Collection Highlights

This section features new acquisitions and highlights from our Rare Book and Special Poetry collections. Posts here are intended to familiarize users of Archives & Special Collections' resources with the range of materials within its holdings and announce new acquisitions.

These posts will serve as an introduction to individual works demonstrating their applicability accross academic disciplines. 

As opposed to a static exhibit, posts will be added to Collection Highlights on a regular basis. Posts found here will also be featured as content in the news feed.

Memoirs of Robert-Houdin, Ambassador, Author, and Conjuror, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (London: Chapman and Hall, 1859)

Library Call Number: GV1545.R7 A4 1859

Title page of Robert-Houdin's MemoirsAlso referred to as Confidences of a Prestidigitator, this book is Robert-Houdin’s account of his own life. Perhaps best known today as the origin of Houdini’s stage name, Robert-Houdin is considered to have developed the modern style of conjuring. While magicians had previously attracted crowds with the performances in marketplaces, Robert-Houdin brought the art to parlours and theatres. His “Soirées Fantastiques” were held at a small theatre near the Palais Royal and enjoyed a long run. Especially popular was his Second Sight, a two person mind-reading act which involved the magician holding objects brought by audience while his blindfolded son described them. Robert-Houdin also used his training as a watchmaker to build apparatus and automata which featured in his acts.

Not only did Robert-Houdin revolutionize the art of conjuring, he also changed the costume of the magician to formal eveningwear, now considered to be the classic attire of modern magicians wearing tail-coats. Robert-Houdin’s memoirs are the source of what we know about him today, though they were written for entertainment purposes and thus present a problem of reliability, especially regarding his training as an illusionist. He justifies the embellishment of his life story by pointing out the mundane deceptions practised by merchants, politicians, and society generally.

This book was acquired by ARC as a part of the Art Latcham Magic Collection to support studies in History, Literature, Psychology, and Industrial Design.


Portrait of Houdini from Miracle Mongers and their Methods

Miracle Mongers and their Methods, Harry Houdini, (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., c1920)

Library Call Number: GV1543.H68 1920

Renowned illusionist Harry Houdini baffled audiences of the early twentieth century with his death-defying feats. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he never claimed superhuman abilities and insisted a rational explanation lay behind his escape acts. As President of the Society of American Magicians, he fulfilled his role of upholding the standards of the profession by exposing charlatans.

Miracle Mongers and their Methods is presented as an exposé but also serves to document the methods of illusionists that peaked Houdini's interest and inspired him to investigate their methods further. The catalogue of acts mentioned in the extended title: “fire eaters, heat resisters, poison eaters, venomous reptile defiers, sword swallowers, human ostriches, strong men, etc.” can be viewed as a list of performers that impressed Houdini and inspired him to understand their methods further. Rather than an indictment of charlatans, this book can be read as a testament to wonder and curiosity.

ARC’s copy of Miracle Monders and their Methods includes Houdini’s original signature. It was acquired as a part of the Art Latcham Magic Collection to support studies in Psychology, History, and English.

Cover page of Miracle Mongers and their Methods featuring Houdini's signature


Conjuror's Magazine interior art

Conjuror’s Magazine, or Magical and Physiognomical Mirror, in two volumes, William Locke, (London, 1791)

Library Call Number: BF1651.A55

Conjuror’s Magazine was a magic periodical which explored subjects from card tricks to occultism. The focus of the magazine became astrological, and in August of 1794 its name changed to Astrologer’s Magazine and ran for six more issues. This was the first periodical in which a group identified themselves openly as practitioners of magic.

This first volume advertises that the publication includes Lavater’s essays on Physiognomy. Physiognomy was the practice of interpreting an individual’s personality based on their appearance. This ancient pseudoscience experienced a period of brief revival during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries once Swiss Zwinglian pastor Johann Kaspar Lavater’s 1775-1778 essays on the practice became popular. An ancient pseudo-Aristotelian work on physiognomy linked the practice to magic and divination.

This book was acquired by ARC as a part of the Art Latcham Magic Collection to support studies in History, Literature, Psychology, and Industrial Design.
Art from Conjuror's Magazine


Cover of the book

The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, Harry Houdini, (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1909)

Library Call Number: GV1545.R7 H68 1909

Though Houdini had originally fashioned his stage name as an homage to French magician Robert-Houdin, he later argued that many tricks Robert-Houdin claimed were his invention were in fact adapted from his predecessors.

Unlike Houdini’s other exposés, this book both offers an explanation of how the tricks are performed and traces their origins and attributes them to their innovators as he deems correct. The result is a genealogy of the art of stage magic. While conducting research for the book, Houdini collected pictorial content from woodcuts, programmes, lithographs, and posters which are reproduced throughout the text.

This book was acquired by ARC as part of the Art Latcham Magic Collection to support research in Psychology, History, English, and Industrial Design.

Cover and art from The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin by Harry Houdini


Woodcuts of war-time China, 1937-1945, compiled by the Chinese Woodcutters’ Association, (Shanghai: Kaiming Book Co., 1946)

Library Call Number: NE1183 .C63 1946

This book contains one hundred leaves of plates showing woodcuts made as tools of communication and propaganda during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). As the introduction states, “we have written our recent history in blood, and this book is a pictorial epitome of that part of Chinese history.” Though woodcuts have a long tradition in China, those contained in this book are based on a western style. The introduction of this western style of wood engraving and its dissemination throughout the 1930's led to the establishment of clubs dedicated throughout China and this establishment of a national organization, the Chinese Woodcutters' Association, in 1938. During the war, these artists used their skills to create wartime propaganda, and a uniquely Chinese style developed.

This book was acquired by ARC to support research in History, Art History, Communications, and research in propaganda and bibliography.

Cover and art from book, Woodcuts of Wartime China


Cover page of Hotel des Invalides

Pérau, M. l’abbé, (Gabriel-Louis-Calabré), Description historique de l’Hotel royal des invalides (Paris: Chez G. Desprez, 1756)

Library Call Number: RA967.P47 1756

Gabriel Louis Calabré Pérau was a French author who is best known for his continuation of the multi-volumed “Lives of illustrious men of France”. This book is an architectural description of the complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement of Paris intended to serve as a hospital and retirement home for war veterans. The project was initiated by Louis XIV in 1670 and designed by Libéral Bruant in a baroque “wedding cake” style, with the later addition of a domed royal chapel designed by Jules Hardouin Mansart which dominates the building’s facade. Napoleon I was entombed under the dome in 1840. The complex continued to serve its original purpose into the twentieth century.

The building’s function as a veteran’s hospital inspired William III of England to found Greenwich Hospital in 1694. Its design was Thomas U. Walter’s inspiration for the domed United States Capitol building, which in turn is the model for many state and city buildings throughout the United States.

This book was acquired by ARC to support research in Architecture, History, and French Language Studies.


Spenser, Edmund, The Faerie Queene, disposed into XII bookes, fashinoning twelve morall vertues, (London: Humphrey Lownes, 1609)

Library Call Number: PR2358.A1 1609

The Faerie Queene was a departure for English poetry, influenced by Arthurian legend, medieval romance, classical epic, and allegorical stories such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio Decameron. As the title suggests, Spenser dedicated the book to Queen Elizabeth I and the Tudor Dynasty which the book memorializes – but not without critique.

One of the longest poems in English literature, it is unknown whether Spenser intended to write twelve books as indicated by the title. Six complete books as well as a fragmentary seventh survive. This is the second edition of Spenser's Faerie Queene, but the first to contain Book VII, the Cantos of Mutabilitie. Much shorter than the previous six, little is know about the fragmentary nature of Book VII, which emerged after Spenser's death.

This book was acquired by ARC to support research in English, History, and Art History.

Cover and title page of The Faerie Queene


Le premier livre de Palmerin d’Olive : filz du Roy Florendoz de Macedone, et de la Belle Griane, fille de Remicius Empereur de Constantinople, histoire plaisante & de singuliere recreation, trans. Jean Maugin, (Paris: De l’imprimerie de leanne de Marnef, 1546)

Call Number: PQ6419.P4 F74 1546

A part of the W. MacAllister Johnston Rare Book Collection, Palmerin D’Olive is a French translation of Palmerin de Oliva, the first of five parts comprising the Palmerines. By author Francisco Vázquez, this book is a part of the libro de caballería, or knight-errant, genre and was first published in 1511. Throughout the Late Middle Ages, literature in France was dominated by Spanish or Portuguese adventure stories in multiple volumes.

The translation of books such as Palmerin D’Olive influenced romantic writing in France, and influenced heroic and romantic literature throughout Europe, lending influence to the development of the novel. The popularity of this book is evident by the number of editions printed throughout Spain and its translation into French. In Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha, Palmerin de Oliva is noted to be in Quixote’s library.

This book was acquired by ARC to support research in English, French, History, and the Humanities.

Exterior and cover of Palmerin d'Olive


Cover of book, Formes et VieFormes et Vie, no. 1, (Paris: Editions Falaize, 1951)

Call number: NX456.5.F7 F67

This journal was founded as a collaboration between French artist Fernand Léger and architect Le Corbusier (Charles Édouard Jeanneret-Gris). Published in French and English, it was designed to define form and its development with collaboration across disciplines. The cover was designed by Le Corbusier, and features photographs of his buildings, sculptures, and paintings, as well as an essay by him. Essays and works by Léger are also featured, who, like Le Corbusier, used many different media to express his art. Though chiefly known as a cubist painter, he also worked in stained glass, film, tapestry, and ceramics, and was one of the most influential French artists of the 20th century.

The first and second issues of Formes et Vie were acquired by ARC to support research in art history, architecture, and industrial design.


Huxley, Aldous, Prisons, (London:Trianon, 1949)

Library Call Number: HV8655.H89 1949

This collection of etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, titled Careri d'invenzione or Imaginary Prisons, is prefaced with an essay by Aldous Huxley.

A Venetian, Piranesi is best known for his etchings of ancient Roman ruins to which he added details to re-imagine them in the time of their glory. The prints in this collection fit within the long capriccio (caprice) tradition of placing together architectural elements in fictional and fantastic combination. Their influence extends to Romanticism and Surrealism, with parallels evident to the distorted worlds of M.C. Escher.

In his prefatory essay, Huxley compares Piranesi's prisons to the panopticism that pervades modern architecture. Every office and factory brings with it a banal tyranny of order and efficiency, reducing humanity to predictable process. Piranesi's etchings, however, show pointlessly elaborate industrial vaults with worn ladders, purposeless machines, and walkways leading infinitely nowhere. The semblance of order within the etching is the illusion of geometry. Within Piranesi's prions, shadowy lost souls labour without end. To Huxley, Piranesi's prisons anticipate a spiritual confusion characteristic of modernity.

Cover of Prisons with example of Piranesi's sketches