Acquiring and adopting books

Each year around this time, the Folger hosts Acquisitions Night benefiting the Library’s Acquisitions program. Showcasing some of the most interesting, beautiful, and rare items we’ve purchased for the collection in the past year, the event invites donors to “adopt” selected items by reimbursing the Library their purchase prices.1 The money made through adoptions is put back into the Acquisitions budget and used to purchase more rare materials for the remainder of the fiscal year. In addition to a tax deduction, adopters also receive recognition in our online catalog.

Sixty-one items—including some multi-piece art sets, a set of Shakespeare translations, and a range of conservation treatments—will be available for adoption this year. Curators and reference and acquisitions staff focus on selecting items for the event throughout the year. From that initial pool, each person writing descriptions for Acquisitions Night picks approximately 15-20 items for display and we then weed out items deemed too fragile to show or materials that have already been “adopted” by Folger donors seeking a unique gift to commemorate a birthday, retirement, or a gift in memoriam. The only type of acquisitions we do not offer up for adoption are items that are given to us as gifts. We are very lucky to receive donations of rare and modern materials and we may not and do not ask for reimbursement for something we didn’t purchase ourselves. (See Erin’s post from 2012 on the process she works through in making Acq Night selections.) Below I highlight 3 items up for adoption this year and explain the method of their acquisition. 

Johannes Barbonius. LVII. morale sinne-beelden, aen sijne hoogheydt… Fredrick Hendrick prince van Orangien… wesende den 29 ianuarij anno 1641 oudt 57 jaren. Amsterdam: Theunis Iacobsz, 1641.

Johannes Barbonius. LVII. morale sinne-beelden, aen sijne hoogheydt… Fredrick Hendrick prince van Orangien… wesende den 29 ianuarij anno 1641 oudt 57 jaren. Amsterdam: Theunis Iacobsz, 1641.

Online adoption | catalog record

In 1641, Dutch sovereign Frederick Henry (1584–1647), received for his birthday a copy of this emblem book which was published for the occasion. The fifty-seven emblems—as many as the number of winters he had lived—all contain lessons for the country’s ruler. For instance, emblem number 10, shown above, depicts the chameleon. The accompanying commentary emphasizes the importance of people in a prince’s entourage telling him the truth.

This item was purchased for the Folger collection through a small European auction house, that holds sales three times a year. As he does with many other small auction houses, Folger Curator of Books Goran Proot reads through each catalog and consults with one of our auction agents to develop a bidding strategy for the items we’d like to purchase. Since auctions sell so many items so quickly, we usually have two plans for each item. We bid up to a certain amount and then stop. If, however, we don’t have to bid to our upper limits, or if we lose the item to a higher bidder, then we’ll apply the money we’ve “saved” from that bid towards another item we want. In this auction, we were lucky to win all the items we bid for.

Auctions, unlike booksellers’ catalogs, frequently sell multiple items together in lots. At this auction, the Folger bought 5 lots and received 6 books. In this case, the Barbonius was one particular volume we wanted to buy, but in the other lots we also got  a 1605 Dutch volume on handwriting techniques and a German pamphlet describing a conversation in hell between King Gustav and Oliver Cromwell. In fact, we bought so many wonderful items at this 2012 auction that we had too many to include in our 2013 Acquisitions Night and so we held back the Barbonius to put up for adoption this year.2

The Tempest, adapted by James Henerson, First shooting draft. Los Angeles: NBC Studios, 1998.

The Tempest, adapted by James Henerson, First shooting draft. Los Angeles: NBC Studios, 1998.

Online adoption | catalog record

This is the first shooting draft for a television movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, set in the Mississippi bayou during the Civil War. The script is dated July 2, 1998 and contains revisions on different colors of paper dated as late as August 26, 1998. The film starred Peter Fonda (who was nominated for a Golden Globe) as “Gideon Prosper” and Katherine Heigl as “Miranda Prosper.”

The Folger has a large theater collection, including stage production materials, but also film and television productions and related scripts, memorabilia, props, etc. This script from an NBC production of the Tempest in 1998 is of interest to us in part because of its TV presentation. We have more scripts from films or stage plays than we do from TV productions, and we are delighted to have added one more to our collection, especially a modern production that garnered an award nomination. We do business with a couple dealers who specialize in theatrical materials. One of them found this script and emailed us to see if we wanted to purchase it. When we confirmed our interest, the dealer purchased the item for us and shipped it to the library.

Jiří Trnka, 1912–1969. A midsummer night’s dream. Prague: Artia, 1961.

Jiří Trnka, 1912–1969. A midsummer night’s dream. Prague: Artia, 1961.

Online adoption 1 and 2 | catalog record

Czech illustrator, puppet-maker, and animator Jiří Trnka is probably best-known in America for his surreal 1959 puppet film of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These Midsummer Night’s Dream lithographs, intended to be sold in Germany, go even further into his visual imagination. Finding a complete set on the market is rare.

This set of lithographs was purchased via a personal visit from a dealer to Erin Blake, our Curator of Art and Special Collections. The vendor brought with him a set of Czech materials related to works of Shakespeare. In addition to these pieces of artwork showing scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Folger bought a 1964 translation of Romeo and Juliet with 5 illustrations by Trnka; a 1938 translation of Midsummer Night’s Dream with illustrations by a Prague-designer named Karel Svolinský; and a set of 1959 Hamlet illustrations by Czech artist Josef Sima (also up for adoption).

Acquisitions Night is on March 6th this year, and we’d love to show off our selections to you. If you can’t make it in person, you can visit our online adoptions, which is up and running through the end of March. The items described here are all available for adoption online, alongside other fun books, manuscripts, and works of art.

  1. There are occasional exceptions to the “past year” guidelines, as you’ll see below. []
  2. You’ll notice, if you look at the Hamnet record for the German pamphlet, that it was adopted at last year’s Acquisitions Night. []

Author: Melissa Cook

MELISSA COOK, Personal Shopper, Acquisitions Department, Folger Shakespeare Library

One Comment

  1. If any of you have 16th century books lying around your house, consider donating them to the Folger. That’s what my wife and I did with our two 16th century books. After a few years as a Reader, I realized that’s where our books belonged, considering what fine care the Folger takes of its rare books. Not to mention making them available to scholars. Who can read Latin and Greek. Which we can’t.

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