Toppan Rare Books Library
American Heritage Center
2111 Willett Drive
University of Wyoming
Dept. 3924, 1000 E. University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071
Telephone: (307) 766-2565
Curator: Anne Marie Lane
Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 am-5 pm; appointments recommended.
Our mission at the American Heritage Center, which contains the University of Wyoming's rare books library, is to preserve and make available primary sources and rare books that reflect the American past. British and Western European books are included in the collection as examples of the European roots of our American heritage. The Toppan Rare Books Library contains more than fifty thousand books dating from the fifteenth century to the present, including nine manuscript codices from the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and fourteen books printed in the fifteenth century.
Ten of the incunabula come from Italy (mostly Venice), two from Germany, one from France, and one from Switzerland. Of the manuscripts, three are from Spain, three from Italy, two from the Low Countries, and one from France. These twenty-three books have a special standing in Laramie. We are proud of them. From the time they were donated (mostly by William Fitzhugh and Lewis Einstein in the 1960s and 1970s), there has been a protective sense of community stewardship for these precious items.
Several of our German and Italian incunables have hand-painted decorations by the skillful manuscript illuminators still active in the later fifteenth century. In an illumination of a priest holding up a chalice, the gold chalice seems to take on what could be perceived as a heavenly glow when the page is tilted a certain way against the light. The marginal decoration on the opening page of another incunable is particularly striking, with birds perched amid multicolored intertwining branches, acanthus leaves, and flowers.
Many of the books have initial letters hand-painted in red or blue (occasionally green), sometimes with the colors combined, and often with curvilinear or rectilinear background designs. Others have woodcuts in a similar style. Some of the manuscript and printed books contain Renaissance motifs such as putti, classical urns, the white-vine motif, and portraits in profile. Always enjoyable is the occasional humorous element, such as human/ animal hybrid figures, or "drolleries," in the margins of the printed Book of Hours, little caricatures of people's faces drawn in where one might not expect them in one of the antiphonaries, and whimsical animals such as the three tiny rabbits running along the lower border of a law manuscript.
The typefaces of the printed books were derived directly from familiar calligraphy styles, especially Gothic black-letter, rotunda, chancery cursive, and Renaissance humanist scripts. Letter conventions are apparent, such as the interchangeable v/u, and i/j, also the long or "medial" s, and numerous scribal abbreviations and ligatures. Beginning and ending text sections are occasionally in the shape of a half-diamond indentation or "in pendentive" (where centered lines become progressively shorter). Traditional religious praises and thanks end sections or books, especially "Laus Deo" and "Deo Gratias Amen."
There are also similarities in binding styles and materials, and our collection includes examples of hand-sewn text blocks bound into wooden board covers; overall panel stamped decorations (in gilt or blind) or tool-impressed designs on calf leather or alum-tawed pigskin; and brass corner protectors ("shoes"), ornate bosses, and fastening clasps. Many of these books are foliosized, while certain smaller manuscripts and incunables are in plain, limp vellum bindings (with ties or loops)..
The subjects of the books range from religious Books of Hours to philosophical and scientific works by popular medieval authors such as the thirteenth-century English mathematician John of Halifax, also known as Johannes de Sacro Bosco. …