The University Record, November 5, 1996

'American Firsts' opens at the Clements Library

This first picture of a Christmas tree was published in the United States in 1836

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services


The fascination with being first, who was first, who had the first, who made the first or who is first has enthralled Americans whether the first was a book, a map, a novel, a play or poetry.

In "American Firsts," the Clements Library celebrates some of these "firsts" through a melange of printed works dating from the 15th through the 19th centuries.

Opening Thurs. (Nov. 7) and continuing through Jan. 31, the exhibit is available for viewing noon-4:45 p.m. weekdays or by appointment.

The exhibition includes the first world atlas, pre-dating Columbus' 1492 voyage; the book where America first appeared as a place name; and the first published account of Magellan's circumnavigation of the world.

First-hand accounts of historical events are part of the exhibition, including accounts of the founding of Roanoke, the first English colony in North America, and the settlements at Jamestown, Plymouth, and St. Mary's City in Maryland. The first account of an American military victory, in 1690, also is on display.

Books, too, are part of the exhibition. Included are the first American color-plate book, architecture book, and furniture-maker's guide. Mundane books such as the first city directory, sex manual and set of road maps are not left out. Sacred books such as Eliot's Indian Bible, the first Bible printed in America, the first Jewish prayer book published in America, and the Book of Mormon are among the treasures.

From the mundane to the profane, the collection of firsts includes Fanny Hill, America's first "dirty book"; "The National Police Gazette," the first "supermarket tabloid" once found only in barbershops and barrooms; and the confession of the country's earliest mass murderer---the sad tale of an indentured servant in Virginia who used an ax to murder a family in their sleep in 1678.

The library will be closed Dec. 21-Jan. 1. Appointments may be scheduled by calling 764-2347.