Free Library of Philadelphia
November 2016
Hide and Seek in Hidden Collections:
One Lost At Sea, One Found on the Shelves
The Lap of Luxury (Binding)

For fine bookbinding fans, it is hard to beat the talented productions of Francis Sangorski and George Sutcliffe. Trained as bookbinders at the renowned Cockerell Bindery, they formed their own eponymous firm in 1901. Sangorski & Sutcliffe are best-remembered for their luxurious jeweled bindings, inlaid with real gold and gems and complicated leather tooling and appliques. These fine bindings were part of a general revival of the art of bookbinding in England around the turn of the 20th century.

Sangorski & Sutcliffe didn't "just" do bookbinding. Francis Sangorski's older brother, Alberto, worked with the firm as an artist and illuminator, creating by hand spectacular one-of-a-kind works inspired by illuminated medieval manuscripts. The Rare Book Department recently uncovered two on our own shelves: the Odes of John Keats and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Both were commissioned by the Grolier Society (now the famous Grolier Club) in the first years of the 20th century, and donated to the Free Library in 1952. They had been previously accessioned (formally recorded as an addition to our collections) but never cataloged and are just now going to be available to researchers and for exhibition.

Our Rubaiyat, while lovely, is only one of several made by the artisans. The most famous, " The Great Omar" was an opulent edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, commissioned with no concern for budget. After more than two years of work, the book was listed for sale in 1911 for £1000 (about $130,000 today) and set sail the following spring for New York and the prominent book dealer Gabriel Wells. Unfortunately, it set sail on the Titanic.

Only a few months after the demise of The Great Omar came the drowning death of Francis Sangorski. After Sangorski's death, a second Great Omar was created , following the original specifications, and housed in a bank vault for safekeeping. That bank vault, and the second Great Omar, was destroyed in a bombing during World War II. The firm continued on, and in 1989 after decades of on-and-off labor, a third Great Omar was produced. As yet, it endures, having been donated to the British Library in 2005. Hopefully their flood and fire suppression systems are in good working order.

For more information about the manuscripts and other materials in the History of the Book and Printing collection, please email the department or call us at 215-686-5416. 
Last Chance La Mancha
Only a few days left to view our Don Quixote display
In honor of the 400th year since Miguel de Cervantes' death, the Rare Book Department joined Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, and institutions around Philadelphia to celebrate his Golden Age of Spain masterpiece.

While the celebrations are over, we're keeping our small display of Don Quixote up a few more weeks. Now's your chance to see this 1866 deluxe edition illustrated by the master Gustave Dore. And don't miss the display on the first floor of the library outside the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music!
Open Now!
"An American-Born Faith: Writings from the First Century of Mormonism"

This exhibition explores historic Mormon material from the Free Library and Rosenbach collections, focusing on the 19th and early 20th centuries. Highlights include early copies of the Book of Mormon; texts printed in Deseret, a Mormon phonetic alphabet; 19th-century travelers' descriptions of Mormon settlements; and publications documenting the range of Americans' reactions to the new faith. 

August 15, 2016 through February 6, 2017

William B. Dietrich Gallery

Free Library Blog
Free Library Shop
Support the Free Library
Find an Event
Reactions: Medieval/Modern
We're excited to once again be partnering with the University of Pennsylvania for the 9th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age, hosted here and at Penn's Schoenberg Institute of Manuscript Studies November 17-19.

This year's theme, " Reactions: Medieval/Modern," explores the varied ways that people have reacted to, and acted upon, manuscripts from the Middle Ages up to today. On November 17, we'll be hosting the keynote by Michelle Brown, professor emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the  University of London

The workshops and discussions will be November 18-19 at the Kislak Center of Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, where attendees will also be able to view the exhibition of the same name (featuring over a dozen of our own materials on loan).

Find out more about the symposium program and register now.
Browse Online!
The Free Library has more than 40,000 images in  its  Digital Collections portal. Recently redesigned to be more user-friendly! 

Rare Book Department items include 1000+ of our Pennsylvania German fraktur and more than 4000 images from our collection of Medieval Manuscripts.