[HNW] (long) Getting in to see rare books

Wanda Pease wandap at hevanet.com
Sat Feb 2 12:48:19 PST 2002


True story I promise!  Once a lady came from the US to Germany where I was
living and took some time to go to the Princess' Library in Darmstadt.
Since she spoke a little German, not much, but enough to get an English
speaking librarian, she began to ask about period costume books.  These were
books printed in period such as Jost Amman, and Vecellio.  Sure enough, they
had copies.  Well, not copies, they had first editions stamped with the
dates that they were entered into the Library's catalogue.  The Jost Amman
had a date of 1573 as I remember.

At any rate we made a date and the librarian ordered the books to be on hand
for us.  When we came in with our little white gloves (an assumption on our
part) they plunked the pile of books down in front of us, asked us NOT to
use the gloves because they might make us clumsy and wrinkle the pages.  The
library staff went on their merry way and we tried not to raise the humidity
in the room too much from hyperventilating that we were actually handling
these things.

Later, when we asked about photographing the librarian told us that it would
be 20 pfennig a page and they would do it for us.  I still have the Jost
Amman on 35 mm film, as well as one of the cookbooks (Cariadoc already has
this one and its translation).

Lesson, there are MANY libraries that have period holdings.  Not all of them
are staffed with academic dragons who sit over their hordes of old books
like Smaug in the Lonely Mountain, preferring they turn to holy dust rather
than let them be of use to someone.

One of the answers is to make a lending copy and make people pay a bit to
consult it.  There is a company in California, www.Octavo.com that is
putting manuscripts on CD and selling them.  They will be doing this to the
Library of Congress' Gutenberg Bible (not that we particularly care about
this one). They do have one by Hans Holbein, Icones Historiarum Veteris
Testamenti, 1547 which is great because they show you exactly what the
original looks like, and you can manipulate and zoom in on things.

I realize that small libraries don't have that capability, but the
Princess's Library did have the ability to photograph the books in their
collection and make them available for a fee.  In fact after they made my
copy and I told them that we would probably want more for a couple of other
people, they simply took mine back to use as a master and made several more
from it (I don't know how they duplicated negatives, but they did.)

Also, when we said we would like to be able to possibly publish the Jost
Amman for our club, the librarian just shrugged and said they didn't care as
long as it wasn't one of their hand scribed manuscripts.  We didn't, and I
still have the film, but I think that most of the images have been printed
in things like Weidnitz and the book of trades, etc.

Much the same thing happened when we went to the German History Museum in
Nuremberg.  We got to see and touch a number of the pieces in the
conservation area (a couple of the 16th century pieces had actually been
rented out as fancy dress in the 50's to raise money to re-create the museum
after WWII!  They still had bits of lace at the wrist and neck edges put on
to protect them, and steel shank pearl buttons to replace the
fasteners!!!!!)  Perhaps having seen so much of their history go up in smoke
in the last century the Germans feel they should be appreciated before they
disappear completely.

However, this was in the 1980's

Regina Romsey


A couple of additions:

<<If you have the least intention of publishing your findings, say
what the sketches will be used for (some libraries do not allow
images of their holdings to be re-used in any public manner without
specific permission.)>>

I would say *most* libraries (and museums) do not allow images of
holdings to be published or reused without specific permission. And
you cannot assume they will allow you to - you *must* ask, if for no
other reason than it's polite. If you publish photos from a
collection, say by posting them on your website, and they find out,
trust me, you will never get back in (and it's a small world - word
will get around.)

If you do get permission to photograph things, most likely you will
be asked to signed a form saying you understand your images are for
personal use/research only, and specifying what you  need to do if
you want to publish images.





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