The Reserve Collection

A rare book collection, such as that held by the American Antiquarian Society, serves not only as a source of research materials but also as a museum of a culture's printed documents. At AAS some of its treasures, but not all, are placed in the Reserve Collection. The purpose of the collection is, of course, to assure special handling of the books that have been assigned to it by the staff and by readers whose research requires the use of items of great rarity and, often, monetary value. Because the rarity, "value," or desirability of a particular item may lie in the eye of the beholder (being, in the case of the Society, its librarian) the selection of materials to be placed in Reserve is essentially subjective. Indeed, it must be because the extent and range of AAS collections is so far-reaching that it becomes impossible to segregate all worthy candidates for such an honor. In the past, only American imprints were placed in Reserve. However, with the discovery in our stacks of the London, 1677, edition in original vellum of William Hubbard's Present State of New-England, with the "Wine Hills" map of New England intact, it seemed reasonable to afford special treatment to some American historical documents that have originated elsewhere than on this continent.

Monetary value may not be a reliable guide in making such determinations. Items that years ago sold for very little money have appreciated mightily in the market in recent years, not necessarily because they have become more useful as research documents, but, perhaps, because collectors have found them attractive as historical souvenirs. Nevertheless, this is a weighty consideration when assigning one or another rarity to Reserve.

The motivating factor, then, is importance. Thus, such books are admitted to Reserve as The Whole Booke of Psalmes, the Bay Psalm Book in its original vellum binding (Cambridge, Mass., 1640); Pamela by Samuel Richardson (Philadelphia, 1742), the unique copy of the first modern novel published in America; the first American edition of Milton's Paradise Lost (1777); Specimen of Printing Types, from the Foundry of Binny & Ronaldson (Philadelphia, 1812), the first example of American cast types; History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark ... to the Pacific Ocean (Philadelphia, 1814) in original, printed boards; Tales for Fifteen (New York, 1823) and The Wept of Wish-Ton Wish (Florence, 1829), the scarcest of the works of James Fenimore Cooper; The Remarkable Story of Chicken Little (Roxbury, Mass., 1840); Ovando J. Hollister's History of the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers and The March of the First, being a History of the ... Regiment (both Denver, 1863), among the earliest Colorado publications. These few titles are suggestive of the books that find their way into Reserve as the prime examples of their kind, ranging over the Society's entire collection. All items in the Reserve Collection have been cataloged; all through 1840 are fully described in the online catalog, as are a portion of the post-1840 titles.

- by Marcus A. McCorison, President Emeritus; updated by Alan N. Degutis, Head of Cataloging

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