Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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English and Dutch Prize Bindings

Educational institutions have often recognized the accomplishments of their students by means of prizes and awards. Sometimes these take the form of diplomas, certificates, testimonials, or even medals. But there is a centuries-old tradition of awarding students prize books for excelling in examinations, for completing course work, or for general merit in a field of study. The research interest is usually not in the individual text of the prize, but rather in the type of text selected, the type of student honored, and the aesthetic attempts in dressing up the prize by means of a special binding, bookplate, calligraphic inscription, etc.

Prize books may be found in many collections here, especially in the libraries of individual authors. There are also two assemblages that have only prize books: the Dutch prize bindings and the William B. Todd prize books collections. In large part because the individual texts are of secondary interest, both groups of books have been cataloged at the collection level, with finding lists of individual items arranged under the names of granting institutions.

Dr. G. J. Brouwer of the Netherlands formed the Dutch prize bindings collection over a period of forty years: it was acquired by the Ransom Center in 1985. It consists of 425 volumes, in excellent condition, accompanied by some rubbings and correspondence. The years of the awards span from 1633 to 1870, and there are donor institutions from over fifty Dutch towns.

The Todd prize books collection consists of about 750 books awarded as prizes from 1644 to 1959, supplemented by reference works. It was assembled by William B. Todd and his wife Ann Bowden and was given to the Ransom Center in 2000. The great majority of the books were presented by English, Scottish, or Irish schools. An overview of the subject, and of the collection, can be found in Todd's Prize Books (Austin, 1961).


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