Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Japanese Students Abroad and the Building of America's First Japanese Library Collection, 1869-1878

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Japanese Students Abroad and the Building of America's First Japanese Library Collection, 1869-1878

Article excerpt

This article had its origins in a chance encounter with an undated manuscript in the Japanese Special Collection of Yale University's Sterling Memorial Library. Titled simply Goshoseki mokuroku [phrase omitted] (Catalog of Books), the hundred or so leaves, whose string binding vanished long ago, list nearly 600 titles along with the number of volumes and price of each (Fig. 1); the total cost amounts to just over 433 yen. The front cover bears the signature of Suwaraya Mohei [phrase omitted], the name of generations of proprietors of one of the great publishing houses and bookstores of Edo and early Tokyo. (1) No dates appear anywhere in the manuscript, but the great majority of the titles date from the mid to late Edo period, with the latest published in 1874. Given the scale of the catalog, its apparent early Meiji origins, and the fact that many of the titles corresponded to works in Sterling's Japanese Special Collection, it quickly became apparent that this was a record related to Yale's first large-scale acquisition of Japanese books--the earliest such purchase by any American library.

The basic facts of this acquisition are already known, having been outlined in the annual university reports of the period and touched upon in histories of the Yale library. (2) In 1873, paleontology professor Othniel Charles Marsh made a donation of 500 dollars for the express purpose of building a Japanese collection. (3) Three years later, nearly 2,700 Japanese volumes in a diverse range of fields--including histories, biographies, classical literature, poetry, popular fiction, reference works, scholarly treatises, religious texts, and more--were accessioned by the library and given nameplates recognizing Marsh's gift (Fig. 2). Not suspecting that much work would be involved in filling in the details, but thinking the catalog contents of considerable interest for the information they contain about prices and the book market at the dawn of the Meiji period, I began the laborious process of transcribing and organizing the manuscript's entries, written in hasty and at times nearly indecipherable cursive script. (4)

In investigating the story surrounding the catalog, however, the scope of the project expanded considerably. The starting point and only significant clue in the manuscript itself was a dedication in English at the top of the first page: "To Mr. Van Name From Z. Hidaka." Van Name presented little difficulty. Addison Van Name (Fig. 3), Yale's librarian from 1865 to 1904, is a familiar figure to those versed in the history of the Yale library. After graduating from the college in 1858 having won several prizes and delivered his class's valedictory address, he studied in Europe for several years before returning to teach Hebrew in the Divinity School. An accomplished philologist, he continued to teach and research Oriental languages even after becoming university librarian. He also served as treasurer and librarian of the American Oriental Society (AOS) for many years and had close personal and professional relationships with many of the society's members.

Van Name was a prolific and savvy collector of books who donated to the Yale library many items from his extensive personal collection (including Goshoseki mokuroku itself), with particularly significant donations in 1891 and 1920. One faculty colleague went so far as to declare him "probably the most skillful buyer of books on earth." (5) These talents benefitted the university's library collections enormously, and Van Name's successor, Andrew Keogh, marveled at his accomplishments in this area--holdings increased from 44,500 volumes when Van Name assumed his position to 375,000 upon his retirement forty years later--all the more so given the little support and limited budget the university gave him. Keogh noted, moreover, the high quality of the materials that were assembled. (6) In like fashion, the citation recorded on the occasion of Van Name's retirement in 1904 praised his "rare judgment in purchasing, so that the slender income of past years yielded results far beyond reasonable expectations. …

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