Now In Print from the AAS Community

Every quarter at AAS we release a list of recent publications by those who have researched at serverthe library as fellows, members, or readers. To see this list, as well as a list of works published from 2000-2014, please visit our recent scholarship page on the AAS website. If your book, article, or other achievement is not included, just let us know if you’d like to see it there!


Brennan, Denis. The Making of an Abolitionist: William Lloyd Garrison’s Path to Publishing The Liberator. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2014.

Dobson, Joanne. The Kashmiri Shawl. 2014. (Baron Fellow, 2004-2005)

Gaskill, Malcolm. Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

Glynn, Tom. Reading Publics: New York City’s Public Libraries, 1754-1911. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015.

Harvey, Sean P. Native Tongues: Colonialism and Race from Encounter to the Reservation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2010-2011)

Holzer, Harold. Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. (AAS member)

Iarocci, Luoisa. The Urban Department Store in America, 1850-1930. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014.

Johnston, Patricia and Caroline Frank, eds. Global Trade and Visual Arts in Federal New England. Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, 2014. (Johnston: Last Fellow, 2007-2008; Frank: CHAViC Fellow, 2013-2014)

Lomazow, Steven. The Great American Magazine: Adventures in History. Selections from the Steven Lomazow Collection of American Periodicals. New Jersey, 2014. (AAS member)

Plane, Ann Marie. Dreams and the Invisible World in Colonial New England: Indians, Colonists, and the Seventeenth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.

Raven, James. Publishing Business in Eighteenth-Century England. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2014. (Peterson Fellow, 1986-1987; Peterson Fellow, 1994-1995; AAS member)

Tomlin, T.J. A Divinity for All Persuasions: Almanacs and Early American Religious Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. (Botein Fellow, 2010-2011)


Christ, Birte. “Capital Punishment and the Citizen-Subject.” American Literary History 27.1 (2014): 114-127. (Ebeling Fellow, 2012-2013)

Jortner, Adam. “Without Demons: Witchcraft and Witch Trials in the Colonial Chesapeake.” In Order and Civility in the Early Modern Chesapeake, edited by Debra Meyers and Melanie Perreault. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014. (AAS-ASECS Fellow, 2014-2015)

Lopenzina, Drew. “Le Jeune Dreams of Moose: Altered States among the Montagnais in the Jesuit Relations of 1634. Early American Studies 13.1 (2015): 3-37. (Peterson Fellow, 2014-2015)

Verplanck, Anne. “Making History: Antiquarian Culture in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 138.4 (2014): 395-424. (CHAViC Fellow, 2011-2012)

Verplanck, Anne. “‘They Carry Their Religion…Into Every Act of Their Public and Private Lives': Quaker Consumption of Early Photographic Images in Philadelphia, 1839-1860.” Early American Studies 13.1 (2015): 237-278. (CHAViC Fellow, 2011-2012)

Wolfe, S.J., Kathleen M. Haley, and Caroline W. Stoffel. “EMINA (Egyptian Mummies in North America): A Database for Mummy Studies.” Yearbook of Mummy Studies 2 (2014): 117-124. (AAS staff)

Wolfe, S.J. “Padihershef and Me.” In Inspired by My Museum. Birmingham, England: Sampad, 2014. (AAS staff)


The Spread of U.S. Slavery, 1790-1860.” Online exhibit by Lincoln Mullen. (Peterson Fellow, 2013-2014)

EMINA—Egyptian Mummies in North America.” Online database launched April 19, 2014, by S.J. Wolfe. (AAS staff)


Shelby M. Balik received the Phi Alpha Theta Best First Book Award (awarded in September 2014) for her book Rally the Scattered Believers: Northern New England’s Religious Geography. (Peterson Fellow, 2003-2004)

David Brion Davis’s The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction. (AAS member)

Ellen Gruber Garvey received several awards for her book Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance: The Institute for Humanities Research’s Transdisciplinary Book Award; The Society of American Archivists’ Waldo Gifford Leland Award;  the year’s only Highly Commended Award of the SHARP DeLong Book History Book Prize; and sole honorable mention from the EBSCOhost/Research Society for American Periodicals (RSAP) Book Prize. (Peterson Fellow, 2008-2009)

Ezra Greenspan’s William Wells Brown: An African American Life was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. (Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence, 2009-2010; AAS member)

Omeka Mania at AAS

We at AAS have figured out one way to beat the winter blues: Omeka! Thanks to the generosity of Jay Last (member since 1987), we held a two-day training session for our staff to learn this content management system for online exhibitions of special collections. Omeka is not archival software, but it was developed at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media to work extremely well with the information systems in place at special collections libraries. Its stated goal is to “create complex narratives and share rich collections,” and we have nothing but rich collections that have complex stories to tell.

thomasballadsWe recently used Omeka for our Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads project: Verses in Vogue with the Vulgar, and found that many of its features work very well with our General Catalog and with our digital images archive, GIGI. Because all of the Thomas broadsides were already cataloged, we exported the Machine-Readable Catalog (MARC) records and then imported them into Omeka. We could therefore repurpose the data in our catalog into our exhibitions, rather than key in all the information anew. We were also able to make use of both the smaller images we derive from GIGI and to point our users to the high-resolution images we store in GIGI. As we worked through this project, we increasingly saw how Omeka-ready our materials are. We realized that virtual exhibitions are a wonderful way to open up our collections and to thereby fulfill, in an innovative way, part of the Society’s mission: “to make widely accessible the early historical record of our nation.” We therefore invited Omeka developer extraordinaire Ken Albers, who developed the Thomas Broadsides project for us, to come visit us in the tundra that is Worcester in February. Fortunately for us, single digit temperatures and double-digit measurements of snow did not deter Ken, and he came north to dazzle us for two days with all things Omeka.

Ken spent the first day with about 25 staff members, introducing us to Omeka and how we can use it to encourage the public to start interacting with our collections online as we guide them through virtual exhibitions. As Ken walked us through the many ways of configuring Omeka for various uses, he showed us inspiring examples of how experts such as himself have used Omeka to make customized sites, such as Martha Washington: A Life, and also sites made by students who have made impressive use of Omeka’s basic features, such as Wearing Gay History: A Digital Archive of Historical LGBT T-Shirts. Ken encouraged those of us who will be designing sites to let the materials we are exhibiting guide both the organization and the look of our pages.



Omeka_0001On day two of our training, Ken ran an Omeka lab for the ten of us who are creating sites. These sites will launch over the next year and include a range of items in our collections: Hawaiiana, the Louis Prang collection, and James Fenimore Cooper, just to name a few. Ken walked us through importing our data, how to display the data, installing plug-ins, choosing our themes, and customizing our themes. As we spent the day with our heads in our computers, exchanging ideas and asking questions, the excitement for this tool, which will enable us to share the collections we love so much, was palpable. We look forward to sharing what we have learned in the form of these exciting virtual exhibitions.

Please stay-tuned for the many exciting Omeka sites that will be housed on the “Digital AAS” section of our website.

The Acquisitions Table: A Present for the Young

A Present for the Young. New York: D. Waugh and T. Mason for the Sunday School Union of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1833.

515458_0001This wonderfully detailed hand-colored wood engraving is the frontispiece to A Present for the Young and illustrates the role of the family as the epicenter of literacy and civilization. Note the family gathered around the hearthside table; the painting on the wall, and the piano (with sheet music) neatly tucked into the corner. Literacy underlies the family’s activities: the father sits at the table over what appears to be a pamphlet (perhaps a periodical), and is engaged in speaking to his older daughter on the left; likewise, the mother is engaged in speaking to two children about a book in her hand, while another child is seated near the fireside engrossed in her own book. The youngest child excitedly points to the father’s reading, emphasizing the importance of reading, be it aloud or to oneself, in family life.

Meet AAS Fellow Melanie Kiechle


Melanie Kiechle is assistant professor of history at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and is presently an American Antiquarian Society-National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the Society. Her current project is entitled “Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Nineteenth-Century America” and she recently sat down with us to discuss her work and research at AAS.


Past is Present: Can you describe your current project for us?

Melanie Kiechle: I’m working on a book manuscript that I’m currently calling “Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Urban America, 1840-1900.”  The book is about smells and smelling in the nineteenth-century, during the period when industries and cities were rapidly expanding.  It’s part environmental history, explaining how these expansions changed the air and the physical environment; part urban and public health history, exploring the rise of institutionalized public health around fears of miasmas and bad smells; and part history of science, because chemists were deeply involved in creating, identifying, and reducing stenches. But mostly I’m thinking of this project as a cultural history of fresh air and foul odors.  I’m working on recovering both how the smells of cities changed, and how people’s perceptions of odors as good or bad, as healthful or dangerous, were changing at the same time.  At its most basic level, my book will be about what it was like to live in these cities while they changed so dramatically, and how people reckoned with changes that they thought were positive, such as an expanding economy and more jobs, but simultaneously negative because they created stenches and threatened health.


Past is Present: What historians do you admire? What scholars inspired you to go into this work?

Melanie: It’s ever-changing, because when I started the project, I didn’t know it was going to be environmental. I was just interested in smell and sensory history. Some of the things I first read that really inspired me are great books about smell. For my current project, Alain Corbin, David Barnes, and Mark M. Smith definitely.  So, Alain Corbin, who’s a French historian, has a book called The Foul and the Fragrant, which is the classic work if you want to think about the history of smell. I don’t agree with all of it, but it was a brilliant starting point. He’s looking at the development of the bourgeoisie, so as you develop personal space, you notice that smell more because it infringes on your personal space. But he also does history of science and explains how people understood air within that period. David Barnes writes about the great stink of Paris, and picks up where Corbin left off.  So that was a starting point, but there are lots of historians who have done great work. Mark M. Smith is an American historian who works on the history of the senses, and he’s been pushing people to think about the senses. When I first got started I was really inspired by his work and all the possibilities it opened up. As a historian in general, I’m inspired by those who tell good stories about the past, including (but not limited to!) William Cronon, Richard White, Jill Lepore, John Demos, James Goodman, Natalie Zemon Davis, James Cook, Ann Fabian, Jackson Lears.  I could probably go on, but I’ll stop there.


Past is Present: I’m particularly wondering why you say fresh air is a right.

Melanie: Oh, I say that it’s a right because that’s how nineteenth-century Americans described it.  They actually talk about pure air as an “inherent right,” which is the same phrase that people used to talk about liberty. So it seems to me like that’s pretty loaded language…Today we talk about environmental rights and whether the environment has any rights.  I think it’s a striking and early use of that kind of idea. The place where this phrase comes up most is in legal proceedings in nuisance cases when people fight against the industries that produced bad smells.  Lawyers and plaintiffs claim that they have an inherent right to breathe fresh air or pure air. But the idea of a right to air also comes up in journalism.  In newspapers and magazines I’ve read about “the rights of the nose” which is the idea that people shouldn’t have to breathe things that smell bad.


Past is Present: What does it mean to be an AAS fellow? What would be your ideal find?

Melanie: Right now I would really like to find a disagreement about whether you can have your windows opened or closed in the city, which is a very particular thing for a chapter I’m writing. But the ideal thing for me to find would be someone describing what it’s like to breathe fresh air and what it’s like to breathe city air. How did that feel? That would be a revelatory document that would give us a much deeper sense of what it was like to live in these places and to want fresh air but to always have air that smells like something no matter what that smell was.

Read the whole interview here!

The Acquisitions Table: Norma, A Serio-Comic Burlesque

Crouch, F[rederick] Nicholls. Norma. A Serio-Comic Burlesque, Written Expressly for Sanford’s Opera House. [Philadelphia?, 1856].

512965_0001The 10 opera or song libretti in Italian and English bound together in this sammelband were all lacking or defective in AAS collections. Most are for serious Italian operas, but also included is a previously unlocated burlesque of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma, re-imagined as a Know-Nothing drama. The burlesque has the same characters as the original opera, except that the characters’ names are latinized. A few lines from the opening procession and chorus sets the tone: “Defend us from this secret foe! / ‘The Know Nothings’ here! are all the go; / To save our country strike the blow, / and send them to Old Nick!” (p.3). Crouch’s Norma, a Serio-Comic Burlesque is the sole Philadelphia imprint in the sammelband, except for three small tipped-in Philadelphia theatrical playbills from the American Academy of Music (including one for Bellini’s Norma). These Philadelphia theatre connections associate this libretti collection with William D. Gemmill (1832–1906), the manager of the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, whose bookplate is affixed to the front endpaper.

A Saucy Valentine

Esther Howland valentines (in business 1848-1881)This week, AAS was fortunate to receive a hand-made, circa 1830, valentine as a donation.  Society member George K. Fox of California presented the valentine to AAS President Ellen Dunlap at an event at the San Francisco Book Club celebrating the Society’s receipt of the National Humanities Medal.

The Society has a large and representative collection of over 3,000 American printed and manuscript valentines. We have excellent holdings of lacy, colorful, heart-bedecked cards made by Worcester-resident Esther Howland  (at right and you can see more here), lots of comic or vinegar valentines designed for your “frenemies,” and plenty of printed material related to Valentine’s Day, including party invitations, manuals for assistance in writing love messages, and periodicals with articles about the customs and traditions popular in the nineteenth century.

So when the California gift was presented and the staff on the West coast excitedly texted the news, we wondered how anything could possibly improve our already great holdings?  Well, this gift does!  The valentine is fantastic and is also well-documented.  The soft, embossed lace 520872_Valentine_0002paper features a lovely watercolor image of two young men and a lady holding some flowers, and four stanzas of original poetry written in the surrounding borders.  The valentine was likely made by Elinor Elizabeth Delafield, the wife of Dr. Edward Delafield, around 1830 when she and the two men depicted were all in their late thirties.  The two young men in the image are her brothers-in-law, the identical twins Henry and William Delafield, born in 1792.  Both brothers served in the War of 1812 and later worked as bankers and merchants in New York, where Elinor and Edward also lived.  They were notorious bachelors and, according to the family history, were inseparable.  The first stanza of the poem states: “Two brisk bachelors lived in a house, / Quiet and cozy and snug as a mouse. The girls for years had wasted their arts / Trying to storm these two tough hearts.”  The poem chides the twins for being fickle with love, casting aside one lady after another, and also scoffs at unnamed young ladies and their attempts to coerce the twins into wedlock.  The poem has a very breezy and amusing rhythm that highlights the mischief for which the twins were known—the brothers would often surreptitiously change partners during balls and no one would notice, a fact the poem includes, stating: “None could tell the one from the other / For one was wicked and saucy the other.”  The woman in the valentine holds a tri-color pansy and a rose, both of which are still associated with Valentine’s Day—the rose for love and the pansy (or heart’s ease) for contentment.

520872_Valentine_0001The valentine was found in a scrapbook kept by Susan Delafield Parrish (or Parish), a younger sister to the twins, and is inscribed on the back “Henry and Wm. Delafield / Valentine by Mrs. Dr. Delafield” (see right).  Possibly, the twins presented it to Susan after Elinor’s death in 1834 and Susan put it in the family scrapbook.  William never married, and died at age 62 in 1853.  Henry married at age 73 and died ten years later, in 1875.  The family genealogist recalled that the “boys” as they were called for their entire lives had “many family and personal friends, an excellent reputation, the good will of all, and plenty of determination.”  We are so pleased to have their valentine, made by an obviously doting sister-in-law, preserved at AAS.

You calling me yellow?

The Silver WorldLet’s say you are the publisher of a newspaper in a small mining town in Colorado and you run out of the regular paper you use to print your publication.  What do you do?  In the case of The Silver World published in Lake City, Colorado, you find an alternative source of paper.

Recently AAS acquired a copy of this paper dated May 4, 1886.  What immediately catches the eye is the yellow paper.  Due to a shortage of regular paper, this issue was printed on yellow wrapping paper.  As you can see, it served its purpose well.   The paper is thinner than normal, but it took ink well and produced a serviceable issue.

The Silver World began in 1875 as the first newspaper of Lake City.  At first it was printed on a Washington-style hand press.   In 1877 they obtained what is said to be the first power press west of the Continental Divide (it weighed 3 tons), brought in by road as no railroad had yet reached Lake City.  There are conflicting stories about when the paper ended, but it ceased in either 1888 or 1889.

Lake City still exists, despite a declining population since 1900.  Today 375 people live in the town, which also includes 200 historic buildings.

The Acquisitions Table: Belle of Baltimore

Belle of Baltimore. T.W. Strong, [between 1843 and 1866]

511932_0001A minstrel songster known in only two other copies (and those are either a variant or defective copy). This copy of Belle of Baltimore is remarkable for its intact publisher’s green wrappers and illustrations. The seven woodcuts, all but one depicting African Americans, are located on the cover, frontispiece, title vignette, and four more are scattered throughout the text. Song titles include: “Virginia Juba,” “Jim Crack Corn! I Don’t Care,” “Jim Crow’s Ramble.” Performers referenced include: the Sable Brothers, Charles White, Dan Emmit, T.D. Rice, Wm Laconta.

Newly Acquired Board Game Depicts Football Before the Super Bowl

IMG_2479While trolling for children’s books and games at the Papermania fair held several weeks ago in the basement of the Hartford Civic Center (you could hear the marching band playing for the UConn men’s basketball game upstairs), I made the happy discovery of this aptly titled Parlor Foot-ball Game, issued by picture book and game publisher McLoughlin Brothers in 1891.  Its magnificently chromolithographed cover is nothing short of arresting: healthy, attractive (and yes, look-alike) young men competing for control of a ball that resembles more of a soccer ball or basketball than a modern elliptical football.  No dirt, grass stains, or blood sully this wholesome game.  If anything, the players appear to be in that ambiguous space between boys and men: they are all clean-shaven and wear the same pageboy haircuts.  Their protective gear is minimal—although some wear quilted knickers and several players have buckled shin pads.


It is the team jerseys that reveal more about the players and place of football in American culture during the Gilded Age.  Half of them wear the “Y” of the Yale University Bulldogs, while the other half sport the orange and black horizontally striped jerseys of the Princeton University Tigers, reflecting the sport’s popularity on two exclusive college campuses.  In 1891, the sport of college football was barely more than two decades old, and both Yale and Princeton had the earliest teams.  Yale first competed in 1872, and by 1891 the team was coached by Walter Camp, who is now known as the Father of Football for his innovative work in transforming the game from English rugby to the snap and tackle dominated plays along the line of scrimmage that became characteristic of American football.  Princeton and its nearby competitor Rutgers are creIMG_2482dited with having the oldest football teams in the world, both established in 1869.  Princeton dominated the game, winning some 22 of the 40 national titles played between 1872 and 1900.

Also fascinating is the carefully composed pastoral background for this box top image.  Green leafy trees border the field, providing shade for an early fall day free from wind, rain, or snow.  Even the spectators seem to be neatly arranged between the covered grandstand on the left, the bleachers in the middle, and the standing spectators on the far right, who seem to be well-dressed college men and their girlfriends.  It is as though the box image is giving us visual instructions for the performance of the game as a social event.

IMG_2478Like many late nineteenth-century games, the actual board game is governed by rules that seem ponderous to the modern eye.  The action is confined to a rectangular board marked by yards and goal spaces/goal lines on either side.  The game is limited to two players who take turns spinning in order to advance the ball piece toward the opponent’s goal line and maneuver around the blocking of four player pieces per team.  Five points are awarded for getting the ball piece over the central goal space, or three points for getting over the goal line on either side of the goal space.  According to the instructions, the game can be played for 12 or any number of points predetermined by the players, reflecting the fluidity of both the McLoughlin game, and this brave new sport played by college men.

Meet AAS Fellow Sean Moore

moorenew_0Sean Moore is Associate Professor of English at the University of New Hampshire and recently completed an American Antiquarian Society-National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship at the Society. His work has received support from a variety of institutions, including the John Carter  Brown Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Fulbright program, and he has just received an NEH Fellowship for the 2015-2016 academic year.  Sean’s current project is entitled “Slavery and the Making of the Early American Library: British Literature, Political Thought, and the Transatlantic Book Trade.” He recently sat down with us to discuss this new project and his research at AAS.

Past is Present: Can you describe your current project?

Sean Moore: My project, “Slavery and the Making of the Early American Library:  British Literature, Political Thought, and the Transatlantic Book Trade,” was inspired both by Brown University’s investigation of its endowment’s origins in profits from the slave trade and from my interest in how British books made their way to America in the eighteenth century.  In seeking to connect these two interests, I discovered that many pre-Revolution American subscription libraries were founded by people with investments in slavery.  I have planned six chapters for this book:  1) on private libraries financed by slavery, 2) on the Redwood Library of Newport, 3) on the Salem Social Library, 4) on the Charleston Library Society, 5) on the New York Society Library, and 6) on the Library Company of Philadelphia.  I am pairing a British literary text, and sometimes a philosophical one, from the period with each library.  For example, the first chapter, on which I have spent the majority of my time at the AAS, discusses the reading of Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela by early American women slave owners like Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Esther Edwards Burr, and the purchase of Locke’s Two Treatises of Government by male slave owners like Washington, Jefferson, and Madison.  I do so in order to assess their appetite for imported literary commodities, their general consumer habits, and the means by which they found the money to pay to participate in British consumer culture.  My chapters on the subscription libraries basically cross-reference library proprietorship and patronage with records of who was involved in slavery and related enterprises like sugar, rum, tobacco, and shipbuilding.  The goal of my project is to map the dissemination of British books in America through what I am calling “slavery philanthropy.”


Past is Present: What historians or literary scholars inspired your entry into the field/inspire your work today?

Sean: My first book project sort of accidentally brought me into book history from postcolonial and economic theory when I began to realize that many of Jonathan Swift’s comments about imperial Britain and the Irish economy were making use of the jargon of workers involved in the book trade, and that he was saying that a Dublin book trade was necessary for the rest of the Irish economy to thrive.  The work of Irish book historians like Mary “Paul” Pollard, Raymond Gillespie, and many others inspired me, and I began to read more generally in the field of book history, like the work of Richard Sher, Adrian Johns, Leah Price, Robert Darnton, Lisa Maruca, and many others.  Maruca’s The Work of Print, in particular, introduced me to the seventeenth-century book trade handbook by Joseph Moxon, Mechanick Exercises, a copy of which Swift owned and perhaps made use of while writing many of his Irish political satires.

In preparing for my current project, I was inspired by Hugh Amory and David Hall’s The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World and many of the essayists they included in it, especially James Raven, who has written the most about British imports and the Charleston Library Society.  I also have taught D.F. McKenzie and Jerome McGann, making use of their concept of the “sociology of the text,” as well as Philip Gaskell’s New Introduction to Bibliography as a means of deepening my knowledge of the field.  For the slavery side to my project, I have been particularly inspired by the work of Simon Gikandi, Philip Gould, and Craig Wilder.


Past is Present: What does the AAS fellowship mean to you? What have you looked at while you’ve been on fellowship? What would you have liked to find? What would be your ideal find?

Sean: Prior to taking this fellowship, I was serving a three-year term as director of the UNH Honors Program, which, together with teaching and raising a young family, made it difficult to write a major monograph, though I have been able to publish an essay collection and write several articles.  The NEH fellowship this fall has been crucial in helping me to jump-start my work, and I have written 80 pages this fall and read many, many books and manuscripts in the reading room and in the scholar’s residence.  The central manuscripts for me have been the Boston bookseller Jeremy Condy’s account book, a memorandum on books borrowed from the Salem Social Library, and the catalogs of many eighteenth-century American libraries.  Moreover, conversations with library staff and fellows have introduced me to much current secondary reading in early American studies, almost all of which the AAS has.  I have also spent a considerable amount of time in newspaper databases and the University of Virginia Press’s digital papers of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Pinckney to assess the availability in America of certain British books and the transatlantic business transactions of early Americans.

What I would really like to have found, and perhaps may on another visit to the AAS, is more evidence that could help me cross-reference early library membership with members’ business affairs.  I haven’t really asked anyone to help me with that on this trip, as I have been busy writing and reading other material, but if I could get lists of the proprietors of the five libraries I am researching and historical, biographical, and genealogical data on members that would really help.  An ideal find would be evidence of a barter exchange of a slave or slave-produced commodity for books, as I have seen in the digitized papers of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison.

This fellowship has been crucial in immersing me in early American studies, a field in which I am somewhat of an immigrant as an Irish and British studies scholar, and the staff and fellows have been wonderfully welcoming.

There’s more! Read the full interview here!

Colonists, Indians, Pirates, and Lovers: The AAS Collection of Dime Novels, Part II

Last week, Brenna gave an overview of the dime novel genre and the best known American publishers. This week, she examines the difficulties associated with cataloging the dime novels.

Part 2_Dime novel shelfieLet’s face it: dime novels are cool and fun. But though our collection is large, they have been sitting in the stacks, mostly uncataloged, for decades. The reason they languished in the stacks for so long is because their cheap publication and frequent re-printings can make them extremely challenging to catalog, especially the novels in the bound volumes. Many dime novels came in distinctive paper wrappers (orange for Beadle, beige for Munro, blue for Elliott, Thomes & Talbot) that had useful information, such as what series they were in and what number in that series, or perhaps different publication or date information than the title page, which might suggest a later printing or reissue. So, when we have copies of the novels without these paper covers (which frequently happens, as wrappers were both fragile and considered unimportant), we lose a great deal of useful information. This doesn’t by any stretch mean that they’re impossible to properly catalog, just that the job takes a lot of research.

Enter Albert Johannsen, who made cataloging Beadle publications significantly easier. In 1950, he published The House of Beadle and Adams and Its Dime and Nickel Novels, a three-volume bibliography of all of the firm’s publications, including background information on the firm, breakdowns of author biographies and pseudonyms, and tracings of individual novels as they were republished in other series. This allows me to put a wonderful amount of detail into the records for Beadle’s novels and other dime publications. Unfortunately, no one has done similarly in-depth work for other dime publishers. Sometimes, simply finding a list of titles in any given series can be a challenge.

As difficult as cataloging dime novels can be, I got spoiled with Beadle novels. Johannsen’s work made my life infinitely easier. All I had to do was flip through his book to find reprint information or a list of authors and pseudonyms. Most challenges that came up were questions of how much information to put in a record, or which variant titles or author names to trace. Even when I got my first novels published by George Munro, I was able to find with reasonable ease a wonderful checklist, with some work to disambiguate author pseudonyms, as a supplement to the magazine Dime Novel Round-up.

The novels of Elliot, Thomes & Talbot, however, were an entirely different story. I began with a novel called The Ducal Coronet: or, The Heir and the Usurper. A Romance of Italy in the Sixteenth Century by Sylvanus Cobb, Jr. There were no Part 2_Ducal Coronetwrappers. The title page had no series or numbering information. It didn’t have a publication date or even a copyright date. I didn’t know that their main series was called Ten Cent Novelettes until I started looking through some basic dime novel reference works, which were still a bit skimpy on information. It took finding a reference in Google Books, discovering that AAS not only had the periodical in question, but also had the appropriate year digitized (though I could have easily gone downstairs to find it), to find a list of the items in the Ten Cent Novelettes. The list gave me titles, authors, and series numbers, but still no publication dates. But now I at least knew that The Ducal Coronet was no. 12 of the Ten Cent Novelettes.

Luckily, a few different reference sources, including the wonderful The Dime Novel Companion by J. Randolph Cox, agreed that the series was published monthly and began in November 1862, so I could at least estimate that this novel was published in 1863, which was significantly better than the complete lack of date I had before. (In my searches, I even found a catalog of American imprints from 1861-1866, which included about five or six novels by Cobb. But, naturally, The Ducal Coronet was not among them.) Knowing the start date and the place of any given novel in the series leaves me much better off than I was just with the novel in hand.

But even with missing or inaccurate copyright statements, contradictory imprints, pseudonymous authors, and titles that can change until they are completely unrecognizable, untangling the publishing history of dime novels (as well as reading what bits I can justify for work) is some of the most fun I get to have on the job.

Isaiah Thomas Comes to AAS—In Miniature

figurine_02With support from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati we were able to bring our popular Isaiah Thomas-Patriot Printer program to communities in northern Worcester County. After one such performance at the Leominster Public Library, Donald Hicks came up to me and we chatted about Isaiah Thomas’s involvement with the Masonic order. Mr. Hicks, a retired banker, is an active Freemason himself and a former Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts.

Isaiah Thomas was active in the Lancaster Lodge of Masons before he organized and became the first Master of the Morning Star Lodge of Worcester.  He was so active in the organization that several new lodges were named after him. He was elected Senior Grand Warden in 1795 and Grand Master in 1802, a position he held until 1805, and was then re-elected in 1809.  Thomas was one of the Masonic dignitaries at the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument in 1825.

In 2009, the Masons commemorated Isaiah Thomas’s service to their organization by creating a Sebastian miniature of him leaning against his press and reading his newspaper The Massachusetts Spy (above).  Mr. Hicks donated one of these limited edition miniatures to the Society and the picture below shows him presenting it to me next to “Old Number One,” Isaiah’s famous printing press located in Antiquarian Hall.


Colonists, Indians, Pirates, and Lovers: The AAS Collection of Dime Novels, Part I

“The intelligent American public will find in the Dime Publications of the house of Beadle and Company works which meet not only a great popular want of excellent books and cheap rates, but which are, in every respect, deserving of the wide popularity to which they have attained.”
– from ‘A word to those who desire good books,’ Beadle and Company.

Part 1_Beadle_MalaeskaDime novels were cheap publications (yes, many of them only cost ten cents) that flourished in the second half of the 1800s. It is generally accepted that the first dime novel was Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter by Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, published by the firm of Irwin P. Beadle & Co. on June 9, 1860. Beadle & Adams, as the publishers were later known, became the preeminent publisher of dime works, and their success bred competition. Munro’s Ten Cent Novels, published by George Munro (who was briefly partnered with Irwin P. Beadle after he left his brother’s firm) and the Ten Cent Novelettes of Elliott, Thomes & Talbot were not as successful as Beadle’s publications, but all catered to a similar interest for romantic and sensational literature. These stories frequently featured Native Americans, either with early American colonists or the pioneers of the West; heroic exploits during the American Revolution; tales of shipwrecks along the coast and pirates in the Caribbean (beating Disney by over a century); orphan children and missing heirs; disinherited dukes in Italy and witch trials in Salem; and many, many sundered lovers.

Part 1_Beadle_Maid of EsopusAs I’ve spent the last months immersed in the world of dime literature, I’ve discovered that there are variations in what counts as “cheap.” Beadle prided themselves on attracting excellent authors and providing the best, morally acceptable literature for the lowest price. I certainly haven’t had time to sit and read all the novels I’ve cataloged (though I really wish I could), but based on what I’ve seen from the early items I’ve cataloged, I believe they held to that standard reasonably well. There is little blood and gore, good usually triumphs, the woman gets the man she wants, there are even reasonably honorable British officers during the Revolution, and a whole cadre of friendly Indians (though plenty of Indians taking captives, too. This is the late 1800s, after all).

This changes as we move further down the chain. Part 1_Munro_The Demon CruiserMunro’s novels were of still reasonable quality, since he shared some authors with Beadle. But the writing was usually less elegant, the stories more explicitly violent, the Indians more likely to be racist caricatures. Even the quality of the paper, the printing, and the frontispiece illustrations were inferior. Then, we come to Elliott, Thomes, and Talbot. They were strictly purveyors of adventure and sensational literature. The writing ranges from amusingly corny to pretty bad, there are no illustrations, the stories are much more Victorian gothic, frequently taking place abroad, as opposed to the American focus of Beadle, and there was plenty of violence, poisoning, you name it. (Fun fact: some of these extremely sensational stories were written for them by none other than Louisa May Alcott, which is where Jo March got her literary tendencies.)

Part 1_ETT_Bright CloudWhat is particularly interesting about tracing this apparent decrease in quality is looking at the longevity of each individual series. Beadle’s most famous series, Beadle’s Dime Novels and New Dime Novels, ran for about 630 numbers, Munro’s Ten Cent Novels ran for 354 numbers, and Elliot, Thomes & Talbot’s Ten Cent Novelettes only ran for 86 numbers (though their Twenty Cent Novelettes ran for at least 172 numbers). Apparently, even in cheap fiction, attention to standards pays off.

Check back next week for Brenna’s take on the difficulties of cataloging the fascinating dime novel collection.

Tip of the Hat to Currier & Ives

I was working at the reference desk recently, when our sharp-eyed library assistant Daniel Boudreau brought to my attention a volume that had crossed the desk the previous day.  A scholar researching the American newspaper publisher Horace Greeley had requested the item, which was a fully illustrated book made wit107659_0001h lithographic images and text.  Dan figured, rightly, that I would be curious about the book due to the printing method used to create it.  Fully lithographed books are an interest of mine, as I am always curious about the relationship between lithographed text and image.  AAS has lots of great examples of fully lithographed books, including titles by Bret Harte, children’s picture books, and inexpensive comic texts.

The book in question is titled Wreck-Elections of a Busy Life and was published in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1867.  The entire volume is a humorous spoof of Horace Greeley’s autobiography Recollections of a Busy Life, which was published in installments in Greeley’s newspaper, the New York Tribune. The Tribune office was located near Nassau Street in New York — an area that, along with Spruce Street and Broad Street, formed an enclave for all kinds of print shops, newspaper offices, and print sellers.

Although distributed by American News Company, a New York firm, Wreck-Elections was not printed in New York.  The printer was Kellogg & Bulkeley in Hartford, Connecticut, over a hundred miles away.  Kellogg was best known for single-sheet lithographs of views, portraits, and genre scenes. The partnership with Bulkeley was brand new in 1867, having been formed when some of the family sold part interest in the firm.  Originally founded in 1836, the Kelloggs had a long history of producing lithographed prints for national distribution and today are considered one of the biggest competitors of Currier & Ives, the famed New York lithographic company also founded in 1836.  In 1867, when Wreck-Elections appeared, Currier & Ives had two shops in New York: one on Nassau Street and a second, newly opened space at 33 Spruce Street.  Currier & Ives and Kellogg & Bulkeley were aware of each other’s print production, often copying one another or issuing modified compositions popular with their customers. This is well known among scholars of American lithography and has been discussed in recent histories of both firms.


Flipping the pages of Wreck-Elections, and enjoying the various puns and bad poetry of the story, I stopped short midway through at a scene showing an angry Greeley trying to rouse troops on the front stoop of the Tribune building (Greeley was famous for his continued cry, “On to Richmond!,” which was perceived as war-mongering by many critics).  There in the background, across the street, hastily sketched by the artist up in Hartford, was the front window of Currier 107659_0003& Ives’s New York shop!  A lady and a soldier are standing in front, but the sign over the door clearly reads “Currier &” – . Was this an insider’s tip of the hat to their New York rival by the Hartford firm?  A closer look at the three prints displayed in the window revealed a religious print of Christ’s descent from the cross, a horse pulling a racing sulky, and a ship portrait, all classic Currier & Ives fare (as well as scenes produced by Kellogg & Bulkeley).  I found myself completely amused by this.  It is a bit like Coca-Cola including a Pepsi machine in the background of one of their advertisements.  Maybe most readers did not notice, or if they did, perhaps they would associate Currier & Ives with Greeley, who was losing popularity as the politics of the era changed after the war years.  The intent is completely unknown, of course, since the artist did not leave any letter of intent or explanation, but, really, he could have sketched anything there — empty doors and windows, an anonymous shop or office.  Instead he made a quiet little insider’s joke, one that was still appreciated by this graphic arts curator 147 years after it was published.

The Acquisitions Table: Connecticut Indictments

Connecticut Indictments, 1742-1781.

514930_0001These five indictments from Connecticut are illustrative of the colony and state’s strict laws. The indictments, which describe the incidents and are signed by witnesses, show a variety of transgressions taking place in Norwich and Durham, Connecticut, starting in the mid-eighteenth century. Among the offenses are consuming alcohol, the use of profanity, fighting, playing cards, and “unseasonable night walking.” One signed affidavit says that the offender “did sinfully and wickedly utter the following words…Damn ye Grandjurymen…” Another says that “…this Colony Instituted an act to prevent unseasonable night walking for that Phenehas Robbert Charles and Daniel did on the Evening following the 26th Day of Sep. 1764 did break the Law by being abroad unseasonably…” These early manuscripts are good examples of both the existence and enforcement of colonial laws.

The Conundrum of Printing Chinese Newspapers

“A book holds a house of gold.” – Chinese proverb

Golden Hill

AAS has quite a variety of American newspapers in different languages: German, French, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Welsh, Cherokee, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, and Hawaiian.  There is one language, however, that provided a unique challenge for printers.  All of the newspapers above are letterpress.  Each letter is a piece of type picked up by hand from the type case and set in a composing stick until some lines are set.  The lines are then slid into a galley tray until an article is completed.  The articles are then organized on a composing stone until pages are made up, locked in chases, put in the printing press, and the pages printed.

But what do you do about newspapers in Chinese? How do you publish a newspaper where the language is not based on letters but thousands of characters?

The first Chinese-language newspaper in America was the Chin Shan Jih Hsin Ju = Golden Hill’s News, published in San Francisco in 1854 (above).  According to the publishers Howard and Lersner, the purpose was “to relieve the pressure of religious ignorance, settle and explain our laws, assist the Chinese to provide for their wants and soften, dignify and improve their general character.”  This paper lasted just a few months.

The Oriental

Chinese Daily NewsThe next newspaper in Chinese to appear was The Oriental = Tung-Ngai San-Luk (see above).  The first issue came out January 4, 1855 and was edited by the Rev. William Speer, a Presbyterian minister.   It lasted just two years.  About the same time, a daily Chinese newspaper started up in Sacramento, either at the end of 1856 or the beginning of 1857 (see left).  It also ceased publication in 1857.

No Chinese newspapers were attempted again until the 1870s when a number of titles began in San Francisco.  AAS has twenty-four issues of the San Francisco China News, which began in 1874.  We also have eleven issues of The Oriental, founded in 1875 (see below).   All of the above titles are quite scarce.   Most newspapers in foreign languages aimed at ethnic communities were not saved in large quantities and often not by public libraries and large institutions.  I believe many copies of the earliest Chinese–language newspapers in America were saved but were destroyed in the earthquake that hit San Francisco in 1906.  Between the earthquake and subsequent fires, the Chinatown district of San Francisco was devastated.

The Oriental 1875But back to the problem of printing a newspaper in Chinese.  The solution for all of these earliest newspapers was lithography.  Instead of using type, they drew an image of the page in reverse by hand on a special stone with a grease pencil.  The printer did not need any type because the text was written out.  Water was then applied to the stone and seeped in where it was exposed.  Then an oil-based ink was used.  Where the stone was wet the ink didn’t stick, and where it was written on the ink stayed.  A special press was used to transfer the ink to the paper.  It was a slower process than letterpress printing, but when you’re working with thousands of characters, it works well.

Now in print from the AAS community

Every quarter at AAS we release a list of recent publications by those who have researched at the library as fellows, members, or readers. To see this list, as well as a list of works published from 2000-2014, please visit our recent scholarship page on the AAS website. If your book, article, or other achievement is not included, just let us know if you’d like to see it there!


Cohen, Michael David. Reconstructing the Campus: Higher Education and the American Civil War. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012. (AAS Graphic Arts intern, 2004)

Fisher, Julie A. and David Silverman. Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts: Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-Century New England and Indian Country. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014. (Silverman: Mellon Post-Dissertation Fellow, 2001-2002; ASECS Fellow, 2005-2006; ASECS Fellow, 2010-2011; AAS member)

Furstenberg, Francois. When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees who Shaped a Nation. New York: Penguin, 2014. (AAS member)

Greenspan, Ezra. William Wells Brown: An African American Life. New York: Norton, 2014. (Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence, 2009-2010; AAS member)

Pastore, Christopher. Between Land and Sea: The Atlantic Coast and the Transformation of New England. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014. (Peterson Fellow, 2010-2011)

Schoolman, Martha. Abolitionist Geographies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. (Peterson Fellow, 2006-2007)

Sivils, Matthew Wynn. American Environmental Fiction, 1782-1847. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014. (Schiller Fellow, 2012-2013)

Smith, Ryan K. Robert Morris’s Folly: The Architectural and Financial Failures of an American Founder. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.

Wisecup, Kelly. “Good News from New England” by Edward Winslow: A Scholarly Edition. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014. (Peterson Fellow, 2014-2015)


Anishanslin, Zara. “Producing Empire: The British Empire in Theory and Practice.” In The World of the Revolutionary American Republic: Expansion, Conflict, and the Struggle for a Continent, edited by Andrew Shankman. New York: Routledge, 2014. (CHAViC Fellow, 2013-2014)

Anthony, David. “Fantasies of Conversion: The Sensational Jewess in Poe and Hawthorne’s America.” American Literary History 26.3 (2014): 431-461. (Peterson Fellow, 1996-1997; AAS-NEMLA Fellow, 2000-2001; AAS-NEMLA, 2005-2006; AAS-NEH Fellow, 2012-2013)

Bahar, Matthew. “People of the Dawn, People of the Door: Indian Pirates and the Violent Theft of an Atlantic World.” Journal of American History 101.2 (2014): 401-426. (Legacy Fellow, 2010-2011)

Buinicki, Martin T. “The ‘need of means additional’: Walt Whitman’s Civil War Fundraising.” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 31.4 (2014): 135-157.

Cohen, Joanna. “Promoting Pleasure as Political Economy: The Transformation of American Advertising, 1800-1850.” Winterthur Portfolio 48 (2014): 163-190. (Last Fellow, 2007-2008)

Crabtree, Sarah. “Navigating Mobility: Gender, Class, and Space at Sea, 1760-1810.” Eighteenth-Century Studies (2014): 89-106. (ASECS Fellow, 2013-2014)

Fagal, Andrew. “American Arms Manufacturing and the Onset of the War of 1812.” New England Quarterly 87.3 (2014): 526-537. (Peterson Fellow, 2013-2014)

Hardy, Molly O’Hagan. “Figures of Authorship in Mathew Carey’s Transatlantic Yellow Fever Pamphlets, 1793-1795.” Book History 17 (2014): 221-249. (NeMLA Fellow, 2012-2013; AAS staff)

Keyes, Carl. “History Prints, Newspaper Advertisements, and Cultivating Citizen Consumers: Patriotism and Partisanship in Marketing Campaigns in the Era of Revolution.” American Periodicals: A Journal of History, Criticism, and Bibliography 24.2 (2014): 145-185.

Keyes, Carl. “Introduction: Advertising in American Periodicals before Madison Avenue.” American Periodicals: A Journal of History, Criticism, and Bibliography 24.2 (2014): 105-109.

LaFleur, Greta. “Sex and ‘Unsex’: Histories of Gender Trouble in Eighteenth-Century North America.” Early American Studies 12.3 (2014). (Peterson Fellow, 2013-2014)

Rockman, Seth. “What Makes the History of Capitalism Newsworthy?” Journal of the Early Republic 34.3 (2014): 439-466. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2006-2007; AAS member)

Trainor, Sean. “Fair Bosom/Black Beard: Facial Hair, Gender Determination, and the Strange Career of Madame Clofullia, ‘Bearded Lady’.” Early American Studies 12.3 (2014): 548-575. (Peterson Fellow, 2013-2014)

Wood, Kirsten. “‘Join with Heart and Soul and Voice’: Music, Harmony, and Politics in the Early American Republic.” Journal of American History 119.4 (2014): 1083-1116.


John Demos’s book The Heathen School made the longlist for the 2014 National Book Award. (Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence, 2012; AAS member)

Ellen Gruber Garvey received the Highly Commended Award of the DeLong Book History Prize at the 2014 conference of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing for her 2013 book, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. (Peterson Fellow, 2008-2009)

Britt Rusert received finalist mention for the 2014 Constance Rourke Prize by the American Studies Association for her 2013 American Quarterly essay, “Delany’s Comet: Fugitive Science and the Speculative Imaginary of Emancipation.” (2011-2012 Peterson Fellow)

Fourteen Yards of Cranberries and a Paroquet: An 1870s Christmas Story

IMG_2230 (3)Last month, we took a look at how young Marion “Minnie” Boyd Allen spent Thanksgiving Day in 1875 and 1876 (rousing renditions of popular plays and too much food were all the rage). But Minnie didn’t contain her holiday exuberance to Thanksgiving; she had plenty left over for Christmas.

Minnie says very little about the lead-up to Christmas in 1875 when she’s thirteen years old, except to note pretty frequently—beginning in November—that she’s making Christmas presents. This activity seems to keep her in the spirit throughout the season, but most of her excitement about Christmas is packed into two days. On Christmas Eve, she “Did not go to school in forenoon,” but rather “The house is turned up side down, getting ready for tomorrow.” Unlike today when most people decorate for Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving is over (or earlier), most of the Allens’ decorating took place immediately before Christmas. “Grandma and I strung over fourteen yards of cranberries to trim the billiard room with….[Brother] Will and I put up the tree and hung evergreen. In evening Will and I (seated on the billiard table) filled boxes and cornicopias [sic] with candy.”

Minnie’s entry for Christmas Day makes clear exactly what kind of presents she had been making for the last six weeks: “Will fixed all the pictures that were to be given away, up in his room, and later in the day everybody came in to see the ‘Art gallery.’” Minnie, who would grow up to be a successful painter, was an enterprising artist even at thirteen. Not only did she spend hours painting and drawing these gifts for others, but she then curated them into her own art exhibit. (For more on Minnie’s background, see the previous post.)

HoliDiary2 (3)

And just like Thanksgiving, Minnie made sure to capture the day in a pen-and-ink drawing at the top of her entry (above).  Her drawing of a Christmas tree surrounded by presents (which appears to be placed in a bay window, common to the brownstones of the South End of Boston where Minnie lived) seems to sum up the day nicely, as after “our usual Christmas dinner (and we children had to wait till we were [half] famished before we got ours, for nearly everybody was helped first)…we heard the Christmas-tree-bell ring. We raced up stairs and soon Santa Claus answered our knocks at the door. We all went in and began to undo our presents.” Among her presents were “the Rocky Mountain series, three packs of cards, mittens, a ring, a little stuffed paroquet [an old spelling of parakeet] and so many other things that I cannot tell them. Almost everybody went away, after we had a dance, and a reading from Mr. Horace Lunt.” The entire day is strongly reminiscent of the opening of The Nutcracker, with its beautiful tree, presents for all of the children, and dancing by the guests, although the ballet was not produced until 1892. (It also leads to questions about just when these familiar Christmas traditions began, many of which are answered in a blog post from last year about the history of Santa and the Christmas tree.)


From “The Night Before Christmas,” McLoughlin Bros., 1899.

After this lavish description of 1875, Minnie’s entries for Christmas 1876 are rather disappointing. The 23rd of December found Minnie working hard all day, as “There are so many things to ‘finish up’ the last minute. Will and I did our presents together in evening. I made twenty-four of mine myself.” She then “Went down town with Will to see the evergreens.” Christmas Eve was a Sunday that year, so after church and Sunday School, she drew two more pictures for friends, decorated the tree, noted the arrival of a cousin, and then abruptly ends her diary: “I must finish up my journal now and commence a new one. I have had this a long time and am sorry to leave it. Good-bye!”

In a way, although the reader may feel cheated by missing out on one of Minnie’s detailed holiday descriptions, it seems suiting that the diary would end here. Having begun it when she was twelve, at fourteen years old Minnie is now on the eve of adulthood. Her infectious enthusiasm for celebrating holidays will begin the next diary, which she may have received as a Christmas present and couldn’t wait to use (there are quite a few blank pages at the back of this one). It’s hard to begrudge her growing up, but the rich, amusing, and rare way in which she recorded her adolescent years leaves one wanting to read more.

The People’s Choice: Prang Christmas Card Contests

SVedder cardtarting in 1880, the chromolithographer Louis Prang held an annual design contest for the selection of his color-printed Christmas cards. Prang, who is often called “The Father of the American Christmas Card,” helped to popularize the practice of sending cards in the United States after he made an 1864 visit to Europe. While there he studied the latest color printing techniques in Germany, and when he returned to Boston he began printing elaborately designed, multi-colored “art cards.” Although holiday cards had been around in Europe since the 1840s, it was Prang’s efforts, starting around 1873, that really got the practice going in America.

The design contests were a huge success and were widely commented on in the American press. There were cash prizes for the winning designs and public exhibitions of the contestants’ original works (which Prang purchased). Prang was a master marketer, soliciting designs from prominent American artists both inside the academy and out. His salesmen promoted the winning cards to retailers, advertisements were taken out in newspapers and magazines, and American customers responded with purchases. The Society’s Prang archive holds many examples of these prize-winning cards, including the printer’s progressive proof book for the 1881 1st prize winner, Elihu Vedder’s young woman with ribbons (see above right and below).

Vedder proof bookThe final Prang Christmas card contest was held in 1884, with cards produced for the 1885 season. By this point, Prang was running a giant Christmas contest publicity machine. First he announced the group of artists that he was planning to solicit for designs. There were 22 artists for the 1884 contest, including the painter Thomas Moran, printmaker Frederick Freer, and artist J. Alden Weir. There were also artists who had won previous years, or had produced other non-holiday work for Louis Prang & Co. Next, the 22 submitted designs were exhibited to the public at a gallery in New York in November of 1884 to great fanfare in the press. The judges were all well-known New York stationers and dealers in Christmas cards (a savvy move on Prang’s part to ingratiate his designs with the men who sold them). The public found this fitting. One reporter noted, “This mode of deciding a very delicate question seemed to promise by its simplicity the results to be desired, as the dealers might well be considered good representatives of the popular feeling in regard to those tokens of friendship and good-will which custom has now elevated to a recognized institution at Christmas-tide.” Selections were made and then announced by the judges. There were four cash prizes in the 1884 contest, with the first prize ofWeldon girl dreaming $1,000 going to Ohio artist C. D. Weldon for his image of a young girl dreaming in front of a fireplace  left).

But wait, Prang was not done yet! The 22 paintings were then packed up and shipped to Boston, with the four winners and all the others prominently featured at the gallery of Noyes & Blakeslee on Tremont Street for the 1884 Christmas holiday. At this point, Prang opened it up to the public, allowing Boston residents to vote on another winner, creating what became known as “The Boston Card.” The top four remained in place, but visitors to the gallery were encouraged to vote for their favorite from the remaining 18 paintings. In the 1884 contest, that honor went to Miss Lizbeth B. Humphrey’s design showing three children taking bows before a homemade curtain (see below).

Humphrey was born in 1841 in Millbury, Massachusetts. In 1849, when she was eight years old, her parents moved to the Hopedale Community, a religion-based utopian compound founded by Adin Ballou in 1842. According to Ballou, Hopedale stood for “temperance, abolitionism, woman’s rights, spiritualism and education.” Although the community disbanded before 1860, Lizbeth Humphrey spent most of her childhood living communally in Worcester County. After the Civil War, she became a very successful illustrator, creating images for children’s books and for the illustrated press. She won second and third prize in the 1881 Prang Christmas card contest and her work was well known to Bostonians.

The Boston Card win stands out among the other Prang prize card designs, however, mainly because of its modern tone. Most of the winning cardsHumphrey card show snowy landscapes, idealized children, magical scenes, nativities, and angels. This card is different. There is a narrative that has to be filled in by the viewer, who would immediately recognize the scene, often played out in middle class parlors, of children “putting on a show” (a recent blog post talks about one such play put on in a Boston parlor on Thanksgiving in 1875). One reviewer wrote, “The design is illustrative entirely of the modern Christmas. …While all the figures are admirable drawn, the [smallest] child in pose, coloring, and expression deserves to be recognized as, it were aptly called, an idyllic inspiration. Every spectator is delighted with it, from whatever point of view it is regarded, as a poem of childhood or as a gem of art.” Humphrey used real children as her models, drawing on kids in her Milford neighborhood as Norman Rockwell would do a generation later. The three children on The Boston Card have been identified as Arthur Draper, Marjorie Humphrey (the artist’s adopted younger sister) and Annie Knight. They take their bows in front of a homemade curtain and banner, with a bouquet and a sprig of holly at their feet.

Humphrey continued to design for Prang, creating birthday and Easter cards, prints and other colorful images, usually of modern children, until at least 1898, but 1884 was the final season of the holiday card contest at Prang’s. By 1890, Prang stopped producing cards as the flood of inexpensive colored cards coming from Europe and other American printers was too great to overcome, even with clever contests and press attention. Nonetheless, we can largely thank Prang for creating a strong tradition that has managed to survive even today’s electronic-centered world!

An Old Vial of Tea with a Priceless Story: The Destruction of the Tea, December 16, 1773

tea vialSometimes the most unassuming objects can take on powerful meaning. A small, sealed glass bottle of tea, displayed at the American Antiquarian Society, is a case in point. Donated in 1840 by the Reverend Thaddeus M. Harris (1768-1842), a Unitarian clergyman in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and a member of AAS, the tea is one of the most compelling objects for visitors touring the library. Less than five inches high, the mold-blown, pale aqua bottle filled with tea leaves is wrapped at its mouth with twill tape and sealed with red sealing wax. Its attached paper label reads: “Tea Thrown into Boston Harbor Dec. 16, 1773.”

The role its donor played in gathering the leaves the morning after the critical confrontation on December 16th is explained in an adjacent, typed label. Harris would have been just five years old when he reportedly gathered the tea leaves carried by the tide to Dorchester Neck Flats. Perhaps he witnessed the event from the shores on the evening prior.  Thousands had gathered to watch the fifty men loosely disguised as Native Americans breaking open with hatchets the wooden chests of tea and throwing the tea bales overboard.

tea label

Former label for AAS’s bottle of tea written by AAS Librarian Samuel Foster Haven in the 1860s.

A former label for the tea (now archived and shown here to the right) written in the hand of AAS librarian Samuel Foster Haven in the 1860s (as deduced by the expert eye of Curator of Manuscripts Tom Knoles) may have replaced Harris’s original label. Its text is remarkably similar to that of the label signed by Harris on another bottle of tea he gave to the Massachusetts Historical Society where he served as librarian until his death (see below). The AAS label (recently reunited by AAS conservators—the two fragments had years ago been filed in separate locations in the library’s holdings) reads:  “Tea that was gathered on the shore at Dorchester neck the morning after the destruction of the three cargos. Dec. 17, 1773. From Thaddeus Mason Harris, DD.” Certainly without the story connecting the tea to this iconic event in America’s history the object would not hold the same cultural power. As an eyewitness to what was generally called the destruction of the tea, this ordinary object has been imbued with extraordinary meaning through the act of display. Harris knew that what was becoming known as the Boston Tea Party by the time he gifted the tea was being embraced by a new generation of Americans, and he wanted to make sure his story was part of a constructed public memory of the conflict.

The bottle of tea Harris gave to the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). Photo courtesy of MHS.

The bottle of tea Harris gave to the Massachusetts Historical Society. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. (See for more information.)

Harris was familiar with the value of objects that had a “peculiar claim to preservation,” as he described the Mather family coat of arms and whetstone, objects donated to AAS by Hannah Crocker Mather, to whom Harris wrote a letter of acknowledgment in 1814 as the Society’s corresponding secretary. Perhaps Harris saw the donation as a way to make his own claim to preservation, but he also knew that the Tea Party had gained new interest among Americans as death notices for Tea Party participants had become more frequent in the press.


Portrait of Thaddeus Mason Harris by Chester Harding, published by Pendleton’s Lithography, Boston.

Having spent many years preparing a manuscript of “the first peopling of America,” Harris considered himself a historian and frequently commemorated historic events in his sermons. By the 1830s he had gained a reputation as the source of knowledge about the Revolution, particularly as it pertained to Dorchester Neck. “Tell me what the Dorchester people did in the revolutionary struggle—and particularly South Boston. . . Anecdotes illustrative of the character or doing of men, whose deeds have not been recorded, will be particularly valuable,” wrote Dr. Samuel Van Crowninshield Smith, who was convinced that Harris was the only person from whom he could obtain these facts as he prepared for his July 4, 1835, address for South Boston, the principal celebration for the city. This was the year that George Robert Twelves Hewes, celebrated by the Boston press as a rare survivor of the Tea Party, traveled to Boston in his late nineties to participate in Fourth of July celebrations.  The recognition of Hewes as a survivor of the Tea Party may have inspired for many the preservation of physical relics. Harris was not the only one to place bottles of tea in institutions to preserve a connection to this historic event; examples survive at The Old State House and the Peabody Essex Museum, among others. A huckster in Chicago even put himself and a vial of tea on exhibit as survivors of the Tea Party—and charged admission!

tar and feathering 1837The lack of physical trauma to the bottle of tea lends itself well to the perception of the Tea Party as a non-violent act, though the destruction that led to the tea’s salvage bears resemblance to the acts of mob violence surrounding this event. A political cartoon published in New York by H.R. Robinson circa 1837 (a copy of a cartoon published in London in 1774) shows the Bostonians “paying” the exciseman, who is already tarred and feathered and is being forced to drink tea as the Tea Party takes place in the background (right). Numerous images of the destruction of the tea were reprinted or created during the 1830s and 40s when public interest in the event was revived. One of the most familiar is Nathaniel’s Currier’s 1846 lithograph, shown below.

destruction of tea Currier

No blood was shed (or at least no one died) on December 16, 1773, but from that rebellious act a few relics survive as remembrance of this iconic event. For Harris, the tea thrown into Boston Harbor seems to have signified an act of patriotic rebellion and a reminder of how fragile, like the ephemeral tea itself, “peace” was. It could be harbored within a glass bottle, but that too could break. Some during Harris’s lifetime saw the event as destructive and lawless, but by the time Harris donated his tea it had become an event to commemorate as a cornerstone of the Revolution.

If the tea leaves were indeed salvaged by the young Harris, he apparently kept them until close to the end of his life when the veil of secrecy surrounding the destruction of the tea had been lifted and the event had become romanticized as an act of national patriotism.  Harris’s manuscript on the first peopling of America remained unpublished at the end of his life, but his story as it relates to this signature event is remembered through his decision to place the encapsulated tea in two revered institutions for safekeeping and memory-making well into the future.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Archives

“All this, all of this love we’re talking about, it would just be a memory. Maybe not even a memory. Am I wrong? Am I way off base? Because I want you to set me straight if you think I’m wrong. I want to know.”
Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

1“Archive” has become an incredibly capacious word. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the word’s meaning and level of precision it describes greatly depend on the context in which it is deployed. Practitioners trained in library information science (LIS) usually reserve the word to refer to institutional records. In this context, AAS President Ellen S. Dunlap has been known to remark that AAS in fact only holds one archive: that of the AAS institutional records. This might confound some who refer to the total holdings of AAS (or any other special collections library) as an archive, thinking that anything in special collections (and I am using “special collections” to mean non-circulating print and manuscript materials) is an archive, or perhaps that anything that is not in a codex is an archive. One reason that I find the definition that Dunlap and other LIS practitioners have in mind useful is that it helps to distinguish between collections that are vetted for content worth keeping and those that are preserved in full. An archivist’s job, in this context, is not only to inventory materials to create finding aids and catalog records, but it is also to winnow: to sort through the copious correspondence, records, etc. of an institution and decide what is wheat and what is chaff. Archival “appraisal” in this context does not mean determining how much an object or a group of objects are worth in the monetary sense, but rather whether they should be preserved. It is worth knowing, therefore, when one approaches such a collection if it is in fact an archive in this sense, if it has been winnowed or if it is being preserved in tact, just as it was acquired.

2In Archive Fever (1994), Jacques Derrida very much has this institutional dimension of archives on his mind. “A science of the archive,” he says, ”must include the theory of this institutionalization, that is to say, the theory both of the law which begins by inscribing itself there and of the right which authorizes it.” It is Derrida’s explication of the word and the “notion” of the archive through Freudian psychoanalysis that has secured this lecture’s place as a watershed moment in the theorization of archives. The word then became a signifier in new ways. For humanities scholars, archive might now refer to the historical record, to any and all things preserved, to non-things that undergo a sort of process of preservation (I’m thinking here of what Ann Cvetkovich calls for in her seminal work An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (2003), in which she takes her cues very much from Freud and Derrida), to objects in closed stacks, and to institutions that contain such objects.

I write less to nail down a definition and to delimit the meaning of the word than to begin to map the word’s capaciousness. Even when we mean archive in a specific sense, a meaning of which we are certain, we have no assurance that our interlocutors will take the term to signify the same exact thing. The scale of the term and the processes that might define it as such have been lost, and some might argue that without such precision the word is now useless. In other words, if what is signified by the word comes to include too much, then might the word lose its usefulness? If any object or collection of objects can be an archive, then is anything really still an archive in a meaningful way?

3I end where I began then: with Raymond Carver on love. I wonder if we might say the same about archives, that we know that archives have to do with memory and that which we can know about those memories (what Derrida calls “impressions”), but that it constantly behooves us to define what we mean when we use these terms. To further riff on Carver’s title then, we might need to point out that which the “what” of our talking signifies when we talk about archives. This act of definition is more imperative than ever as scholars trained in the humanities and those trained in library science are increasingly working together on digital humanities projects and initiatives. Such collaboration facilitates the collapse of disciplinary boundaries in new and exciting ways, but we all risk talking past each other if we do not take time to define our terms and to know how others might think about them differently.