Book treasures from the SCU Archives: from the dawn of the printing press to the early Mission library
Add ink and make something beautiful on the page. Behold book treasures from the original Mission Library and the early collection of Santa Clara College, now held by the Archives and Special Collections at SCU. Sold unbound when initially printed between 1518 and 1803, these illustrated volumes trace the evolution of the book itself: from handwritten manuscript to movable type with woodcuts and more-detailed copper etchings. First impressions upon a reader came from the printer’s unique mark, such as an engraving of the hand of God demanding judgment. Some books were later bound at the on-campus tannery. They range from travel narratives of early voyages across the Pacific to prophecies about the papacy. Special Collections Librarian Elizabeth Newsom and Digital Initiatives Librarian Tom Farrell co-curated a show of these works in 2015. We saw it and said: “Let’s celebrate the beauty of print in print!”
Dolphin and Anchor Device, a woodcut from Amorum libri II, 1518.
The dolphin and anchor device of Aldus Manutius refers to the adage “festina lente,” or “make haste slowly.” It was through this balance of speed and accuracy that the Aldine Press became one of the most highly regarded printing houses of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Aldus was the first printer to use italic type, the first to print in Greek, and the first to print “portable little books.” At a time when other printers would print runs of 100 or 200 copies, he was printing a thousand. The cachet of his press resulted in many other printers basing their own devices on his, right up to the present day.
Christ holding a child, a woodcut from Manual de Administrar, printed by María de Benavides, Mexico, 1700. María de Benavides was one in a handful of women printers in Mexico. After her husband’s death, she took over his printing press for 15 years.
Granadillae Ramys, a woodcut by Bathasaris Morreti, Antwerp, 1635.
Perhaps the most intriguing type of scientific illustration combines these impulses toward realism and allegory, as seen in this picture of the passionfruit. It provides a reasonably accurate representation of the leaves, fruit, and growth habit of the plant. The flower itself, however, is portrayed allegorically, emphasizing the “crown of thorns” appearance of its style and stigma that gave the plant its name. In place of a second fruit is a small sacramental chalice: the fruit of the Passion is Redemption.
Device with Christogram. A Christogram is a graphic symbol of Jesus Christ, often a monogram. IHS, the Christogram in this piece, signifies the first three letters of Christ’s Greek name. Additionally, this particular woodcut exemplifies the Jesuit emblem, with the IHS mark positioned in a sun between a cross and three nails.