On February 28, highlights from Lisa Unger Baskin's nearly 9,000-piece collection of rare books, ephemera, and other artifacts created and produced by women over the course of five hundred years went on display at Duke University, which acquired the collection in 2015 and incorporated it into its Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture at the David M. Rubenstein Library.
"The unifying thread is that women have always been productive and working people and this history essentially has been hidden," Baskin said, who began building the collection in the 1960s and when, as she put it "there was little interest in the historical record of the achievements of women." Her collection reveals the long hidden--but thoroughly essential--world of women's work, of which the exhibition offers a tantalizing glimpse.
Among the items on display are a scribal parchment dated March 9, 1240 which documents the execution of a bequest for a home for repentant prostitutes in Pisa, Italy. An example of a book printed in 1745 by the widow of a successful Mexico City-based printer shows that women could work the presses just as well as men, while striking Art Nouveau bindings by Sarah Prideaux reveal that artist's innate talent for the craft. (Prideaux did not become a professional bookbinder until her thirties.)
The show is open to the public at Duke through June 15 before heading to the Grolier Club, where it will be on display December 11, 2019 through February 8, 2020. Visitors need not be upset if they can't make it to Durham or Manhattan in either of those time frames: the entire exhibition, including a video interview with Baskin, is available online.
Images: (Top) Grant of land in Pisa, Italy, to Frater Baldiccione, signed Ildenbrandinus de Navacchio, 9 March 1240, [Italy]: 9 March 1240, Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. (Bottom) Lefroy, Edward Cracroft, Echoes from Theocritus, and Other Sonnets, London: Elliot Stock, 1885, [Binding by Sarah Prideaux] Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.