Secret Stash

Meet Lynn Davis, keeper of the rare books collection at UH.

Photo: David Croxford

Would you be surprised to know that the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Hamilton Library has about 3 million books? No? What if I told you about 10,000 of them are rare, historical artifacts, some worth as much as $10,000? Glad to see that I’ve got your attention.

Lynn Davis, head of the preservation department at Hamilton Library, is in charge of the rare book collection and works with several other librarians—who, like Davis, donate their time to the cause outside of their normal duties—in cataloging, preserving and sharing the collection with the community.

“There’s nothing more exciting than holding or handling the original [book],” she says, sporting a brimmed lavender hat, which she says she changes at least three times a week to keep spirits up in her office where budgets have been cut. “The texture and the aroma of paper is magic.”
Davis lets me, after a thorough hand washing, touch the pages of her favorite book called Nurnbergische Hesperides—a German encyclopedia depicting the many types of lemons and other citrus fruits grown in Europe during the 1700s. Every other page has beautiful, detailed artwork (see a photo, opposite page) that portrays regions where the sour fruits were grown. The fruits themselves dominate the upper portion of the page, almost like they are the life-giving sun of the land. If this book were found by another civilization thousands of years from now, they might think we worshipped the lemon. Davis affectionately calls it, “the flying lemon book.”

Other titles include first editions of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and a priceless signed copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. “There were only 100 copies of this printed,” says Davis. “And we have one here, in Hawaii!”

Anyone can make an appointment to view to the books. For more information on the collection, visit


The Odd and the Exquisite

Discover the literary gems tucked away in Hamilton Library’s rare-books collection. Here’s a glimpse inside …  



1. Species General et Iconographie des Coquilles Vivantes, 1834–1879 

Louis Kiener’s 10-volume work on marine shells is the product of his lifelong pursuit as curator of Baron Jules Paul Benjamin Delessert’s shell collection. Though his artists compromised some details for the sake of art, many of the hand-painted images are the earliest renderings of rare species.


2. Ehon Don Kihote (Don Quixote Illustrated), 1828

An illustration from a Japanese version of Cervantes’ Don Quixote features the samurai hero attacking a waterwheel instead of a windmill. Per an American collector’s request, art historian Yanagi Muneyoshi commissioned Serizawa Keisuke to create this version of the classic novel. Only 75 handmade copies were produced.



3. Curcuma Latifolia from Monandrian Plants, 1828 

Banker, lawyer and amateur botanist William Roscoe founded the Liverpool Botanic Garden in 1802; his book includes illustrations of flora from the garden. Monandrian Plants was the first book to use lithography exclusively, eliminating the painstaking process of hand-coloring the illustrations.



4. Edward Gorey, “Thumb”

This American writer and illustrator is best known for creating the introduction animation for PBS’ Mystery! series. According to a 2005 University of Hawaii Library catalog, the UH Library’s Edward Gorey Collection is the most comprehensive public collection in the world, with more than 1,000 pieces.





5. Illustration from Johann Cristoph Volkamer’s Nurnbergische Hesperides

Showing lemons hovering over the residence of the European family who cultivated them.