Lithographed Translation of the Rosetta Stone

A couple of days ago I was looking at a rare book dealer’s catalog online and, seeing a listing for a Pennsylvania imprint, began to wonder whether we had this interesting-sounding item. So I checked our catalog and voila! Except that it said we had the 2nd edition … 3 copies of it … and all were supposedly “autographed and mounted.”

I got suspicious of my predecessors in cataloging.

A bit of research that led me to our copy of Adams, Randolph G., “A Translation of the Rosetta Stone,” in Bibliographical essays; a tribute to Wilberforce Eames. [Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press], 1924, p. 227-241. And there the story unfolded before me.

What we actually have are 3 copies of the 1st edition of the Report of the committee appointed by the Philomathean Society of the University of Pennsylvania to translate the inscription on the Rosetta stone. It was published in Philadelphia in 1858. And one of the neat things about it is that it is said to be one of the few books printed in America entirely by lithography.

AND as the main contributor (Henry Morton) writes at the very end of the volume:

Another circumstance in connection with our present work which may be of interest to our readers is the fact that the large sheets, containing eight pages each, on which it is printed are folded into their present form, not by human hands, as one would suppose they must be, but by the iron fingers of a machine, and that too with a rapidity and accuracy which defies the most expert human manipulation.  These machines, invented by my friend Mr. Cyrus Chambers, will fold 30 sheets per minute in any required form, with a precision which will serve to detect the least deviation in the adjustment of the forms.  The whole of our edition (400 copies) will thus occupy one of these machines less than four hours.  Three of these ‘folders’ are at work at the Harper’s establishment in New York, two at Lippincott’s of this city, two at Wrightson & Co. Cin., and some 20 others in various parts of the Union.

The text itself is also a bit of a wonder.  Three undergrads undertaking to translate the hieroglyphs of their plaster cast of the Rosetta Stone!  And then, apparently as a kind of afterthought to having submitted this report to their college club, deciding to learn how to produce color lithographs, getting the book printed and bound, selling out the first edition, and having to make up new stones for about half the pages in the second edition.  Well, why not!

Footnote: our “copy 1” has tipped in at the back the Alexander von Humboldt letter that is usually found in the 2nd edition.  Since Humboldt is responding to the appearance of the book, it is odd that it is in the 1st edition.  Neither our “copy 1” nor our “copy 3” are in the original binding, so it’s hard to say how or when the letter got in there.

I’ve also corrected our catalog to reflect what we actually have on the shelves.

Published in: on 20 April 2007 at 9:03 am  Leave a Comment  

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