May 9, 2021

University of Illinois: Rare Book and Manuscript Library Acquires Celebrated 18th-Century Mount Vesuvius Book

From the University of Illinois:

The eruptions of the Mount Vesuvius volcano in the 1760s and 1770s set off a public fascination with volcanoes. Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples at the time, studied the volcano extensively and wrote one of the most celebrated and beautiful books on Mount Vesuvius.

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois has acquired an edition of Hamilton’s book, “Campi Phlegraei,” which is Latin for “fields of fire.”

An illustration from an early 18th-century book on Mount Vesuvius shows a nighttime scene of the volcano’s eruption. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library has acquired an edition of “Campi Phlegraei” by Sir William Hamilton. Courtesy Rare Book and Manuscript Library, U. of Illinois

An illustration from an early 18th-century book on Mount Vesuvius shows a nighttime scene of the volcano’s eruption. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library has acquired an edition of “Campi Phlegraei” by Sir William Hamilton.  Courtesy Rare Book and Manuscript Library

The library purchased the book with gift money donated by Jim and Lionelle Elsesser of St. Louis, who are Illinois alumni and supporters of the University Library. The Elsessers made a $500,000 donation to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library to be used for materials for special collections. The first purchase made with their donation was a manuscript written by Sir Isaac Newton on making the philosophers’ stone. “Campi Phlegraei” was purchased in fall 2018.

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The library purchased its copy from a New York dealer. Doskey estimates fewer than 100 copies of the book exist today. He found 35 copies held by universities and public libraries, including Harvard and Yale universities; the Boston Public Library; the University of California, Berkeley; and Oxford and Cambridge universities. There are two other copies in Illinois, at the Newberry Library in Chicago and at the University of Chicago.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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