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Washington and Lee Special Collections welcomes home a valuable book

Published: Sep. 25, 2020 at 5:42 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - Under a tent put up for socially distanced classes, some rare books, normally closely kept in a temperature controlled vault, were brought out just for us.

“It is highly, completely unheard of to bring out rare books under a tent in the rain,” said Tom Camden, Assoc. Prof., Head of Special Collections & Archives at Washington and Lee University.

The crown jewel is a small, leather bound book, recently returned from restoration.

“It’s the first printing of the constitution," Camden said. "Four years after the constitution was written in 1787 in Philadelphia.”

It’s something many archives would keep sealed away, but Tom Camden believes items like this, no matter how rare or valuable, have a purpose: to actively educate.

“This just shows that, how we have to sometimes be creative with our materials, when we have to share our materials with a larger communities, a larger venue,” he said.

He brought out an assortment of related books for us, like one that includes Washington’s farewell address and a portrait.

“Most of these were not embellished," Camden explained. "They were simply text.”

Or another, sent to the school by the US state department, hundreds years ago.

But none is as valuable as the humble little book.

“There are only a handful of copies that have survived," Camden said. "I became even more excited when I did an auction search on this piece to determine the value.”

Which he never said.

But that’s not important to this teacher. What’s important is what these books can tell us.

Camden said, “It’s an extraordinary time capsule.”

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