At a glance

Special Collections & University Archives

In Folio: Rare Volumes in the Stanford University Libraries

Image top left: Illustration by William Blake, from 

The Complaint, and the Consolation, or, Night Thoughts 

by Edward Young, London, 1797.

The Stanford University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections held the exhibit In Folio: Rare Volumes in the Stanford University Libraries. Featuring more than thirty titles, the exhibit was on view at Stanford University’s Cecil H. Green Library, Peterson Gallery, second floor of the Bing Wing, from August 4 through November 9, 2003. The exhibit was free and open to the public.

Bibliographically speaking, a folio is a book whose printed sheets have been folded only once to form leaves of text or illustration. In contrast, a quarto is a book whose sheets have been folded twice; an octavo, a book whose sheets have been folded three times. Generally speaking, a folio is simply a large book. Each of the folios in this exhibit is not only great in size; each is great as well in significance, being important editions of important texts. These folio volumes have something else in common as well: each has been used in a class or academic presentation over the past two years. These volumes, then, are important in their own right and lovely in their grandness, and they are also vital to the teaching mission of Stanford University.

In Folio features titles spanning the first five centuries of printing. Highlights include the 1469 edition of Pliny’s Natural History, a 1497 edition of Dante’sCommedia, the first edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), William Blake’s engravings in Edward Young’s Night Thoughts (1797), John Dryden’s translation of Virgil’s works (1697), the Cranach Press Hamlet (1930), The Foulis Press Homer (1756-1758), and Abraham Ortelius’ magnificent atlas (1595).