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A Collector’s Passion: Highlights from The Deborah and Alfred Judson Barcan Collection

Poster advertising the "Visual & Verbal" collection display

In the early 1970s, Deborah Barcan first purchased a fine copy of a later reprint of Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad as a gift for her husband, Alfred. That event started a labor of love for the two, who began scouring antiquarian bookstores worldwide in search of rare and unusual books mostly from the Victorian era.

The Barcans’ passion for collecting rare, pristine volumes will greatly benefit scholars who will soon be able to access more than 1,000 books, donated by the Barcans. Obtained throughout the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia, this gift includes first editions of some of the works of William Morris, Mark Twain, Wilkie Collins, Rudyard Kipling, A.A. Milne, and others. Highlights from this collection are on display this semester in the Linderman Library exhibit “Visual and Verbal.”

“This search would expend shoe leather as many stores did not stock suitable books,” said Alfred, whose collection was heavily influenced by the golden age of British book illustration and includes historical travel guides, children’s literature, the history of technology, and city directories. A first edition travel guide of Route 66 and town directories from the 19th century are included in the collection, now housed in Special Collections. Alfred shared that many of the books were illustrated by wood engravings, before the advent of the halftone process which is used to print photographs in books.

Alfred credits his engineering education at Lehigh with providing him the ability to tackle the many challenging tasks that he faced during his career as a financial manager. He hopes this collection will aid in the research of future students and scholars.

“If they are out-of-print rare books, the text would be important to scholars. Also, people who study typography would see many examples in this collection. There are incredible illustrated volumes from the golden age of British book illustration. Their illustrations are far removed from modern or abstract art with beautiful and literal representations of people, places, and things,” said Alfred. “These books also have fantastic Victorian decorative bindings which will never be produced again.”

The Linderman Library exhibit is located in the main reading room, the Bayer Galleria, and the Café Gallery, and will be on display through December 23, 2016. Please also visit the exhibit online: https://omeka.lehigh.edu/exhibits/show/barcan/about