SFU’s special collections acquires rare 16ᵗʰ century book

The collection includes a text with the first ever use of italics

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Old printed texts with brown covers on display
Aldus Manutius was a leading Italian Renaissance printer who made texts more accessible for the public. PHOTO: Courtesy of SFU Special Collections

By: Tamanna T., Staff Writer

The Wosk-McDonald Aldine collection in the SFU Library recently welcomed a new addition to its shelves. The collection, established in 1995, acquired the complete edition of letters from St. Catherine of Siena, a patron saint of Italy. The book was published in 1500 and has the first example of the italic style of writing in printed history. The Peak spoke to Melissa Salrin, head of Special Collections and Rare Books at SFU Library, for more details.

According to Salrin, the books were produced by Aldus Manutius, a leading Italian Renaissance publisher. On top of inventing the italic print, Aldus was also responsible for printing classical literature, making it more accessible to readers in the form of books. “Aldus’ intervention freed the text and revolutionized reading; it was now possible for readers to enjoy and interpret these classics on their own,” said Salrin.

Salrin also discussed Aldus’ creativity with typefaces. “He had the first italic type design based on the cursive of scholars of the fifteenth century.” Additionally, Aldus introduced the modern use of the comma and semicolon to the publishing world.  

The collection, which has texts mainly dated from 1501–15, has often served as inspirations to those interested in Greek and Latin, as well as “the aesthetics and history of book making,” said Salrin.

The Wosk-McDonald collection was named after donors Morris and Dr. Yosef Wosk, along with book donors Hugh and Jerry McDonald. Salrin said these donors wanted to house their Aldine books at a Canadian university and to build a “twenty-first century library for scholars not yet born.”

SFU’s publishing department, along with the library’s digitization centre, have digitized over 20 titles from this collection. It is considered “one of the three most accessed of all SFU Library’s digitized collections,” said Salrin. “These remarkable works continue to interest and engage researchers and book lovers from all around the world.”

Salrin emphasized this collection’s importance at SFU. “In the over 25 years that the Aldine Collection has been stewarded by SFU Special Collections, they have been consulted frequently by faculty, students, and researchers.

“We’d like to think that Aldus himself would approve of such innovative efforts to make his editions more portable to every kind of reader, whether they can visit campus or not,” said Salrin. 

Special Collections and Rare Books is home to an extensive collection of manuscripts, photographs, oral histories, and books, among many other mediums. The collection has different themes, from “20th century ephemera connected to Doukhobor immigration” to “contemporary socio-cultural movements” available for viewing digitally. 

The entire collection can be found at the Wosk-McDonald Aldine collection website, where students can access the digitized books.