The Pleasure of the Rare Book

Treasures from the Smithsonian Libraries—a Wright brothers bio, a repoussé prayer book—can be savored in a new show

To hold in your hands a book from another time, to feel its worn leather cover and to gently turn its soft, handmade pages, is a sensuous pleasure that few in this digital age experience. As a research editor for this magazine, I’ve had the opportunity to take part in what can only be called the ceremony of the rare volume. There’s the quiet reverence of the temperature-controlled chamber, the muted light, and the silk-wrapped paperweight to hold open the book’s pages. It’s also the ceremony of preservation, a guarantee to generations to come. Indeed, it’s both a privilege and a pleasure to have at my disposal the magnificent collections of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Here are housed one and a half million volumes, of which 40,000 are rare and valuable, all of them reflecting the diversity of subject matter to match the vast activities and disciplines of scholars at the Smithsonian. Now the public, too, can experience some 100 treasures from these collections May 16 through August 4 at the Grolier Club, at 47 East 60th Street in New York City, and on-line at The show, “Voyages: A Smithsonian Libraries Exhibition,” will next travel to the National Museum of American History in May 2002. On these pages we share a selection of the show’s splendors.

—Beth Py-Lieberman

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