I’ve had the break-up of libraries on my mind lately for several reasons. At one level, this phenomenon is never far from my thoughts. For years now, I’ve been working on the somewhat scrappy remains of what must have been many collections of ancient Christian books and wondered about how the books came together, and in the case of the Christian books at Oxyrhynchus, how they came to be tossed out as garbage.
But for a few months now, I’ve been in the process of thoroughly culling of my own books. I’ve sold a few lots to Powell’s books in Portland, Oregon, and I have more for sale through amazon. It has been an interesting process of deciding which books I really love and which books I simply can’t justify toting around with me anymore. For the ones I let go, I wonder about their fate.
That’s not to say I’m no longer acquiring books. There are items I covet and for which I keep an eye out. One of them showed up recently in the used book market at a good price, and I snapped it up without thinking twice. Windows booksellers in Eugene, Oregon was offering for sale Frederic Kenyon’s edition and facsimile volume of the Chester Beatty codex of the Pauline epistles, better known to New Testament scholars as P46. These books were published in 1937 by Emery Walker, and they were superbly produced–well bound and with excellent quality photographs for the time period. The volumes of photographic plates show up on the market only rarely and usually at grossly inflated prices.
I was delighted when the books arrived in great condition, but my feelings were pretty mixed when I saw the ex libris stamp in the books:
These volumes were once a part of the library of the Andover Newton Theological School, the grounds of which were sold in 2017. A portion of its faculty was recently absorbed by Yale Divinity School (and, speaking of the dispersion of libraries, the Oxyrhynchus “distribution” papyri that were given to Andover Newton have now become part of the rare books collection at Yale Divinity School and are not kept with Yale’s other papyri in the Beinecke Library). None of the other volumes of the Beatty Biblical Papyri were available through Windows booksellers at the time that I purchased the Pauline epistles codex, so the set must have already been broken up some time ago. I know that all the used books I’ve acquired over the years have a story to tell and have been a part of one or more libraries, but it is a little odd to own books that come from a library I knew. Although I’m very happy to be able now to leaf through the plates of Paul’s letters whenever I want, there’s a little bit of melancholy that comes with the knowledge that I’m holding the remains of a once excellent library that has now, I suppose, been scattered to the winds.