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Rare Book Room

Serendipity in the Archives

Some people think that everything that happens in a library is strictly planned and ordered.  That’s what librarians and archivists do.  They gather, organize, arrange, describe…all planned out and orderly.

Not always!  One of the words that often comes up is “serendipity.”   The dictionary definition is:  

noun: serendipity; plural noun: serendipities:   The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. 

That plays out in many ways, and often, several times a week.  Just recently, department members of ASCC (Archives, Special Collections and Community) had prepared a class libguide on 19th century Davidson buildings.  As we looked for photos of the original Chambers building, one of the names which came up was Alexander Jackson Davis, an architect who had worked on the building. The following week as I was looking for something else in our Archives Storage area, I came upon a box with a note taped to the top which read:

Miss Shore, These are Photostats of the original architectural plans for old Chambers building (completed 1860) – the architect was the famous Alexander Jackson Davis of New York & these are his drawings (the Frank Lloyd Wright of his day).  These copies cost us $50 – I hope we can find a tray for them in the map stand.  Many thanks. C.G.D.”  The original is in the vault.

Last week I got a catalogue from a rare book dealer which included a prospectus for two books of poetry by A.R. Ammons, a North Carolina poet from Whiteville.  Thanks to a retired Davidson English professor, Dr. Elizabeth Mills, we have several books of his in the Rare Book Room, including the two described in the prospectus.  How lucky to find this item to add to the Rare Book Room collection.  (Not lucky.  Just serendipity again.)

About two weeks ago, an outside researcher sent a request to Archives for information on Presbyterian religious studies and worship at Davidson.  Luckily, since we are currently unable to have outside visitors, Jessica Cottle had just sent a list of many of our digitized resources to a student researching in the same area.  Click.  Sent the list to the researcher.  Serendipity strikes again.

And, last week, we were talking with Meggie Lasher about a possible “nature walk” through Davidson’s arboretum.  We told her about the resources we had about the arboretum, including a map.  Almost immediately after the meeting we had a request from a professor about the arboretum.  No problem.  The materials were already at hand.

We do have a saying in the department that “things come in threes.”  Wonder which of these things we’ll be asked about again soon?

Guest Blogger: Alice Sloop, Sr. Staff Assistant, E.H. Little Library, “Davidson From Day One – The Sloop Family”

Alice Sloop has been employed in the E.H. Little Library since 2000.

What does a gentleman born in 1771, a table circa 1834, an 1860 Davidson graduate, dozens of Alumni, a Davidson College Trustee, and a current Davidson employee have in common?  Answer:  a single family heritage.  The Sloops have been an integral part of Davidson College since the very beginning of the idea to start our beloved school.

Our family historian, Dr. Robert Felts Sloop, Jr. (b.1934-) documents the beginnings of the Sloop family interest in education in North Carolina with his 3rd great grandfather “Colonel” James Jamison (b.1771-d.1846).  Back in 1834 when the Concord Presbytery met in James Jamison’s home near Prospect Presbyterian Church (located near Mooresville, NC), resolutions were drawn up on his table to “establish a school for young men to educate them for the ministry and other occupations”.  This school would become Davidson College. This table on which these resolutions were signed now sits in the Smith Rare Book Room at E.H. Little Library.

Sloop Family Table, Alcove, Smith Rare Book Room

The story of the family’s donation of this table to Davidson College is a funny one according to Dr. Sloop. Colonel James Jamison died in 1846 and is buried in the Prospect Presbyterian Church cemetery. His son, Franklin (Frank) Jamison inherited the table and when he died, it was purchased “for a dear price” by Mrs. Agnus C. Jamison Bailey, our 2nd great aunt.  Subsequently, at another Presbytery meeting in Mrs. Bailey’s home in Back Creek, a Dr. Monroe learned about the history of the table and suggested that it be given to Davidson College.  Mrs. Bailey stated that she paid too much for it and was unwilling to give it away! Some time later John Jamison (another son of Colonel Jamison) had a daughter named Sally Kerr Jamison who banded together with sisters Minnie and Eugenia and bought the table from their sister Agnus.  So then, Sally, Minnie, and Eugenia donated the table to Davidson College.  Dr. Walter Lingle, President Emeritus, would later write a thank you letter to the family.

Letter October 8, 1947 Walter Lingle, President-Emeritus Davidson College to Mrs. J.W. Johnson

This story is only one of many fascinating Sloop family stories related to Davidson College. 

The E.H. Little Library – Rare Book Room

The Smith Rare Book Room
The Smith Rare Book Room

 On the second floor of the E.H. Little Library, in the north corner toward the College Union, you’ll find two paneled wooden doors with lettering above them reading, Smith Rare Book Room.  What’s behind those doors?  And, what is the history of the room?  The room was named in honor of four brothers, all Davidson College graduates, Dr. Henry Louis Smith (President of Davidson College, 1901-1912), Dr. Egbert Watson Smith, Dr. Charles Alphonso Smith, and Dr. Hay Watson Smith. It houses the rare books and manuscripts belonging to the college, as well as some artifacts, with materials dating as early as 1250 BC and as recent as last year.

The Smith Brothers
Grey Memorial Library
Grey Memorial Library

The original Smith Rare Rook Room was located in the Grey Memorial Library, and was dedicated on May 9, 1964.  It was sometimes referred to as the “Treasure Room” since it housed many books which were considered “treasures” by the college including The 35 volume mid 1700s French Encyclopédie edited by Denis Diderot; a first edition of  John Milton’s Paradise Lost, published in 1668; nearly 100 works from the Golden Cockerel Press, donated by Dr. Harold Marvin; an incunable, printed in 1492, of the Works of Seneca; a manuscript Horae (or Book of Hours) made in France around 1500; and a Bible, printed in Arabic in 1811, and owned by Omar Ibn Sayyid. Many of the early acquisitions for the Rare Book Room were donations, often personal collections of the donors. 

The materials in the Rare Book Room are often used for research, either by students or by independent scholars, and the space, newly renovated during the summer, has been the location for special events, including the annual “Ghost Stories in the Library.”

Ghosts in the Library
Ghosts in the Library

There is a display case that houses a rotating display of items in the collection.

Although currently we are unable to invite classes into the Rare Book Room, we’re looking forward to doing that again soon!

Rethinking Darwin….

Descent of Man 1st ed., 1871 title page

Descent of Man
1st ed., 1871

I had an RBR session yesterday for Dr. Jerry Putnam and two of his students studying Perspectives on Darwinism.  One of the items I had out from the collection is our first edition of his The Descent of Man, and selection in relation to sex.  Here’s some information on our copy.

The Descent of man, and selection in relation to sex.  By Charles Darwin.  London, J. Murray, 1871, 2v., 1st edition.

Published 12 years after his famous On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man was Darwin’s second work dealing with the theory of evolution and natural selection.  His first, On the Origin of Species, may be a more familiar title to many, but it is on page 2 of the 1st edition of The Descent of Man that Darwin first used the term evolution.

Vol. I page 2 Introduction chapter

Use of the word “evolution” in 1st paragraph

The Rare Book Room has a copy of the 1st edition, 1st issue, which was published in 2 volumes in a run of 2500 copies on February 24, 1871.  It was given to the library by Dr. Carlton B. Chapman, Davidson class of 1936, and a collector in the area of medical history.  It is in its original green cloth binding,

Original binding of Descent of Man Vol. I and Vol. II

Original binding

and a bookseller’s note on the title page of volume 1 indicates that it is a “1st edition as issued.”  The volumes are illustrated throughout with wood engravings.

Two images in the book of Embryonic Development. The upper figure is human embryo, fro Ecker. Lower figure is that of a dog from Bischoff.


Errata sheet Vol. I & Vol. II and Contents page Part II

Errata sheet






An errata sheet on the verso (back) of the title page of volume 2 lists the errors noted but un-corrected in the text, such as the word mail for male, and a scrambled spelling of walruses as narwhals.  Darwin also noted in a postscript that he made a “serious and unfortunate error, in relation to the sexual differences of animals” on pages 297-299 of volume 1, and admits that “the explanation given is wholly erroneous.”

Postscript Vol. I noting "serious and unfortunate error"

“serious and unfortunate error”

(Even great scientists sometimes make initial errors in discovery!)

Thanks, Dr. Chapman, for this great donation to the RBR collection.

Bruce Rogers Collection

Song of Roland

Song of Roland

Song of Roland 1906

Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Harold M. Marvin, Davidson class of 1914, and due to his friendship with a longtime patient and friend, the Smith Rare Book Room holds a valuable collection of books designed by the noted typographer, Bruce Rogers.

Bruce Rogers was born in Linwood, Indiana in 1870.  He graduated from Purdue, and spent a number of years as an illustrator in Indianapolis before moving to Boston in 1896.  For 16 years he was associated with Houghton Mifflin in Boston as a book designer, first designing trade editions.  In 1900 he was asked to take charge of their limited edition and fine typography books, and for the next 12 years he designed more than 100 “Riverside Press” editions.

Centaur 1915 - 1st page

Centaur 1915 – 1st page

After leaving Houghton Mifflin, Rogers designed one of his most noted works, The Centaur, printed in a typeface which he had developed during years of experimentation, and, known as “centaur” type, was to be considered one of his most significant achievements.  During his long career, Rogers also served as Printing Advisor to the Cambridge University Press and to Harvard University, as well as working with the printing house of William Edwin Rudge in New York.

Centaur 1915 - Title page

Centaur 1915 – Title page

Bruce Rogers is considered a printer and designer of great versatility and variety, and is noted for both the works he designed and the typefaces he created.  Many of the books in the library’s Bruce Rogers Collection were inscribed to Dr. Marvin by Bruce Rogers, and a few were originally a part of Rogers’ own personal collection.

Thanks to Dr. Marvin for his generosity in giving us this important and beautiful collection.