What Knowledge is Useful? > History
Video Clip – Laura Linard on Kress Collection
One of the most significant collections that we have is the Kress Collection, and this is a rare book collection. The Kress Collection of Business and Economics. The history of that collection is actually very interesting. This is, again, during the early days of the establishment of Baker Library in the Harvard Business School, and it was felt that one of the most important things for a library at that point in time was to have a rare book collection. It gave a validation for the discipline itself. So in this particular case, the Kress Collection is a collection of economics; economic literature, and economic philosophy, and established by a faculty member at Cambridge, Herbert Somerton Foxwell, who needed to sell this collection. And it was purchased for Harvard Business School by a gift by Claude Washington Kress, and that was in 1937.
The collection is represents materials from the 1500s, and the closing date on the collection is 1850. And it really is a superb collection in this field, and includes many of the only extant, so the only existing copies of the primary works in economic philosophy, as well as a very broad view of economic history. So all kinds of broadsides, and other sort of ephemeral material. Because Foxwell, once again, was collecting material that wasn’t really sought after by other institutions, and was able to build his tremendous collection because there was very little competition for that material.
Out of that particular collection, Kress, and the Foxwell collection, is an item that whenever I give a tour I always show, which is the first edition, first issue of The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, by Adam Smith. Our particular copy is in very drab board. It’s just a paper board, as opposed to, you know, a luscious leather binding. And that makes it even more rare, because the idea is that it would have been sold in those paper bindings, and then later rebound into the binding of a private library. And I believe that that was purchased originally for 25 pounds. So clearly there’s a different value to that particular piece today.
I always show that with the first Chinese edition of The Wealth of Nations, which was published in 1902. So you have the time period of 1776 to 1902 as this incredible work has been published and translated into a number of languages, and as that concept spreads throughout the world, the revolutionary impact of The Wealth of Nations, in terms of thinking; economic thinking.
The Kress Collection includes just—it’s almost impossible to think of, you know, what are the standout pieces? Another is Pacioli’s work, which is 1492, demonstrating and introducing the concept of double entry bookkeeping. And because of the date of the publication of that particular title it’s considered an incunabula, which are books printed in the earliest days of printing, so books printed before 1501. So it’s a very early edition.
Many of the books in Kress are in their original binding. So they’re not only in terms of content extremely interesting and very rare, but also in terms of their actual physical being are very important. So for people who are looking at the history of the book, it’s an important collection as well.
The collection is supported by a variety of endowments, so we continue to acquire material for the collection. And in some ways it can be slightly difficult, because the collection already includes the great works. So what we’ve expanded, in terms of Kress, what we’re currently collecting is the history of technology. So technological innovations, and its economic impact. For example, canals, that kind of thing. And then we’re also trying to broaden it globally. It’s primarily British and European, and so we’re, as Eastern European libraries have opened up, begun to purchase materials that are from that part of the world, Scandinavia, titles that deal with India, China, etc. So really trying to broaden the scope of Kress.