Rare Book of the Month: Hochelaga Depicta

Recently, a library visitor asked me what criteria is used to determine whether a book is rare enough to be included in a library’s rare books collection. My answer is that it isn’t always clear-cut. In some cases, scarcity and age are determining factors. But this recent donation of Hochelaga Depicta: the Early History and Present State of the City and Island of Montreal published in 1839 by Newton Bosworth is a great example of how a widely available book may be considered for retention in a special collection despite its ubiquity.

This copy of Hochelaga Depicta provides evidence of how previous readers/owners engaged with text and contains some interesting artifacts about material culture and book ownership in the 19th and early 20th century.

When receiving rare materials donations, it is not uncommon to find ephemera, or materials intended for short-term use, tucked between the pages. In this case, someone saved a number of postcards depicting Montreal architecture as well as newspaper clippings from the 1930s-40s related to the history of the city, reflecting a conscious decision to engage with the theme of the book.

Besides the postcards, the copy also carries another ephemera example in the form of a branded promotional dustjacket from the Royal Bank of Canada that had been distributed to students in Quebec, which bears the name of a previous owner, Jacob de Witt.

But what is particularly unique about this copy is that it contains thirteen “extra-illustrations” or items that have been intentionally bound or pasted in, and not originally issued by the publisher. The practice was common between the late 18th century to the 1930s, and there are many surviving examples in libraries of very elaborate extra-illustrated books by wealthy book collectors. While the practice bears some resemblance to scrapbooking, what differentiated extra-illustration was that the items were usually relevant to the topic of the book and the illustrations were incorporated as a thematic enhancement. In the original published form, Hochelaga Depicta is heavily illustrated with black and white plates and two fold out maps. But at some point, previous owner has had the book rebound to include thirteen small watercolour with pen and ink illustrations depicting various buildings and scenes in Montreal. Most are unsigned, but a couple bear the signature of W. Baker, 1898, which may have been by artist Walter Baker (1859-1912).

Graham Library has a small but unique collection of rare materials, including a variety of publications from the 19th century. While collecting histories of Montreal are not specifically part of our collections mandate, we do have a variety of publications from this time period. As part of the library’s mandate is preservation, we often retain materials that offer unique insights into the past that may be of future interest to scholars. For rare books cataloguers seeing these ephemeral reminders of the past is arguably one of the most fun aspects of working with rare materials.

If you have questions, comments, corrections or information about this copy, please let us know at ask.grahamlibrary@utoronto.ca

Link to U of T Library catalogue record: Bosworth, Newton. Hochelaga Depicta : the Early History and Present State of the City and Island of Montreal. Montreal: W. Grieg, 1839.

Written by Kate MacDonald, Graham Library.

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