Category: Rare Books

New Acquisition: Narrating the Black Experience: Cane

Photo of binding of Cane by Jean Toomer, illustrated by Martin Puryear. Recent acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives.

Jean Toomer was a masterful historiographer and writer of black history and culture.  His seminal publication, Cane, embodied his devotion to narrating the black experience and to applying a critical eye to past history of oppression and prejudice in order to preserve and crystallize history as it was, before its true reality is erased by the present.  Essayist and contributor (afterword) to Cane, Prof. Leon Litwack (UC Berkeley) comments on Jean Toomer, Cane, and twentieth century racism, writing,

“In coming to grips with the present, Jean Toomer insisted on confronting the past and exploring the heritage of slavery to its very roots in ways that would avoid both condescension and romanticization.  Looking about him, he sensed an agrarian folk culture deeply rooted in the slave experience.  There was still time, he thought, to explore that culture, indeed the very soul and spirit of the black South, before urbanization and industrialization rendered it unrecognizable.”

The novel Cane received high praise and acclaim following its publishing, however such acclaim was not reflected in the number of books sold.  Jean Toomer himself laid latent for some time after its publishing and only resurfaced years later as a burgeoning interest in black history and culture in the 1960’s emerged.  Cane remains a work of unique and paramount stature and is elusive in its form, for it is many things – a novel, work of poetry, a drama, an illustrated work.  It takes place in rural Georgia, urban Washington, D.C., among other places.  The beauty of the work lies in its multifaceted nature, speaking to the reader in a variety of forms.

Photo of page from Cane by Jean Toomer, illustrated by Martin Puryear, containing photographs of author, Jean Toomer, and illustrator, Martin Puryear. Recent acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives.

Cane is augmented by the work of Martin Puryear, a prominent American sculptor.  Martin Puryear was enamored by Cane, read during his initial years residing in the South and teaching at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.  Puryear’s contributions to Cane include woodcuts as accompanying illustrations; there are seven larger images portraying women featured within the novel, and three smaller images resembling the enigmatic arcs Jean Toomer utilized to divide sections within the work in the first edition.

While this remains Jean Toomer’s most conspicuous work, it is important to note Toomer’s other literary endeavors, including autobiographies and other fiction, drama, poetry, and essays.  He published one other work, Essentials, in 1931, a collection of aphorisms.  The breadth of black history and culture portrayed in Cane begs examination and continued study today.  The complementary pairing of Jean Toomer’s illuminative text and Martin Puryear’s woodcut illustrations creates for the reader an experience incomparable and truly distinctive.

Photo of illustration from Cane by Jean Toomer, illustrated by Martin Puryear. Recent acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives.

The book was produced by The Arion Press, considered the nation’s leading publisher of fine-press books. Founded in San Francisco in 1974 by Andrew Hoyem, it has published 116 limited-edition books, most printed by letterpress, often illustrated with original prints by notable artists. This edition of Cane was limited to 400 numbered copies (ours is No. 343) with each copy signed by the artist, Martin Puryear. The text type is Times New Roman Bold with long descenders, composed in Monotype; the display type is Lucian Bold, composed by hand. The text paper is Biblio, mould-made in Germany; the print paper is Kitakata, handmade in Japan. The text was printed on a Miller TW cylinder press; the woodblocks were printed on a Vandercook Universal III proofing press. The book was designed by Andrew Hoyem and is the 59th publication of the Arion Press.

Written by Alexandra Mueller, Special Projects Archivist

New Acquisition: Moses Alshekh

Photo of binding of Sefer sh’elot u-teshuvot by R. Moses Alshekh, acquired by University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

Moses Alshekh, also known as Moshe Alshich, born in the early 1500’s in the city of Adrianople, gained immense influence and respect as a rabbi and scholar.  In his service to the Jewish faith, R. Alshekh mastered the teachings of the Torah and delivered sermons incomparable and elevated (Miller, n.d.).  In addition to his mastery of the Torah, R. Alshekh immersed himself in the study of the Talmud, the book of Jewish laws, and the study of principles of halakhah, the guide of “day-to-day” living for Jews (Posner, n.d.).  As a youth, study in yeshivas under Rabbis Joseph (Yosef) Taitazik and Joseph (Yosef) Caro in the city of Salonika cultivated in R. Alshekh the wisdom and stature of a sage in the interpretation of halakhah and Jewish law (, 2020; Miller, n.d.).

As R. Alshekh entered his young adulthood, he transitioned to a life in Safed of Erez, Israel, where he began to solidify his presence in the Jewish faith as an authority of Jewish law and teachings.  In addition to gaining prominence as a rabbi, skilled deliverer of sermons, and scholar of halakhah, R. Alshekh engaged in “exegesis” of the Bible, providing critical analysis and interpretation of biblical books.  His work in exegesis of the Bible proved comprehensive and revered, becoming the subject of multiple publications, while alive and posthumously, as well as topics of numerous sermons by popular request (, 2020).  R. Alshekh received official ordainment as a rabbi by the mentor of his youth, R. Joseph (Yosef) Caro, while in Safed.  Years later, R. Alshekh had the bounty of ordaining his own fellow scholar of halakhah, Hayyim Vital, as rabbi, whom he had studied closely with for many years (, 2020).

During his time in Safed, R. Alshekh immersed himself in the affairs and vitality of the Jewish community of Safed and supported the interests of the community through means of outreach in travel and treatise.  Following a long life of service to the Jewish faith, R. Alshekh passed away in 1593.  R. Alshekh leaves a rich legacy to the understanding and interpretation of numerous biblical books, a subject of his critical attention, and also of scholarly devotion to halakhah.  While R. Alshekh lived to see the publication of some of his work, his posthumous publications were largely overseen by his son Hayyim Alshekh (, 2020).

University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) acquired Sefer sh’elot u-teshuvot by R. Moses Alshekh, published in Venice posthumously in 1605.  This form of rabbinical publication is comprised of “questions and answers,” a collection of responsa to inquiries of the Talmud, the Bible, the Mishnah, and other philosophical queries (Bacher & Lauterbach, n.d.).  The publication may be accessed for use in the Library Catalog.

Photo of title page of Sefer sh’elot u-teshuvot by R. Moses Alshekh, acquired by University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives


Alshekh, Moses. (2020). Retrieved July 21, 2020, from

Bacher, W., & Lauterbach, J. Z. (n.d.). She’elot u-teshubot (“questions and answers,” or interpellations and decisions”). JewishEncylopedia.

Miller, M. (n.d.). Rabbi Moshe Alshich. Kabbalah Online.

Posner, M. (n.d.). What is halakhah (halachah)? Jewish law.

Written by Alexandra Mueller, Special Projects Archivist

New Acquisition: Albrecht Dürer

Photo of title page of Della simmetria de i corpi humani, libri quattro by Albrecht Dürer, translated by Giovanni Paolo Gallucci; working copy of Giovanni Antonio Barca

Albrecht Dürer exemplified a mastery and uniqueness in his contribution to Italian art in the 15th and 16th centuries.  Though Dürer excelled in varied mediums and forms of art, wood cutting emerged as his most deft and accomplished medium.  Dürer’s proficiency in wood cutting flourished during his youth apprenticeship under artist Michael Wolgemut of Nuremberg, Germany.  His carefully cultivated interest in art deviated from a long family lineage of working goldsmiths, though historically a deviation that proved largely influential in Italian art theory.  Dürer’s most ingenious contributions were his keen analysis of the complexity of human proportions, and the application of mathematical and geometrical principles to reflect the human form in art.  Inherent to Dürer’s artistic work of the human form was a philosophy of realism, starkly opposing the prevailing leaning towards idealism and perfection held by many of his contemporaries.

University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) recently acquired Della simmetria de i corpi humani, libri quattro by Albrecht Dürer and translated by Giovanni Paolo Gallucci.  The work is subdivided into five parts, the first four of which are attributed to Dürer, and the fifth an addition by translator Gallucci, a collection of writings by Italian poets on topics related to human form in art.  The first two books by Dürer portray technique for accurately representing the bodily proportions of humans in a variety of sizes, shapes, and ages.  Dürer’s third book continues his exploration of mathematical principles and the direct relationship to human proportions.  Building significantly on the mathematical principles and artistic explorations of books one, two, and three, Dürer’s fourth book invaluably links geometry and the human form in movement.

The copy of Della simmetria de i corpi humani, libri quattro by Albrecht Dürer and translated by Giovanni Paolo Gallucci acquired by SCUA is the Italian first edition and first issue published in 1591.  The ownership of the book adds an interesting peculiarity and invaluableness to its condition; the specific copy, possessed by Giovanni Antonio Barca, contains annotations by the owner in his own preparation to publish on the subject.  Barca drew from and manipulated the theories and work of Dürer, yet Barca did not include direct attribution to Dürer for intellectual contribution to his work.  The influence, however, is undeniable.

-Written by Alexandra Mueller, Special Projects Archivist

New Acquisition: Ashendene Press Publications

Photo of The Song of Songs which is Solomon’s of the Ashendene Press, illuminated by Florence Kate Kingsford, 1902,

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, burgeoning revolutionaries in book production, including William Morris, Sir Emery Walker, Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, and C. H. St. John Hornby, perceived a degradation and lack of painstaking care and integrity in printing (Oxenbridge Press, n.d.).  The sour taste of commercialistic practices led early visionary William Morris to implement bygone principles of veracity in the selection of materials and the application of quality techniques to produce beautiful books.  William Morris set stone for a revitalization of book printing as one of the first prominent figures to emerge in the private press movement at the turn of the twentieth century.  The private press allowed for detail and design to flourish, with an emphasis on typography, illumination, and binding practices, and several private presses responsible for producing distinguished historical typographies (Roylance, 1991).

William Morris’s Kelmscott Press of 1891 proved revolutionary; it served as a catalyst for the development of the prestigious related private presses of the Doves Press and the Ashendene Press (William Doyle Galleries, 2020).  Morris and the Kelmscott Press prized the art of book printing, from procuring the finest materials, to creating intricate, decorative illuminations, to binding volumes precisely by hand (Roylance, 1991).  The Kelmscott Press utilized the uniquely created Golden, Troy, and Chaucer typefaces in their publications.  The Golden typeface was a Roman iteration, while Troy and Chaucer had roots in Gothic form (Peddie, 1915).  Morris worked closely in partnership with Sir Emery Walker, a masterful typographer, in his creation of Golden.  As the private press movement evolved, and Morris passed away, Walker joined forces with Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson to form the Doves Press.  Cobden-Sanderson and Walker paired complementarily – Walker produced typefaces and other stylistic elements, and Cobden-Sanderson spearheaded the task of binding volumes.  The Doves typeface appears with great notoriety in the printing of the Doves Bible, and whose form spawned from the Roman leanings of Nicolas Jenson, a shared influence to the Kelmscott Golden (Potter, 1938).

The Ashendene Press surfaced on the eve of the twentieth century, developed in 1894 by C. H. St. John Hornby who was a close follower and admirer of Morris (Roylance, 1991).  Walker, once again a seemingly omnipresent and influential force in the purview of the private press, developed for Hornby a typeface so characteristic and inherent to the image of Ashendene that forever defined their publications.  The Subiaco typeface stemmed from the Roman influences of Sweynheym and Pannartz, and is considered the shining element of the Ashendene Press’ folio printing of Dante.  The Dante also claims elaborate illustrations collaboratively created by renowned artist C. M. Gere and woodcutter W. H. Hooper (Potter, 1938).  Other remarkable folios produced by the Ashendene Press include Boccacio, Malory, Thucydides, and Spenser (William Doyle Galleries, 2020).

C. H. St. John Hornby operated the Ashendene Press for forty years, spanning from 1894 to 1935, with its home in Chelsea, England. Hornby and the Ashendene Press produced approximately sixty volumes during its tenure prior to the disbandment of the press after World War I (Roylance, 1991).

University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) holds several volumes published by the Ashendene Press, and has recently acquired two more titles.  The two recent acquisitions are The Faire Queene by Edmund Spenser and Spenser’s Minor Poems by Edmund Spenser.  Other holdings include Dante and Thucydides publications, among others, and may be accessed in the Library catalog under Ashendene Press.


Oxenbridge Press. (n.d.). A brief history of the Private Press Movement. Oxenbridge Press.

Peddie, R. A. (1915). The history and practice of the art of printing. Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 63(3242), 142-147.

Potter, G. L. (1938). An appreciation of Sir Emery Walker. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 8(3), 400-414.

Roylance, D. (1991). The art of the English book from William Morris to Eric Gill. The Princeton University Library Chronicle, 52(3), 367-383.

William Doyle Galleries. (2020). Art of the printed book. Doyle.

-Written by Alexandra Mueller, Special Projects Archivist

New Acquisition: Victoria Regia

Photo of title page of Victoria Regia: A Volume of Original Contributions in Poetry and Prose, edited by Adelaide A. Proctor, acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

The social structure of Victorian England represented a chasm deep and wide separating the public and private sphere, one that women were forced to straddle uncomfortably and fought to bridge and to bind seamlessly.  The private sphere was considered the realm of women, and the public sphere the realm of men.  A unification of the two was discouraged, if not entirely avoided and feared.  Emerging feminist activists attempted to eradicate the divisive nature of Victorian England society by championing women’s suffrage and the right to education and employment.  A particular feminist, Emily Faithfull, keenly and astutely estimated the impact of gainful, fitful employment for women in elevating their status (Frawley, 1998).  A close cohort of Emily Faithfull, Emily Davies, denounced the common justification for the oppression of women that asserts women inherently different than men.  Davies instead declared “a deep and broad basis of likeness” between men and women, and believed “only good could come of enabling women to take a greater part in the intellectual and public life of men” (Schwartz, 2011, p. 674).

Emily Faithfull’s greatest conquest involved shattering hegemonic expectations of the sexes and breaking women into a sphere of the working world traditionally relegated to men, expertly done so with the novel development of a printing press owned and operated by women.  The birth of the historical Victoria Press was closely knit to the pioneering women of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women (SPEW), and to the women of the Langham Place Circle, an activist organization for the employment of women and a constituency of women editors and publishers of women’s periodicals.  The women instrumental in the propagation of these activist organizations include Emily Faithfull, Jessie Boucherett, Bessie Rayner Parkes, and Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (Robinson, 1996).  In regard to the guiding principles of the activism of SPEW, the Langham Place Circle, and the Victoria Press, founder Emily Faithfull poignantly stated,

Our cry is not for work per se, but for fit work fitly paid.  Time will work great changes in our traditional and conventional ideas on these points; and the question has, I believe, to be wrought out, rather than thought out – it must be solved by actual progress, however slow, rather than by written arguments, however specious. (Frawley, 1998, p. 87)

Photo of spine of Victoria Regia: A Volume of Original Contributions in Poetry and Prose, edited by Adelaide A. Proctor, acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

The Victoria Press produced publications that were “Conducted by Women,” an inscription often used by publishers to delineate a publication as produced primarily by women.  Bessie Rayner Parkes of the Victoria Press and Langham Place Circle consulted close friend George Eliot about the nature of publishing, especially in reference to women.  George Eliot replied, “It is a doctrine of Mr. Lewes’s, which I think recommends itself to one’s reason, that every new or renovated periodical should have a specialité – do something not yet done, fill up a gap, and so give people a motive for taking it . . . ” (Robinson, 1996, p. 159).  Emily Faithfull and her cohorts embodied the words of George Eliot deeply, constructing a business and creating a product innovative and that filled a gap – the absence of the voice and presence of women in publishing and in the larger public sphere.

The selection of “Victoria” as the representative name of the printing press, and the use of “Victoria” in the titles of The Victoria Magazine and Victoria Regia, was by far no haphazard, half-baked choice.  Emily Faithfull and the Victoria Press held Queen Victoria in high esteem, regarding her as an exemplar in the struggle to maintain domain in both the private and the public spheres (Frawley, 1998).  The Victoria Press’ use of Queen Victoria’s namesake and the selection of content in the publications attracted her interest and procured her support.  Queen Victoria named Emily Faithfull as “Printer and Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majesty” (Frawley, 1998, p. 93).

University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) acquired one of the Victoria Press’s earliest publications, the Victoria Regia.  The Victoria Regia: A Volume of Original Contributions in Poetry and Prose was edited by Adelaide A. Proctor, a fellow member of the Langham Place Circle (Tusan, 2000).  The volume is a compilation of a variety of literary works in many forms contributed by women and men, arranged with no special or preferential consideration.  In truth to the Victoria Press’ mission and values, the Victoria Regia contained a tribute to Queen Victoria in the preface that extolled the Queen and served as a nod of appreciation to her support (Frawley, 1998).

Emily Faithfull and her cohorts created something so pioneering, so magical and transformative.  For many women, the Victoria Press helped connect the private and public spheres of their lives, allowing habitation and fulfillment in both realms.  The Victoria Press was vastly influential in promoting gainful, fitful employment for women on a grander scale.  The Victoria Regia and other early works of the Victoria Press laid brickwork for the continued success of the all-woman printing press.


Frawley, M. (1998). The editor as advocate: Emily Faithfull and “The Victoria Magazine.” Victorian Periodicals Review, 31(1), 87-104.

Robinson, S. C. (1996). “Amazed at our success”: The Langham Place Editors and the emergence of a feminist critical tradition. Victorian Periodicals Review, 29(2), 159-172.

Schwartz, L. (2011). Feminist thinking on education in Victorian England. Oxford Review of Education, 37(5), 669-682.

Tusan, M. E. (2000). ‘Not the ordinary Victorian charity’: The society for promoting the employment of women archive. History Workshop Journal, 49, 220-230.

Written by Alexandra Mueller (Special Projects Archivist)