May 20, 2022

The Sheridan Libraries/Johns Hopkins University Acquires Rare Copy of 19th Century Essay

From JHU Hub:

‘A Problem in Greek Ethics,’ completed around 1873 by poet John Addington Symonds, helped set the stage for the modern gay-rights movement. Until recently, it was believed that only five copies from an original print run of 10 had survived. A sixth copy, secured by Sheridan Libraries curator Gabrielle Dean, plays a starring role in a new campus exhibit about Symonds and his work.


Dean stumbled across this sixth copy, which she believes spent the intervening century in private hands, while Googling examples of Symonds’ handwriting to double-check an inscription inside another of his books for an upcoming exhibit about his work. Unexpectedly, up popped an image of a set of letters for sale by a rare book dealer. When Dean clicked the link, she found that included with the letters was a copy of the book itself.

“I was like, Wait, is this even possible?” recalls Dean, who was first certain it must have been an old listing for one of the known five copies. A bit of sleuthing convinced her that it was in fact a current listing for the unfamiliar sixth one. It was a shining moment for the dedicated scholar. “I was trying to check the handwriting to make sure it was Symonds’ because you always want to be correct about little facts like that; that’s the data of humanities research,” Dean says. “I was doing the basic drudgery of scholarship. The research itself can yield stones you have to turn over.”


Acquiring a book by Symonds is nothing new for the Hopkins library, which started buying his works in the 1800s, says Dean, who regularly seeks to build collections by pivotal scholars that offer enduring research value. It made sense to add this rare copy to the library’s special collections by the little-known but hugely influential author.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( 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, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.