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What is this place?

Walt Whitman's Hand by Truman Howe Bartlett, 1881As people move around the 2nd floor of the library and pass Special Collections and Archives, they sometimes pop in to ask, "What is this place?" Special Collections and Archives holds the library’s rare book and periodical collections, and a wide variety of manuscript collections and individual items. The next question often starts "So, what is your (pick an adjective) item or book?" Today for our blog, we have set out to answer a few of your most pressing questions. 

Our most popular book is Baby, You are my Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall by Marie Cartier, a professor here at CSUN. In the early 1990's, our most popular book was Sex by Madonna. Legend has it that there were actually people lined up out the door in Special Collections waiting to see this single book. 

What is your weirdest book or object?  Although not a book, we have a bronze sculpture cast of Walt Whitman’s hand. Is that weird enough for you? Before the widespread use of photography, life casts were used to document the physical characteristics of people and sometimes used in physiognomy. Now considered a pseudoscience, physiognomy was the 18th and 19th century practice of associating certain personality traits to physical traits. An Oviatt library story goes that the bronze was prominently displayed on a pedestal near the reference desk on the first floor for a number of years. 

Tallest, smallest, and oldest, widest? A Manuscript of Antiphonary Fragments is our tallest book at about 38 inches and weighing a whopping 35 pounds. The REM Gospel is our smallest book and measures a little smaller than the size of a dime. Our oldest book is a Manuscript Bible written by hand in 1260 A.C.E. The handwriting in the bible is very small and is perhaps around 5 point text size. Our oldest item is a Sumerian Calendar with cuneiform writing that dates to about 2350 B.C.E.  We also have a few pieces of Egyptian Papyrus Fragments that perhaps date before 1000 A.C.E. The papyrus is woven and is quite different than paper. 

Our oldest children’s book is Cinderilla, or the Little Glass Slipper, printed Bronze sculpture of Walt Whitman's Hand by Truman Howe Bartlett, 1881sometime in the 18th century. Our widest book is the Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language, published in 1914. This gargantuan volume is 9 inches wide and weighs a massive 25 pounds.  Fun fact…most book binders try to make books 3 inches wide or smaller, the reason being that books wider than 3 inches will tend to split at the spine and break apart. Our copy of the Century Dictionary is bound in corduroy and most likely was rebound at one point. In height, our tallest newspaper is most likely the Philadelphia Press at 29 inches.  The newspaper looks to be about twice the physical dimensions of the present day Los Angeles Times.  Our oldest cookbook is A Collection of Confections and Other Receipts which we believe was created in England in the 18th century.

The Head of Special Collections and Archives, Ellen Jarozs is constantly adding material to our collection. An example of a recent addition would be the Armenian Velvet Revolution 2018.  Created by artist Nina Avadisrostamian, the book is a graphic interpretation of the April-May 2018 anti-government protests in Armenia.

These books and other items are just a small sample of the interesting and unusual materials available in Special Collections and Archives. Feel free to stop by and take a look sometime!

Cover, Baby You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall
Cover, Sex by Madonna, 1992
Cover, Manuscript Antiphonary Fragments by Catholic Church
Cover, REM Gospel: Gospel According to Massmann, 19__
Illuminated Manuscript Bible, 1260 A.C.E.
Sumerian Calendar: Clay Cylinder, 2350 B.C.E.
Cover, Armenian Velvet Revolution 2018
Cinderilla, or, The Glass Slipper, pages 2-3, 170--?
The Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language, 1914
Front page, Philadelphia Press, January 5, 1864. AP2 .P536
 Fragment one, Egyptian papyrus fragments, undated
A Collection of Confection and Other Receipts, page 44

Read more Peek in the Stacks blog entries