Book finally added to CofC collection, hundreds of years later

Pictured above is the rare find recovered from the vault. (Joe O'Neill/WCIV)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Better late than never. One of 800 books intended to be in the initial collection of the College of Charleston's library has finally made its way to the shelves.

The Charleston Library Society presented the College of Charleston's 'Friends of the Library' with the rare book Friday. The book was recently discovered in the library society's vault.

The book is one of 800 from the historic Mackenzie collection.

The collection was originally thought lost to the Great Fire of 1778 that destroyed what was about half of Charleston -- about 250 buildings.

The lost volume - A Dissertation upon Parties by Henry St. John Bolingbroke - represents a 78th title for the Mackenzie collection.

The book's history can be traced back to 1743, when it was written and handed over to become part of the reading collection of planter and diplomat John Mackenzie. He bequeathed his collection to the College of Charleston in his will.

Only there was one problem. The school didn't have a library yet.

"My favorite part about this story is to say that there was a library at the College of Charleston before there was ever a College of Charleston," said dean of libraries at the College of Charleston, David Cohen.

The college was founded in 1770 and chartered in 1785.

"So it was held in the collections of the Library Society's, which was all well and good until in 1778 a fire ripped through the society and destroyed a large amount of the collections," assistant librarian Rob Salvo said.

The book was left standing, only no one knew it. It had been tucked back in the archives with hundreds of others.

"One of the great things about the book is that it is, it's a survivor," Salvo said.

The presentation and the discovery of the volume were made possible through grant funding provided to the library society by MWV and the Schott Foundation late last year. The funding has allowed the library's archivist to conduct a book-by-book analysis of historic volumes stored in its vault.

Currently there is a project underway at the library to recover copies of all 800 books intended to be the initial collection at the library.

"We expect to have a complete Mackenzie collection in a couple of years," Cohen said. "...Not exactly the same books, but same editions and titles."

According to Steve Gates, president of the Charleston Library Society, the books in the Mackenzie collection were considered the material on all subjects during the 18th century.