History can be fascinating, especially when you work for a company with a rich heritage, like Elsevier. My week in Elsevier’s Amsterdam office ended with an open house for the Elsevier Heritage Collection. I’ve always admired the encased collector’s items when I visit this office, but this time the cases were open for viewing.
One of the first things that drew my attention was a rare Latin edition of Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, an astronomy treatise published in 1635. It wasn’t just the worn vellum cover, intricate and detailed Latin print, or the fact that it is rare, but the history of events that surrounded this publication.
[caption id="attachment_25728" align="alignnone" width="800"] The Elsevier Heritage Collection resides in a humidity-controlled glass case on the top floor the Elsevier building in Amsterdam. It comprises over 2,000 volumes with more than 1,500 distinct titles published by the original House of Elzevier from 1580 to 1712. (Photo by Angelina Ward)[/caption]
Galileo’s Dialogue presented a Copernican view of Earth and other orbital planets revolving around the sun as superior to the traditional Ptolemaic system of everything revolving around Earth. At that time, this view was not accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.
I learned the rest of the story from Sjors de Heuvel (@sjorsdeheuvel), an MA student in Book Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands who is working as a dedicated Heritage Collection intern at Elsevier:
The book was first published in Italian in Florence in 1632 under a formal license from the Inquisition. In 1633, however, Galileo was convicted of “grave suspicion of heresy” based on the book, which was then placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. Bonaventura and Abraham Elzevier at Leiden published this early Latin edition under the title Systema Cosmicum. An early case of outsourcing, they had it printed in Strasbourg by David Hautt.[caption id="attachment_25729" align="alignleft" width="307"] Published in 1635, this copy of Dialogue is covered in the traditional vellum, which was used to protect the pages. One would buy books from printers unbound and uncovered. In the 17th-century Netherlands, a bookbinder would then often bind it, in Calvinist fashion, in plain white vellum, a high-quality parchment made from calf-skin. In this case, the vellum was painted green. (Photo by Angelina Ward)[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_25736" align="alignright" width="358"] Inside the front cover is a clipping from an auction catalog describing the edition. One of the book’s previous owners, an Englishman, apparently bought it for 5 pounds and 5 shillings, likely in the late 19th century. For future reference he decided to paste it inside the book cover. (Photo by Angelina Ward)[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_25734" align="alignnone" width="800"] Portrait of Galileo Galilei from Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (Photo by Angelina Ward)[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_25753" align="alignright" width="229"] Sjors de Heuvel (Photo by Giulio Menna)[/caption]
De Heuvel shared his vast knowledge of the House of Elzevier in this capsule history:
[note color="#f1f9fc" position="alignnone" width=800 margin=10]
In the 17th century, the Elzevier family established themselves as the foremost academic publishers of their time. Based in the Netherlands and closely tied to Leiden University, the original House of Elzevier published groundbreaking research from contemporary scholars including Descartes, Huygens and Galileo.Louis Elzevier was the founder of the publishing house, which at some point had offices in Leiden, Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. At Leiden, Louis’s successors Bonaventura and Abraham brought the house to great fame.
After the company ceased to exist in 1712, the name of the Elzeviers lived on through the many bibliophiles that adored their publications for their elegant typography and beautiful engravings. The founders of the modern Elsevier company selected the name in 1880 in honor of their 17th-century predecessors.Nowadays we still draw inspiration from these works and have established a collection of about 1,500 Elzevier books and an additional 400 by related publishers.
Research scholarship availableIn cooperation with Leiden University’s Scaliger Institute, Elsevier invites scholars with an interest in the Elsevier Heritage Collection or Special Collections of the Leiden University Library to apply for a research scholarship.
View the collection
- View the Elsevier Heritage Collection catalog and books online.
- Sjors De Heuvel has also started a Facebook page for the collection, where you can find more elaborate details of exceptional works.
- To request access to visit the collection, contact De Heuvel through the end of the summer (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Corporate Responsibility Manager Ylann Schemm (email@example.com).
- View more of Angelina Ward's photos from the Heritage Collection open house on Google+.[/note]
Another interesting book I was able to browse was History of the New World, Second Edition, by Johannes de Laet, a Dutch geographer and one of the founders of the Dutch West India Company. Published in 1630 by Bonaventura and Abraham Elzevier, this publication was famous for drawings of maps, inhabitants, flora and fauna.
[caption id="attachment_25738" align="alignnone" width="560"] Worn vellum cover of de Laet's History of the New World, Second Edition, with hand-scribed information on the spine. (Photo by Angelina Ward)[/caption]
One of my favorite drawings was a map that featured New Netherlands before it was New York and had a population of about 300 to 500 people for the entire region at that time. This area was also an important settlement for the Dutch West India Company as a major post for North American fur trade.
[caption id="attachment_25739" align="alignnone" width="800"] Detailed map of the shorlines of New England and New Netherlands — before it was New York. (Photo by Angelina Ward)[/caption]
De Heuvel is organizing a series of presentations on the collection, putting books on display around the office, and making sure that damaged books are restored.
I look forward to the next visit and ideally being able to view some more treasures. You can view more photos from my Elsevier Heritage Collection open house visit on Google+.[divider]
[caption id="attachment_18418" align="alignright" width="119"] Angelina Ward[/caption]