New Book | The Invention of Rare Books

Posted in books by Editor on September 2, 2018

McKitterick is especially interested in how the idea of ‘rarity’ emerged as a part of a selection process in the face of the plenitude of print. As a secondary (maybe tertiary) theme, he also considers how books, especially during the eighteenth century, came to be regarded as rare alongside other “material relics of the past,” in part thanks to shared “aspects of connoisseurship both in sculpture and in painting, and even in old buildings” (23). The other crucial text, as noted repeatedly by McKitterick, is Kristian Jensen, Revolution and the Antiquarian Book: Reshaping the Past, 1780–1815 (Cambridge UP, 2011). CH

From Cambridge UP:

David McKitterick, The Invention of Rare Books: Private Interest and Public Memory, 1600–1840 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 460 pages, ISBN: 978-1108584265, $63.

When does a book that is merely old become a rarity and an object of desire? David McKitterick examines, for the first time, the development of the idea of rare books, and why they matter. Studying examples from across Europe, he explores how this idea took shape in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and how collectors, the book trade and libraries gradually came together to identify canons that often remain the same today. In a world that many people found to be over-supplied with books, the invention of rare books was a process of selection. As books are one of the principal means of memory, this process also created particular kinds of remembering. Taking a European perspective, McKitterick looks at these interests as they developed from being matters of largely private concern and curiosity, to the larger public and national responsibilities of the first half of the nineteenth century.

David McKitterick, FBA, was for many years Librarian of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Honorary Professor of Historical Bibliography at Cambridge. His previous publications include the three volume A History of Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1992–2004), Cambridge University Library: A History, Volume 2: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Cambridge, 1986), Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450–1830 (Cambridge, 2003), and most recently Old books, New Technologies (Cambridge, 2013). Professor McKitterick is one of the general editors of the Cambridge History of the Book in Britain.


List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

1  Inventio
2  Books as Objects
3  Survival and Selection
4  Choosing Books in Baroque Europe
5  External Appearances (1)
6  External Appearances (2)
7  Printers and Readers
8  A Seventeenth-century Revolution
9  Concepts of Rarity
10  Developing Measures of Rarity
11  Judging Appearances by Modern Standards
12  The Harleian Sales
13  Authority and Rarity
14  Rarity Established
15  The French Bibliographical Revolution
16  Books in Turmoil
17  Bibliophile Traditions
18  Fresh Foundations
19  Public Faces, Public Responsibilities
20  Conclusion

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