Grinnell College is showing off its new collection of rare books, acquired from the Salisbury House in Des Moines.
It includes some 5,000 first editions, signed books and documents from Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth the First and many other historical figures. Chris Jones, the college’s special collections librarian and archivist, says it’s an exciting addition.
“One of the earliest books in the collection dates from 1475 and we have some fragments of manuscripts that date as far back as 1122,” Jones says. There’s a leaf from the original printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455, a limited edition 1935 copy of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” with original illustrations by Henri Matisse, and letters from prominent authors like D.H. Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway.
Jones says they’re taking great care to ensure the books and documents are in a safe, secure environment in the college’s Burling Library. “We keep the collection in a vault space with a five-inch-thick steel vault door, it looks a lot like a bank door,” Jones says. “The temperature is a little brisk. We keep it between 65 and 70-degrees, which tends to be a bit chilly for some of our students, and the humidity is also controlled.”
Jones says the college is eager to give Iowans easy access to the collection.”Frequently, we just get people walking in the door saying, ‘Hey, I understand you now have a new collection. What can you show me?’ or ‘Show me your oldest book,’ and we love those sorts of questions,” Jones says. “We have a really brief registration sheet that’s basically your name, address and telephone number, and that’s it.”
The college plans to catalog the entire collection and digitize unique items so anyone with an internet connection can enjoy the works. Grinnell College has not disclosed the terms of the agreement with Salisbury House.