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.

Another year, another annual report (but this time, with Instagram!)

Many around here thought that this first post-bicentennial fiscal year would be quiet, unexciting, a return to routine. What they didn’t count on was the creation of a digital humanities curator position to refine, focus, and expand our already extensive digital projects; an explosion of our social media presence; and of course, the awarding of a 2013 National Humanities Medal for “safeguarding the American story.”

Each of these topics (and much more!) is covered in this year’s annual report, fresh off the press. Flip through in the viewer above, or download the PDF. And don’t forget to try our Instagram hashtag game, seen here below and located in the back pages of the annual report!

Instagram Game

The Acquisitions Table: A Complete Treatise on the Mare and Foal

Mitchell, Conrad. A Complete Treatise on the Mare and Foal, at the Time of Delivery, with Illustrations. Middleburg, Pa.:Volksfreund, print., 1869.

Mare and FoalAAS member David Doret spoke at the Fall 2013 annual meeting about his strategy of acquiring en masse later nineteenth-century titles, which do not command a premium in the rare book market, to fill in gaps in AAS’s holdings. Proving his point that this is an area where donors and dealers can make a real impact on AAS collections, Doret and his wife Linda Mitchell gave AAS over 100 such books – and a full 80% of these turned out to be wants!

One highlight from the gift was the 6 ½ inch orange pamphlet described here. In its first few months at AAS, it has already been used by a fellow working on the treatment of animals in nineteenth-century America. Of particular interest to AAS, though, is its publication history and extremely low survival rate. We were able to track down only one other copy of this pamphlet –the deposit copy at the Library of Congress (although there is also one copy of a different edition at the University of Virginia). Prior to receiving this gift, the only specimens of printing from Middleburg, Pennsylvania, at AAS were a handful of newspaper issues. In fact it was the office of one of those newspapers that printed this pamphlet (the Middleburg newspaper Volksfreund was published until 1869).

Billed as a guide for horse midwifery, the treatise also covers cows and calves, as well as the sexually transmitted diseases of stallion and mare, and also diarrhea and costiveness in colts. At the very end there are even hints about sheep and about fattening hogs. Mitchell’s introduction, dated July 1869, New Berlin, Pennsylvania, claims: “Not a single engraving, illustrating this subject has ever been handed to the public, and very little has been written on the treatment of the mare and the foal at the time of delivery… At the earnest request of numerous dealers in horses, I was induced in the Spring of 1869, to offer this work to the public, for the benefit of the farmer and breeder, and in mercy to the mare and foal.”

Big Data in Early America: Bibliometrics and The North American Imprints Program (NAIP)

In recent years and in a variety of different ways, librarians are considering how different methodologies brought to bear on historical inquiry might shift their practices. Recent examples include Meg Phillips’s post in which she asks whether distant reading practices should inform archival appraisal practices to support more distant reading. Doing so would mean that archivists would still appraise, but “at a different level of granularity.” Catalogers have also been asking themselves how the uses of online public access catalogs (OPACs) are changing. The work of digital humanists has also in part sparked such questions. The innovative work of Head of Collection Information Services at the Folger Library, Erin Blake, and Curator at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center, Mitch Fraas, model what we might do with machine-readable cataloging (MARC) records. Humanists’ ability and desire to work with large data sets means that the systems in which that data are generated are being considered anew.

For early American bibliometrics, The North American Imprints Program (NAIP), which is part of our General Catalog, is the place scholars will turn for distant reading and big data, as it contains records for United States imprints published from the beginning of American printing in 1639 through the centennial of American independence in 1876. For 35 years, this deep cataloging work has progressed in a series of phases, funded by generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Most of NAIP is best understood as a union catalog because it does not only include records for imprints held at AAS, but prior to 1801, it seeks to be a comprehensive catalog for early American imprints by also including imprints held at other libraries. Our catalogers are currently at work on the 1801-1820 segment of the file, which likewise includes entries for titles held at AAS and at other libraries.

In other words, NAIP is the equivalent of the English Short Title Catalog (and AAS has contributed mightily to the ESTC since its inception) for North American imprints. Both of these composite catalogs have amazing potential to serve the work of digital humanities, as they can, to some extent, be understood as large-scale datasets related to both the people and the products of the book trade in the English speaking world up to 1800. Such work should not be undertaken without a healthy amount of skepticism and caution, however, because catalogs were not originally conceived for these purposes, but instead are now being used for such bibliometrics. Scholars such as Stephen Karian (see The Age of Johnson 21 (2011): 283-297) have pointed out the limitation of using the ESTC for such purposes, and NAIP too has been the subject of debates when used as a dataset rather than as a catalog.

hba_5volwhiteIn his “Note on Statistics” in the first volume of The History of the Book in America, editor Hugh Amory offers a cautionary note on extracting such conclusions from NAIP. The graphs in this appendix are generated from statistics pulled from NAIP, and Amory warns that because “NAIP was never intended to provide reliable and useful statistics of printing or publication…our statistics may be a better measure of modern American library economy, collection policies, and cataloguing practices than of books.” Amory cites a number of reasons why he ultimately agrees with Thomas Tanselle that “though the data of such union catalogs may give some ‘suggestive’ measures of relationships, their absolute value is of little worth.” Among these is the fact that a single book may have more than one record and one record might cover more than one book. In addition, “any consistent treatment of books and ephemera is impractical, given the haphazard formation of the library collections on which NAIP is based.” I read Amory’s comments less as critical of NAIP than cautious about using NAIP, or any catalog for that matter, in a way that was not what it was intended for. Such catalogs were constructed for the purpose of recording a library’s holdings, and when we use them to derive statistics, we will encounter inconsistencies that result not from the catalog’s failings, but from its construction with another aim in mind.

And yet, might statistical analysis derived from catalogs still be meaningful? Editor of volume two of the same series Robert Gross thinks so. He offers a different perspective on NAIP: “Thanks to a sophisticated classification of imprints that goes beyond the standard record…and identifies items by genre, series, illustrator, printer, bookseller, publisher, place, date, and language of publication, the [NAIP] catalog allows us to trace the volume and distribution of printed works over time and space and to gauge the relative importance of different types and their makers in the total output.” Gross admits that such tracing and gauging can be more accurate in certain decades than in others, but he still presents a much more optimistic view of the value of such statistical analysis than Amory, of using the catalog as a dataset from which bibliometrics can be extracted.

My purpose here is not to adjudicate, but to point out that the uses of catalogs are changing.  As humanists develop appetites for and abilities to process large data sets, we are putting new demands on catalogs and the records they contain. The catalog records holdings of material objects, but they also reflect the ways in which these objects exist within “library economy, collection policies, and cataloguing practices,” to return to Amory. Under the sagacity and innovation of Carl Stahmer, Benjamin Pauley, and others, the ESTC is leading the way in designing a union catalog for the twenty-first century, and we at AAS are watching their work closely.

A Nineteenth-Century Tween’s Thanksgiving, 1875-1876

IMG_2174“Went to school in forenoon for the last time. Vacation! Vacation!! no school for three months,” begins the diary of twelve-year-old Marion (“Minnie”) Boyd Allen on June 15, 1875. This first entry—one which we would expect to find in a twelve-year-old’s diary now as then—is the perfect opening to a volume that proves to be as fascinating for its mundaneness as for its extraordinary in-depth look into the everyday life of what we now call a “tween” in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Minnie was born in Boston on October 23, 1862, to Stillman Boyd Allen (1830-1891), a lawyer, and his wife, Harriet Smith (Seaward) Allen (1831-1922). The Allens lived in the South End of Boston, which in 1875 was nearing the end of its heyday as a fashionable precursor to the Back Bay neighborhood that was then being built. Census records indicate that the Allens were well off, her father’s house being estimated at $50,000 and his personal property at $450,000 in 1870. Her diary paints a vivid picture of her comfortable upper-middle-class childhood, full of playdates with friends; games of croquet, billiards, and pitch; summers in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee; and frequent trips out of the city to “Hillside,” most likely her grandparents Seawards’ place in Melrose, Massachusetts, where she climbed trees, jumped rope, and put on plays.

IMG_2164This last activity, which was common among the middle class of the period, was a particular favorite of Minnie’s for Thanksgiving celebrations. On Thanksgiving Day that November, Minnie—with the help of some cousins and her brother, Will, who was seven years her senior and a student at Harvard—presented a performance of “Cinderella” (with a script she adapted herself) to her gathered family. She and Will spent the morning setting up the stage, making the curtain out of some sheets and sewing “keys on the back for rings and our strings broke twice before our curtain would pull up and down.” She then had “some trouble getting the prince, fairy godmother, and Arabella (alias Bertie, Katie and Will) ready,” but “At last all was ready.”


A version of Cinderella by Lydia L. A. Very, published in 1863, probably by L. Prang & Co. This is one of many versions circulating in the era.

Minnie goes on to describe the plot of the play, the outlines of which remain unfailingly familiar to us today, and which Minnie would have known through the many iterations circulating the children’s literature market of her day:

I sat crying, by the fireplace, and Will commenced pulling up the curtain; he got it up two inches when,—the string broke. The proud sisters came in, as soon as the curtain was fixed, and scolded Cinderella for some time; then they go to the ball. After they had gone out the godmother came out on the stage and after sending Cinderella for a pumpkin, changes her rags and pumpkin into ball-dress and coach. One time as Will was raising the curtain, the fireplace tipped over and the candles nearly set fire to Grandma’s shawl. The rest of the play went off nicely and our spectators were much pleased.

Other than that pesky curtain that just wouldn’t seem to work properly and almost set grandma on fire, the play was a rousing success.

Accompanying this thorough description of Thanksgiving is a pen drawing that features a small, cooked turkey, a slice of pie, and what look like some fruits or vegetables (below). This small drawing, while cute and quite good for a thirteen-year-old, does not convey the true depths of Minnie’s talents. It is in fact a childhood doodle of one who would grow up to become quite a renowned portrait and landscape painter. In 1902, at the age of forty, Minnie entered the Boston Museum School, where she studied oil and watercolor painting under Frank W. Benson and Edmund Tarbell. In her sixties, she headed out West, where she painted the Rockies and the Grand Canyon. Her work was exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the National Academy of Design in New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of Design in Philadelphia, and the Art Institute in Chicago, among other venues. Knowing the end of her story, these drawings in her diary, which she did for many holidays, take on an entirely new meaning.

IMG_2164 crop

Before becoming a professional artist, however, Minnie was in many ways a typical tween girl. The beginning of Minnie’s Thanksgiving the following year in 1876 sounds very familiar to our own. She “Got up at half past six and crimped my hair.” Dinner was served at 1 o’clock, at which “I don’t believe I ever ate so much at one time in my life.” But whereas our gluttonous dinners are bookended by parades of giant balloons and football games today, theirs was followed by an elaborate performance of “Mrs. Jarley’s Wax-works.”

A combination of tableaux vivant and monologues, “Mrs. Jarley’s Wax-works” was a take-off on a minor character in Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop named Mrs. Jarley, who is the mistress of a waxworks show and helps Nell and her grandfather. One of the most popular renditions of the spinoff play was Mrs. Jarley’s Far-Famed Collection of Waxworks (1873), arranged by George Bradford Bartlett, a contemporary Concordian of Louisa May Alcott’s with whom she participated in amateur theatricals. Bartlett’s arrangement was often used to put on charitable fundraising events, and it’s very possible that Minnie saw it performed or read about it and now wished to recreate it.

Minnie’s performance of the play called on the talents of three generations:

Mrs. Jarley (alias Mamma) was truly magnificent in a dress with leg-o’-mutton sleeves and an enormous bonnet. Will was George. The first scene represented was “a villain disarmed by a smile.” Horace with a red table-cloth thrown over his shoulders, was the Villain. I was the Smile. How I ever kept my countenance I don’t see. I did it though. Then followed “Maid of Athens,” “Fat boy,”…“Indian pursueing [sic] the girl,” “Bo Peep” and the “Man who tickled his wife to death.” The crowning act of all however was “Jack Spratt and his wife.” Grandpa and Grandma took these parts beautifully and caused us much fun.

"Portrait of a Woman in a Pink Dress." Painted by Marion ("Minnie") Boyd Allen in 1916. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

“Portrait of a Woman in a Pink Dress,” 1916. An example of Minnie’s work as an artist in her later years. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

All in all, Minnie’s entry gives the sense of a loving family that’s game for anything, humoring the whims of the children and relishing the chance to dress-up and perform. (The questionable titles of some of these tableaux are another thing.)

And therein lay the magic I find in Minnie’s diary. Through her childish schemes, emotions, and recording of her daily activities, she makes her world come alive in an amazingly relatable way. Perhaps this is a consequence of having myself kept a thorough diary at this age, which, while painful to reread the awkwardness at times, I cherish. Or maybe it’s because Minnie’s upper-crust upbringing in the late nineteenth century reminds me of my first American Girl doll, Samantha, whose stories revolve around her strict grandmother’s Victorian mansion and summers on a lake. (Although set in 1904, Samantha’s fictional world bears a strong resemblance to Minnie’s real one of thirty years earlier.)

An entry from the summer of 1876 with a friend's name redacted.

An entry from the summer of 1876 with a friend’s name redacted.

Or possibly it’s as simple as Minnie representing so many universals of girlhood. She concludes this Thanksgiving entry by writing that “After supper went over to Grandma Allen’s and had a pleasant evening. Slept with Annie. We went to bed at eight and to sleep at half past one.” In another instance, she wrote about a friend making “a peculiar remark to me in the evening,” but carefully cut out the friend’s name at a later date, leaving us to wonder who this “Miss” is.

Visiting multiple family houses on holidays, having sleepovers with friends (in her case a cousin) at which you stay up all night talking, and writing about disagreements with friends only to worry about someone reading it later—these are clear-cut memories of my own childhood. As was jumping rope until dark, climbing trees, and playing pitch. But I’ve never performed a play on Thanksgiving—perhaps it’s time to rethink that.

We’ll revisit Minnie around Christmastime, with more descriptions of lavish celebrations and drawings of decorations.

The Acquisitions Table: The Southern Pictorial Primer

The Southern Pictorial Primer. Richmond, Va.: West & Johnston, 1864.

Southern Pictorial PrimerWe are always on the lookout for Confederate imprints, and through the generous book scouting of AAS member Rich West, we were alerted to the eBay presence of this copy of The Southern Pictorial Primer. It was published by West & Johnston, a firm which also issued Edward Boykin’s The Boys’ and Girls’ Stories of the War (ca. 1863-1865), and Brown and Arthur (an abridgment of Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s School Days by “a mother”). Although most of the reading lessons on its poorly printed pages are fairly common, it does sport this wood engraving of the Confederate flag, with the ironic lines, “Forever float that standard sheet, Where breathes the foe but falls before us! With Freedom’s Soil beneath our feet, and Freedom’s Banner streaming o’er us!”

New Acquisitions: Early Bookplates

517142_Washington_0001The American Antiquarian Society has an extensive collection of pre-1800 American bookplates, with representative examples engraved by famous patriots like Paul Revere, or commissioned by founding fathers such as George Washington (left). AAS founder, Isaiah Thomas, had two different bookplates made by Revere and AAS, of course, has several examples of each ( below).  These objects are elegant and intimate reminders of the private libraries formed in the colonies and the young nation, and mesh well with the Society’s focus on the history of the book in America.

Thomas collage

The earliest bookplate in the collection dates from 1642. This plate for Steven Day (below) has been the object of study by bookplate historians for decades and is considered by many to be the first bookplate printed in North America.  The Society’s entire bookplate collection includes just over 41,000 examples from 1642 on up to about 1930, but the pre-1800 era is an important focus for the institution.


Livius bookplateThe Society’s bookplate collection was started in 1915 by the Reverend Herbert F. Lombard and relies heavily on Charles Dexter Allen’s seminal work American Book-plates: A Guide to their Study with Examples, first published in 1894. I knew the collection was astonishingly good, but two recent acquisitions have underscored just how strong it is.  Last quarter a generous donor sent us a listing of over 100 bookplates in his collection that he wanted to donate to the Society.  He asked me to check the list for duplication and let him know which plates we lacked.  There was exactly one, yes that is right, one, pre-1800 plate that we needed, out of the dozens of early plates on his list.  We are very pleased to add the armorial bookplate for George Livius, 1790, listed as number 506 by Allen (see right).

517142_Baldwin_0001A month later, I was at a book fair where a dealer had generously set aside an album of pre-1800 bookplates for me to see.  I took quick photographs of each page in the album (thank you iPhone!) and checked them against our holdings.  Again, out of about thirty beautiful early plates, we lacked just one. This engraved bookplate was issued as a blank for gentlemen to use by filling in their name in manuscript.  Allen, who amusingly terms this a plate for “promiscuous use,” lists the design under the name of Jacob Brown, as that is the copy he saw and recorded in his bibliography.  Our plate is filled out for a N.B. Baldwin, but features the same reclining man reading on a sofa, a scene engraved by Peter Rushton Maverick (1755-1811) who was at work in New York and is well-represented in the Society’s print and ephemera collections.

And so the hunt continues for any other pre-1800 bookplates not already in the Society’s collection. If you have one, let us know!   It is always a pleasure to check, as it requires looking through numerous volumes of beautiful, intricate bookplates, all tidily organized by last name. Far from an onerous task, believe me!

The Acquisitions Table: Newell Family Papers

Newell Family Papers, 1817-1925.

NewellRobert Ralsten Newell (1843 – 1883) left Harvard College in 1863 to join the Union Army as second lieutenant for the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first northern regiment of African American soldiers. He was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant, then captain. He was discharged in 1865, returned to Harvard to complete his law degree, and practiced law in Boston. Robert’s sister Jane Hancox Newell (1857-1930) attended Radcliffe College and published a two-volume text book, as well as a volume of poetry. This collection of family papers primarily includes letters written to and by the two siblings, but also features correspondence among other family members as well, including other siblings, parents, and children. The letters exchanged among multiple generations of family members discuss the war, family matters, education, missionary work, and travels to Asia.

Mocked by its own title.

516375_0001One feature that makes working at the American Antiquarian Society a joy is the number of resources available at our fingertips.   Our reading room abounds in reference books and bibliographies. Our stacks are filled with county and local histories, city directories, genealogical publications, and other publications. We have access to numerous online databases. When an unusual imprint or unrecorded publication arrives, we are able to find out some information about the publication, publisher or printer.

Then there are the rare times when we are flummoxed.

At a recent ephemera fair at Boxborough, Massachusetts, a dealer sold us some issues of The Sucker, published in Belleville, St. Clair County, Illinois in 1843.   They are small pieces (7 ½” x 5”), crudely printed. Under the masthead is the cry, “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death.” Two of the pieces are complete and have as the editor “Devil & Co.” There is one fragment dated July 29, 1843, that has P.F. Coghlan & W. Orr as editors.   Some of the content is political, poking fun at cand516375_0002idates. There are some pretty good jokes among the issues. For example:

‘My dear,’ said a gentleman to a lady whom he thought to have married, ‘do you wish to make a fool of me.’
‘No,’ replied the lady, ‘Nature has saved me that trouble.’

Spunky. – If a man is rude to a lady in Pittsburg, she smacks his mouth with her hand. If he is civil, she gives the smack with her pouters. Sensible and spirited.

One of the scraps has two crude woodcuts; one of a donkey and the other of a rooster. For some reason, one page is filled with nothing but stock illustrations, as if the editor ran out of things to write and used them to fill up a page (below right).

516375_0003Only one other library—the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois—has any issues of this short-lived oddity.

When it arrived I spent some time researching it. It isn’t listed in any bibliography of Illinois newspapers and periodicals. The title and the editors are not mentioned in the county histories. No mention of the paper could be found in contemporary newspapers by searching the Readex America’s Historical Newspaper database.   Every resource at my fingertips turned up no information on this publication. It is as if the title was mocking me for daring to try and find out who was behind “Devil & Co.”

Gentle readers, do you dare take a crack at this puzzle while the masthead sits there waiting to mock your efforts?

The Acquisitions Table: The Album

The Album. New York: F. & R. Lockwood, [between 1818 and 1822]

The AlbumPrimarily used for recording poetry, this album consists of an engraved title page followed by blank sheets, all bound up in a bespoke binding personalized for Adeline Morgan. It appears to be one of the earliest albums issued thus (in a decorative binding, with a title page) in the U.S. The paper is watermarked 1818 and the earliest date in the book is 1822. AAS acquires such volumes for both their insides and their outsides. The manuscript content of such commonplace books or friendship albums sheds light on education practices and print and manuscript circulation patterns. The binding complements others already at the Society, especially from the Michael Papantonio collection. It is three-quarters crimson straight-grained morocco with marbled paper boards and endpapers, and generous gilt tooling. The wove paper is watermarked “Butlers & Ward 1818,” indicating it is the product of Simeon and Asa Butler’s Eagle Paper Mill in Suffield, CT.

Under Their spell: The AAS Collection of Halloween Postcards

halloweenpostcards1In the same vein as last year’s ghostly stereocards blog post, we offer another Halloween treat for you! Have you thought about sending someone a light-fright this October? If you’ve been in any stationary or card aisle recently, you would notice most holidays serve as an excuse to send a greeting. Although conservative in number (sixteen unique; seventeen in total), the AAS collection of Halloween postcards documents another era of this fad. Many are between members of the Weir Family of Worcester, Mass., dated 1910-1913. Here, the fronts and backs (including some charming drawings of pumpkins) have been digitized and linked in our digital image archive, GIGI.

These postcards illustrate a snapshot in time between Halloween as a belief in spirit possession (i.e. the All Hallows Eve events) and the costumed-candy-revels of the twenty-first century. In Halloweenpostcardsthese images, participants are no longer attempting to frighten roving souls, but rather join them. The cards are more than just pretty images of youthful flirtation with the spirit world; they also have historical depth.

The postcards are representative of what Daniel Gifford, author of American Holiday Postcards, 1905-1915 (2013), refers to as the cards’ Golden Age. The Society’s collection is American, British, and German in origin. Gifford describes the international exchange of these objects, which was disrupted by World War I when the printing and import of cards from Germany ended. In the Society’s collection are several beautiful German examples – “A Jolly Halloween,” “With All Halloween Greetings,” and the hand-embossed “Halloween” postcard by the firm H. L. Woehler. The choice of Halloween lends itself to the riches of color printing; the holiday, paired with autumnal festivals and harvests, provides a bountiful palette of colors, including reds, gold, oranges, blues, blacks, and greens.

Halloweenpostcards_003snThe picture postcard, as historian David Henkin puts it in his text The Postal Age (2006), shows a “traveler’s implicit claim to have encountered scenes of interest” (Henkin 129-30). Without a doubt, holiday postcards are an entirely different animal from picture postcards (for interested readers, Gifford’s monograph does include a treatment specifically of these holiday postcards). Likely no one sending a Halloween postcard encountered a witch, devil, goblin, or ghost, but these images offered the opportunity for the creator to explore these subjects visually (subjects the sender/recipient might hope to encounter only in print!).

In his article “Star-Spangled Turkeys” Gifford states, “at the peak of their popularity billions of postcards were circulating through post office networks of kin and friends, and into boxes and albums” (Gifford 14). Since the AAS collection of uncatalogued postcards includes both picture postcards and holiday pieces interfiled together, it allows us to study one small network in action as we can see through the grouping how they were selected, sent, received, and ultimately collected.

The Society’s collection of postcards is an area of the Graphic Arts Collection that extends beyond the 1876 cutoff date (how devilish!). So be sure to browse the digitized cards to send something spook-tacular to someone who might like a Halloween greeting! They’re so beautiful, it’s almost scary!

Works Cited

Gifford, Daniel. American Holiday Postcards, 1905-1915: Imagery and Context. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2013.

—. “Star-spangled Turkeys: Patriotism in Thanksgiving Postcards.” Ephemera Journal. Sept 2014, 17:1, 14-18.

Henkin, David M. The Postal Age: The Emergence of Modern Communications in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2006.

Photography: Printers at Work

printers_amherst_0001Recently, AAS purchased two photographs depicting American newspaper printers, one on eBay and the other at a local auction in central Massachusetts.  These images capture working men posed in photographic studios, holding props and tools of the trade.  When viewed with two additional photographs already in the collection, these portraits capture the likenesses of people who produced small regional newspapers and job printing around the turn of the twentieth century, from Quebec to central Alabama.

The earliest image in the group is a ca. 1890 tintype of three men. Edward Wilton Carpenter is seated at center and is flanked by two unidentified men, who stand and hold tools and paper. Carpenter was a resident of Amherst, Massachusetts, and was also the co-publisher of the Amherst Record.  The Record started in 1868 and had gone through several owners before it was purchased by Carpenter and a partner in 1890.  Carpenter was also an author and in 1896 he wrote The History of the Town of Amherst, a general narrative about the town with a reprinting of town meeting records going back to the eighteenth century.

printers 1The second image, also from the 1890s, shows three unidentified printers in a different photographic studio.  The bespectacled central figure is seated, but instead of looking at the camera, he is intent on reading a copy of the Slatington News, published in Slatington, Pennsylvania. Two printers wearing ink-soiled aprons stand on either side.  The man at left holds a line of large wooden type which reads JOB PRINTING.  Displayed on the floor are two printing chases with locked-in type. None of the three men are identified and the history of the paper, like the Amherst Record, contains numerous changes in ownership and editors starting from the founding (1868) up until the twentieth century.  The style of the men’s clothing and photographic details indicate an 1890s date.  James Rauch bought the paper in 1898 after working as the editor there for at least ten years, so one of the men could be a young Rauch.

printers 2

These two images join two other photographs of printers already at AAS.  In 1894, an unknown photographer made the image above of African Americans learning the trade of printing in an educational print shop.  One of a collection of over fifty views showing the Tuskegee Institute (today Tuskegee University), founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, this image brings the viewer out of the studio and into the printers’ work space. The photograph includes nine students, two setting type in the foreground with others posed near belt-driven presses.  This shop produced annual reports, invitations, and notices issued by the Institute, as well as the Southern Letter, a small paper that followed the progress of the school’s leaders and students in the 1880s and 1890s.  Here the students do not wear aprons but instead are working in vests and shirtsleeves, learning by doing, and helping disseminate information about their school in the process.


Finally, the fourth photograph, also already housed at AAS, brings the viewer into a commercial print shop.  This image is the latest in the set, taken around 1900 in a Three Rivers, Quebec, business.  The photographer, J. Guthorn of the New York Photo View Company, employed the recently invented technology of flash powder, evident in the reflections on the presses and the washed out appearance of the fellow at center holding the large composing stick.  The printers_quebec_0002photographer’s label promotes this new technique stating, “Pictures taken at night by flash light.” Unlike the earlier studio images and the Tuskegee promotional shot, this photograph gives the viewer a good sense of the interior of a typical small commercial printing house, with heavy presses set on the ground floor, dim light, oil cans at the ready near the machinery, and discarded paper all over the floor.  The printers clearly occupied tight quarters during working hours.  In this shot we have five employees, three presses, and examples of printed work pinned up on the wall.  An inscription on the back of the picture indicates the space was owned by the Stobbs Printing Office, which was founded in the 1850s.

Taken together, these four occupational images of printers tell us a lot about printing during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.  In local history texts or accounts of historical newspapers, these print shops are usually reduced to the name of the editor or owner, the type of work they produced, circulation size for newspapers, and other facts of interest (location, political party, etc). With the photographs, we get the faces and forms of the workers themselves.  The men are shown in their aprons or shirtsleeves, with the tools of the trade in hand, near their co-workers or presses, not with their family in their Sunday best.  They are likely proud of their work, they can read and write, can set type, and can use the power of the press to record and perhaps influence events in their home town.  The industry was a perilous one, with papers changing hands, going bankrupt, failing and restarting all the time.  Steady work at small presses often meant changing shops, moving, learning new technology.  In today’s era of Snapfish and Shutterfly, it is something to look at images of workers, pressmen, students —  if nothing else, as a reminder of the physicality of the people (especially the young ones with their skinny necks and slim shoulders) who worked as printers and newspaper men long before Slate, CNN, and the Huffington Post.

The Antiquarian in the Twenty-First Century

digital antiquarian

Printed by Senefelder Lithography Company in 1830, the image on the right in the banner above recalls a transatlantic moment when antiquarianism was both a popular fad and an object of ridicule (think Walter Scott’s The Antiquary or Friedrich Nietzsche’s description of the antiquarian as “the mad collector raking over all the dust heaps of the past”). Fascination bordering on obsession with the past, with history’s many mysteries, is the hallmark of the antiquarian. Collecting materials of our cultural heritage, the antiquarian seeks to establish and maintain a historical relation to the past. So too he adorns himself in its pieces, fashioning from the fragments of the material record a costume, an identity, a disposition, an ethos — lending artifacts, texts, and objects the life of his persona, transforming evidence of the past into habitus in which we might live and move.  Since 1830, the work of the antiquarian has been dramatically transformed by changes in communication technology. Where the stuff of antiquarianism used to be manuscript scrolls and books, it is now online union catalogs and flash drives. Where the antiquarian always has his nose in a book (and the figure in the period is always coded male), oblivious to the world around him, the digital antiquarian stares at a screen, equally absorbed. But if the tools and methods we use to encounter the past have changed, the antiquarian’s quest remains the same: to cultivate intimacy with the historical record, through curiosity and the care we bring to its preservation and interpretation.

With changes in communication technologies have come changes in the scale and complexity of the antiquarian’s methods, reflecting the development of modern institutions and processes of knowledge work.  At the American Antiquarian Society, and indeed at other special collections large and small, diverse kinds of labor unfold on both sides of the circulation desk. Scholars from many academic disciplines bring diverse research questions to rare books and manuscripts, newspapers and graphic materials, with hopes to carry what they find into the worlds of academic scholarship and public humanities.  There are scholars as well on the other side of the circulation desk — curators, catalogers, and database designers, among many others, who develop and maintain the information architecture on which the process of discovering new knowledge depends.  The very image of an individual figure belies the collaborations that have furnished and organized the habitus of the archive.  The antiquarian now moves within systems and networks of knowledge work that, since 1830, have been continually transformed by standards and tools of library and information science.  As historical scholarship migrates online, and catalogs have become databases, standards and protocols of archival preservation have become integral  to the process of making materials of the past accessible — visible and meaningful in digital environments for research and communication.  So what, then, does the twenty-first-century antiquarian need to know now to inhabit the past, to develop critical, creative, and practical competencies to move amongst its materials?  Knowing how to read MARC records, understanding the functions of controlled vocabularies, searching for images online, recognizing the codependence of the searcher and the person who created the search engine — such methods and concepts have become essential to effective collaboration of students and scholars, curators and technologies, in the stewardship of archives in the twenty-first century.

To assess needs and opportunities for archive-based scholarship across fields of critical bibliography, history of the book, and the digital humanities, we have organized a conference on “the Digital Antiquarian” to be held on May 30-31, 2015. Ideas and projects presented at the conference will be more deeply explored in a five-day workshop, designed to introduce students and scholars to methods and concepts of archive-based scholarship through practice-based learning in digital humanities learning. Led by AAS curators and guest instructors, the workshop will explore fundamental questions about how data is organized and used in special collections development and research. We very much hope that you will consider joining us for the conference and applying to the workshop. To learn more about both, please visit the “Digital Antiquarian” events page.

– Thomas Augst and Molly O’Hagan Hardy

Thomas Augst, an AAS member and associate professor at New York University, is the author of The Clerk’s Tale: Young Men and Moral Life in 19th Century America (Chicago, 2003), co-editor of Institutions of Reading: The Social Life of Libraries in the United States (UMass, 2007), and co-editor of Cultural Agencies and American Libraries (2001). Tom was a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at AAS for ten months last year.

Molly O’Hagan Hardy is AAS digital humanities curator and an ACLS public fellow.  

America’s Sherlock Holmes

HailColumbia_0002A recently acquired amateur newspaper, Hail Columbia, published in Hartford by W.H. Gillette, sent this serials cataloguer on a hunt for the full name of the editor. The paper itself gave no clues, and it was fairly typical of such things—riddles, poetry, bits and pieces of “news,” notices of other amateur newspapers and the like. It must have been notable for something, as it was mentioned in the Hartford Courant, evinced by a thank you nod from the editor in the July 1867 issue.

Hail Columbia was started in 1866 but there is no indication of how long it ran. Working through, I discovered the editor was William H. Gillette, son of Senator Francis Gillette. William was born July 24, 1853, and the family lived at Nook Farm in Hartford, near such notables as Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and Charles Dudley Warner (editor of the Courant, which may explain the notice!). Gillette was about fourteen when he edited and published Hail Columbia.


From there he went on to become an actor, Mark Twain getting him his first role in Twain’s own play The Gilded Age in 1875. Gillette became a success both as a playwright and an actor, with his most famous role being Sherlock Holmes. He had a friendship and correspondence with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in 1898 arriving at Doyle’s residence in a long gray cape and deerstalker hat. With his height and longish, aristocratic face and beaky nose, he was the perfect Sherlock Holmes. Doyle had written a play about his famous detective, which Gillette extensively rewrote and asked Doyle if he could “marry Holmes.” Doyle replied the he could marry him or murder him or do anything he liked with him. The result was a four-act play, combining elements from several of Doyle’s stories, including A Scandal in Bohemia and The Final Problem. Touches of A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, and The Greek Interpreter were also incorporated.


Gillette as Sherlock Holmes (from Wikimedia Commons)

Gillette’s portrayal of Holmes on the stage led to one of the more iconic representations of the detective, which never existed in the original stories. Although the cape and deerstalker hat appeared in the Strand Magazine serialization of the stories, the illustrations by Sidney Paget show Holmes with a straight stem pipe, not the curved calabash now associated with him. This was introduced by Gillette on stage, supposedly so that he could speak his lines more clearly with the curved stem. More likely it was because that type of pipe lent itself to a better view of the actor’s face! In any case, Gillette’s use of the calabash firmly entrenched that pipe in the Holmes canon, along with the violin, syringe, and magnifying glass.

Gillette was also an inventor and practical joker. His house in Haddam, now known as Gillette’s Castle, is an imposing fourteen-room mansion built of local, undressed fieldstone and has trap doors, secret passages, and intricate locks designed by the owner. It is surrounded by a miniature railway also designed and built by the actor. Gillette’s sitting room on the fourth floor was designed to replicate that of Sherlock Holmes, complete with the tobacco-stuffed Persian slipper hanging from the mantle. There is also a spring loaded bar that appeared and disappeared before guests. An inveterate animal lover, Gillette built a fountain in the conservatory for his two pet frogs, and had anywhere from fifteen to twenty cats in the house at one time. An advertisement placed in the Deep River Era by Gillette offered “Two perfectly black Tommy kittens to be given away, one all black, other black with white feet and underside. Both have double forepaws that is, seven toed. Not Persian, Angora or Siamese, But Real Cats they come of a family of great mousers. Anyone wanting one or both of these delightful felines must write stating qualifications. That is, we want to be sure that they do not go to stupid boobs who don’t know what a cat is. Would like to have a recommendation from last cats you have lived with, but probably that is asking too much. Address WG, Box 96, Hadlyme, Conn.”

Gillette died childless on April 29, 1937. His will stated

I would consider it more than unfortunate for me – should I find myself doomed, after death, to a continued consciousness of the behavior of mankind on this planet – to discover that the stone walls and towers and fireplaces of my home – founded at every point on the solid rock of Connecticut; – that my railway line with its bridges, trestles, tunnels through solid rock, and stone culverts and underpasses, all built in every particular for permanence (so far as there is such a thing); – that my locomotives and cars, constructed on the safest and most efficient mechanical principles; – that these, and many other things of a like nature, should reveal themselves to me as in the possession of some blithering saphead who had no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.


An Unusual Advertisement

The Philadelphian  (Philadelphia, PA).  February 1846.

489331_0001This is a scarce monthly publication filled with stories, tidbits of information, and small jokes for the entertainment and amusement of the reader.

489331_0002What makes this particular issue interesting is an advertisement on page 2 that takes up almost two-thirds of the page.  It is for drugs, medicines, chemicals, paints, oils, glass, and dyes by Edward Coly.  Rather than being printed in black letterpress like the rest of the newspaper, it is made up to look like a handwritten letter from Coly and printed in blue ink.  The sheet of paper had to go through two different types of presses to achieve this effect. The advertisement was printed by lithography.  The printer had to leave space for the letter when setting type.   It would have been slow and not cheap, but the advertisement certainly is eye-catching and effective.

There are other examples of lithographed serials and serials with lithographed plates tipped in.  We even have a newspaper from San Francisco with the English text set in type on one side and Chinese text in lithograph on the other. But this is the only newspaper I know where there is a lithographed advertisement co-mingled with letterpress text on the same page.

The Acquisitions Table: Aladdin

Aladdin.  Cincinnati: Peter G. Thomson, ca. 1877-1889.

AladdinAlthough McLoughlin Bros. dominated American picture book publishing in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, they were not without worthy competitors; among them was Peter Gibson Thomson (1851-1931).  This lusciously chromolithographed version of Aladdin sports a marvelous palette of colors and shades, and was probably the work of European lithographers who came to the United States after the Civil War.  In 1892, Peter G. Thomson established a factory for coated paper which became the largest of its kind in the world.

Women’s Rights, Brigham Young, and Graphic Novels

Hélène Quanquin was a recent Jenny d’Héricourt Fellow here at AAS, and in the course of her research came across this fascinating satire on the women’s rights movement. Quanquin teaches at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3.

coverFlorence Claxton, The Adventures of a Woman in Search of Her Rights, containing nearly one hundred original drawings by the author, which have been reproduced in fac-simile by the graphotype process of engraving. Boston and NY: Lee & Shepard, 187-?.

The title suggests an adventure novel, a coming-of-age story, and a sentimental novel rolled into one. The Adventures of a Woman in Search of Her Rights is all of the above, but it is also a comic novel drawn and written by English artist and illustrator Florence Claxton. Claxton was the daughter of English painter Marshall Claxton, who trained her and her sister Adelaide. Best-known for her watercolor satirizing the Pre-Rapahelites, The Choice of Paris: An Idyll (1860), she made a living as an illustrator for books and the popular press.

The copy of The Adventures of a Woman in Search of Her Rights held by the American Antiquarian Society is the American edition of the one published in England in 1870-1871, but its is more a reproduction as it includes the original ads for British goods on the back cover (see below).

img 20Told in a few dozen drawings, it is the incredibly fast-paced story of a young woman, who, after being spurned by her lover, studies at Oxford and embraces different professions and causes, from woman suffrage and law, to politics, medicine, and spiritualism – in that order. In the end, disappointed with her countrymen (and women) she moves to the United States, where she marries Mormon leader Brigham Young. In an unexpected twist, the last drawing shows our young heroine waking up from what has been a dream and crying out, “THANK GOODNESS, IT’S ONLY A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM – and I’m NOT emancipated.”

img 19The targets of Claxton’s wit are numerous in this book, but it is the woman suffrage movement, still in its infancy in England in the early 1870s, that she particularly derides, relying on the many clichés of antisuffragist rhetoric at the time. She points to the flaws of suffragism as a middle-class women’s movement ignorant of the plight of working-class women and mothers.

img 11The fact that the heroine’s adventures start in unrequited love and end with a marriage to polygamist Brigham Young suggests rather heavily that it is frustration and the impossibility to form a relationship with a man that account for her commitment to women’s rights. Similarly, when she becomes a suffragist after reading John Stuart Mill – an early supporter of woman suffrage during the debates of the 1867 Reform Act – she undergoes several physical transformations: her nose “assumes strong-minded proportions,” she decides to give up her feminine attire to dress and act like a man.

img 7The Adventures of a Woman in Search of Her Rights, however, should not be mistaken for Claxton’s ideas on women’s emancipation. At least two of her works show her concern about women’s condition: Scenes from the Life of a Female Artist (exhibited at the 1858 annual show of the Society of Women Artists), and Woman’s Work, a Medley (1861). In 1859, she signed a petition for the admission of women to the Royal Academy Schools. Despite the constraints of her job as a cartoonist, which required her to make fun of the fads of her time, we can also see the extent to which her comic novel resonated with her own rather adventurous and uncommon life – as a female cartoonist, but also as a woman who lived in Australia, India, and Egypt as a teenager and young adult.

The Acquisitions Table: Map of Utah and Colorado

H. De Wertheren. Map of Utah and Colorado Prepared by order of Lt Gen. W.T. Sherman, St. Louis: R.P Studley & Co., 1869

Map of Utah and ColoradoThis map of Utah and Colorado and the bordering states and territories was made during the tenure of William Tecumseh Sherman as the head of the Military Division of the Missouri, which covered territory between the Mississippi River and the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. In this capacity, Sherman oversaw traffic on the overland trail systems, protected the railroads during construction, and oversaw the negotiation of treaties with Native people in the area. This copy of the map is annotated in manuscript with the regions of the country which had been set aside as reservations for many groups, including the Navajo, the Ute and the Shoshone peoples. The map was issued in the middle of the Indian Wars, just after the Winter Campaign of 1868-1869. Printed in St. Louis, the map is one of the earliest cartographic sheets printed by R.P. Studley & Co.. Starting in the late 1850s, the firm printed official reports, pamphlets, job work for the railroads and city businesses, and other ephemera, and are often credited with bringing the first lithographic press to the city. Gift of George Dalphin.

Now that’s a hat!

The People’s Pathfinder  (St. Louis, MO)  Spring 1853.  Edited by William H. Keevill.

459391_0001This is a rare advertising piece for the dry goods palace of Hubbell & Hunt at Corinthian Hall in St. Louis, Missouri.  As can be seen from the large woodcut on the front page, this publication is about hats.  The articles are about hats.  The advertisements are for different types of hats.  One article starts out, “Did you ever see a Bald Indian?” and concludes by promoting their ventilated hats.  At the end they note they employed Mr. G. A. Baner to cut the engravings because he was the finest in the area.  The “Great National Hat” on the front page with the man standing on it may not be an exaggeration.  On page 2, Mr. Keevill notes, “The Eighth Wonder is the Great National Hat on Corinthian Hall, twelve feet high, and built at a cost of some hundreds of dollars.”  Now that is a hat.

“Black Printers” on White Cards: Information Architecture in the Database of the Early American Book Trades

Since our founder Isaiah Thomas’s research for his ambitious The History of Printing in America (1810), AAS has held the largest collection of data on the early American book trades in North America and the Caribbean. The bulk of this information exists on 25 drawers of cards in our reading room and is known as the Printers’ File. Culled from biographies, reference books, and newspapers, the data detail the work of 8,000-10,000 printers, publishers, editors, binders, and others involved in the book trades up to 1820. We are now transforming all of this data, both from the cards and from our General Catalog, into the Database of the Early American Book Trades (DEABT). This online resource is an effort to augment the types of queries our data can answer, to link our data to related data sets, and to allow greater access to a resource that is currently only available in our reading room. The transformation has offered me a number of opportunities to reflect on how the information architecture governing this set of data makes meaning and is therefore ripe for the kinds of reflection Alan Lui calls for when he writes that digital humanists need to show that critical thinking about our resources “scales into thinking critically about the power, finance, and other governance protocols of the world.”

Slide14 (2)

Sample cards from the Printers’ File.

Book historians (and the more steeped in bibliography and cataloguing one is, the more I think this is true) are keenly aware of the importance of how information is structured. In her contribution to Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012), Joanna Drucker identifies such an awareness with the critical editing and online repositories built in the early 1990s, but we might trace such an awareness much further back if we are to look at the history of cataloging and bibliography in this country, and of course even further back, if we turn our gaze across the Atlantic. But, the point that I want to make here is less one about origins than it is about Drucker’s concern that what she terms “capta” and defines as “interpretation rather than data,” is lost in the creation of humanist “data.” Since her essay appeared a few years ago, much has been done to show that the information structures governing the data are a form of “capta” themselves. For example, Lisa Gitelman and Virginia Jackson argue in the introduction to ‘Raw Data’ is an Oxymoron (2013): “starting with data often leads to an unnoticed assumption that data are transparent, that information is self-evident, the fundamental stuff of truth itself. If we’re not careful, in other words, our zeal for more and more data can become a faith in their neutrality and autonomy, their objectivity” (16).

The transformation of the Printers’ File into the DEABT has rendered some of these hitherto “unnoticed assumptions” visible to me. The File is in effect a prosopography, tracing the business and at times personal lives, of thousands of people involved in and around the early American book trade and the cards themselves dictate this structure. Each of the salmon cards in the 25 drawers details the life of an individual. One person might have more than one card, but always—or almost always—there is a name at the top of the card to remind the user that it is the category of “person” that is organizing this inquiry. In this sea of salmon cards, there is however an exception: four white cards that, at their top, instead of a person’s name, have the title “Black Printers.” The cards then list a number of African American printers active in the trade in the eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. Why are these cards included? How did they come to disrupt the information structure that governs this data? And what do we make of such a disruption?

blackprinters_0002 (2)

The answer can be found in our institutional records, which trace the building of our collections and in so many ways reflect and inform the history of information science and librarianship in this country. In the AAS archives there is correspondence between California Historical Society librarian James Abajian and AAS associate librarian Fred Bauer, Jr. In June 1975, Abajian sent a general query to a number of university libraries and a few independent libraries about his latest project: “I am preparing for publication a monograph concerning U.S. 19th and early 20th century black printers, type founders, and ink and paper makers. If you have any references to blacks engaged in either this field or peripheral areas, I should very much appreciate receiving Xerox copies of them.” Bauer promptly responded with a list of reference books Abajian might consult, and he told him of the Printers’ File. Bauer lamented that the Printers’ File could not really be of help because of the way it was organized. He wrote, “Unfortunately, we do not have any entry to our Printer’s [sic] Catalog by sex or race (color). This great resource can only be tapped through the Surname of the printer.” In response, Abajian adjusted his query, forwarding “a selected list of such printers is attached for whatever can be done with it.” Bauer responded that he was pleased to have the list as he hoped “to turn up some information as we proceed with our cataloging,” and asked Abaijan for permission to include it in the File. Bauer again bemoaned the Printers’ File’s insufficiency, “Since we are still working in the period 1640-1830, we have only a slight chance to discover any of the people you have found, but we shall try. Please keep us advised of your results for we would welcome any additional information for our Printers’ file.” It is Abajian’s list that became the four 3×5 white index cards. Placed at the start of the “B”s, these cards understood in the context of this exchange speak to an absence in the history of the American trades: the names of these “black printers” are there because Abajian sought data that Bauer regrettably could not supply. In other words, their inclusion signifies exclusion.

abajian_0006 (2)

The letter from James Abajian with the list of black printers.

There is much more to be said about these cards as outliers, about the political and social conditions in which these men and women of the book trades worked and the reasons their work is obscure, and about the zeitgeist in which Abajian sought information about them.  For my limited purposes here, I want to say simply that, through rupture, these cards call attention to the forces at play as this huge amount of information was structured. In creating the online database, we will note the race, insofar as we know it, of all members of the trade, so that the uniqueness of these cards will be lost. We will be including that which Bauer laments the lack of in his letter to Abajian, and the “black printers” can be found by a simple querying of the database, as if these names had always been there. These names will not stand out because they are on white cards, but instead will exist in the same ontology as all the others in the database. The cards themselves, however, remind us that our organization of data, no matter how neutral we imagine it to be, is built out of and therefore reflects upon a particular moment, that it is performing a kind of “capta” through its very organization within a system, a system that can never itself be neutral because its creation, like the data it captures, is a humanist endeavor.

September issue of the Almanac is here!

The latest issue of the Society’s newsletter, the Almanac, is now available, complete with images of Boston on fire, the President of the United States, and some pretty exciting (to us, at least, given our penchant for old printing) packed rental trucks. If that’s not enough to entice you, there are also stories about upcoming public programs and a conference on image and text in American print culture; a generous gift from an AAS member and Councilor; the indefatigable efforts of our curator of newspapers to collect material on cross-country road trips; and of course, the honor we’re still over the moon about, the National Humanities Medal.

So please take a moment to check out what’s going on at the Society, and we hope you’ll join us for the upcoming programming!