Karl, the Libraries are now better able to teach students about the rich, complex, and beautiful history of The Book."

Speaking about why he made the donation, Professor Morrison commented: "I have always thought that, after the people who make it up, any university's most valuable resource is its library. Rutgers University and its library system have opened opportunities to me that I never dreamed of in many walks of life. The time just seemed right to say "thank you."

Karl Morrison is the Lessing Professor of History and Poetics in the Rutgers University History Department's Medieval Studies Program. His work focuses on the history of political thought, historiography (with a particular interest in Church history), mysticism, and the mechanics of tradition. He received the McKnight Foundation Award in the Humanities in 1963 and a Rutgers University Board of Trustees award for excellence in teaching in 1997. He is a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and has taught at Rutgers since 1988.

The books and manuscripts donated in August complement a collection of 16th-18th century books on ceremonies and festivals in Western Europe, that Professor Morrison helped the Rutgers University Libraries build up over the last fifteen years. The rarest book in this growing collection is an account published in 1571 of the coronations of King Charles IX and Queen Elisabeth of France. Another notable rare book in the ceremonies and festivals collection, this one published in 1602, commemorated the state entry of the Archduke Albert of Austria and his wife, Isabella of Spain, in four cities of the Low Countries (including Brussels). Other rare books in the earlier collection focus on weddings, a state funeral, fireworks displays, and other topics.

Books from both collections may be viewed during regular library hours, upon request, in the New Jersey Reading Room of Special Collections and University Archives. For more information, please contact Special Collections and University Archives at 732/932-7006.

Posted November 14, 2003