Between the Boards: Curious collection from Crerar on displayBy Seth Sanders
But taken together, they define the way books in the then-independent John Crerar Library tried to compress the world between two covers.
There are some marvelously beautiful and unusual things on display, said Alice Schreyer, Director of the Special Collections Research Center at the University of Chicago Library.
Among the most intriguing may be a book by Edward Tuckerman, a botanist, which has actual specimens of lichens mounted onto paper and enclosed in six portfolio cases with printed title pages and printed labels, making it a portable herbarium. It takes a moment to realize youre not looking at photographs, engravings or illustrations of lichens but the real thing. Tuckerman created a collection between the boards, functioning and looking like a book.
Schreyer said lichens are just the beginning. There are anatomical flap-books, with illustrations of the different layers of the human body, from the flesh down to the skeleton, each on a different layer, like a childrens pop-up book, but an early 20th-century version very much for adults. You lift the flaps and see the next layer of the human body. Its for a popular audience, exploiting new technologies of printing and graphic reproduction to make instructional books widely available.
Sherman Foote Dentons book on moths and butterflies, which is another personal favorite, is an example of nature printing, where actual specimens are used in making the printing plate. The illustrations in this special copy were made by incorporating parts of the butterfly bodies but also using engraving and hand coloring. Theyre astounding to look at and think about what went into making them, to see them as part of an effort to explore techniques of scientific illustration that can achieve fidelity to nature between the boards of a book.
In his will, John Crerar (1827 to 1889), a Chicago business leader and philanthropist, intended that the bequest be used to create a Free Public Library; the will did not stipulate a subject for the library.
Crerar did insist that the books and periodicals be selected with a view to create and sustain a healthy moral and Christian sentiment in the community, and that all nastiness and immorality be excluded ... dirty French novels and all skeptical trash and works of questionable moral tone shall never be found in this library. His executors decided that an emphasis on the natural and physical sciences would complement the collections of the Chicago Public Library and the Newberry Library, the citys other major public libraries.
With some refocusing, the collection has grown ever since. Following a 1981 merger with the University of Chicago, the Crerar collection was moved to Hyde Park in 1984.
Visitors will indeed find no French novels of any sort. But now, through Friday, June 20, wanderers through the gallery of the Special Collections Research Center in the Regenstein Library will have unique access to a stimulating and beautiful spectrum of attempts to put the world between two boards.