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Why do Research Libraries have Duplicates?

 

Today, I looked into “duplicate” copies that exist in the Newberry Library. For this, I paged two texts: Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, and Leave of Grass by Walt Whitman (I love Whitman). As a fan of Whitman, I just had to get my hands on the very first (yes, the Newberry has it!) edition, published in 1855 – and it was beautiful. Deep teal hard cover, engraved gold letters for the title, leafy and arabesque patterns on both side of the covers, and the side of the pages were laminated with a golden glimmer.

On contrast, the second (duplicate) copy of the Leaves of Grass claimed itself to be a facsimile copy of the very first edition –yes, and no. Both were approximately A4 in size, and the content, both poem and the introduction by Whitman, as well as the layout was exactly the same. If there was any difference in content, this newer version, published in 1868, had an introduction and notes by a man named Richard Bridgeman. Although the facsimile version of the book shared the shape of the title and the patterns upon the cover, they were printed, not engraved, copies of the original. The title, “Leaves of Grass,” was in black letters, not gold, and the color of the cover was a grassy green. The patterns of the cover were a washed out white.

However, what is fascinating about this second version that it is a facsimile of the very first edition. Here, by having “duplicate” copies, or books that share the same title, name, and content in a research library like the Newberry, is that it captures an aspect of evolution and people’s relation to the book transformed over time. Already, in 1868, people took copies of the original, to reproduce a facsimile. And this speaks volumes of what people considered valuable to preserve and pass on. As I was fortunate enough to see the exact, original copy of which this facsimile is based on, one could tell that people were keen on creating a copy of this material. By housing such “duplicate” materials, one can access not only the content if there is another person in use, but more greatly, it provides a clear reflection of how they interacted with the text, as well as how it was valued throughout the ages.

As no two people speak the same, no two books tells the same story.

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