A Guided Tour of the Fairman Rogers Collection (University of Pennsylvania)

The Fairman Rogers Four-in-Hand (1879-80) by Thomas Eakins.
The Fairman Rogers Four-in-Hand (1879-80) by Thomas Eakins.

The wonderful story of the horse, through the passion it generates, the curiosity it incites, and the knowledge and modes of transmission it produces, brings together two universities, on both sides of the Atlantic.
You may wonder why La Bibliothèque Mondiale du Cheval (The World Horse Library), located at Caen, in Normandy, France, and the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, which holds a remarkable collection on the horse and equitation, will begin working together. Among the great discoveries made by La Bibliothèque Mondiale du Cheval since its recent establishment was the Fairman Rogers Collection on the Horse and Equitation.

What do we find in this superb collection? More than 1,000 works with, at the head of the list of 1066 works (to be precise), the oldest and rarest in the collection, that of Laurentius Rusius: his Hippiatria, sive, Marescalia Laurentii Rusii …, dated 1532, along with information added to this volume on diseases and their remedies, as mentioned in the continuation of the title in Latin, in qua praeter variorum morborum plurima, ac saluberrima remedia, plures quàm in priore editione co[m]modissime[i] frenorum formae excusae sunt, vt nullum tam nouo oris vitio laborantem equuum inuenias, cui non hinc occurrere facilime possis.
You might think, if you are a regular visitor to La Bibliothèque Mondiale du Cheval, that it is a bit “limited” compared with the two editions of Hippiatria, sive, Marescalia (1531/32), notably as it concerns the biography of the Italian veterinarian and Franciscan friar Laurentius Rusius (1288-1397), also called Lorenzo Rusio or Laurent Rusé.
La Bibliothèque Mondiale du Cheval, which is only two years old, displays nearly 10,000 works, nearly ten times more than the Fairman Rogers Collection. 70% are already in La Bibliothèque Mondiale du Cheval, so you may ask why the two “libraries” have come together.
Precisely because the nearly 30% of this American collection that is not duplicated enriches “this aggregator” that is La Bibliothèque Mondiale du Cheval, according to Lynne Farrington, Senior Curator in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.
But that is not all. What makes the Fairman Rogers Collection on the Horse and Equitation so important? Very simply (actually not, as the process requires great care) it can be explained in one word: digitization. In regard to our example, The Fairman Rogers Collection offers us the complete facsimile, including text and boards, of its copy of Hippiatria, sive, Marescalia. Digitization is a delicate and expensive process, here made possible by a donation from the Laurie Landau Foundation. The Fairman Rogers Collection gives visitors the opportunity to open and view the pages of 80% of its books, whereas La Bibliothèque Mondiale du Cheval now provides this kind of access to only 20% of its books.
Let us explore Laurentius Rusius’s treatise on the horse, the first work listed and one of the highlights of the Penn Libraries, by looking through this copy, dated 1532.  Of the 143 pages, 42 (pages 16-58) are devoted to the presentation of different bits in vogue at the time. It is a treasure trove of ingenuity, fantasy, know-how, but also perhaps barbarism.

Consider the first one (page 16), titled “For a large horse whose mouth is a little split and who has a strong mouth.” We would like to dispute the caption for the one on page 18: “For a horse who takes no pleasure.” One supposes that the mouthpiece on page 38, based on what we would now call a simple filet bit, although it is severe in appearance, it is nevertheless titled ”to give great pleasure to all the horses.” One asks about the one on page 44: “for a Turk”? Or the one on page 58: “for a devil”?
We hope you are convinced that the rapprochement of two universities, MRSH-CNRS – Université de Caen, with La Bibliothèque Mondiale du Cheval, and the University of Pennsylvania, with the Fairman Rogers Collection, is essential.
A brief study of this American collection of works on the horse reveals that nearly three-quarters date to the nineteenth century. During this period—the richest—most of the works came from specialized publishers based in London or Paris (sometimes Saumur). Then, little by little, from 1850, the American publishers, principally in New York and Philadelphia, with a few in Washington, Boston, or Chicago, entered the market.