From the collection’s web page: The Frank V. de Bellis Collection is a library-museum of Italian authors and subjects representing the civilization of ancient to modern Italy that form a cultural bridge between California and Italy. The de Bellis Collection, which was the first special collection to be donated to the California State University to be housed at the Library at San Francisco State is particularly strong in the areas of history, literature, the fine and applied graphic arts, and music.
Mr. de Bellis was born November 20, 1898 in Rutigliano (Bari), Italy. The family emigrated to the United States and settled in Boston in 1910. One of six children, I think it was, and not the first-born son (?) (the googles is letting me down a little here), Frank served during the first World War, including a year as a prisoner of war. Post-war he moved to the West Coast, settling in San Francisco in 1923 and becoming successful in the real estate and construction businesses. He was an astute collector, and wanted to share his Italian heritage with his adopted country. After retirement from business he further pursued his record collecting and hosted a radio program “Music of the Italian Masters.” Self-educated, he donated his collections to university libraries so they would be accessible as a learning resource. The collection at the San Francisco State Library opened to the public in 1964.
But, we weren’t there for the music. I didn’t even realize that’s the major portion of the collection. I was there for the books. Eric had been on a field trip with the American Printing History Association, and had thought folks from the Co-op would be interested as well, and set up a visit. A wonderful selection was set out for our perusal, AND!!!! after washing our hands, we were allowed to leaf through them. It was really amazing, to experience them as books – turning the pages, how they looked, smelled, the overall size and weight, the texture of the paper, etc. etc. etc. – beautiful as objects, plus the history of early works of printing technology, and the sense of time it gives, thinking about all that went into them being made, all the people who have touched them over the years, and their journey to end up in San Francisco. At the same time, they’re just books… that’s the thing of it. Or a thing of it. Very super cool.
Anyway, I also learned a new word that I probably should have known already (although really, there is.so.much.tolearn…) incunabula no, no, not incubus! More info from an SFSU library guide: The term “incunabula” is attributed to Dutch bibliographer Cornelius Van Beughem (1639-1719) in his book Incunabula typographiae (1688). The term “incunabula” refers to the time when the books were in their cradle; they are the first children of modern art of making books through the press. Incunabula, plural of incunabulum, are books published during the cradle days of printing, books printed after 1453 when Johann Gutenberg (1400-1468) of Mainz produced the Mazarin Bible and prior to Easter Day 1501. Gutenberg developed movable type in Mainz around 1455, but it took about a decade for the technology to reach Italy. Venice had to wait even longer – until 1469. During this cradle era, approximately 1,200 printers in about 260 cities produced and distributed from 35,000 to 40,000 books that illustrate the early development of typography.