"Our Tools of Learning" : George Arthur Plimpton's Gifts to Columbia University

Medieval World: Trivium > Page 1


The Education of Chaucer Illustrated from the Schoolbooks in Use in His Time

London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1935

Plimpton Reference R372 P712

Mr. Plimpton not only collected books, manuscripts and other materials; he used them to write two books and a stream of articles, most, as here, illustrated with reproductions from his collection. The Education of Chaucer was his second book, following The Education of Shakespeare (1933), also published by the Oxford University Press. The book includes full photographic facsimiles of two primers for children in this exhibition: the 15th century English book (Plimpton MS 258) and the 15th century French book (Plimpton MS 287).


Education of Chaucer, The Opinion of an Outstanding Authority

[New York: Oxford University Press, 1935]

Plimpton Family Papers

Joseph Q. Adams, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, provided the text for this flyer, reprinted from The Amherst Quarterly. Recommending both The Education of Chaucer and the earlier Education of Shakespeare, he wrote: “The two volumes thus constitute in reality a unit dealing with the theme of Early English Education; and Shakespearian scholars will welcome the second with as much enthusiasm as they did the first.”

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Ars minor

[Bamberg: Albrecht Pfister, ca. 1458-1460]

Fragment, printed on parchment

Plimpton Collection (Goff D316)

The momentous accomplishment of Gutenberg’s first printing of the Bible was preceded by a number of necessarily experimental publications which developed the technique of printing with moveable type. This fragment, printed using the type of the 36-line Bible, was considered to be a relic of those trials, and as such was one of Mr. Plimpton’s greatest treasures.

The text is part of a Latin grammar written by Donatus, who was the teacher of St. Jerome. His grammar was one of the most popular teaching aids during the medieval period, and Gutenberg seems to have found it advantageous to publish many editions of it, not only as practice but also as a source of much needed revenue. There are twenty-four known editions of the text printed in Gutenberg’s type.

Described by some scholars as a Pfister imprint, and as a Gutenberg imprint by others, Paul Needham, Scheide Library, Princeton University, has confirmed that it was indeed printed by Albrecht Pfister, who had acquired some of Gutenberg’s type.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton

ARISTOTLE, 384–322 B.C.E.

Nichomachean Ethics, Politics

Manuscript book on parchment

Lombardy, Italy, 1393

Plimpton MS 017

Although George Plimpton didn’t know it when he bought this book, it is a splendid addition to his collection on the history of education. A note then not read, and in a hand then not recognized, now inform us: “I carried out lessons at the University of Padua on these eight books of the Politics during the course of three months and 17 days, finishing on 20 February 1476, and during the previous year I worked on the Ethics, and no one before me has completed so much in so little time.” The man who wrote the note was the humanist scholar, translator, author of academic writings and of poetry, Ermolao Barbaro (1453/54 – 1493), at the time only 18 years old. His youthful claims to knowledge of Aristotle were later proven true in his prolific teaching, writing and publishing career.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Rare Book & Manuscript Library / Butler Library, 6th Fl. East / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-5153 / rbml@libraries.cul.columia.edu