Special Collections at California State University, Fullerton is like your highly intelligent and very rich crazy uncle’s attic, but more organized. Let’s visit some of the highlights of the stacks that are hidden on the third floor of the Pollak Library’s south wing.(Full disclosure: the author worked has worked as a volunteer in Special Collections, and is a member and current president of the Board of Governors of the Patrons of the Library at CSUF. Some of the people mentioned in the article are or have been members of the Board.)
The doors aren’t literally closed, but the stacks are. Patrons request materials, and they are delivered to the small table in the compact reading room. This not the vast space at Chicago’s Newberry nor the splendidly appointed room at Penn State’s Paterno Library, but the modest facilities serve the purpose of making rare and even unique treasures readily available to the public. As is customary, Special Collections also houses the university archives.
In 1992, the Patrons sponsored the publication of Very Special Collections, edited by Albert R. Vogeler and Arthur A. Hansen. This volume showcases some of the 56 collections, and it is from this source that this sample of the “highlights of the highlights” is drawn. Though much remains the same, much has changed since 1992. This is as it should be; the mission of special collections is threefold: to acquire, preserve and provide access.
Some collections impress by sheer quantity, others by rarity, but the science fiction collection delivers both. The SF and fantasy periodicals collection is a superb example of what is special about Special Collections.. Complete runs of Astounding Science Fiction, Galaxy and Weird Tales, clad in archival plastic bags, fill dozens of feet of tightly packed shelves. Because these magazines date back to the 1930’s and were printed on cheap pulp paper, those that were not simply read and discarded have mostly suffered the ravages of acidification, becoming yellowed and brittle. Proper storage, such as at CSUF, can extend their shelf life for decades.
Also in the SF collection are some outstanding “celebrity” rarities, some of them finding their way to Fullerton via Arthur Hansen’s acquaintance some of the greats, including Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick and Frank Herbert. Bradbury’s manuscript for Fahrenheit 451 is accompanied by drafts of the short story on which it is based, “The Fireman.”
The Herbert trove includes the first four drafts of Dune, as well as rejection letters from publishers who deemed the book “too long, too complicated, or too intricately plotted to publish,” writes Hansen. An unnamed publisher wrote “ I may be making a mistake, perhaps the mistake of the decade, but… .”
Philip K. Dick’s “permanent loan” to Special Collections brought something that is seldom found there: controversy. CSUF and the Dick estate held differing interpretations of the “loan,” and though litigation was threatened, the dispute remained in the background for more than 20 years after Dick’s untimely death in 1982. A few years ago substantial portions of Dick’s papers were transferred to another university library, which already housed a large collection.
Rare books are often what bring researchers to Special collections, and Fullerton’s collection, though relatively small, has some fine examples. The first English translation of the Q’uran, The Alcornan of Mahomet, was published in London in 1649, in a small calf-bound edition. The first American edition of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, or, The Whale, was published in a plain black cloth binding in New York in 1851, and it met the same fate as Ahab’s Pequod, quickly sinking from view.
Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, published serially, as was the Victorian custom, is in its original wrapper rather than bound. In the practice of the day, advertisements were included with the text. Buyers would take the collected parts to their favorite bookbinder to be transformed into a custom-made hand bound volume, after in fine leather.
Between 1975 and 1981, an amateur map collector, Roy V. Boswell, curated what would become the eponymous Collection for the History of Cartography. The collection comprises about 1,500 maps and 2,000 books on cartography and related subjects. In addition to the sheet maps, there are dozens of large format atlases. The volumes are uncommon because they were frequently “unbound” and sold more profitably as individual sheets.
In his essay on the collection, Albert Vogeler describes the earliest original map as a “small vellum mappemonde (world map) dating from about 1375.” An early representation of the New World appears in Martin Waldseemuller’s Tabula Terre Nove, published in 1513. Vogeler points out that this is a sailor’s map, known as a portolan chart, “showing considerable coastline detail but making no effort to include (or invent) information about continental interiors.”
A recent join venture by the Patrons and the library illustrates how Special Collections evolves to keep pace with changing library technology. In an effort that took nearly six years, a small team of library employees and volunteers digitized and catalogued the map collection. (Full disclosure: the author was a technical consultant for the project.) The digital images, linked to searchable catalog records, will soon be available online. (Please see the slideshow for sample images) Researchers will be able to view not only entire maps, but also selected details in close-ups. Online viewing will allow pre-selection of maps for viewing when visiting the campus.
An account of Special Collections would be incomplete without mentioning ephemera. The Oxford English Dictionary concisely defines that dusty-sounding term: “collectable items that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.”Postcards, road maps, programs, campaign buttons, railroad and airline timetables, menus, posters, and in Orange County, vintage orange crate labels. In short, the contents of your crazy uncle’s attic.