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UMBC’s treasure trove

Special Collections is home to countless rare and valuable items

Special Collections is a little known gem to the students of UMBC, but is a national and internationally significant collection.

Around the corner of the AOK Library Gallery is UMBC’s Special Collections department. This hidden gem is home to original and one-of-a-kind items such as cameras, photographs, books and graphic novels.

Items that secured a place in UMBC’s Special Collections are defined as “things that are rare, fragile or valuable. They are things that fit with the collecting statement of the department,” said Tom Beck, the gallery’s chief curator.

Beck boasted the exceptional number of rarities in UMBC’s possession. The list includes 2.1 million photographs, 17 major biological sciences archives, a 20,000 volume rare book collection, over 18,000 comic books and one of the largest science fiction collections in the nation.

The rare book collection boasts masterpieces like the first edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables and the original Vulgate Bible, which is the Latin translation of the Bible later adopted by the Catholic church. The first edition of John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is also in this collection, as is the original Encyclopedia by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert.

“What you see in this room is the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more than what is in this room,” said Beck of the main room of Special Collections that students have access to.

The room students can access has a front desk where visitors can schedule an appointment to use the resources or check-in for an appointment one is attending. There are desks where students must sit to handle the valuables. Most items are handled with gloves.

In the main room are numerous aisles shelved floor to ceiling with boxed photographs, books of photo compilations, rare books and science fiction novels. However, this room does not display the most valuable and exceptional masterpieces in UMBC’s possession. Those are kept locked up in “the vault.”

The vault is a small room located in an already small side room. The front of the vault is guarded by a black chain-link fence and a traditional padlock and key. This room houses the most sought after belongings, with art located in the vault being inquired about from institutions in Germany, France, England and China.

The vault houses one of the most important pieces in UMBC’s collection: Jule Eisenbud’s photographic experimentation of paranormal knowledge with Ted Serios. This photo compilation was borrowed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 2000s.

Eisenbud attempted to gain understanding of how the mind works through paranormal experiments. Ted Serios, a Denver man, said that he had the ability to transfer images from his head into a camera and then have the camera film developed. Together, Serios and Eisenbud underwent a number of experimental transfers that were developed and compiled into a book. This book is now in UMBC’s possession.

Eisenbud’s thought-provoking photographs delve into the inner workings of the mind is just one strange artifact among the priceless possessions of UMBC that are certainly worth a gander.