In the Spotlight, December 2016

In the Spotlight, December 2016

Each month an item or group of items from the book, archives, manuscript or artifact holdings of the Special Collections Library is selected for display in the Reading Room.

December’s spotlight is on 19th century annual gift books.  Special Collections and Archives holds more than forty of these anthologies of poems, stories and essays, often with sentimental or religious themes, which were published with the intention of being given as presents.

Annual gift books were popular from the late 1820s to the mid-1850s, primarily in England and the United States. They often had titles with “Keepsake,” “Souvenir,” or “Gift,” and some were subtitled “A Christmas and New Year’s Present.”  Many were designed for younger readers. The books represent a time when gift giving was a minor part of a holiday celebration and focused on one or two items intended to be treasured.


The Keepsake, 1832

These books also reflect an era when more people were becoming literate, printing was becoming mechanized and books were becoming more affordable. They usually included an attractive binding and a few detailed illustrations, made possible by the new technique of steel engraving.


The 1844 volume of Opal: Pure Gift for the Holy Days includes the first printing of Edgar Allan Poe’s sketch “Morning on the Wissahiccon” (later renamed “The Elk”).

In the 1840s, the invention of color lithography also made it possible to mass produce color illustrations.


Some books were published by religious, social, or philanthropic organizations to raise funds and spread their messages. The introduction to the 1850 volume of Gems by the Wayside or An Offering of Purity and Truth notes “Purity and Truth! These are the brightest gems that are found on earth and no home can be made happy unless these brilliants sparkle around it. In preparing these pages, the author has collected together the true, the remarkable, the beautiful in character and mind, with many a useful hint and gem of thought, which is offered to the public as a safe, useful, and pleasing book for the fireside. . . .”



The Literary Souvenir: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1844 with ten engravings was presented by Thomas Clemson’s mother, Elizabeth Clemson, to her eight-year-old grandson John Calhoun Clemson in 1849.

literary-souvenir inscription


Many of the 19th century annual gift books in Special Collections and Archives were themselves gifts to Clemson’s library in 1973 by members of the Class of 1915 in memory of Katherine Trescot, the college’s librarian from 1906 to 1925.