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Rare Books

History of Books and Printing

An image of a common press from Diderot.Introduction

Dating back to the dawn of writing more than 5,000 years ago, the LSU Libraries’ rare book and manuscript collections contain a wide array of materials that can be used to teach and study the history of books and printing, as well as the role communications technology has played in shaping civilizations and historical eras around the world.

Special Collections librarians welcome opportunities to give presentations on this topic, and we are continually adding to the collection. A recent focus is "the global book," i.e., books and other examples of writing from non-Western cultures that provide material for class instruction and comparative studies.

The following checklist gives the best or most representative examples in each subject area. Many others can often be found. If you are looking for something specific that you do not find listed here, please feel free to contact us.

Clicking on the links will take you to full catalog records, from which you may request materials for viewing in the Special Collections Reading Room or for a class instruction session.


Compiled by Michael Taylor, 2013; updated by John Miles, 2018


Ancient World

The list below focuses on the book form. It includes both reproductions and original materials.

Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts

Birth of Printing

Below are some of the important works from the first century of printing, including both facsimile reproductions and original printed works.

Facsimiles of important early printed books

Faithful reproductions of famous printed works.


An "incunable" (from the Latin "incunabulum" for "swaddling clothes" or "cradle") is a book published in the first half-century after the birth of printing in Europe. (Officially before 1501.) Below is a partial list of our library's holdings, which total eight separately bound works. Please contact the curator of books for a complete list and detailed descriptions.

Other important early printed works

The Library has over two hundred books printed in the sixteenth century and over fifty from the first half of the century alone. The following publications by the printer Aldus Manutius from the beginning of the century are particularly notable for their quality as well as for their influence within the world of print. Works from this period are occasionally are called "post-incunables," or works printed between 1501 and 1520 (or 1540: experts vary as to the period's end date).

Early Typography

Typographic theory:





Early Bindings (see Industrial Era for publishers' bindings)



Marbled paper:

Britannia Antiqua Illustrata (1676). In 18th- or 19th-century binding. Large. (Rare flat, copy 2)

The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (1702-04). Binding by John MacKinlay (ca. 1745-1821). Marbled paper with gilt-tooled leather border. (Vol. 3 best)

Atlas de Delisle et de Buache (1714-54)

Book of Common Prayer (1762), see copies 1 and 2.

José de Covarrubias, Maximas sobre recursos de fuerza y proteccion (1788).

The History of England (1816?). Large.

Le rime di Petrarca (1832).

Voyage pittoresque et archéologique, dans la partie la plus intéressante du Mexique (1836). Large.

Voyage dans l'intérieur de l'Amérique du Nord (1840-43). Large.

Les rues du vieux Paris (1881).

Emile Bergerat, Enguerrande (1884).

Karl Marx, Das Kapital (1890-94). Black and gold marbling.

J. Péladan, Le livre secret (1920). Unique binding by A. Bruel of Angers.

Maurice Maindron, Saint-Cendre (1924).

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover (1929).

William Spratling, Little Mexico (1932). Special "Edicion Mexicana" with marbled endpapers.


Gilt endpapers:

Gratulatio Academiæ Oxoniensis in nuptias auspicatissimas illustrissimorum principum Frederici Principis Walliæ et Augustæ Principissæ de Saxo-Gotha (1736). Yellow floral pattern.

Gratulatio Academiae Cantabrigiensis de reditu serenissimi regis Georgii II. post pacem & libertatem Europae feliciter restitutam anno M.DCC.XLVIII (1748). Gilt flowers on red paper.

Gratulatio solennis Universitatis Oxoniensis ob celsissimum Georgium Fred. Aug. Walliæ Principem Georgio III. et Charlottæ Reginæ auspicatissime natum (1762). Multi-color floral pattern.


Paste paper:

C. Suetonius Tranquillus (1738). Pulled paste paper.

Catecismo para uso de los párrocos (Mexico City, 1772). Printed.

Joseph de Ortega Moro letter (Mexico? After 1772). Printed.

Reisen durch das südliche Teutschland (1789-95). Printed. Four-volume set with three different endpapers.

La vie de Joseph II (1790). Printed.

Die deutsche Giftpflanzen (1793). Printed.


Printed endpapers:

The New-Orleans Book (1851). Gilt on white patterned paper.

Chiushingura, or The Loyal League: A Japanese Romance (1876). Abstract blue and white pattern.

George Washington Cable, Old Creole Days (1879), copy 4. Blue-green seashell pattern.

Catulle Mendès, Lila et Colette (1885). Gilt floral pattern on green paper. Original binding by Tout.

Tadamasa Hayashi, Dessins, estampes, livres illustrés du Japon (1902). Plant-themed pattern.

Eugène Rambert, Die Vögel und ihre Welt (1916?). Bird-themed pattern.

Helen Pitkin Schertz, Legends of Louisiana (1922). Printed endpapers, but resembling marbled papers.


Printed endpapers (pictorial):

Koronatsionnyi sbornik [Coronation Collection] (1899). Gold and silver decorative endpapers depicting Russian crown and insignia.

Leopold Wolfgang Rochowanski, Der Formwille der Zeit in der angewandten Kunst (1922). Symbolist.

Edgar Saltus, Victor Hugo and Golgotha (1925). Erotic endpapers.

Edgar Allen Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1935). Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Skeletons.

A Mediaeval Dream Book (1963).  The cosmos.

G. O. G. 666 (1954). Sci-fi. Endpapers depict a laboratory.

The Cometeers (1950). Space ship and outer space scene.


Pictorial (Louisiana / Mississippi):

James McLoughlin, The Jack Lafaience Book (1928). Crayfish and sugar cane.

Edward Larocque Tinker, Toucoutou (1930). New Orleans street scene.

Frances Tinker, Old New Orleans (1931). 4 vols., each with endpapers depicting a different scene.

Myrtle Jamison Trachsel, Sally Sue Visits Old Natchez (1939). Historic houses.

The Gumbo (LSU yearbook), 1927, 1928, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1938, 1940.

John Besh, Besh Big Easy: 101 Home Cooked New Orleans Recipes (2015). Crawfish, crabs, okra, etc.


Leaves from other books recycled as endpapers:

Sermones Meffreth alias Ortulus regine de tempore (ca. 1485). Manuscript endpapers.

Christophori Clavii ... In Sphæram Ioannis de Sacro Bosco, commentarivs (1608). Printed endpapers.



Luise Mühlbach, Henry VIII and his Court, or Catherine Parr (1865). Book printed in Mobile, Alabama, during the Civil War. Wallpaper endpapers.

George Sinclair, Hortus gramineus Woburnensis (1825). Leather pastedowns and flyleaves, dated 1899.



The Industrial Era

"Triple-decker" novels:

Serialized novels issued in parts: 

Publishers' Bindings:

Publishers' Bindings (Louisiana):

Nineteenth-Century Periodicals:


Illustration Techniques


Woodblock printing:

Copperplate Engraving:



Wood Engraving:



Steel Engraving:


Nature Printing:

Book Production Crafts

Fine Press Printing

Early Maps and Atlases


Handwriting / Calligraphy

Fore-Edge Paintings

The Holy Bible. 1817.
Fore-edge painting: Orford Church, Suffolk.

Lord Byron, The Works of the Right Honourable Lord Byron. 1819.
Fore-edge painting: New York

Lord Byron, Hours of Idleness. 1820.
Fore-edge painting: Bruges

Lord Byron, Don Juan. 1821.
Fore-edge painting: Brussels

William Coxe, A Picture of Monmouthshire. 1802.
Double fore-edge paintings of Pencoed Castle and Abergavenny Castle in Wales.

Oliver Goldsmith, The History of Rome. 1820.
Double fore-edge paintings. Vol. 1: Philadelphia and Albany. Vol. 2: Boston and Baltimore.
Probably the work of the "American City View Painter" (see Jeff Weber, Annotated Dictionary of Fore-Edge Painting Artists and Binders.)

Horace, Opera. 1824.
Double fore-edge painting: Lake Como and the Bay of Naples

Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. 1821.
Double fore-edge paintings. Vol. 1: Queens College, Oxford, with inset portraits of Joseph Addison and John Dryden; Portraits of Edmund Waller, Samuel Butler, and Abraham Cowley. Vol. 2: St. Peters College, Cambridge, with inset portrait of Thomas Gray; Dublin from Phoenix Park, with inset portrait of Jonathan Swift. From the library of Arthur G. Soames (sold around 1953).

John Keats, The Poetical Works of John Keats. 1853.
Double fore-edge painting of erotic scenes copied from drawings by Mihály Zichy (1827-1906), first printed in 1911. For further information on Zichy drawings, see: The Erotic Drawings of Mihály Zichy, held in library's Laughlin Collection.

Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh, an Oriental Romance. 1818.
Double fore-edge paintings: View of a cotton shute and the steamboat Magnolia on the Alabama River; view of another steamboat being loaded.

Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh, an Oriental Romance.1854.
Double fore-edge painting of an Indian burial ground and a market garden on the Mississippi River.

Thomas Moore, Songs, Ballads, and Sacred Songs. 1855.
Double fore-edge painting of the southwest pass of the Mississippi River delta and moss gatherers in a swamp.

Petrarch. Le rime del Petrarca. 1832.
Fore-edge paintings. Vol. 1: St. Peter’s Basilica. Vol. 2: Naples. Marbling on reverse of both images.

William Makepeace Thackeray, The Newcomes. 1854-55.
Double fore-edge paintings. Vol. 1: Windsor Castle and Eton College. Vol. 2: Hampton Court and a river scene.

William Makepeace Thackeray, The Virginians. 1858-59.
Double fore-edge paintings. Vol. 1: Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. Vol. 2: St. Paul’s Cathedral and London Bridge.

Thomas Stanley, Poems by Thomas Stanley. 1814.
Fore-edge painting: Men playing cricket.

Walter Scott, The Vision of Don Roderick, and Other Poems. 1811.
Double fore-edge paintings of New Orleans in the nineteenth century and a crevasse in a levee along the Mississippi River. Identified by Jeff Weber as the work of the "American City View Painter."

Walter Scott, The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott. 1848.
Twelve volumes, each with a double fore-edge painting of an American scene. Vol. 1: New York City and Long Island. Vol. 2: Washington, D.C., and the White House. Vol. 3: Providence, Rhode Island and Salem, Massachusetts. Vol. 4. The Narrows from Ft. Hamilton and the Brooklyn Ferry. Vol. 5: Northumberland [Pennsylvania?] and Newport, Rhode Island. Vol. 6.  West Point, New York and Liverpool, Pennsylvania. Vol. 7: Jeffersonville, Kentucky and New Albany, Indiana. Vol. 8: Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. Vol. 9: New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut. Vol. 10: St. Louis, Missouri and New Plymouth [Ohio?]. Vol. 11. Parkersburg, West Virginia and Portland, Maine. Vol. 12. Yonkers, New York and Brattleboro, Vermont. Probably the work of the "American City View Painter" (see Jeff Weber, Annotated Dictionary of Fore-Edge Painting Artists and Binders).

Isaac Watts, Church Psalmody. 1844.
Fore-edge painting: A girl and two dogs.



Hornbook (18th century, replica). Used to teach children to read.

Quranic writing tablet (North Africa, 19th century?). Used in Muslim schools to teach and memorize verses from the Quran.

Chapbooks: The Good Farmer: or, the Entertaining History of Thomas Wiseman (1820), Anecdotes for Good Children (1830), Short Stories, or Treasures of Truth (1830).

Sammelband of English almanacs for the year 1754 (Rare Book Collection, AY751 .R4).

Scribal copies (manuscripts copied from printed books): Cicero, Paradoxa, De Amicitia, De Senectute (after 1494); Paul Felgenhauer, Jehi-Or (17th century), De Forest Collection [Location: range 31: 26, vol. 46]; John Row, The History of the Kirk of Scotland (ca. 1726); Joseph de Ortega Moro letter (ca. 1776); Sebastian de Ocampo manuscript (1800).

Reference Works / Histories

The LSU Libraries have an extensive collection of “books about books.” Most of it is shelved in the “Z” section on the second floor of LSU Library. Materials in Special Collections (Hill Memorial Library) focus on the history of books and printing, book collecting, and the antiquarian book trade. Key titles include:

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