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An Afternoon with Isaac Asimov: Talk and Exhibit

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 7th, 2018

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Wednesday, October 31, the Rare Book Room, part of the West Virginia and Regional History Center at the WVU Libraries, hosted an event to highlight one of our extraordinary collections: the works of Isaac Asimov.  This event was designed to recognize our extensive Asimov collection and to celebrate our donors.

The event included an exhibit, shown below, that was on display in the Downtown Campus Library Atrium, and a talk by Nebula award winning author Andy Duncan, Professor of Writing at Frostburg State University.

Student viewing Isaac Asimov materials in glass cases in the library atrium

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Out of this World! Isaac Asimov in the West Virginia University Rare Book Room

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 6th, 2018

Image of a planetarium and a starry, moon-filled sky

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Although Isaac Asimov, one of the greatest science fiction authors of all time, passed away in 1992, his work lives on in the West Virginia University Rare Book Room.  One of the most prolific science fiction authors of the twentieth century, Asimov made a huge impact on how we view the future.

Asimov was responsible for more than 500 authored and edited publications.  Among his most popular novels are the Foundation Trilogy, The Martian Way, and The Stars like Dust.  Books that were turned into movies include I, Robot, the Fantastic Voyage, and the Bicentennial Man.

Perhaps Asimov’s single most important work is the short story/novella, Nightfall, published in 1941.  This story is considered the best science fiction short story written prior to the 1965 establishment of the Nebula Awards, the organization responsible for recognizing the best in science fiction or fantasy published in the United States.  The Rare Book Room holds important copies of Nightfall in a variety of formats, including books and records.  Its popularity led the story to be adapted for radio, film, podcast, and vinyl.  Read the rest of this entry »

A New Gift for the Rare Book Room: Edith Wharton’s Italian Villas and Their Gardens, Illustrated with Paintings by Maxfield Parrish

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
June 12th, 2018

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Cover of book "Italian Villas and their Gardens" including gold details and an image of a garden with fountain, flanked by an image of a woman with a basket of grapes on the left and a garden with trees and a building on the right

Recently, the WVU Libraries received a large gift from the late Lucinda Ebersole, a collector, book lover, publisher, and bookstore owner, totaling over 11,000 books.  Yes, that’s right, over 11,000 books.  This extensive collection arrived in near pristine condition, all books in their original dust jackets, and with many rare and antiquarian titles included.  Today on the blog, I would like to highlight a book from the collection that I am very excited about, one of those rare and antiquarian titles that I have longed to have in the collection.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Dark Side of Butterflies: The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in William Henry Edwards Butterflies of North America

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 26th, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

The great West Virginia coal magnate, William Henry Edwards, was a butterfly lover at heart.  Edwards lived in Coalburg, a small town outside Charleston, and he is credited as the first to open the Southern Coalfields.  When coal shipments were threatened by the events of the Civil War, Edwards found a way to get his coal to market, shipping it by boat.  He was the first to ship coal for export to the North by water.  He was also the first to document the life cycle of butterflies throughout North America and his three volume set of books on butterflies is still considered to be the reigning masterwork on the subject.  Read the rest of this entry »

A New Gift for the Rare Book Room

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
July 31st, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Posed photo of Mike Murphy, Stewart Plein, and John Cuthbert

A seventeenth century book has found a new home in the WVU Rare Book Room.  WVU alumnus, Mike Murphy, above left, with Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian, and John Cuthbert, Director of the West Virginia and Regional History Center, recently donated a religious text published in Seville, Spain by Ioannis (Juan) de Cardenas of the Society of Jesus, a Jesuit monastic order.   Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Astronomical! The Biggest Book in the Rare Book Room

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
May 8th, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Colored book plate of November Meteors

The Rare Book Room is home to books both big and small, but the largest book by far is Trouvelot’s Astronomical Drawings, published in New York by Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1881.  Measuring a whopping 42 ½” in height by 14 ½” wide, Trouvelot’s Astronomical Drawings is actually a portfolio collection of prints documenting observations of the night sky.  Read the rest of this entry »

A Visit to the Rare Book Room: A Tweet Story

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
April 3rd, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

When Sharon Kelly, WVU Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English, reached out to me to ask if her class could come to the Rare Book Room as an extra credit activity I jumped at the chance to share WVU’s rare book collection with Sharon’s students.  The following is a series of tweets between the instructor and her class documenting the process of arranging for a class to visit the Rare Book Room and the students’ excitement once they began to experience the collections.


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Portraits of Appalachia: Stereotypical Images of the Mountain Man on Local Color Literature

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 19th, 2016

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian. This post originally appeared on the Books Tell You Why blog.

How is stereotype developed and how is it spread? Historically, books have played a role as purveyors of stereotype, both intentionally and unintentionally. It’s easy to think of a book’s text as promoting stereotypical points of view, but the book’s cover design is just as influential.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, book cover design was an unwitting influence on the development of the Appalachian stereotype. The artistic portraits of Appalachia and Appalachians found on the covers of books widely dispersed to reading audiences across the nation had a lasting impact on the stereotypical image of Appalachia.

Cover of book The Devil's Brigade showing a man holding a smoking gun

Much like the travel writing of earlier times, local color literature, a popular style in its day, was designed to provide the reading public with intimate glimpses into specific regions across the nation. Harriet Beecher Stowe and Sarah Orne Jewett wrote of the regional flavor of New England. Mark Twain and Bret Harte captured the excitement of the West, and writers like John Fox, Jr. and Mary Noailles Murfree, who wrote under the pen name Charles Egbert Craddock, were among the many authors who wrote of the Appalachian region.

In the case of Appalachian local color literature, the decorated book cover and local color writing converged at a specific point in time that was crucial to the formation of Appalachian stereotypes. The decorative cover was an important element of the book, serving to reinforce the image of Appalachia as portrayed by local colorists. In this regard, the book’s image was as important as the image provided by the printed text in the development of the stereotypical image of Appalachia and Appalachians.

When we look at the book cover in partnership with the text, we begin to understand the important role book binding design played in the development of the stereotypes and misconceptions of the Appalachian region and its people. Designed as a marketing tool, the book cover served as an attractive means to draw the prospective purchaser to the book. As such, the book’s cover became the controlling influence. This influence was exerted from the very beginning, with the publishers’ continual desire over the course of a century to make the book attractive and appealing to consumers.

This integration of image and Appalachia on the cover of books began with the reconstruction of Appalachia as the American frontier in the mid nineteenth century. During this time period, as America became more urban, there was a ready market for books that offered tales of the frontier featuring rugged backwoodsmen like Daniel Boone. It was a time of looking back and longing for the frontier spirit.

Cover of book Our Western Border showing a man holding a gun leaning out over a cliff

The great frontier hero, Daniel Boone, on the cover of McKnight’s Our Western Border, shown above, is surrounded by a complex wilderness. In this design Boone carefully leans over a mountain cliff, looking down to the river below, watching Indians canoeing upstream. He is pictured as a competent woodsman and explorer, living life free, without restraint, in verdant forests filled with danger. It was a time idealized by the book.

But soon, book cover designs on Appalachian local color literature would change as they began to mirror the prevailing attitudes about Appalachians and the Appalachian region, changing over time as attitudes changed. The idea of the mountaineer as backwoods philosopher/woodsman evolved as America became more urbanized while Appalachia’s development was seen as static.

Cover of book Red-Head showing a man with a gun, crouching

The rugged mountaineer on the cover of Lloyd’s Red Head, (1903) above, crouches with his rifle at the ready.  Is he expecting trouble? Is he lying in wait for an ambush?  To know the answer to these questions we must read the book. The cover draws us in, but no longer is the mountain man shown as master of the wilderness. His depiction has changed to one of an outlaw, rather than a pioneer. The design of the book cover is the first tool used to draw us in, to convey some idea of the story itself, and it provides clues to the pervasive ideas of turn of the century culture and attitudes.

As the Appalachian stereotype changed and evolved, portrayals of the mountain man often fell into three distinct and recognizable categories: hunting, feuding, and moonshining. These concepts are, in essence, three images that were repeatedly used on the covers of books and it is these images that helped to develop the stereotypical portrait of the Appalachian mountain man we know today.


The mountain man, although depicted here as a hunter, is not shown in command of the wilderness, but as a hunter/gatherer/provider. The mountaineer on this cover returns at the end of the day with a full sack, a gun over his shoulder, and his dog by his side (below).

Cover of book The Men of the Mountains showing a man holding a gun and a sack, walking with a dog


The rising smoke of a recently fired rifle is the key to these images, below. To the world outside of Appalachia the feud is now recognized as the only form of mountain justice.

Cover of book Stories of Kentucky Feuds showing a man holding a smoking gun

Cover of book The Devil's Brigade showing a man holding a smoking gun


Ever on the lookout, the mountain man is seen protecting his still from advancing revenuers, below.


Preserving the Historical Record of Appalachia

As our tastes in literature have changed over time, these books, once prominent best sellers, have fallen into disrepair through heavy use followed by long periods of neglect. In libraries, most have been stripped of their original bindings and rebound. The few that remain are prime candidates for preservation.

By collecting, examining and preserving these books, bound with images that reflect nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas on a specific region and its people, we can view the development of stereotype through the progressive history of idea.

The cover image serves as a gateway to the text, and it is the first indication of the book’s contents. As a marketing tool, the cover design was a compelling way to attract customers and provide a glimpse of the book’s contents. It is the combined image, the book’s text as well as its binding, which served to promote an idea and make it a real and lasting concept.

These books, once commonly found in every home and library are now fragile resources over 100 years old. Preserving these books is important as representations of the historical record of Appalachia in material and pop culture and as evidence of cultural viewpoints that linger to the present day.

Editor’s Note [from Books Tell You Why]: Many thanks to Stewart Plein for her insightful post and for sharing it with the Books Tell You Why community. Below, please find a list of the books shown above (in order of appearance), as well as links to a journal article published by Ms. Plein which she used as reference for this post. If you have questions or thoughts about this topic, leave her a comment! 

  • Spivak, John Louis. The Devil’s Brigade; The Story of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud.  NY: Brewer and Warren, Inc., 1930.
  • McKnight, Charles. Our Western Border, in Early Pioneer Days: containing the true account of western frontier life and struggle in the most heroic age of America . . . Chicago: Educational Company, 1902.
  • Lloyd, John Uri. Red Head.  Illustrated by Reginald B Birch.  NY: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1903.
  • Spaulding, Arthur Whitefield. The Men of the Mountains; the Story of the Southern Mountaineer and His Kin of the Piedmont; with an account of some of the agencies of progress among them. Nashville, Tenn., Atlanta, Ga. Southern Pub. Association, 1915.
  • Coates, Harold Wilson. Stories of Kentucky Feuds. Knoxville, Tenn., Holmes-Darst Coal Corp., 1942.
  • Eggleston, George Cary. Camp Venture, A Story of the Virginia MountainsAdventures Among the Moonshiners.  Boston: Lothrop Pub. Co., 1901.

Journal of Appalachian Studies article: “Portraits of Appalachia: The Identification of Stereotype in Publishers’ Bookbindings, 1850 – 1915.”  Fall 2009, Vol. 15 Issue 1/2, p 99-115.  Available from EbscoHost: Available on


Leonardo da Vinci Notebooks and Mirror Writing: Two notebook replicas available to examine in the Rare Book Room

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 28th, 2016

Blog post by Beth Toren, WVU Libraries’ Media, Religious Studies, and Research Services Librarian

Early scientific journals were the private notebooks of scientists. Luxurious replicas of two notebooks by 15th Century Italian artist, mathematician, inventor and writer Leonardo da Vinci are available to examine in the WVU Libraries Rare Book Room. Leonardo wrote in Italian and using mirrored writing, writing backwards from right to left and illustrating with drawings. The notebooks contain his observations and brainstorming on multiple subjects in text, diagrams, and illustrations.

The Codice Leicester and Codice del Volo in their protective boxes:

Replicas of The Codice Leicester and Codice del Volo in their protective boxes

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"I sing my song, and all is well" – When Malindy Sings comes to the WVRHC

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 18th, 2016

Blog post by Ashleigh Coren, Resident Librarian, WVU Libraries.

Portrait of Paul Laurence Dunbar


The Rare Book Collection in the West Virginia & Regional History Center recently acquired Ohioan Paul Laurence Dunbar’s (1872-1906) When Malindy Sings, an illustrated book of poems and photographs published in 1903 by Dodd, Mead and Company. While the Rare Book Collection is home to a variety of wonderfully illustrated rare books, the six Dunbar books in our collection: Howdy, Honey, Howdy; Poems of Cabin and Field; Candle-Lightin’ Time, Folks from Dixie, Li’L’ Gal, and now When Malindy Sings, are in a category of their own. Dunbar, who Darwin Turner hails as “a symbol of the creative and intellectual potential of the Negro,” died at the early age of 33. The six decorated books in the Rare Book Room showcase the wonderful marriage between text and image that was prevalent in the 19th and early 20th century. The Dunbar collection is a great example of what booksellers and bibliophiles refer to as decorated Publishers’ Bindings.  Read the rest of this entry »

Puck, the Magazine, 1871 to 1918

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 5th, 2016

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

Puck Magazine Masthead

At first glance, Puck may not be what you might consider one of the jewels among the collections in the Rare Book Room, however, it is an important publication that deserves its place in those rarified surroundings.  In its day, Puck was known as a magazine that satirized American politics and politicians, reporting events, sports and fashion trends throughout its run during the latter nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Read the rest of this entry »

William Henry Edwards and the Butterflies of North America

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 2nd, 2015

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

Colored images of butterflies from Edwards book Butterflies of North America

William Henry Edwards’ (1822 – 1909) business was coal.  Although born in New York, Edwards spent most of his adult life in Coalburg, a small town outside Charleston, West Virginia.  As a co-founder of the Kanawha and Ohio Coal Company, Edwards moved to Coalburg in order to be closer to his mining operations.

William H. Edwards portrait

However, the real love of his life was butterflies.  Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 5th, 2015

Woodcut from story of Saint Michael Fighting the Dragon
Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

The serendipitous convergence of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and this year’s Banned Books Week has me thinking of an earlier collision between a pope and a book.  Read the rest of this entry »

Books Make the Perfect Gift

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 8th, 2014

illustrated holly leaves and berries

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

As the holiday season approaches, let’s take a look back at gift books from the rare book collection in the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  These books were designed to capitalize on the holiday season or they were given as holiday gifts.  Read the rest of this entry »

Secret Book Art: Fore-Edge Paintings

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 3rd, 2014

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.


Did you know that some books with gilt edges (edges covered with gold leaf or paint, like the pages shown below) contain secret art?  As far back as the 10th century, artists painted designs on the edges of book pages; many surviving examples of these paintings are on books that have gilt edges.  The images, called fore-edge paintings, tend to be painted on the book’s fore-edge, which is the edge opposite the book’s spine.

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Thomas Jefferson at the West Virginia and Regional History Center

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
May 19th, 2014

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

 Thomas Jefferson Portrait with Signature

Portrait Image Credit:

The Rare Book Room in the West Virginia and Regional History Center owns many treasures from across the globe, from Austen to Diderot, and Linnaeus to Shakespeare.  The collection also includes many American gems; among these are books by Mark Twain and Isaac Asimov, as well as books associated with well-known individuals, such as the two volume legal dictionary once owned by the author of the Declaration of Independence, former President of the United States, and the founder of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson. Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating William Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
April 21st, 2014

Portrait of William Shakespeare

April 23, 2014 will mark the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare.  Born in 1564 and considered the greatest writer in the English language, Shakespeare is the author of such well known plays as Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The WVU Libraries, the West Virginia and Regional History Center, and the Department of English will celebrate William Shakespeare’s birthday on Wednesday, April 23, at 2:30 PM in the Robinson Reading Room located in the Downtown Campus Library.  The celebration includes a lecture by English Professor Dr. Sarah Neville titled, Break[ing] into this woman’s mood’: The Lab Space of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. The talk, according to Dr. Neville, will explore the ways that the current production of Henry IV onstage at WVU’s Creative Arts Center subverts the underlying patriarchal messages of Shakespeare’s play, and adapts it into a feminist tragedy for our modern age. Read the rest of this entry »

3 Fantastic Books of Poetry in the Rare Book Collection

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
April 14th, 2014

In honor of National Poetry Month, today’s post features three wonderful books of poetry in the WVU Libraries Rare Book Collection.  To create this list, I looked for the work of famous poets whom many of us learn about in school.  The Rare Book Collection also includes poetry of many other famous poets who did not make it onto this list (such as Walt Whitman and William Blake) as well as lesser known poets (such as Isaac Asimov, David Selby, and those featured in The Poets of Maine). Read the rest of this entry »

Beautiful Books: The Designs of Margaret Armstrong

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 31st, 2014

Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944) made books beautiful.  Armstrong was a young woman when she began her career as a book binding designer.  As one of the first women to enter this new field, she would soon make a name for herself that would be recognized by publishers and the book buying public alike for her beautiful and intricate designs.  Years of innovation and technological advancements developed during the industrial era made the manufacturing of her designs possible. Read the rest of this entry »

What is in the Archive: The Importance of Looking Good

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 16th, 2013

As the third post in our series about the enduring value of archival items, today’s post will explore artifactual value.  The Society of American Archivists’ glossary defines artifactual value as “The usefulness or significance of an object based on its physical or aesthetic characteristics, rather than its intellectual content.”  We can say an item has artifactual value if it is a good example of its type, regardless of its subject matter.  Artifactual value can apply to such diverse items as photographs, land grants, clothing, and books, and it is one of the factors that archivists (and museum professionals) consider when deciding what to preserve for future generations.

Here are a few examples of items with artifactual value that can be found in WVU’s collections: Read the rest of this entry »