Nov. 12-18, 1999
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From the desk of ... Dolly Prenzel
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Biotech center launches careers, answers a need in the community
Illuminating reflections: Bibliographical devices reveal which is which
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collator demonstrations
Peggy Harrison
U.Va. doctoral student Carter Hailey, right, shows his new, simpler collator, one of four kinds of devices used to compare different copies of texts. Kathleen Ferguson Jump, left, an editor in the Darden School who is taking a bibliographical studies course from English professor David Vander Meulen, sits at an earlier machine. University Professor and rare books expert Terry Belanger, center, demonstrates the first collator, built by U.Va. alumnus Charlton Hinman. Behind them, another U.Va. doctoral student, Dave Gants, uses the fourth type of collator.

Illuminating reflections: Bibliographical devices reveal which edition is which

By Kathleen Ferguson Jump

It's not a trick with mirrors, but truth revealed by mechanical devices, called collators. They allow a person to compare two copies of a book in detail -- character by character -- to discover typographical differences that may shed light on the history of the text, the book's production and the historical period in which it was printed. In the field of bibliographical study, which examines the physical qualities of books as objects, no modern invention has been more helpful than the mechanical collator.

Far from dull, this activity is like the "thrill of the chase" for bibliographic scholars. In a detective-like way, they use tangible evidence to accumulate clues to get closer to the minds and actions of those who manufactured books, perhaps several hundred years ago. "It is a historical exercise accumulating historical data to see a pattern. Sometimes it is just one clue, other times it is an accumulation of clues that provides different parts of a puzzle to lead to a discovery," says English professor David Vander Meulen.

Since the first one was introduced in the early 1950s, three more models, increasingly compact and transportable, have been designed, but they remain rare or uncommon machines. All four types of collators were together in the same room for the first time in the history of bibliographical studies Nov. 4 in the Special Collections Reading Room at Alderman Library.

The first collator was built by Charlton Hinman, who earned a Ph.D. from U.Va. in 1941 and was a student of long-time English department chair Fredson Bowers, an international figure in the field of bibliographical studies. In 1948, he established one of the world's major bibliographical journals, "Studies in Bibliography," which continues to be published today.

The Hinman collator uses electrical lights and mirrors to "converge" two texts into one, highlighting variations between the copies. Hinman got the idea for the device after working in naval communications intelligence in World War II, where he analyzed superimposed aerial photographs of enemy installations to see if they had been bombed or repaired.

Subsequent collating models use the same principle of mirrors but have become more compact and affordable -- spurred by the needs of scholars who carry their devices into libraries around the world. The Lindstrand Comparator seems to have been first introduced in 1970, followed by the McLeod Portable Collator in the early 1980s. (Traditionally, the machines have been named after their inventors.) The newest collator was recently designed by U.Va. doctoral student Carter Hailey, who created the device to assist his study of Piers Plowman, printed in 1550.

The Special Collections Reading Room owns a Hinman Collator and Lindstrand Comparator.


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