Our tour began in the reading room, where we learned that some of the Sutro Library's books circulated at one time. Next stop on the tour was the card catalogs, where genealogists can look up family names and obituaries (carefully clipped from newspapers and affixed to cards). From there, we proceeded upstairs to the vault, a staff-only area of the library. The stacks were filled with treasures. Colyn pointed out a collection of early printed books from Mexico. In Europe, early printed books, or incunabula, are those printed between 1450 and 1500. However, early printed books in "the New World" have a slightly later time frame. We also saw the Belgian mapmaker, Pieter van den Keere's original World Map from 1611. This famous map is framed and mounted in the vault, but the public can view a replica in the reading room. Another favorite from the vault is the tiny book section. Because of their size, these books are shelved in a special section so they don't get lost next to the larger items.
We ended our tour in a room where the librarians had displayed many amazing items for us to view. We saw Shakespeare's First Folio; a large, beautifully illustrated book of orchids (Colyn reminded us that lifting large books like this is part of the job description); a cuneiform tablet that was over 2,500 years old; a book of Japanese silk textiles from 1890; a book printed by Benjamin Franklin; an incunable printed by Aldus Manutius from 1499 (Manutius was the inventor of italic type); and more!
Colyn and Rebecca generously answered our questions about all of these treasures, as well as questions about the protocol and procedures at the Sutro Library. We couldn't have asked for a better tour! Many thanks to Colyn Wohlmut, Rebecca Wendt, and all of the tour attendees. If you didn't make it to this tour, we hope to see you next time!