Former student returns 280 year old library book, 47 years late.
September 02, 2015
In August 2015 the Aubrey R. Watzek library at Lewis & Clark College received a book in the mail. Accompanying the book was a letter from a former student who had unknowingly packed the book away after graduation and wanted to return it - something that is not an unusual or unlikely incident, that is until you discover that the student graduated 47 years ago in 1968, and that the book is a 280 year old copy of Cicero’s speeches published in 1735.
The letter describes how the class of 1968 undergraduate student having moved back to his hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska left his packed college trunk to sit quietly out of sight as life went on. Never moving away from Alaska there was no reason to disturb the trunk until a recent urge to simplify belongings led to its rediscovery. Within the trunk was found a Lewis & Clark freshman beanie, a parking ticket, and the 280 year old library book. How does a nearly 300 year old library book end up in a trunk in Alaska? The former student does not recall how or why he had the book.
The book with a kind letter on what was known of its history was sent to Watzek Library Director Mark Dahl, who turned the book over to Special Collections and Archives for examination and return to the collections. Not that we are going to be taking action, but at today’s rate the late fee for a 47 year overdue book would be $3,431. I dare to think what the accumulation of fines for the 47 year old parking ticket would be. For us the return of the book and the unusual story are far more valuable.
In 1968 the Aubrey R. Watzek Library was less than a year old, having only been completed the previous summer. Prior to 1967, Lewis & Clark College housed the much smaller Lee Library in part of the Albany Quadrangle, the original garages for the Fir Acres Estate. At the time there was no Special Collections department to manage rare or antiquarian texts (nor was it unusual for libraries to often have rare and antiquarian books shelved in open stacks). We recently discovered an autographed copy of Theodore Roosevelt’s The Great Adventure shelved in our open stacks. It has since been reassigned to Special Collections. Often some books like the 1735 Cicero, while old and interesting, have little monetary value due to condition, availability, general interest or validity, and are often left in open stacks.
The book’s title page reads, M. Tvllii Ciceronis, Orationes, translating from the Latin to Oratorios by Marcus Tullius Cicero [106 BC - 43 BC], the Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer and by many considered to be one of the greatest orators and masters of Latin prose. The work is corrected and illustrated by Christoph August Heumann [1861 - 1764]. Heumann, a professor of theology and history is considered one of the most important and versatile German scholars of the first half of the 18th century. Heumann contributed significantly to the study of the history of philosophy and was responsible for publishing over 400 works on the subjects of literature, theology, philosophy and history. The book, published in Germany in 1735, contains reprints of several well-known speeches given by Cicero as a Roman lawyer, politician, and philosopher. The book has a vellum [calfskin] binding, and is printed on paper in black ink.
Part of what make this book so interesting is that is contains marginalia and other handwritten notes from almost 300 years of students studying Latin and Cicero. Tiny translations, declensions and conjugations appear between lines of Latin texts where red silk bookmarks still direct readers. The inside front cover contains lightly penciled names and phrases in addition to an original Albany College stamp, and opposite Lewis & Clark College bookplate. The book traveled from the original Albany college library in Albany, Oregon to the current campus and renamed institution in 1942.
Today the book will return to the shelf, perhaps to be used again by students wishing to learn more about Cicero or Latin oratory. In Special Collections we see beyond the text to the book’s value as a teaching tool on 18th century printing, book making techniques, and the book as an artifact. Not to mention it has a great lost and found story as well.
Lewis & Clark Special Collections and Archives rare books and manuscripts collections consist of a wide range of rare and fragile materials that have been acquired by the College since its founding in 1867.