Beinecke Library unlocks its vaults to show the oldest, rarest, and most amazing printed objects at Yale.

Permanent Markers: Aspects of the History of Printing brings together the best of the history of printing to show how humankind made its mark on surfaces, including paper, metal, and silk  – in the service of celebration, memorialization and spreading information.

As part of the Beinecke Library’s year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary, the second of three major exhibitions focuses on the history of printing. On view in the first section, The Story of Printing, are:

The oldest reliably dateable pieces of printing in the world: A set of three Buddhist sutras printed by woodblock between 764 and 770 AD in Japan to mourn the war dead after the suppression of the Ema Rebellion of 764, and to offer prayers for lasting peace.

Three books attributed to Johann Gutenberg in the years following the appearance of his landmark Bible: Thomas Aquinas’s De Articulis Fidei; Giovanni Balbi’s Catholicon; and Matthew of Kraków’s Dialogus Rationis et Conscientiae.

The first book printed in England:

 …The Book Named the Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophhres [circa 1477]

In addition, rarely displayed items come to light and reveal workings of the human creative process including fragments of early printed books recovered from fragile bindings, such as unfolded sheets of pages, and misprinted leaves.

A next major section of the exhibition shows America Made by Printing, including the extremely rare first book printed in British North America, The Bay Psalm Book (1640) and a stunningly beautiful copy of the Declaration of Independence (1776).

How America was defined in print is explored in early geographies and spelling books, as well as first editions of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855) and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851 and complemented by versions issued in the 20th century related to film and comic book versions of the classic novel). Also on view are copies of the first printing of the book of Mormon, Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) and a pair of notable American “firsts”: The first image of the natives of the New World, a woodcut in Christopher Columbus’s Letter on this first voyage (1494) and the first use of “American” to refer to residents of the country in Thomas Gage’s The English-American, His Travail by Sea and Land … (1648).

A third section of the exhibition explores how print plays a part in everyday life, in the form of printed paper money, playing cards, postcards, and even shopping bags.  Forms & Functions displays experiments and do-it-yourself printing, from 18th century French trials with printing in color, to clandestinely printed punk magazines produced on a shoestring in East Berlin in the 1970s.

Featured items include things that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world: “disguised” miniature books from France produced during the Second World War, whose covers declare their contents to be poetry, but instead reveal instructions for sabotaging German tanks; “rent party” cards collected by Langston Hughes to document a social aspect of the Harlem Renaissance; and both of the famous “metal books” produced to celebrate the Futurist aesthetic in the 1930s, Parole in Libertà (Words in Liberty) and L’anguria Lirica (The Lyrical Watermelon).

Alternate forms of printing are shown in: an early book produced for students of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind, using a pre-Braille system of raised Roman letters; printing of stories for children on handkerchiefs (given as awards for academic achievement in the 19th century); books made with rubber stamps and on mimeograph machines; and the first computer-generated poem, Alison Knowles’ A House of Dust [ca. 1972].

A commemorative booklet is available free to all visitors.

On view: Friday, May 17, 2013 to Saturday, September 14, 2013

Exhibition Gallery hours:

Monday - Thursday: 9 am to 7 pm

Friday: 9 am to 5 pm

Saturday: 12 pm to 5 pm

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

121 Wall Street

New Haven, CT 06511

Free and open to the public

The text of this news release and more information on the exhibition can be found here:

Media contact:

Timothy Young

Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Yale University, New Haven, CT

(203) 432-8131