University Libraries Receives Collection of Historic Books

Posted: June 12, 2014 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: June 12, 2014 at 9:43 am

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By Justin Lafreniere

The books was printed.

The 300-year-old leather-bound books were published in 1714. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

“Thou haft here a compleat collection of several Works of Mr. John Locke, which were publish’d in his life-time either with or without his name to them” begins the newest addition to George Mason University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. The library is now home to a three-volume set of the “Complete Works of John Locke,” published three centuries ago, an ocean away, and with a great amount of history in their story.

The gift consists of three leather-bound volumes published in 1714 and “printed for John Churchill at the Black Swan in Paternoster-Row.” Yvonne Carignan, head of the collections, says the volumes are lavish and would have been expensive at the time they were published, seeing as they feature leather covers, heavy and watermarked paper, and hand-sewn bindings.

The 300-year-old books are well-worn, explains Carignan. The first volume of any collection is particularly vulnerable. It gets handled most often, taking the most damage. With these books, it shows. “We’re really hoping we can just conserve them,” Carignan says. “But it’s possible volume one may have to be rebound.” The library is exploring its options for preserving the works, but the process could take up to six months.

Locke is one of the three philosophers highlighted in the George Mason statue. Photo by Creative Services.

Locke is one of the three philosophers highlighted in the George Mason statue. Photo by Creative Services.

Still, even in the damage, there’s history. Various inscriptions give traces of the works’ provenance. The name Mary Taylor appears in pencil on several of the pages. Preliminary research suggests the books belonged to her father, Miles Taylor, a former U.S. congressman from Louisiana’s Second District who possibly received them as a gift from Luther Kennet, a congressman from Missouri. There are also bookplates, small labels pasted on the inside cover, that bear a yet-to-be-identified crest or badge from the books’ previous owners.

Even the books’ journey to George Mason University offers an intriguing history: Gerry Tollet, a resident of Uplands Village retirement community in Pleasant Hill, Tenn., received the books as a gift from Bill Hamilton, another resident of Uplands Village. Hamilton was a descendant of the first cousin of the university’s namesake George Mason.

When Hamilton gave the volumes to Tollet, he told her about the importance Locke’s work had on George Mason’s ideals, represented in his principal authorship of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which influenced the Bill of Rights. In fact, Locke is on one of the spines of the books on the table of the George Mason statue.

After Hamilton’s passing, Tollet began looking for institutions to house his oldest and most valuable possessions. She reached out to Mason and Fenwick Library to offer up these volumes, which were the last things to be placed.

Carignan received the books in a brief ceremony at the East Tennessee Historical Society in Knoxville in May.

Write to Colleen Kearney Rich at ckearney@gmu.edu

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