Rare Books & Special Collections: An Online Exhibition 1474-1900

The Rare Books Collection at Belmont Abbey College comprises some seven thousand manuscripts, incunabula, and books, including volumes and sets produced by artisans and printers dating back to the late fifteenth century: Aldine Press, Plantin Press, Elzivir Press, Gryfium Press, Johannes Oporinus, Simon de Colines, and many others. While the oldest volumes reflect the dominance of classical and ecclesiastical publishing in the early decades of printing, the collection grew to include a broader spectrum of the arts, literature, sciences, and humanities. For more background information on the collection and exhibit please read the note from the Library Director at the end of this page.

Selections from :

 the 15th Century

 the 18th Century

 the 16th Century

 the 19th Century

 the 17th Century

  Fr. Abram J. Ryan Archive




A Note from the Library Director

--Donald Beagle


The Exhibit

This virtual exhibit is an expanded version of a display formerly held at Charlotte's Mint Museum of History entitled "The Printed Word Prevails," featuring selections from the Rare Books & Special Collections at the Abbot Vincent Taylor Library. While many of the books are indeed rare and valuable as collector's items, they were not selected for this exhibition on that basis. Rather, they have been selected for their educational and instructional value, and for what they can tell us about five hundred years of writing, scholarship, and the technologies of printing. Some are landmarks in publishing history, some demonstrate interesting techniques of typography or illustration, and some are simply beautiful to look at. While the sections on sixteenth and seventeenth century books have been expanded from the Mint exhibit, the eighteenth and nineteenth century sections show the greatest departure. The added emphasis on instructional significance was influenced by the exhibition catalog for the landmark 1963 exhibition "Printing and the Mind of Man" presented at the British Museum. Expansion of the eighteenth and nineteenth century sections also make this selection more representative of the actual collection than was the Mint exhibit, which emphasized the oldest volumes. Lastly, we are often asked about twentieth century books. The Belmont Abbey College collection does include twentieth century first editions and limited editions, some of considerable significance, and we may decide to include a number of these in a future expansion of this exhibit.



The books were imaged with an Olympus C-2500L SLR digital camera mounted on a Testrite TE-CS3 photo stand. This technique allowed fronts piece and title page imaging with book covers held open at a 90 degree angle. Flatbed scanning would have required covers held at a a wider angle thereby stressing fragile book spines. Images were saved in series on a SmartMedia memory card and uploaded to a workstation with a Fujifilm FD-A2 floppy disk adapter. Each image was converted to JPEG format, proportionally resized to a standard 14cm vertical scale, and compressed by a factor of 10:1 for faster web access. The average finished image is 50kb, the lowest level permitting reasonably good resolution. The original 500kb high resolution raw images have been archived for future use. No images have been retouched except for one case where false color enhancement was used to reveal an otherwise invisible watermark.



Descriptions of these volumes, their authors, and their textual or illustrative content have been adapted from a number of sources, and I wish to acknowledge them here. Some have been adapted from annotations written for the original Mint Museum exhibit; these are identified by [ME]. Other annotations include abbreviations indicating the principal sources:

Printing and the Mind of Man: Catalogue of an Exhibition Assembled at the British Museum and at Earls Court. London: Messrs F. W. Bridges & Sons, 1963. [PMM]

Norma Levarie. The Art History of Books. New York: Heineman, 1968. [AHB]

Art of the Printed Book 1455-1955. New York: Pierpont Morgan Library. 1973. [APB]

Other secondary sources and their abbreviations include: American National Biography [ANB]; Catholic Encyclopedia [CE]; Dictionary of National Biography [DNB]; Encyclopedia Americana [EA]; Encyclopedia Britannica [EB]; Encyclopedia of World Art [EWA]; New Catholic Encyclopedia [NCE]; North Carolina: The History of a Southern State [NCH; Oxford Companion to Classical Literature [OCL].

digital imaging & website design by Donald Beagle

descriptive cataloging by Julia McDonnell & Susan Mayes