Category Archives: Printing History and Book Arts

hand drawn playing cards

Collections News | Albert Field Playing Cards go online

The Columbia University Libraries has digitized cards from nearly two hundred decks of the Albert Field Collection of Playing Cards.

The cards date from the 16th century through to 1801, and were mostly European – French, German, English, and Italian, though we slipped in one deck from a very new United States.

play cards of various suites and iconic figures

JT Humphreys, No revoke playing cards, Albert Field Collection of Playing Cards, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University

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Now accepting applications for The Pine Tree Scholars program

book pages turningThe Pine Tree Scholars program introduces Columbia and Barnard graduate and undergraduate students to the crafts associated with fine book production, such as typography, letterpress printing, bookbinding, and papermaking, as well as to the rare and art book trades. This program is open to students in all departments and programs.

An informational session for the 2018-2019 program will be held in the Barnard Archives and Special Collections Reading Room (Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning, Room 423) from 2-3pm on Friday, September 21. 

What is this place? A short intro to RBML

That is the question we hear a lot at the beginning of the new academic year as students explore Butler Library and end up here, in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, aka “The Pink Palace.”

pink castle design and acronym rbml

Is there difference between a “castle” and a “palace?”

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is Columbia’s principal repository for primary source collections.  The range of collections in the RBML spans more than 4,000 years and includes rare printed works, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, papyri, and Coptic ostraca; medieval and renaissance manuscripts; posters; art; comics & cartoons, and oral histories.

Forming the core of the collections: 500,000 printed books, 14 miles of manuscripts, personal papers, archives and records, and 10,000 (and counting) oral histories.

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Friday is your chance to see “Enchanted Vision, an exhibition drawing on the Arthur Rackham Collection held here at the RBML.illustration of a sprite

Rackham, a British illustrator illustrated 50 major works beginning with Rip Van Winkle in 1905, Alice in Wonderland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Winnie the Pooh, and other English and American classics.

The collection contains 26 letters by Rackham and nine Christmas cards either specially designed by him or incorporating designs made for his books. There are also letters to Rackham’s biographer, Derek Hudson, from Winifred Wheeler, daughter of Walter Freeman, a friend who started Rackham on his commercial career. The manuscript notebooks, galley proofs, and a printed copy of Hudson’s Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work are included.

In addition, the Columbia University Library has a collection of 413 Rackham drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings, 30 sketch books, and about 400 printed books and ephemera.


Event | Shannon Mattern on the meaning of book storage furniture in our reading lives

Thursday, 22 February 2018, 6pm Room 523 in Butler Library

On Thursday, February 22, the RBML and Karla Nielsen, Curator of Literature and Lecturer in English and Comparative Literature, hosts Shannon Mattern, Associate Professor of Media Studies at The New School.

Professor Mattern will present on the long history of the bookshelf, “Cabinet Logics: An Intellectual History of Book Furniture.” Prof. Mattern will survey the furniture we design and build to make, store, support, organize, and preserve our bibliographic objects, focusing on how these structures inform the way human bodies relate to those media, and embody certain assumptions about what and how we know things through these objects.

Inside the under construction reading room in the new Wiener Library @ Russell Square in Camden Town, London, UK

Photo credit: Peter Alfred Hess | Flickr: peterhess

Professor Mattern’s talk will be followed by a Q & A. The event is free and open to the public but registration is recommended. 

Event | Roger Chartier on textual mobility

Wednesday, 7 February 2018, 6pm, Room 523 in Butler Library

Moliere's Le Festin de pierre (known as Don Juan)

Le Festin de pierre (known as Don Juan)

On Wednesday, February 7, the RBML and Karla Nielsen, Curator of Literature and Lecturer in English and Comparative Literature, hosts Roger Chartier, Professor in the Collège de France and Annenberg Visiting Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Chartier will use Molière’s play, Le Festin de pierre (known as Don Juan), to model a type of book historical inquiry that focuses on textual mobility.

The talk follows the play from its first attribution to Molière, looping in its first performance and first appearances in print, moves on to early translations, adaptations, and editions of the work, and concludes with the reception of the work by early readers and viewers.

Professor Chartier’s talk will be followed by a Q & A. The event is free and open to the public but registration is recommended. 


2/2 @ 6PM “Blooks”: The Arts of Books that Aren’t

A panel discussion with Mindell Dubansky (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Lynn Festa (Rutgers University), and Bruce and Lynn Heckman (collectors).  Part of the Book History Colloquium at Columbia.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

6:00 PM8:30 PM

April 16th @ 6:00 PM – Book History Colloquium: “The Geography of History: Plotting Columbus in Map and Narrative”


Geography of History

 Lindsay Van Tine, Ph.D. Candidate in English, Columbia University

Thursday, April 16, 2015 at 6:00 PM

Butler Library, Room 523

In the nineteenth century, an era in which geography was held to be the “eye of history,” books ranging from Bibles to exploration narratives included prominent fold-out maps. Yet modern scholarly editing and digitization practices have made these crucial paratexts invisible to most readers, and even book historians have tended to overlook them as the province of cartographic history. Taking the fold-out maps appended to Washington Irving’s A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828) as a case study, this talk will explore their material and formal features to shed new light on the geopolitics of Irving’s bestselling work. The maps reconstruct Columbus’ transatlantic routes on the basis of fifteenth-century documents recovered from Spain’s imperial archives and plot these routes on the most up-to-date, scientifically-surveyed hydrographic charts, thus materializing the legacy of “discovery” by collapsing past and present into a single geographic frame. Maps like these have much to show us about the material links between book and map printing, the relation of narrative history to geography, and the spatial imaginaries of the nineteenth-century Atlantic World.


Lindsay Van Tine is a Ph.D. Candidate in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University specializing in American literatures to 1865, with a particular focus on entangled Atlantic World colonialisms, New World historiography, Anglo-American proprietary authorship, and archival accumulation in the United States. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled “Translated Conquests: Archive, History, and Territory in Hemispheric American Literatures, 1823-1854,” which bridges hemispheric studies and book history to explore the process by which the United States claimed New World history and territory through the material archive of Spanish empire. Her research has been supported by fellowships from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture at the University of Virginia.


The Book History Colloquium at Columbia University, open to any discipline, aims to provide a broad outlet for the scholarly discussion of book history, print culture, the book arts, and bibliographical research, and (ideally) the promotion of research and publication in these fields. Our presenters include Columbia faculty members and advanced graduate students, and scholars of national prominence from a range of institutions.

Questions? Email Karla Nielsen.


All sessions take place 6pm in 523 Butler Library, Columbia Morningside Campus, unless otherwise noted.

3/23 @ 6:30 PM – Book History Colloquium: “Books & Barrels: Readers and Reading in Colonial America”


Anthony Grafton, Henry Putnam University Professor of History, Princeton University

NOTE: This event will take place at The New York Society Library: 53 East 79th Street (at Madison Ave.); RSVP information below.

The settlers of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states brought many practices with them from New England. One of them was reading: a particular kind of reading, intensive, engaged, and carried out with pen in hand. Lawyers, fur traders and alchemists worked their way through difficult and demanding books, many of them in Latin, and recorded what they thought of them on blank pages and in margins. This lecture will examine some of these readers—notably the members of the Winthrop family, many of whose books are held at the New York Society Library, and James Logan of Philadelphia—and their books.

Anthony Grafton is the Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University. Professor Grafton’s special interests lie in the cultural history of Renaissance Europe, the history of books and readers, the history of scholarship and education in the West from Antiquity to the 19th century, and the history of science from Antiquity to the Renaissance.  Professor Grafton is the author of ten books and the coauthor, editor, coeditor, or translator of nine others. He has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1989), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (1993), the Balzan Prize for History of Humanities (2002), and the Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award (2003), and is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the British Academy. Professor Grafton’s current project is a large-scale study of the science of chronology in 16th- and 17th-century Europe: how scholars attempted to assign dates to past events, reconstruct ancient calendars, and reconcile the Bible with competing accounts of the past.


To RSVP please contact the NYSL events office either at or (212) 288-6900 x230 and indicate that you want to attend the Columbia BHC Grafton event.


Co-sponsored with The New York Society Library