Named after the donor Mr. Walter S. Underwood, the Underwood Prayer Book Collection is the centerpiece of the Frances Donaldson Library's stock of rare books. Mr. Underwood was a prominent Chicago attorney and senior partner in one of the largest law firms in Chicago: McLease, Spray, Price & Underwood. A long-time parishioner of the Church of the Ascension, he served as Chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. His gift arrived at Nashotah House in 1977 and has been used in support of the House’s courses ever since. In recent years, items from the Collection have also been exhibited in museums at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since 1977, The Underwood Foundation has provided financial support for the library’s efforts to preserve and publicize the Collection.
Among the highlights of the Underwood Collection are two magnificently illuminated, late medieval manuscripts. The first of these is a Sarum Use Book of Hours, circa 1400. The volume features many finely painted scenes, illuminated capitals, and extensive decoration. Select images from this volume may be viewed online. The second illuminated medieval manuscript in the Collection is known as the Boies Penrose II Manuscript. This volume contains many lovely illuminated capitals, with handsome decoration on most pages. In addition, the Underwood Collection includes first editions of the Books of Common Prayer of 1549 and 1552, as well as the Prymer of 1554, commonly called Queen Mary's Book. Most important subsequent editions of the Book of Common Prayer are also represented in the Collection, including two versions of the 1662 book, the so-called Provisional Prayer Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America of 1786, and the first authorized edition of the American Book of Common Prayer of 1790. A bibliography, with photos, listing the other treasures in the Underwood Collection is available, and the books in the Collection may also be found in HouseCat, the library's online catalog.
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