The Rarest and Most Valuable Books Hidden in SA Libraries


If you’re looking for rare manuscripts and historical books, you’d expect to find them in places like The British Museum Where the Library of Congress. But small libraries around the world often hold a variety of these treasures scattered beyond the stacks.

We checked with several San Antonio libraries to see what rarities they had and found several notable books. One has an anatomically correct – and for the time shocking – depiction of human anatomy and physiology, another has reproductions of Mexican paintings and hieroglyphics collected around the world, and a book described as the finest that exist.

While most of these books are literally priceless – in other words, they can’t be priced because there isn’t really a market for them – the good news is that you don’t always have to be a scholar to see them. Unless otherwise stated, the books below can be viewed by anyone with an appointment.

1611 King James Bible

San Antonio Public Library

Old King James Bible

Year: 1611

Where: Central Library, 600 Soledad Street, 210-207-2559

It is one of the first ‘Popular Bibles’ printed after King James of England authorized a new translation in 1603. The Central Library copy is also one of less than 200 so-called ‘Great He Existing Bibles” due to an error in chapter 3, verse 15 of the Book of Ruth, which says “He entered the city”. The text refers to Ruth and should read: “She went…”. The error was corrected in later editions.

This copy found its way to the United States during World War II when a London bookseller, fearing further air raids after the London Blitz, sold it and other items to San Antonio merchant Frank Rosengren in 1942. Three years later Rosengren sold it to the San Antonio Public Library.

Although the library copy is in very good condition, it lacks a title page and a last leaf, so it cannot be considered complete.

a book of hours

a book of hours

Our Lady of the Lake

“A Book of Hours”

Year: around 1400

Where: Sueltenfuss Library, Our Lady of the Lake University, 411 SW 24th St., 210-528-7138

This illuminated manuscript – that is, it is drawn entirely by hand and mainly in gold leaf – contains psalms and devotions that priests and literate believers such as nobles would have used during prayers. daily. It has several color illustrations and is said to have been produced in the city of Rouen in northern France and then brought to the United States before 1937.

It was given to school in 1950 and the book is in good condition with only minor scuffs to the leather bound cover.

“Antiquities of Mexico: Comprising Facsimiles of Ancient Mexican Paintings and Hieroglyphics”

University of the Incarnate Word

“Antiquities of Mexico: Comprising Facsimiles of Ancient Mexican Paintings and Hieroglyphics”

Year: 1830-49

Where: Mabee Library, University of the Incarnate Word, 4301 Broadway, 210-829-3837

Known as the Kingsborough Collection, this nine-volume set of Mexican art was written by Edward King Kingsborough, the Viscount of Mexico who undertook the massive task of visiting museums around the world to collect reproductions of Mexican art .

Once owned by philanthropist George Brackenridge, the set is one of 49 Kingsboroughs in libraries worldwide. Few are as distinctive as UIWs, in which all color illustrations are hand-tinted. In 1991, the San Antonio Museum of Art included several volumes in its groundbreaking exhibit, “Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries.”

It was last appraised at $130,000.

The book is only accessible to academics, but has been digitized by the Smithsonian Library at this web address.

De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the structure of the human body)

De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the structure of the human body)

San Antonio Express-News/Staff photographer Kin Man Hui

“De Humani Corporis Fabrica” ​​(On the structure of the human body)

Year: 1543

Where: PI Nixon Medical Historical Library, UT Health San Antonio, 7703 Floyd Curl Dr., 210-450-8260

Published by Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), it was the first anatomical description of the human body based on actual autopsies which, with the permission of the church, were performed on executed criminals. The book helped revolutionize the practice of medicine by disproving many dominant beliefs about human anatomy and physiology.

This edition contains handwritten notations and has been censored in several places, including such sensitive topics for the time as the connection between the soul and the brain.

The book was donated to the Bexar County Medical Library, which donated it to the UT Medical Historical Library in 1970. The book is in very good condition except for a few holes on several pages caused by the acid in the ink used by the censors.

The Bible of Saint John

The Bible of Saint John

San Antonio Express-News/Staff photographer Kin Man Hui

The Bible of Saint John

Year: 2011

Where: St. Louis Hall, St. Mary’s University, 1 Camino Santa Maria, 210-842-4092

The most recent title in this group, St. John’s Bible, was written and hand-drawn by a team of artists led by famed calligrapher Donald Jackson, chief scribe to the Queen of England.

The original seven-volume set is 1,160 pages and ran for 11 years. This copy is one of 299 life-size reproductions that were produced.

When donated to St. Mary’s University in 2013, the complete set cost $150,000.

The individual volumes are displayed in turn in the lobby of St. Louis Hall.

The Vinegar Bible

The Vinegar Bible

San Antonio Express-News/Staff photographer Kin Man Hui

The Vinegar Bible

Year: 1717

Where: John Peace Library, University of Texas at San Antonio, 1 UTSA Circle, 210-458-5505

This 1,296-page version of the King James Bible is commonly referred to as the Vinegar Bible because of the chapter title of Luke 20 which mistakenly reads “The Parable of the Vinegar” rather than “The Vineyard.”

It is one of only two copies of this defective edition in American libraries; the other is at Yale. The edition includes apocrypha or non-canonical works not generally contained in the Hebrew Bible, including the books of Judith, Esther, and Tobias.

Donated to the school in 1975 by a Bible history collector, the binding of the book is in good condition, although the 300-year-old leather cover is peeling when handled.

“The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer”

“The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer”

Year: 1896

Where: Coates Library, Trinity University, 1 Trinity Place, 210-999-7355

Often called the finest book in existence, only around 400 copies have been printed of this compilation, which includes ‘The Canterbury Tales’ and other works by the writer known as the ‘Father of English Literature’.

Also known as Kelmscott Chaucer, after the press where it was printed, the 556-page volume is a magnificent work of art, with 87 woodcut illustrations and exquisitely detailed borders. It was printed on handmade linen paper with ink specially obtained from Germany.

Donated to the library in 1983, this edition was bound in the 1960s or 1970s and is in excellent condition.

“The Works of Tacitus”

“The Works of Tacitus”

Year: 1633

Where: National Archives of the Marianist Province of the United States, 3141 Culebra Road, St. Mary’s University, 210-436-3329

Published in Venice, the book is a collection of the works of Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56-120), widely considered the greatest Roman historian to write in the Latin language.

Measuring just 6 inches high, 3 inches wide and nearly 900 pages long, including notes and an index, the handmade book has a vellum cover and shows signs of damage from the verses, although the hand-stitched binding is in good condition and the printing remains clear. .

The book was donated to the archives several years ago, but its provenance before that is unknown.

[email protected] | Twitter: @RichardMarini

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