Shortly after we posted about the oldest book in WYLDCAT, Sheridan County Public Library System Director Cameron Duff emailed us to let us know they have a copy of The Herball Or Generall Historie of Plantes by John Gerard, published in 1636. It’s kept in the Wyoming Room in a locked display case, as it’s rather fragile. Cameron was not sure how the library ended up with the book, but the the display case indicates it was donated about 1971.
His email inspired us to pose the question: What, exactly, is the oldest book held in a Wyoming library? Not just in WYLDCAT, but in any library building?
First, it depends on how you define “book.” Albany County Public Library owns about a dozen cuneiform tablets — the one in the photo is dated circa 2350 BCE, making it about 4,367 years old. This one turns out to be a bill from a butcher. Nathan Bender, ACPL’s Technical Services Librarian, told us these were purchased in 1936 from Edgar J. Banks, advertised as Babylonian, which he had acquired in Baghdad. The library still has the original acquisitions paperwork.
If we limit it to a more typical book, a sheaf of pages bound together, the American Heritage Center is the clear winner with the Toppan Library rare book collections. Some of the very old material at the AHC has been cataloged with ambiguous dates in the 1400s. These include both illuminated manuscripts and incunabula (printed books from before 1500). Their oldest tome cataloged with a definite date is the Opus restitutionum usurarum et excommunicationum by Franciscus de Platea, published in Venice in 1472.
For the curious, Debbie McCarthy, Head of University of Wyoming Libraries Technical Services, gave us these handy links to search the Toppan Library collection:
Other libraries checked their collections and came up with a 1918 Atlas of American Agriculture at Northwest College and three titles from 1850 at Park County Library. Will Matchinski at the Wyoming State Hospital keeps a 1939 Fourth edition of the Sears List of Subject Headings for Small Libraries and a Latin-English Lexicon from the late 19th century.
As for the State Library’s oldest book? Well, it’s a mouthful, located in our federal documents: American archives : consisting of a collection of authentick records, state papers, debates, and letters and other notices of publick affairs, the whole forming a documentary history of the origin and progress of the North American colonies ; of the causes and accomplishment of the American revolution ; and of the Constitution of government for the United States, to the final ratification thereof. In six series. While we have a print copy, you can also read it online in its entirety in Hathi Trust.
We’d like to thank everyone for playing! There are truly some treasures held in Wyoming’s libraries.