Monday, August 02, 2010

Exploring Collections: Early American Imprints at the Library Company

Posted by Darin Hayton on 08/02 at 10:38 PM

The Library Company of Philadelphia has some great early printed scientific texts. The earliest and largest collection comes from the personal library of James Logan. Logan collected scientific books during the first half of the 18th century, amassing eventually one of the largest personal libraries in the colonies and the largest library of scientific texts. Another collection, the Michael Zinman collection, was donated more recently to the Library Company and includes numerous rare and unique early-American imprints, though not confined to scientific texts.

Two interesting and rare books from the Zinman collection include the earliest scientific book in English printed in North American: Jacob Taylor, Tenebrae in… or, The eclipses of the sun & moon calculated for twenty years (New York: William Bradford, 1697).

Taylor’s Tenebrae (Source: The Library Company of Philadelphia)

Taylor’s Tenebrae was also the first book printed in colonies with metal cut illustrations. Previously a fragmentary copy of this text was known in the New York Public Library, but this is the only complete copy (it is missing part of the title page).

Another interesting early book is Aristotle’s Complete master-piece (Boston: Zechariah Feeling, 1766). This is the first American edition of a “sex manual.”

Aristotle’s Complete master-piece (Boston: Zechariah Feeling, 1766) (Source: The Library Company of Philadelphia)

Particularly interesting is the illustration facing the title page, which shows a physician or scholar, a naked woman covered in strange marks, probably a sign of some disease, and some quasi-demonic, skeletal child:

Illustration from the Aristotle’s Complete master-piece (Boston: Zechariah Feeling, 1766) (Source: The Library Company of Philadelphia)

The Zinman collection also includes numerous rare books on witchcraft, e.g., the only known complete copy of The Devil; Or, the New-Jersey Dance (Boston, 1797), as well as thousands of pre-1801 ephemera, e.g., the first drug and pharmacy catalog, various braodsides and pamphlets.1 For people interested in early American science, The Library Company is a wonderful resource.

1To get a complete list of all 8000+ items in the Zinman collection, visit The Library Company’s catalog, log in as Guest, and perform a simple search for “Zinman”.

Tags: early american science, michael zinman, tenebrae, the library company of philadelphia