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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

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M. C. Migel Rare Book Collection

The Migel Memorial Library of the American Foundation for the Blind has an extensive and important collection of material dealing with blindness and the blind. This includes an extraordinary number of rare works that give an historical perspective to the evolution of the public's understanding of the problems of the blind, the treatment and education of the blind and the work of blind persons.

The importance and variety of these books called for a separation from the general library and a separate annotated catalog of this rare book collection which is presented herewith.

The earliest book in the collection concerns a blind man Louis Grotto, an Ambassador during the era of Hadrian, who was famous for his speeches. It was published in France in 1617. The earliest English publication in the catalog that relates to the blind is by Richard Standfast and was published in 1684.

The first important or "landmark" book in the library is Denis Diderot's Lettre sur Les Aveugles a L'Usage de Ceux qui Voyent which was published in 1749 and which had a tremendous influence in changing the general attitude towards blind persons.

The library is fortunate in having two copies of the rare first edition of the book that marked the origin of modern methods in the care and teaching of the blind which is Valentin Hauy's Essai sur L'Education des Aveugles.

Hauy (1745-1822) was called the Father and the Apostle of the Blind. In 1785 he founded the first school for the blind in Paris and also began the first embossed printing for the blind. Later he founded the first school for the blind in Russia. Due to his example similar schools were established in Austria, England, Germany, Holland, Sweden and Switzerland between 1791 and 1809. Samuel Gridley Howe founded the first American school (New England Asylum for the Blind, later named the Perkins Institution) in Boston in 1832. Schools in New York and Philadelphia were established in 1832 and 1833.

Doubtless the rarest book in the collection is Precis sur L'Histoire de France.., Paris, 1837, which is one of only three known copies of the first edition of the first book embossed by the Braille system which used dots rather than just raised letters of the alphabet.

The other two copies of this rare book are located at the Perkins Institution in Boston and at the Hauy Museum in Paris. The library also has a copy of the 1839 edition of Louis Braille's Nouveau Procede pour Representer par des Points la Forme meme des lettres...a l'Usage des Aveugles. Which explains his innovative system.

While Diderot, Hauy and Braille were the great proponents of modern methods in the care of the blind in France, the library also contains examples of the work of directors, inventors and writers who furthered the education and understanding of the blind in other countries. Among these were James Gall who in 1827 published the first book for the blind in England; William Moon (1818-1894) who invented an embossed system which was less compact than Braille and who was a founder of lending-libraries for the blind; William B. Wait (1839-1916), Director of the New York School for the Blind, who invented the "New York Point" system and Sir Francis Campbell who was Director of the Royal Normal College for the Blind for forty years (1872-1912).

There are many books in the collection by or about Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876) who is rightly considered the founder of education for the blind in this country. His publications not only concern the blind but also outline his extraordinary career. It included taking part in the Greek revolution in the 1820's and in the Polish revolt in 1831. He took an active role in the anti-slavery movement, in prison reform, in relief of refugees from Crete and in the care of mentally deficient children. He also was responsible for teaching with embossed letters Laura Bridgman who was the first blind deaf-mute successfully educated by systematic means.

A copy in the collection of Howe's Atlas of the United States Printed for the Use of the Blind, (Boston, 1837) is an unusual one. Bound in red morocco it contains an autograph note signed by Laura Bridgman, bears the bookplate of Edward Everett and an autograph signed inscription by Everett dated 1840 presenting the book to King Louis Philippe of France.

The library includes books by and about many blind authors. Among the most famous are Homer, John Milton, Francis Parkman and William H. Prescott. There are a great many volumes of poetry, biographies and autobiographies.

Among the novelists and poets who included the subject of blindness in some of their books were Hall Caine, Dinah Craik, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Rudyard Kipling, James Whitcomb Riley and H. G. Wells.

A very important and unusual part of this rare book collection is the large number of rare pamphlets and of scarce clippings extracted from both popular and scientific periodicals. All of these are well mounted in binders and include many in foreign languages. Most of these items date from the nineteenth century and would prove almost impossible to duplicate today.

Many of the unusual pieces in the catalog were originally collected for the library by Helga Lende, the first Librarian of the Foundation on her trips abroad. Other important examples come from the personal library of Robert Irwin, the first Director of the Foundation.

It should be noted for the benefit of researchers that the Foundation's Helen Keller Archive and Collection, which is a separate unit contingent to the library and with its own catalog, includes a number of scarce twentieth century first editions inscribed by their authors as well as the most complete collection of books by and about Helen Keller.

This catalog was undertaken due to the realization by Diane Wolfe, the Head Librarian, of the importance of the collection, and was successfully completed due to her interest and cooperation and that of Marguerite L. Levine, Archivist of the Record Center and Curator of the Helen Keller Collection, and Mary Ellen Mulholland, Director of Publications and Information Services.

William B. Liebmann

New York, 1984.

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