The University of South Carolina has been collecting books for its library since at least 1802, before there were students or even faculty. The present exhibit displays some representative acquisitions and related documents from the past two hundred years. It cannot show the huge transformation that has taken place in the library as a whole--a transformation both in scale (from the initial 3000 volumes to nearly three million, with millions more items now accessible in microform or on-line) and in the complexity of the materials, information and services that must be provided.
The focus here, in accordance with the bicentennial occasion, is on the continuity behind the change. The books in the present exhibit are arranged chronologically, not by the date of their publication, but by the period in which they came to the library. In the earlier stages of the exhibit, books from Thomas Cooper Library's Department of Rare Books & Special Collections have been supplemented by items from USC Archives and the South Caroliniana Library, and in the later stages by occasional items from the library's own administrative files.
The materials on display range from Governor Drayton's 1807 gift of his manuscript Carolina Floristand of the Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and such antebellum treasures as De Bry's Greater Voyages, the Piranesi Opere, Audubon's Birds of America and Vivaparous Quadrupeds, Darwin's Zoology of the Beagle, and Maximilian's Travels in the Interior of North America, to selected twentieth century acquisitions, including the beautiful codex of Higdon'sPolychronicon, the Nuremberg Chronicle, the King James Bible, the Blaeu Atlas, and inscribed books by Robert Burns, Thomas Carlyle, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Weldon Johnson. Other recent gifts on display include the Lords Proprietors' grant (and great seal) from 1699, a Maria Theresa patent of nobility (also with seal), and the sword presented to Garibaldi in 1848 by the people of Montevideo.
Manuscripts displayed include a letter from John Drayton, borrowing records from 1810, a letter of May 1840 requesting payment from the Trustees for the newly-completed library building, and an acknowledgement written on behalf of President Daniel Coit Gilman in 1875, thanking for a gift from South Carolina for the library of the new Johns Hopkins University.
This exhibition builds on earlier guides, catalogues and exhibits, and draws also on the various histories of the College, University and library.
Printed sources are acknowledged in the reference listing, and further details about the major special collections in Thomas Cooper library are available through the Rare Books homepage (www.sc.edu/library/ spcoll/rarebook.html).