Spring Public Programs are here!

2015 Spring Program cover_Page_1We’re finally starting to see some melting and hear some birds singing after this never-ending winter, which also means we’re gearing up for the start of our Spring Public Program series! This series begins with newly published books about Lincoln, set to coincide with sesquitennial of the end of the Civil War and the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death this April. It continues with highlights from our NEH fellows, a new look at the religion and philosophy of the Founding Fathers, and concludes with a historical music program culled directly from our archives.

See below for short descriptions, and visit our website for more information. All programs are free and open to the public and take place in Antiquarian Hall at 185 Salisbury St., Worcester. We hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 2, at 7 p.m.
“Lincoln’s Last Speech and the Problem of Reconstruction”
by Louis Masur
Co-sponsored by the Franklin M. Loew Lecture Series at Becker College

Louis P Masur by Nick Lacy(2)On April 11, 1865, Abraham Lincoln delivered what would turn out to be his last speech. Coming only two days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the speech confounded expectations; northerners anticipated a victory speech, but instead Lincoln focused on reunion and the challenge of reconstruction. He used the occasion to declare support for limited black suffrage. John Wilkes Booth was in the crowd and declared, “that is the last speech he will ever make.” Three days later, he delivered on his boast. This lecture is based on Louis Masur’s latest book, Lincoln’s Last Speech: Wartime Reconstruction and the Crisis of Reunion.

Thursday, April 9, at 7 p.m.
“Lincoln’s Republicanism as a Way of Life”
by Richard Wightman Fox
Co-sponsored by the Franklin M. Loew Lecture Series at Becker College

FOX photo three by EthingtonLincolns Body_978-0-393-06530-5In this lecture based upon his recently published book, Lincoln’s Body: A Cultural History, Richard Fox will describe how Lincoln’s physical appearance and the way the sixteenth president consciously made himself accessible to the public informed his political views and his concept of equality. Lincoln’s physical appearance has been an important component of our understanding and appreciation of the man both in his own time and in the subsequent years since his assassination. Lincoln’s Body explores how a president ungainly in body and downright “ugly” of aspect came to mean so much to us.

Thursday, April 23, at 7 p.m.
“A Panel of Recent National Endowment for the Humanities Scholarship”
with Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Kyle Volk, and Lisa Wilson

NEH Logo MASTER_082010This panel discussion will feature three National Endowment for the Humanities fellows who were in residence during the 2010-11 academic year and whose research has resulted in recently published books. They are: Elizabeth Maddock Dillon for her work New World Drama: The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1649-1849; Kyle Volk with his book, Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy; and Lisa Wilson and her study, A History of Stepfamilies in Early America.

Tuesday, May 12, at 7 p.m.
“Radical Philosophy at the Origin of the American Republic”
by Matthew Stewart

Stewart headshotStewart bookcoverThis presentation will explore the philosophical and religious influences not just on the more famous names, such as Jefferson, Franklin, and Paine, but also some less well-known figures, including Ethan Allen and Thomas Young, the unsung hero of the Boston Tea Party and the Pennsylvania Revolution. Drawing on his recent book, Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, Stewart will make the case that the unusual philosophical religion that inspired many of America’s revolutionaries was more radical than we now tend to think and at the same time central in the creation of the world’s first modern republic.

Thursday, May 21, at 7 p.m.
“‘Mild Melodious Maze’: Songs and Instrumental Music from Early America (1770-1830)”
with Anne D. M. Harley, voice, Olav Chris Henriksen, guitar, and Na’ama Lion, flute

AnneHarleytrioThis musical program performed on period instruments celebrates some of the over 70,000 musical scores in the Society’s collections of American music. Come hear the heroic spirit in music from the first years of the American nation, the political songs of the Early Republic, shape note and Shaker tunes, popular hits from imported English stage shows, and the strains of the first art music composed on American soil.

The Acquisitions Table: Philadelphia from Girard College

B.F. Smith Jr. after J. W. Hill. Philadelphia from Girard College – 1850. New York: Smith Brothers & Co., ca. 1850.515093_0001

The American Antiquarian Society holds a substantial manuscript archive for the Smith Brothers, a publishing firm located in Maine and New York. Four brothers formed the firm, which specialized in the printing of folio lithographed and engraved city views. The firm was founded in 1846, and the manuscript collection holds several subscription books for the following eight years, when the brothers published almost thirty views. They sometimes worked with prominent artists, or drew the images themselves. This view of Philadelphia was one of a pair and, according to the subscription book, was offered individually or as a set to subscribers in the city. The perspective from Girard College is captivating, showing the sweep of the Schuylkill River, with the city in the distance at the far left.

Spring Almanac now available!

almanac89It’s that time again—the latest issue of the Almanac is now out! This issue features stories from every department at the Society, from curatorial and readers’ services to outreach and digital humanities. Some highlights include:

  • a generous gift to AAS from a local member and former AAS councilor
  • a new digital project featuring Isaiah Thomas’s collection of broadside ballads
  • a publishing project concerning one of our most prized manuscript collections, the Reverend William Bentley diaries
  • a feature on college and K-12 class visits to the Society
  • amazing and rare acquisitions in books and graphic arts

And of course, our usual updates on upcoming programs and seminars are also included. So please take a look and we hope to see you in the reading room soon!


A Paddy’s Day Present: A Database for Mathew Carey Account Books and a Window into the Early American Book Trade

A year ago today, we announced work on a database that would make the extensive financial records of Mathew Carey, a Dublin native who came to Philadelphia in 1784, navigable. One St. Patrick’s Day later, we are happy to announce that this resource now exists. Carey’s records include receipts, bills, memoranda, invoices, bills of lading, and other records of his publishing house—arguably the most influential in the early Republic—and its successors: Carey, Lea, and Company; and Lea and Blanchard. Constructed from three drawers of index cards that were created in the late 1920s, the database contains over 12,000 names, most of which refer to people, but also contain references to ships, firms, and institutions such as schools.  After keying that information into a spreadsheet, members of our assiduous library staff have matched it to the box and folder number where it will appear and added the corresponding URL, so a search for a name in our database will render an account number and a link to GIGI, our digital asset management system. The URL will lead to a handful of images that include a reference to the searched name. A search for “Woodward, William” yields these results:

Slide1 (2)

Clicking on the links provided for Account #7554 and #7555 will then yield the following images in GIGI:

Slide2 (2)

The names will reveal much about Carey’s exchange and distribution networks, but also about the early American book trade more generally. In a letter to Historical Society of Pennsylvania Librarian Thomas Montgomery when AAS acquired the financial records, Clarence Brigham describes the records as including “the accounts of a firm of printers who had dealings all over the country with engravers, binders, publishers and book purchasers” (I wrote about the letter exchange between Brigham and Montgomery in a previous post).

We have spent a lot of time with this Carey data in the last year, and have had to think carefully and critically about how best to serve it to the user. Had we world enough and time, we would have checked every name against the Library of Congress Name Authorities, knowing that although some of the names would not be there, we could disambiguate some, not to mention correct spelling mistakes that have inevitably crept in during transcription. We have cleaned the data for consistency’s sake, as we outline in #2 of the instructions on using the database.

These instructions note that we have eliminated the use of titles, such as “Rev.” or “Cpt.”, in names. We have, however, retained “Mrs” and “Miss” when they were included in the original index because often this is the only way to identify the person as female. There were almost 40 discrete instances of this title used, and surely, some women are included in the data who are not listed with “Mrs” or Miss,” so we expect that those interested in women in the book trade and in business more generally in the early Republic might find this data of use.

These records reflect both Carey’s local dealings in Philadelphia and his international book exchange network. For example, Carey gave money six different times to the “Overseers of the Schools for Black People” for the tuition of Mary Whitesides (below).

Carey for Mary Whitesides tuition

These records might be used to disambiguate members of the transatlantic book trade family the Rices, some of whom emigrated from Dublin. In her Dictionary of the Dublin Book Trade, M Pollard describes this family as “ubiquitous and confusing” (493), and perhaps the 58 entries with the last name of “Rice” will help to clarify which members of the family were in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Dublin when.

The database of course only works if one has a name to search for, but we also encourage users to browse the names in the database. On the database site, we have included the spreadsheets for the complete list of names in an xlsm file that can be easily downloaded. This spreadsheet will not only enable browsing, but please also feel free to use that data for independent projects. We would love to know how it is used, so please contact me, should you find new and innovative ways to use what we hope will prove an invaluable resource for understanding the economies and exchanges at work in the early American book trade.

Indestructible! How Children’s Books Have Survived the Centuries

lydiaI am currently in the throes of infancy with a nine-month-old who, by any evaluation of her current book-handling technique, is not destined to become a rare book librarian. She literally attacks the written word without mercy or proper treatment. Here she is “reading” her copy of Plip-Plop Pond, created by a company called Indestructibles. This line of books offers texts that are water-proof, tear-resistant and baby durable; they also wash well and are nontoxic. As impressed as I am with these titles, I’ve found myself thinking, “Surely the plight of parents wishing to introduce their babies to the joy of books without them being eaten is one shared across centuries?” Plip-Plop Pond, which is printed on some form of strong synthetic material, made me question the ways publishers created items for indifferent tiny hands in the nineteenth-century and wonder if the Society had any representatives.

Many juvenile texts were literally loved to pieces; unsurprisingly one will find countless examples of mutilated copies in any children’s literature archive. In some instances, an uncomplicated binding helped insure a book wasn’t instantly destroyed. In the children’s literature collection at AAS are thousands of juvenile literature pamphlets and limp bindings. Others are held together with a simple-stitch binding. Another strategy was to avoid sewn or glued text blocks altogether, which was easy prey for small hands.

Betsey Brooks full cover
Some attempts were made to reinforce children’s books with a cover—many times these were fashioned from other loose, illustrated papers. AAS has a collection of uncataloged copybook covers, such as the hand-sewn example above from July 1806 belonging to one Betsey Brooks. It is illustrated with woodcuts of an elephant, lion, and eagle. While not permanent, these covers offered a unique way of preserving the text within. Though it was hardly indestructible, it was nevertheless protected. And obviously Brooks was interested in taking care of it, as it shows evidence of quite a bit of hand-stitching and repairs!

The best paper is made using natural materials. Paper from rags (used up until the second half of the nineteenth century) is strong and lasts a long time, whereas paper from wood pulp yellows quickly, disintegrates, and certainly tears easily. Texts created before the introduction wood pulp paper have their own insurance of survival (as they likely had some form of rag-content); those printed after had to be creative. Just as printing on rag-paper was falling out of use, printing on textile (or cloth printing) was utilized by some publishers to render them “indestructible.” Unlike other children’s books which were variable in their quality of printing, these “indestructible books” were the opposite—created with preservation in mind.

Indestructible primerPrinters of these books would issue them without covers or a text block. Some were printed on a sheet of paper and folded/stitched into a single gathering, which made the perfect format for sharing. Indestructibles were arguably a form of toy books—a genre which later used color as a main selling-point, and were standardized in their format and size to be competitive in the children’s book market.

The term “indestructible” was used to describe texts and designate a series as early as the 1850s. No doubt some children saw something incapable of destruction as a challenge. But handling these books now, it is obvious why they have survived with such little wear. A speller and early reading book, The Indestructible Primer (right), was illustrated with forty pictures on a limp binding; published in Boston by Ticknor, Reed, and Fields in 1852, this item is the Society’s earliest example with “indestructible” in the title. As an example of an alphabet book, The Indestructible Primer was designed to teach the letters and sounds to young children, as well as simple words, rhyming, and foundations of reading. The page featured here shows that wood-engraved illustrations were also used to keep readers attentive (and provide a visual reference). Some of them were even hand-colored. The item is small in size (measuring 13 x 18 cm), has only fifteen pages and a simple stitch binding, and as the advertisement on page four states, it was “printed on strong cloth, expressly prepared.”

Cock RobinIndestructibles were more than books of instruction, spelling, or the alphabet; some were stories and nursery rhymes. As important as the indestructible primer was to allow generation after generation to tear into their books, it lacked in color and full-page illustration. Instructional books such as primers were naturally followed-up with pleasure books. The book The Courtship and Wedding of Cock Robin and Jenny Wren (with an account of the doleful death of Cock Robin) was part of an indestructible line for children (see above). Published between 1856 and 1859 and printed by Joseph Barton, the book adds to the developing form by printing in color with well-known artists and illustrators, such as British-born Harrison Weir (1824-1906) who specialized in animal drawings and illustrated a large number of children’s books.

The Three Bears

Another text published by Sheldon & Co. between 1859 and 1861 was The Three Bears (also known as Goldilocks and the Three Bears). Sheldon & Co. called this series “Indestructible pleasure books” (and AAS has eight from this series!). The text was printed on cloth, also illustrated by Harrison Weir, and engraved by W.G. Mason and Greenaway & Wright. On the inside of the cover is a series list, indicating that the texts were printed in oil colors on linen.

Noah's Ark

No review of children’s printing would be complete without mention of the McLoughlin Brothers, a New York-based publishing firm that led the way in printing technologies for children for nearly a century. Featured here is a copy of Noah’s Ark ABC, which belonged to McLoughlin Bros., Inc.’s vice president, Charles E. Miller. This “Indestructible” copy (printed at the head of the front cover) features a half-cloth binding with printed boards; the back edge of the boards are covered with cloth to form the spine, giving it added protection. Not forfeiting any of the color-printing advancements of the day, Noah’s Ark ABC boasts gorgeous chromolithographed illustrations. The story is one that invites the youngest of audiences—the biblical tale of Noah, the flood, and the pairs of animals was, and continues to be, a perennial popular first-book for infants—and would have drawn many interested young hands to explore this indestructible copy printed in 1884. (The Society holds publisher’s catalogs of the McLoughlin firm, most of which have been digitized (such as this 1897 example), and are useful for those interested in full title lists.)

So what started out as a derivative of a chapbook grew up—and as more publishers created their own titles or series, they brought in more illustrators and introduced a set price and standard size, which eventually led to increased competition. And using various means—be it linen, blended cloth, covered boards, or some combination—the evolution of these indestructible books made it possible for hands and mouths, great and small to use books. Even those—like Goldilocks—with a more discriminating palate.