Rare books, prints donated to Bath

Published 10:10 pm Wednesday, July 18, 2012

These rare 1712 German and 1709 English editions of John Lawson’s “A New Voyage to Carolina” have been donated to the Historic Bath State Historic Site collection. The books are a gift from Bath residents Gene and Susan Roberts. (WDN Photo/Kevin Scott Cutler)

BATH — Rare books and prints of local interest have been donated to the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, with the condition that they remain as part of the collection housed at the Historic Bath State Historic Site.
The books are a gift from Bath residents Gene and Susan Roberts. The couple has lived in the community for three years, but their ties to the town go back much further; they met at the dance hall in Bayview, and they’ve owned a home in Bath since 1970.
Gene Roberts is a man who has devoted much of his life to the written word. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose career includes stints at The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Detroit Free Press. He has written extensively about such diverse topics as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the civil-rights movement and the Vietnam War.
He and his wife donated the books and prints so they could be shared with area residents as well as visitors to the historic site.
“I think Bath is special. … Arguably, no town has a richer history than Bath,” Roberts said.
One of the books is a copy of the first English edition of “A New Voyage to Carolina,” written by John Lawson and published in London in 1709. The volume is an unusual “large paper” edition, according to Roberts, and it features an intact, foldout map.
“That is the first map ever to show Bath,” Roberts noted as he fingered the page of the centuries old book. “That is one of the reasons we thought this book belonged at the historic site.”
Roberts said he believes the book is one of two known “large paper” editions in North Carolina; the other is housed at the Wake Forest University library.
The second of the gifts is a German edition of Lawson’s book, published in Hamburg in 1712. As with the English version, that book includes a foldout map as well as black-and-white illustrations of animals.
The third book was written by John F. Tompkin, M.D., and was published in Bath in 1852.
“As far as we know, this was the only book published in Bath,” Roberts said. “He was a pioneer, and he was probably the single most important person in introducing advanced farming methods. He was an important agricultural figure.”
The Roberts’ gift also includes rare 1595 prints from the book “The Newfound Land Virginie.” The prints include scenes of Secotan, an Indian village believed to have been located in the Bath area.
The books and prints were part of the Roberts’ private collection and had been acquired through dealers and bookstores in Chapel Hill, Philadelphia and London.
Leigh Swain, Historic Bath site manager, accepted the gift on behalf of the state and expressed her appreciation to the Roberts.
“They know the value of telling Bath’s history with objects that mean something to us,” Swain said. “I am very excited about this. We’re working on getting a display case, and we hope to have that ready this fall.”
The display case will be designed to preserve and protect the books and prints.
“We want to make sure these treasures are around for my grandchildren to see,” Swain said.