October 2013 | Rebecca Rego Barry

50 Prized Books and Manuscripts from Yale's Beinecke Library

FoldingCalendar.pngCarried along by medieval readers like a purse on a string, this vade mecum was created in Paris c. 1290-1300. It is a rare survivor from the medieval period, particularly in such good condition--it has its original twenty-seven leaves, textile cover, and leather case--and was likely carried by a merchant during his daily travels. (You can see it from all angles on Yale's Flickr page.) The little folding calendar noting local fair dates in Champagne is one of the fifty treasures featured in a new book about the Beinecke Library's collection.

To celebrate the library's 50th anniversary this month, Yale University Press has published An Inspiration to All Who Enter: Fifty Works from Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (paperback, $25). Edited by Kathryn James, curator of early modern books and manuscripts at the Beinecke, the book also contains contributions by Raymond Clemens, Nancy Kuhl, George Miles, Kevin Repp, Edwin C. Schroeder, and Timothy Young. With full-color photography of these fifty incredible objects--the young John Hancock's penmanship workbook, Siegfried Sassoon's annotated first edition of Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That, and drafts and typescript of Langston Hughes' "Montage of a Dream Deferred," to name a few--this slim volume is eye candy for bibliophiles. There are brief notes for each entry, and one of the most enjoyable relates how the eminent bookseller William Reese sold one of the oldest maps of Mexico City to the library while still an undergraduate at Yale.

Voynich_Manuscript_(170).jpgThe Voynich Manuscript (seen above) is another one of the featured items -- in this book it is called one of the Beinecke's "most famous, even notorious" manuscripts. The indecipherable manuscript was presented to the library in 1969 by H.P. Kraus, and while it does have a long paper trail, it remains a mystery.