Cataloging an Old Book

It was one of those books in the cataloging backlog that was easy to ignore: plain green cloth binding with a library call number gold-stamped in the spine.  Seemed to be early 20th century.  At some point it must have been removed from the circulating collection but never made it completely into the Rare Collections Library. 

But that title on the spine . . . L’Ami des Moeurs 1788.  Maybe that pointed to something interesting after all.  It did.

The complete title page transcription is: L’ami des moeurs, poemes et epitres / par M. R.D.L. de plusieurs Académies. A Philadelphie, et se trouve à Paris : Chez Cailleau, 1788.

Getting it back into our catalog and onto our rare books shelves proved to be an interesting bit of work.  This book turned out to be a volume of French poetry that doesn’t seem to be in too many places.  Only one, besides here in Harrisburg, as far as I could discover.

The first problem was identifying the author.  Just who was Monsieur R.D.L.?  And would I find him listed in catalogs as “R.D.L.” or as “L., R.D.”  Or not at all?  Looking in the OCLC Database turned up nothing.  So I googled the title.

 There was a single reference to the book title in a footnote of a scholarly article.  And the author’s name was given in full: R.D.L. was identified as “Renaud de La Grelaye.”  Taking that name back to OCLC gave me several items with the name in that form, and one in the fuller form “La Grelaye, Renaud de, 1737-1807.”  But taking that name back to the Library of Congress Name Authority File didn’t retrieve the name.  Maybe it appears under “Grelaye, Renaud…” or “de La Grelaye…” or…?  No such luck. 

But I could confirm the name and dates in an online French encyclopedia.  So I pressed on, looking for another bibliographic record.  Trying the catalog of the Bibliotheque nationale de France brought back nothing.  But then trying their union catalog gave me a copy in the Bibliotheque municipale: Dijon.  A single copy in all of France!  And none – according to OCLC – in the United States and the non-U.S. libraries in OCLC. 

Suddenly, this little 164 page book of poems seemed much more interesting than its cover let on that it might be.  So I went back to the article located via Google.  It was a Project Muse reference to an article by Henry C. Clark that appeared in the May 1998 issue of Eighteenth-Century Life.  Neither of which I have immediate access to at my library. 

Time to call on the kindness of friends.  I know a librarian at a nearby state university whose library subscribes to the Project Muse database.  Can she look at the article and tell me whether the article really says anything about my French book? Better than that: she sent me a pdf version of the article for my research purposes. 

But, unfortunately, the reference was as I feared, simply a mention of ‘my’ book in a long list of other titles making his point (that there were a lot of similar titles published in France at the time, all discussing the morality of luxury).  I could have tracked down Professor Clark to try to find out where he had come across the L’ami des moeurs, but I didn’t.  With his article I was able to come up with proper subject headings for a catalog record.

Now, the only problem left was that publication statement.  Was this book really published “in Philadelphia and available in Paris”?  That should be easy to nail down, what with all the bibliographic work done on early printing in Philadelphia.

Except that the title, author, and publishing firm do not show up in any of the usual sources as a Philadelphia imprint.  (Aside from the rarity of the item, whether or not it was printed in Philadelphia makes a difference to me for where I classify and shelve the book.)   Which led me to call upon the expertise of the rare books people (librarians and book dealers, mostly) on a listserv.  They came back quite quickly late on a Friday afternoon with confirmation that the “a Philadelphie” was a false imprint.

And that gave me what I needed in order to create a bibliographic record for this book in OCLC, export the record to our local catalog, and finish the processing of the item in order to make it available to researchers.

The only fly left in my ointment is that I cannot tell how or why we have this item in the first place.  There seems to have been at one time a page or two in front of the title page, pages on which there could have been some identifying information that is now lost.  This could even be one of our Alexandre Vattemare gifts, but his stamp is not on the title page and the title is not in the list of books from him which our state librarian published in 1854.  I’ll probably never learn how it came to be here.  C’est la vie.

Published in: on 17 December 2007 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

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