Last spring Silver Special Collections purchased an interesting 1499 book by Bartholomaeus Sibylla, Speculum peregrinarum quaestionum (loosely, “mirror of exotic questions”), a treatise dealing with a number of topics such as “the soul, angels, dreams and their interpretations, demonology, magic, astrology” and others. Curiously, this copy includes ten leaves that were written by hand, in place of ten missing printed leaves. The scribe attempted to mimic the style of the printed page but not the typeface; the latter is Roman while the scribe’s hand is gothic. At some point this copy belonged to the Franciscan convent of St. Bernardine of Siena in Amberg, Bavaria. The book features many points of interest to students of early printing and book history.
Special Collections also purchased a medieval manuscript volume of short works copied in northeast Italy between 1475 and 1485. It contains a biography of the illustrious men of ancient Rome by an author known as Pseudo-Pliny, offering a different perspective from Livy’s more widely-known history of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita). Shorter works include excerpts from Ovid, Martial, Juvenal, and others. Few of our several dozen medieval manuscripts are classical texts. This is a great example of a collection of favorites put together by an unknown Italian Renaissance humanist, one of many who idolized ancient Rome and sought to popularize ancient texts.
Most recently, Special Collections acquired a rare copy of the first edition of John Gerard’s The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes (London, 1597). The most famous of early English herbals, this work is in essence a translation of Rembert Dodoens’ Stirpium Historiae Pemptades (1583) but with important additions by Gerard, who served as the first curator of the “garden of physic” of the Royal College of Physicians. Special Collections also holds the 1633 edition of Gerard’s herbal, in which many errors in the first edition were corrected.