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In light of the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21st, special collections catalogers Allie McCormack and Susan Bowlin share some rare books from the Central Libraries' Polk and Hughes collections that discuss the subject.

For as long as they have been gazing skyward, humans have studied eclipses and tried to explain them. Many of these explanations understandably involved the sun being eaten: the ancient Norse believed that wolves devour the sun during a solar eclipse, while the Mayans believed the sun had been swallowed by a serpent. Though these stories are fascinating, here we will describe several of the items in the Baylor Libraries that discuss eclipses in more scientific terms.

This book, the Libellus Astronomicus, is a textbook of astronomy written by German scholar Bernhard Hederich in 1598. It doesn’t resemble modern textbooks at all — there are few illustrations, and instead of simply explaining astronomical concepts to readers, it posits questions in the style of a Socratic dialogue. It is almost entirely in Latin, with some Greek and German phrases mixed in.

If you look closely, you will notice that the German words are printed in a different typeface than the other text. In the early days of European printing technology, certain fonts were affiliated with different cultural groups (like Italic type being used in Italian books). Latin was the language of universities and scholarship during this time period, so the inclusion of German words in this book suggests it may have been made specifically with a Germanic audience in mind. Even so, this audience would have been educated: literacy levels were low, and only advanced scholars would have been able to read Greek as well as Latin.

This next textbook, Hiram Mattison’s Elementary Astronomy, will probably look more familiar. It is structured around distinct lesson plans and has an appendix of “Questions for Examination.” The preface tells us that it was created specifically for primary schools, but this wasn’t for students to use on their own. Instead, this was a book for teachers, and the preface includes suggestions for how instructors could use the book in their classes. The picture to the right shows a table of solar eclipses that would be visible in Europe and North America from 1847, the year before the book was published, to 1900. Though for a younger audience, this book was grounded in the latest scientific knowledge.

This next picture is from Gillet & Rolfe’s 1883 textbook First Book in Astronomy. The book shows a professionalization of teaching: the writers are a professor and a former school headmaster, and there is more of a pedagogical focus in the text. There are even sections of the text that could be abridged or omitted by the classroom teacher, printed in a smaller typeface for distinction. A full 10 pages are devoted to eclipses, with questions printed after each section. There are many illustrations and diagrams throughout the text; the one to the right shows the path of a lunar eclipse in 1871.

The paper used in this book does not feel as soft as the previous textbook, and it is more acidic in content. The rise of compulsory schooling laws throughout the late 19thcentury likely created a demand for more textbooks, and new printing and papermaking technologies allowed books to be created faster and more cheaply. However, these pages in these books are prone to chipping, and they may be more fragile and in worse condition than books many decades older.

Textbooks weren’t the only way Americans learned about eclipses. Almanacs, annual publications that were written for the general public, contained weather-related predictions, dates of religious celebrations, information on the local government, and even literature. Solar eclipses affected the tides and animal behavior, so it would have been important for fishermen, farmers, and others to know when these were going to occur in a given year.

The almanac pictured to the right, a 1761 edition of Poor Richard Improved, is one of the more erudite American almanacs of the period. Besides calendars and tables, it contained poetry, essays, and practical advice for everyday living, including tips for making advantageous friendships. This sophistication is even evident in its section on eclipses, which contains a large illustration showing the mechanism of a lunar eclipse. The stylistics of this almanac may be due to its writer and printer, renowned polymath and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. It is telling that the eclipses were described not at the beginning of the volume, as in most other almanacs of the period, but rather at the very end. This may suggest that Franklin was writing for the urban elites of Philadelphia rather than rural workers.

Contrast this with the next almanac, Ames’ Astronomical Diary, also for the year 1761. Information about eclipses comes even before the calendar in this volume. It is not illustrated, making it cheaper to produce, and had no literature and very little poetry. Instead, it contains practical articles on world coinage, fermenting wine out of currants (a type of berry), and the treatment of smallpox.

Franklin’s almanac also contained an article about smallpox. This highly contagious disease, which had a mortality rate of about 30%, was endemic throughout the world until the practice of vaccination became widespread at the end of the 19th century. Outbreaks occurred regularly in Colonial America, and indeed one had taken place from 1755-1756. Though both books contained information about the spread of and treatments for smallpox, they had different focuses. Ames’ almanac specifically described how to clean and disinfect houses where people had been infected by smallpox, once again showing its focus on practical knowledge.

Practicality is also emphasized in this volume of the New England Farmer’s Diary and Almanac, published in Vermont in 1820. Its calendar is extremely detailed, and the astronomical tables have both solar and lunar calculations. The eclipse chart is again at the front of the book and includes the latitude and longitude coordinates for the path of the eclipse. Instead of literary works, the almanac contains epigrams about weather and gardening as well as longer treatises on agricultural topics. It was clearly intended for a rural, working audience.

Though the previous almanacs showed age-related yellowing of the paper, this one has visible dark spots and staining. As we mentioned earlier, this is likely due to the higher acid content of the paper. The cheaper and faster production meant that this almanac could reach a wider audience than previous works, but this came at a cost. Indeed, this volume may be in worse condition than the textbook from 1598 featured at the beginning of this post!

We hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the eclipse-related books in the Central Libraries Special Collections. To see any of these items for yourself, or to learn about other scientific works in these collections, start with our webpages and plan a visit.

Works mentioned:
Astronomical diary, or an almanack... Boston: B. Green,1761. (Polk AY201 .B7 A63 1761)
Gillet, J. A. First book in astronomy. New York: Potter, Ainsworth, & Co., 1883. (Hughes QB45 .G47 1883)
Hederich, Bernhard. Libellus astronomicus. Rostock: Mylandrinis, 1598. (Polk QB26 .H43x 1598)
Mattison, Hiram. Elementary astronomy. New York: Huntington and Savage, 1848. (Hughes QB46 .M44 1848)
The New England farmer’s diary and almanac. Windsor, Vt.: Jesse Cochran, 1820. (Hughes AY321 .W565x N48 1820)
Poor Richard improved. Philadelphia: B. Franklin and D. Hall, [1760](Polk AY53 .P6 1761)

by Casandra Barragan-Melendez

When you are surrounded Baylor Libraries by books in a library, what is it about a book that makes you want to grab it?

Maybe you were already looking for a specific category or one recommended by a friend, but what if that is not the case? Doesn't that narrow it down to basic looks- if it’s old or new, colorful or dull?

I’m pretty sure that a book with one-of-a-kind artworks from the 15th century would grab your attention.

Casandra with rare booksThe Très Riches Heures is an illuminated manuscript of the Book of Hours, a prayer book popular in the Middle Ages. The book was specifically made for Jean Duc de Berry, illustrated by the Limborg Brothers. Jean Duc de Berry spent his early life studying the construction of important buildings. He eventually encouraged other field artists to illuminate manuscripts as his passion changed. The Limbourg brothers are Pol, Jan, and Herman (Pol is known as the master of the group). They were well known for their international gothic art style of the 15th century.
The Très Riches Heures has psalms, lessons, hymns, responses, prayers, and antiphons. It also contains a calendar representing activities that surrounded the duke and his castle in the town of Mehun-sur-Yevre.

Casandra with book of hoursIt is one of the most well-preserved books of that century and it has examples of first attempts to modern landscape and sectioning the months of seasons.
Although the Limborg brothers did most of the illuminations, they died 1416 and never finished the book. Unfortunately that was the same year Jean Duc de Berry died, without enough money to pay for his funeral since it all went to his art collection. One of Duc de Berry's two daughters married Amadeus VII, Count of Savoy. Amedeus’s direct descendent, the Duc Charles I of Savoy inherited the Très Riches Heures. In late August 1485, Duc Charles I payed Jean Colombe 25 gold ecues to finish the illuminations.

If you would like to visit the Central Libraries Special Collections to view this treasure (Polk Oversize ND3363.B5 M8 2010) or find other inspirations, please visit the Special Collections website

These rare materials are available for anyone; and with over 10,000 items, we know we can find something that can illuminate your passion. We look forward to working with you!

Casandra work

Many thanks to Casandra for creating a beautiful hand-painted illumination for Baylor Libraries. Thank you also to Waco High School, Prosper Waco and many Baylor Libraries peoples who helped pull this important initiative together!
Beth Farwell
Andrea Turner
Vance Woods


by Beth Farwell

What could possibly be so interesting to these beautiful dogs?

Just a minute.

Why are there dogs in the special collections' room reading a book?

While a little unorthodox, one of these dogs has visited the library before. As a therapy dog, Sadie helped bring comfort to our students during finals week. This semester, Sadie and her sister were invited to present some wonderful rare books to you.

Sadie & LibbyThese precious dogs spent the afternoon looking at a couple of the Central Libraries Special Collections' bestiaries. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a bestiary is a "descriptive or anecdotal treatise on various real or mythical kinds of animals, especially a medieval work with a moralizing tone."

Animals have been used in stories to teach lessons throughout history. Peterborough bestiaryAesop's fables were told in ancient Greece, and Christian literature used animals to illustrate religious morals. Many of these bestiary tales continue to be used in modern literature. For example, the phoenix's burning itself to be born again found in Harry Potter is a tale derived from bestiaries.Peterborough bestiary

Baylor owns two beautiful bestiary facsimiles. The Oxford bestiary from the late 12th century, and the Peterborough bestiary from around 1300. Both are excellent examples with ornate, gilded illustrations. You are most welcome to visit for a closer look. Sadie and Libby may not be around, but you never know! For more information, please visit our webpage.

Libby & Sadie

Sadie and Libby are both Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Sadie is 10 years old and Libby is 6.Sadie & LibbyThey are pets of Diana and Jon Engelhardt. Both girls were adopted as adult dogs. Sadie the tri-color (black and white) and Diana work together as a team with Angel Paws doing animal assisted therapy visits. Angel Paws is an affiliate of Pet Partners, Inc. Libby is planning on becoming an “Angel Paw” in the near future. The breed is known for being great companion dogs as they enjoy being with people, making new friends and bringing cheer to others.
Sadie is one of the dogs featured on the Angel Paws website click on the About Us tab at the top right of the home page for more information about Sadie.
We hope you enjoyed reading this blog and are inspired to research more into the rich world of bestiaries.

Many, many thanks to Sadie, Libby, Diana and Jon Engelhardt for their time and patience! We had a wonderful afternoon with you in the library.

Our amazing photographer, Ben Johansen, was able to make magic once again for us! Thank you!
Thanks also to our two photo/puppy wranglers, Sarah Schmuck and Andrea Turner!

by Brady Odom

Valentine’s Day is the one day a year completely dedicated to the expression of romantic love. A candlelit dinner, flowers and chocolate, sometimes it is as simple as cuddling on the couch to watch a movie (probably based on a Nicolas Sparks book).

Not all couples get to celebrate the day of love with one of these special dates. Long distance relationships add a whole new level of complexity to Valentine’s Day romance. Those who have to keep the romance alive from afar are dependent on pictures, videos, and especially words to express their affections to the ones they love.

In 1858, words were especially important for long distance romance. One of the most prominent figures in Texas History (who happened to be fairly prominent in Baylor’s history as well) exemplified this idea. Tucked away in the Central Libraries Special Collections is a beautiful fine press volume titled A Valentine in a Rough Winter: A Newly Discovered Letter from Sam Houston to his wife, February 14, 1858. Created by John Holmes Jenkins III, this book highlights a facsimile of a letter from Sam Houston to his wife, Margaret Lea Houston, written on Valentine’s Day 1858.

In the book, Jenkins provides the backstory of Houston’s political struggles leading up to the letter to Margaret Lea. She was pregnant with their seventh child and Houston longed to be home with her and their family in the midst of growing frustration with the political situation he found himself in at Washington. Houston shares his frustrations with Margaret Lea in the letter; as well as some general advice about how to treat a coughing fit. What stands out most about the letter, though, is Houston’s expression of love.

What captures the essence of Valentine’s Day at Baylor University better than a long distance letter from Sam Houston to his wife which reads in part:

    “I look with boundless desire to be with you. My desire arises from a disposition to enjoy your society, when the evening will steal upon us and a portion of the world’s cares will be shut out...”

The Central Libraries Special Collections staff wish you a very happy Valentine’s Day. If you’d like to read more about this letter (Hughes Oversize F390 H83325x), please visit our website:

If you are interested in a digital kind of love, check out out Megan Martinsen's blog here.

Many thanks to Brady Odom for this post. Brady is our Special Collections Assistant and Baylor graduate (BA'15)! Sic 'em!


by Beth Farwell

With the beginning of a new year, I am reminded of our newest young researchers who visit our special collections. English classes from Waco's Live Oak Classical School, local homeschool groups, and an inquisitive group from Coram Deo Academy in North Texas have all explored these rich resources.
Coram Deo Academy 3
The goal with each class is to engage these potential researchers with primary resources. These original documents and raw materials of history provide a rich background for exploring critical thinking skills and constructing knowledge.
Coram Deo Academy 4

Classes are able to look at original resources dating from pre-1300s to current day with newly crafted artist's books.

Coram Deo Academy 2

Introducing them to the volumes is only part of the engagement.

Coram Deo Academy 1

Through various activities, students learn how special collections and archives are accessed, adding definitions of 'facsimile' and other rare book glossary terms to their vocabulary.

Coram Deo Academy 5

Baylor Libraries looks forward to the future through our newest researchers!

To see these treasures in person and for more information, please visit our webpage:

Many thanks and best wishes to these future researchers! Thank you to our wonderful photographers, Ben Johansen and Carl Flynn!