At nearby Margaret Clapp Library at Wellesley College, students have been able to pore over the 1566 printing of Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. It’s the third such “threshold work” for science-the Library has first printings of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica-in the Wellesley collection. Reading about this acquisition made me think: How different is the experience of reading a first or second printing? Does more power lie in the text, or the book? What sort of impact does it have on a student’s study?
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And are they worth the price to libraries, both the price of the book and the price of housing, conserving, and protecting it? At NU we often prefer to sell valuable books when the content is available in more recent editions. Yesterday a first edition of Jane Austen’s Emma went for $350,000. Imagine how much content the library could purchase for that amount of money…
Emma is one of my favorite books, but I don’t know that I could get more out of it than I have from my Penguin Classics edition.
Yes, I think first printings don’t necessarily add a great deal of value to the students’ use of the item. Original manuscripts, on the other hand, might be a different story — when you can see the author’s original handwriting, any notes they might have written in the margins, or earlier versions of a sentence crossed out and rewritten — that type of material can certainly add value to a scholar’s study of a work.