Rare 270-Year-Old Book Returned to Addlestone Library

A rare book returns to the College of Charleston today, after being uncovered in the vaults of the Charleston Library Society. A Dissertation upon Parties by Henry St. John Bolingbroke is one of the missing volumes from the original Mackenzie collection that was donated to the College in 1771. The College of Charleston Friends of the Library are in the process of rebuilding the entire 800-book collection in an effort known as the Mackenzie Library Project.

The Mackenzie collection was donated by 18th-century Charles Towne politician John Mackenzie who delivered his vast collection of books to the Charleston Library Society, until the College received its charter. Before the books reached the College, a fire consumed much of Charleston in 1778, burning nearly all the contents of the Charleston Library Society. Yet, 77 titles of Mackenzie’s library survived, and were returned to the College in 1980.

Since the Mackenzie Library Project’s launch in October 2011, the Addlestone Library Special Collections staff and the College of Charleston Friends of the Library have been working to restore the now 78 titles returned from the Library Society and acquiring other titles from the collection. Nine other rare books have been acquired, for a total of 87 same-edition books from the original Mackenzie collection.

Scorched, yet intact, and embossed with the elegant Mackenzie gold seal, 13 of the 78 burned books have already been restored and nine others are currently undergoing the labor-intensive restoration process. College of Charleston senior Brien Biedler has spent 15 to 20 hours a week in the bindery in Special Collections, carefully resewing, rebinding, and mending the pages of the books. Biedler, a chemistry major, received a SURF Grant (Summer Undergraduate Research Fund) from the College of Charleston in 2011 to work on the project and attend the School of Formal Bookbinding in Pennsylvania. Upon Biedler’s graduation, Addlestone Library Special Collections staff and volunteers from the Charleston community will work together to complete the restoration work.

The nine titles acquired by the Special Collections staff include a 1721 edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer and a 1747 copy of Jean-Bernard Le Blanc’s Letters on the English and French Nations. Marie Ferrara, Head of Special Collections and the Addlestone Library, and Harlan Greene, Senior Manuscript and Reference Archivist, have selected the recently acquired titles that match the exact editions Mackenzie collected and exist in no other format than in the College of Charleston’s collections. The Mackenzie Collection is housed is special glass-fronted wooden bookcases which allows visitors to witness the restoration of a promise made by one of the region’s political heroes. To date, the Mackenzie Library Project has raised in excess of $50,000 in private funds to support acquisitions and restoration work to existing Mackenzie titles.

John Mackenzie, a Goose Creek planter and Charles Towne elected official, was an advocate of the library and more liberal in extending voting rights than many of his contemporaries.  And despite Mackenzie’s premature death, his vision persists. According to Dr. David Shields, McClintock Professor of South Letters at the University of South Carolina and an expert in colonial history, Mackenzie envisioned not only a more egalitarian South Carolina, but also an institution that would engage in the improvement in education of its citizens. The library has also acquired an important first edition of the writings of John Wilkes, the English radical, journalist, and politician who strongly influenced Mackenzie’s quest for freedom of speech in South Carolina. Wilkes inspired Mackenzie’s goals in the South Carolina Commons House Assembly.

For more information about the Mackenzie Library Project and to view the Mackenzie Library catalogue, visit http://blogs.cofc.edu/fol/mackenzie.