At its founding, the Chapin Library’s collections were divided into eight broad categories – Incunabula (15th-century printed books), Americana, English Literature, Continental (European) Literature, Classical (Greek and Latin) Literature, American Literature, Bibles and Liturgical Works, and the History of Science – together with manuscripts, historical prints, and reference books. Since then, the Library has expanded with a wider variety of subjects and types of material, according to opportunities of gift and purchase and the needs of the Williams curriculum.
The Library’s printed holdings are cataloged online. Finding aids for manuscripts and art objects are available, or are being prepared for posting, on Williams ArchivesSpace.
Detailed Collection Information
The Chapin Library holds a small but choice collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscript books, beginning with a copy of the Gospels in Latin, arranged for reading throughout the year, prepared in Tours, France around the year 800. Each succeeding century is represented by at least one manuscript codex (book), and the 15th century by humanistic manuscripts (Dante, Ovid, Vergil) and books of hours. Also in the collections are papyrus fragments from a hieroglyphic Egyptian Book of the Dead and from various works and documents excavated at Oxyrhynchus.
More modern manuscripts in the Chapin Library include letters by Presidents of the United States; papers of the reformers Samuel Gridley Howe (1801–1876) and Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910), of missionary James Lyman Merrick (1803–1866), of David Dudley Field (1805–1894) and his family, and of statesman Hamilton Fish (1888–1991); congratulatory letters addressed to inventor Frank J. Sprague (1857–1934); and letters and literary manuscripts by authors such as Samuel “Erewhon” Butler, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Edna Ferber, William Faulkner, George Barr McCutcheon, Edgar Lee Masters, W. Somerset Maugham, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and William Saroyan.
Incunabula (15th-Century Printed Books)
The Chapin Library contains more than 525 volumes printed during the 15th century, after the invention of printing from moveable type in Europe. This is a substantial collection for any library, let alone one which serves a primarily undergraduate audience. Included are the editio princeps or first printed editions of esteemed classical writers, works of science and art as well as religion and literature, and many of the first books printed in Europe, perhaps most notably the Cicero De Oratore (Subiaco, before 30 September 1465), the earliest extant book printed in Italy. Nearly one hundred of the Chapin incunabula are preserved in contemporary bindings.
Some one hundred works from the press of Aldus Manutius, the great Venetian printer and publisher, and his heirs are in the Chapin Library. Among these are the Aristotle Opera (Greek, 1495–98), the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499, the quintessential book of the Italian Renaissance), and the pocket-sized Vergil of 1501, the first book set throughout in italic type.
The Chapin Library is concerned with the history of all places in all eras. Strengths vary, but a wide range of materials is available to support research and teaching at Williams. The Library’s Americana collection focuses on North, Central, and South America, but some of the included works, such as accounts of early voyages and travels, also deal with other parts of the world. Some materials shelved in the Library’s literary collections likewise are concerned with historical events and persons, as are holdings in the category of general rare books. Sub-Saharan Africa is well represented by a separate collection. Another collection, recently established, contains materials on the Soviet Union and the Cold War, notably a series of press releases by the embassy of the U.S.S.R. in Washington, D.C. during 1959 and 1960.
The Library’s rich Americana holdings document the history of the Western Hemisphere, especially the United States, beginning with two editions (Rome, 1493 and Basel, 1494) of the letter by Christopher Columbus to the Spanish court announcing his discoveries of 1492. The collection has particular strengths in regard to the colonization of the New World, the Revolutionary and Constitutional periods in the United States, and Civil War and Reconstruction, but also includes significant material on subjects such as commercial whaling, woman suffrage, and the Civil Rights Movement.
African-American and Native-American studies at Williams are supported by a growing body of literature, and there are substantial collections of works by and about Daniel Webster (1782–1852), Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and David Dudley Field (1805–1894) and his family. The Chapin Library also contains numerous American manuscripts and historical prints, and the Robert P. Fordyce, Class of 1956 collection of some 10,000 stereo views (stereoscopic prints), mostly of American subjects.
The Founding Documents of the United States – original printings of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights – together with George Washington’s copy of The Federalist (1788) and the September 1776 British reply to the Declaration – are on permanent display in the grand Chapin Gallery.
This extensive collection ranges from the 16th century to the present and includes first and other significant editions by authors from Geoffrey Chaucer to Virginia Woolf. Among these are all four Shakespeare folios (and a variant printing of the Third), much else by poets and playwrights of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, and significant holdings of Austen, the Brontës, Byron, Coleridge, Defoe, Dickens, Dryden, George Eliot, Fielding, Goldsmith, Dr. Johnson, Keats, Milton, William Morris, Scott, Shelley, and Thackeray. Several authors are represented by special collections formed mostly by alumni and friends: Samuel “Erewhon” Butler, Rupert Brooke, Sir Winston S. Churchill, Joseph Conrad, R.B. Cunninghame-Graham, T.S. Eliot, James Elroy Flecker, James Joyce, and Rudyard Kipling. Also in the Library is a collection of English broadside ballads.
Continental (European) Literature
The Library’s collection of continental literature, language, and culture is divided into French, German, Italian, and Spanish, in addition to classical Greek and Latin. It includes important works by authors such as Ariosto, Boccaccio, Cervantes, Corneille, Dante, Dürer, Goethe, Luther, Molière, and Montaigne.
Among the Library’s holdings of Greek and Latin classics are the first printed editions of authors such as Aristophanes and Homer, the first classical text printed in England (Aristotle, Ethica ad Nicomachum, Oxford, 1479); and the first classical text printed anywhere (Cicero, De Oratore, Subiaco, Italy, before 30 September 1465). Allied with these are a selection of Greek manuscript fragments on papyri from Oxyrhynchus, medieval Greek and Latin manuscripts, and fine 15th-century humanistic manuscripts of Ovid and Vergil.
This distinguished collection begins in the 18th century with authors such as Anne Bradstreet and Timothy Dwight, through the works of Emerson, Longfellow, Whittier et al. in the 19th century, and continues with 20th-century writers such as Ernest Hemingway and James Michener. Especially noteworthy holdings include works by George Ade, William Cullen Bryant, Gelett Burgess, Stephen Crane, William Faulkner, Oliver Herford, Sinclair Lewis, Herman Melville, Edwin Arlington Robinson, William Saroyan, Booth Tarkington, Carolyn Wells, and Walt Whitman.
Bibles and Liturgical Works
In addition to the printed texts of many of the world’s great Bibles, the Library has a few manuscript versions, the most important of which are the Tours Gospels, circa 800 C.E., written in one of the scriptoria established by the Emperor Charlemagne, and a Greek New Testament, Codex Theodori, dated 1295. Also here are a selection of manuscript and printed books of hours, psalters, and prayer books. Among the Library’s rarest printed Bibles, besides a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible (Mainz, ca. 1455), are Fust & Schoeffer’s New Testament (1462), the Geneva Bible (1560), the Bishop’s Bible (1568), the first edition of the King James Version of the English Bible (1611), a fine copy of Eliot’s Indian Bible (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1661, 1663), Baskerville’s Bible (1763), the first American Hebrew Bible (1814), and early vernacular editions ranging from Anglo-Saxon to Syriac.
History of Science and Technology
The Chapin Library’s History of Science and Technology collection includes such diverse items as Agricola’s De Re Metallica (1561), Audubon’s Viviparous Quadrupeds (1845–54), Catesby’s Natural History (1731–43), De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium by Copernicus (1543, 1566), Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), Einstein’s contributions to Annalen der Physick (1905), editions of Euclid beginning with the editio princeps (1482), Fulton’s Canal Navigation (1796), the scarce first edition of Harvey’s De Motu Cordis (1628), Hooke’s Micrographia (1667), Newton’s Opticks (1704), White’s Natural History of Selborne (1798), a special mimeographed copy of the Smyth Report on the atomic bomb (1945), the Duane W. Bailey collection of books on bees and beekeeping, and a set of letter albums presented to inventor Frank J. Sprague.
Astronomy – including (on deposit) the important personal collection of Professor Jay M. Pasachoff – Biology, Chemistry, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Geology, Mathematics, Natural History, and Physics are all represented. Of particular interest are holdings of herbals and illustrated botanical works from 1484 and later, and more than two hundred volumes devoted to ornithology, including the double elephant folio edition of Audubon’s Birds of America (1827–38) and forty-two volumes of the works of John Gould. The Library’s Sporting and Outdoors Books collection also has applications to Science, especially Environmental Studies.
Art and Architecture
Besides a wide array of illuminated and decorated manuscripts and books, hundreds of illustrated books, books with inserted prints, contemporary artist’s books, and rare books about art, architecture, and crafts, the Chapin Library contains numerous separate prints, posters, paintings, drawings, photographs, and ephemera. These separate materials are contained primarily in the Library’s Graphic Arts and Performing Arts collections, or are adjuncts to literary and historical collections.
The Samuel “Erewhon” Butler Collection, for instance, includes paintings and drawings by Butler, a talented amateur artist, and his photographs of religious sculpture at Varallo in northern Italy. Archives of poster artist and illustrator C.B. Falls (1874–1960), architect and artist Herman Rosse (1887–1965), wood-engraver John DePol (1913–2004), artist and designer Pauline Baynes (1922–2008), and Berkshire County printmaker Julio Granda are also in the Chapin Library. Included among these are hundreds of prints, paintings, drawings, sketches, proofs, and fabric designs, as well as working books and papers. The Library also holds a major collection of materials by and about architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), and the archives formerly at Chesterwood in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, concerning sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850–1931), his daughter Margaret French Cresson (1889–1973), and their family.
Fine Printing and Calligraphy
The Chapin Library collections contain many of the landmarks of the history of printing, from a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible to works by the great typographers and book designers of the present day. In the latter category, the Library holds thousands of books, broadsides, and pieces of ephemera produced by both major and minor private presses and fine printers. These include work by the Allen, Ashendene, Cummington, Daniel, Doves, Elston, Gehenna, Golden Cockerel, Grabhorn, Kelmscott, Nonesuch, Overbrook, Rampant Lions, Stinehour, and Whittington presses, among many others, by typographers such as Will Bradley, Theodore L. DeVinne, W.A. Dwiggins, F.W. Goudy, Bruce Rogers, and D.B. Updike, and by publishers such as the Imprint Society and the Limited Editions Club. The Chapin Library has collected as well a large number of artist’s books and livres d'artistes, notably titles by the Kaldewey Press and by the Welsh printmaker and poet Shirley Jones (b. 1934). Also here are an archive of engraved letter designs by Leo Wyatt (1909–1981) and three calligraphic slate tablets from the workshop of David Kindersley (1915–1995).
The Performing Arts collection of the Chapin Library includes numerous books, broadsides, posters, photographs, and programs from the fields of theater, film, music, dance, and puppetry. Associated materials are found also in the Library’s Herman Rosse archive, which contains hundreds of paintings, drawings, and set and costume designs made by Mr. Rosse for the stage and cinema, as well as his Academy Award for Art Direction for King of Jazz (1930) and his prototype design for the Tony Award. The Library’s archive of writer and filmmaker John Sayles (b. 1950, Williams Class of 1972) includes scripts, working papers and videos, and documentation. Also in the Chapin Library is an archive concerning the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival of Becket, Massachusetts, the gift of Alfreda Joslin.
The Chapin Library’s collection of children’s books ranges from editions of Aesop and Comenius in the late 17th century to works by contemporary author-illustrators such as Pauline Baynes, C.B. Falls, Maurice Sendak, and Dr. Seuss. Among its highlights are the first English edition (1823–66) of the Grimms’ Popular Stories, illustrated by George Cruikshank, first editions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (1866, 1872), original printings of Randolph Caldecott’s picture books (1878–85), and miniature almanacs (1883–97) by Kate Greenaway.
Cookbooks and Culinary Studies
In this area of study the Chapin Library contains more than 500 American cookbooks, mainly from the 19th century, useful not only for their recipes but also as windows into American culture at a time long past; a growing collection of rare books in the field of French cuisine; and much else for the study of food, cookery, and dining in history.
Food, drink, and eating – the preparation, presentation, and sharing of meals – are at the heart of human culture. The Chapin Library supports the study of this important aspect of civilization with holdings from the 15th to the 20th centuries. These include more than 500 American cookbooks from the collection of Eleanor T. Fordyce (mother of Robert P. Fordyce, Williams Class of 1956), important rare titles of French gastronomy acquired with the support of Bruce Healy, Class of 1968, and his wife Alice, works on the virtues of honey in the Duane W. and Leeta L. Bailey library of books on bees and beekeeping, and other volumes and broadsides concerned with food in nature. Many of the cookbooks in the Chapin Library in fact are more than collections of recipes: they also contain advice for treating illness and preserving health, directions for table and social etiquette, hints for domestic maintenance, and information about farming and husbandry. As such, they are sources for research in social history, medicine, and agriculture as well as guides to cookery.
An essay by Robert Volz on the Chapin Library’s culinary holdings and an article by Professor Darra Goldstein on the Library’s acquisition of Physiologie du goût, ou, Méditations de gastronomie transcendante by Brillat-Savarin are also available on this site.
Sporting and Outdoors Books
This category is intended to encompass all aspects of sport and the outdoors, but especially fishing (angling), hunting, and mountaineering. The collection was begun with gifts of fishing books by Robert A. DeVilbiss, Class of 1933, and J. Brooks Hoffman, M.D., Class of 1940, and by the bequest of Francis S. Woods. It also includes several works from Mr. Chapin’s foundation gift, notably the first five editions of Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler. In December 2000 the Library received 95 additional angling books and 110 hunting books, including several classics of early 19th-century color-plate field sports literature, given by Mr. and Mrs. Robert C. Neff, from the collection of his uncle, Robert Carey, Jr., Class of 1920.
Thousands of volumes are held by the Chapin Library to help locate and interpret rare books and manuscripts. These include bibliographies, critical and historical works, and periodicals.