Treasures at the Huntington Library

I was able to visit the gold mine that is the Huntington Gardens and Library on my last trip to Southern California. The visit yielded a Gutenberg Bible, a volvelle, and other scientific books meant to be interactive in their time, but that now live under plexiglass, off limits to touch. Primarily, I saw the permanent exhibition, "Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World"  in the Dibner Hall of the History of Science. Books from the 16th and 17th centuries are displayed in a contemporary manner with nice lighting, well-chosen typography, and freshly painted walls.

Volvelle inside Astronomicum Caesareum (Caesar's Astronomy) by Petrus Apianus, Ingolstadt, Germany, 1540. Notes indicate that this book is primarily a scientific instrument rather than a series of volvelles supplementing a text as were most volvelles up until that time. This was produced before Copernicus and when astronomy was still earth-centered.

Epitome: De humani corporis fabrica (Epitome. On the fabric of the human body). Basel, Switzerland, 1543. By Andreas Vesalius, illustrations by Jan Stephan van Calcar, a student of Titian. A teaching tool since actual cadavers were difficult to obtain.

An ivory anatomical model of a pregnant woman, c. 1540, sits next to a popular handbook for midwives and physicians, by Eucharius Rösslin, d. 1526, London. One source lists the original title as The Rosegarden. "…the midwife must instruct and comfort the party, not only refreshing her with good meate and drinke, but also with sweet words, giving her hope of a good speedie deliverance…"

Got ideas? An exhibit of the lightbulb collection, part of the science exhibit, in the room after the books.

Optical fibers hung from the ceiling in the science exhibit. Someone pointed out that if you moved the camera while you took the picture you could get interesting effects.

No exhibit is complete without chickens. "Fowles of Heaven," was produced in London in 1613-14 by Edward Topsell. The unfinished and unfunded manuscript only contains birds beginning with the letters A, B, and C. According to this site, the book was published in 1972, although I suspect it was set in type. (The Fowles of Heaven; Or History of Birdes ships from a bookshop in England.)

Currently on view in the personal library at the Henry E. Huntington (1850-1927) house, known as the Huntington Art Gallery: The Gutenberg Bible, Mainz, c. 1455, with beautiful illumination. It will return to the Library's Main Exhibition Hall in the Fall of 2013. (I once tried to visit a Gutenberg Bible in Cambridge, but there was a note in the empty case stating that it was closed for Thanksgiving vacation.) According to one website, there are only 49 known copies left out of the original 180 copies printed. Huntington paid $50,000 for it in 1911 "at that time the highest price ever paid for a book." According to the Library of Congress website, we should call it "The first book printed with moveable metal type in Western Europe."

In looking at these exhibitions, I was reminded how some children will only read old classics if the books have modern covers. The contemporary displays in the Huntington galleries (in essence, the repackaging of the old work) were exciting and made us curious. We wanted to keep looking.

Digital page samples of other books here.

Eventually: A look at the Huntington Gardens.


Velma said…
this is one place i wish i could visit--
Alisa said…
Ah, Velma, it's 200 acres of gardens as well. I really wanted to just pitch a tent in a remote corner and hope no one would notice if I stayed awhile…