Why Don Quixote?

How does Cushing Memorial Library and Archives choose books to be designated millionth volumes?

Don Quixote


by Molly Painter

The Texas A&M University Libraries recently celebrated the acquisition of its 4 millionth volume, a 1617 edition of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, with commemorative events March 25-28.

So, how are books chosen to be designated as a millionth copy?

Dr. Steve Smith, associate dean for collections and services, says several factors play into choosing a book to be deemed a millionth copy.

“The book has to represent the strength of a collection, build upon a collection and call attention to a collection,” Smith said. “If it doesn’t relate to or build upon a larger collection, it’s just a bauble. It should call attention to a larger wealth.”

All factors seem to come together with the 1617 edition of Don Quixote.

The two-part book was acquired at the suggestion of Dr. Eduardo Urbina, professor of Hispanic studies and a leading Cervantes scholar, who found it for sale in Spain through his large network of booksellers and Cervantes specialists.

“The 1617 edition is one of the oldest and rarest editions of the book,” Urbina said. “And, it’s unique because this was the first time it was published as a complete edition in two parts.”

Quixote was originally published in two separate parts, with the first in 1605 and the second in 1615.

“The 1617 edition has the distinction of being the true first edition of the complete Quixote and as such, is even rarer than the first edition,” Urbina said. “It occupies a unique and significant place in the editorial history of the text.” 

But his interest in Cervantes’ work goes deeper than just this 1617 edition.

Quixote Book“Eduardo came to me in 2001 when I was the director at Cushing and wanted to develop a digital archive of Quixote illustrations,” Smith said. “Only problem was, we didn’t have a Quixote collection at the time.”

In 1995, Urbina created, in collaboration with the Center for the Study of Digital Libraries at Texas A&M, the Cervantes Project, an online archive of resources, which is still very popular among researchers and scholars looking for textual, graphical and biographical information. He wanted to improve the site and user experience with rare illustrations from around the world.

“There’s a lot you can do with digital images, and Steve and I saw the possibilities of combining research interests with teaching interests,” Urbina said. “We were developing a Ph.D. program in Hispanic studies at the time, and the library was interested in developing more research collections. Sometimes you see the possibilities of connecting things.”

Urbina and Smith teamed up to acquire the existing TAMU collection of Cervantes’ works, which includes more than 1,000 Cervantes items.

“Eduardo is one of those rare people who have the collector’s gene,” Smith said. “I felt a pull to his cause because he’s got world-wide contacts and he’s willing to search for the materials; I knew this wasn’t a fleeting project.”

The 1617 edition of Don Quixote at Texas A&M University is the only complete copy housed in any academic institution in the United States, making it rarer than the Gutenberg Bible.

After receiving a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Urbina was propelled even further to acquire more copies of his conquest and was able to digitize, document and post more than 23,000 never-before-seen Quixote illustrations.

“Our collection is so vast now, if you’re doing any kind of research on Cervantes or Quixote, you can’t afford not to come here,” Smith said.

Other advocates of the Cervantes collection see merit in funding the works of the libraries. Sara and John Lindsey ’44, have been intrepid collection builders and contributed to all of the millionth volumes.

This support is another important piece of the collection building puzzle, according to Smith.

“When choosing a millionth volume, we have to ask ‘is there a collection, are the donors ready and do we have a great book teamed with a great scholar,’ and our 4 millionth volume of Don Quixote definitely represents that nexus of things coming together,” Smith said.

Cushing Banners

While all books are significant in the eyes of its library, it’s guaranteed the next millionth won’t be just a bauble, and who knows, that 5 millionth volume could be just around the corner.

The 1617 edition of Don Quixote de la Mancha, along with other editions, will be on display through Sept. 2009 at the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives on the TAMU campus. For more information, call 979-845-1951.

Million Markers

1 Millionth (1976) – C.C. Slaughter. Prose and poetry of the live stock industry of the United States: with outlines of the origin and ancient history of our live stock animals.

2 Millionth (1992) – Sir Hans Sloane. A voyage to the islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica.

2.5 Millionth (1999) – Geoffrey Chaucer. The works of Geoffrey Chaucer: now newly imprinted.

3 Millionth (2004) – Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass.

4 Millionth (2008) – Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote de la Mancha.