The Acquisitions Table: William H. Bryant, Letter, 1858

William H. Bryant, Letter, 1858.

442326_0001This entertaining letter between friends was written from Boston by William H. Bryant to his friend Nathaniel in 1858. The letter is self-confessed by the author to be of little significance: “As I have a little spare time I thought I would improve it by writing you. Do be sure news are not very plenty.” Bryant goes on to recount recent social events, including a wedding and a concert, and reports that his boot and shoe business is dull. What is most striking about this seemingly ordinary letter are Bryant’s illustrations and comics. Bryant drew a rather risqué caricature of the bride and groom on the front of the letter, and the entire back page of the letter is filled with two comic scenes. One shows a man asking a shop girl for tobacco in an elaborate manner at J. J. Barrows’s dry good’ store. While again probably killing time, as he was doing with his letter writing, Bryant was amused by his own illustrations, asking Nathaniel, “If you can without any trouble, I wish you would show Bugbee these pictures.”

Mill Girls in Nineteenth-Century Print: AAS Collections meet DH Pedagogy

Assistant Professor of English at  University of Maryland Baltimore County Lindsay DiCuirci and our digital humanities curator, Molly O’Hagan Hardy, recently collaborated to combine early American labor history and digital humanities in the classroom. 

It is with great pleasure that we introduce to you the latest Omeka exhibition from AAS: Mill Girls in Nineteenth-Century Print. We hope that you will find this site another innovative and exciting glimpse into our collections. The production of this site differed from our previous model, in which AAS staff served as exhibition curators. This time, AAS partnered with Lindsay’s advanced-level English seminar Women and American Periodicals at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and the students themselves curated the exhibition. The students were given some basic Omeka instruction and the topic to investigate: depictions of young women working in factories in nineteenth-century magazines and newspapers. Through screencasts and videoconferencing with Molly, the students were also given a crash-course in metadata and how the rich metadata in the AAS Catalog could be transformed into their item descriptions. The students then researched the topic in various online and print sources, came up with an organizing schema for their exhibition, conferred on site design, selected the final pieces, wrote labels, and reflected on their work.

headerStudent process:

Lindsay crafted an assignment for the students that was at once detailed (in terms of expectations and deadlines) and at the same time gave them a lot of room for research discoveries and project building. We aimed to ensure the students’ full immersion into the curatorial process. Within a single semester, we wanted the students to experience the winnowing process inherent in any curatorial work, as well as the creativity afforded by and constraints imposed from a given content design platform. The students were told that the exhibition would draw upon the AAS holdings to highlight the powerful and often controversial presence of the female mill worker in American periodicals and newspapers. Ranging from romantic and whimsical depictions of the “factory girl” to stunning critiques of poor conditions, writings about women’s labor in America’s mills were ubiquitous in nineteenth-century magazines. Women of leisure were frequently confronted with stories, images, or representations of women at work. This juxtaposition, Lindsay explained to them, makes the study of mill girls in American periodicals and newspapers particularly fraught. The exhibition, the students were told, aimed to include a broad range of forms and genres, from editorials to poems to short stories to engravings, and a comprehensive range of periodicals from niche industry newspapers to national literary reviews.

The AAS newspaper stacks

The AAS newspaper stacks

Students were assigned weekly tasks across the fifteen-week semester, broken up into three major phases: initial archival research; selection and organization; writing and design. First, students focused on finding pieces relevant to the exhibition and generated a spreadsheet of over one hundred items.

From this large collection, they began to winnow the items and noted thematic patterns emerging in the materials. These patterns—culture, conditions, and activism—became the three main exhibits and students signed up to serve on an exhibit team. After Ken Albers visited UMBC’s campus to train the class on using Omeka, students began to refine their exhibit holdings and input them into a shared metadata spreadsheet. This became an essential tool through which the class and Molly could communicate about exhibition items. As students found primary sources on various digital databases, Molly would then locate the print source at AAS and request photography. Though at times students ran into roadblocks—items that were unavailable or didn’t fit the exhibition criteria—they continuously went back into the archive to find appropriate and accessible items for inclusion. In the last third of the semester, students drafted exhibition labels and, in teams, composed mini-essays for the exhibit landing pages. They collaborated on their writing and used opportunities both in and out class to make revisions. With the help of the AAS staff members who are also curating online Omeka exhibitions, Molly and Lindsay also developed a “Dos” and “Don’ts” handout to aid students in writing for digital platforms. Much of the design and page layout was finalized in the last two weeks of the semester. One of the graduate students, Ging Shamberger-Sandosky, designed the masthead image and a design sub-group made some layout and color scheme decisions using the CSS editor. Students were then asked to reflect on the process and identify their specific contributions in a three-page analytical reflection essay, submitted at the last class meeting.

The result:

LowellOfferingThe results, we hope you will find, display the students’ impressive curatorial skill. After much debate and reflection, the students structured the topic around three major categories: mill girl culture, working conditions, and activism and reform. Each of these “exhibits” has subcategories with items from well-known nineteenth-century periodicals such as the Lowell Offering, but also lesser known ones such as the Man and the Southern Rose. The students also looked at the artistic expression of the workers and about their conditions: in ballads, poems, and songs. Though the exhibition highlights only primary sources, the students certainly read a lot of secondary material to prepare their labels. These and other relevant sources can be found in the “Further Reading” section of the exhibition.


Students found this project both challenging and rewarding. Flexibility and problem solving proved to be two of the most essential skills in building the exhibition. The students almost universally remarked that the group collaboration was a highlight of the project. They also became more comfortable with the trial-and-error nature of this project as the semester wore on, learning to make adjustments and executive decisions and to rely on their peers’ knowledge when needed. Every student found his or her niche, whether in the area of research or writing, organization or design. One student remarked that working on the exhibit had taught her “more about research, group work, and productivity than any other experience thus far during [her] undergraduate career.” Students also observed that they had not known of the mill girls prior to their work on this project; their sense of the industrial revolution and early labor movements was vague. Many students observed similarities between laborers’ activism in the nineteenth century and today; for one student, the readings made her recognize that “working conditions have improved, but in other ways, we still need to change the way a woman’s work is valued and compensated.” This exhibition paints a multi-faceted picture of the mill girls, the sentimental subject of poems and songs and the agitators in a burgeoning reform movement.

Out In the Open: Louis Prang’s Oriental Ceramic Art

L. Prang & Co., “Plate XVI. Transmutation Splash Vase.”

L. Prang & Co., “Plate XVI. Transmutation Splash Vase.”

In December 2014, AAS member Joanne S. Gill gave the Society a copy of Louis Prang’s Oriental Ceramic Art, published in 1897. The work, in four volumes, describes the collection of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean ceramics collected by William T. Walters of Baltimore, now housed along with some of the original Prang watercolors in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. Though many institutions have copies of Oriental Ceramic Art, as far as we have been able to tell, our new resource in the Louis Prang online exhibition shows together, for the first time online, all 116 color plates included in the set.

L. Prang & Co., “Plate XXXI. Green and Yellow Vase.”

L. Prang & Co., “Plate XXXI. Green and Yellow Vase.”

Oriental Ceramic Art came about as Baltimore businessman William T. Walters searched for an art house to recreate his collection of Asian ceramics in printed form. After years of disappointment in the European printers, Walters searched back in the United States for a printer. In 1889 he commissioned Louis Prang and Company to reproduce his physical collection as chromolithographs after Prang showed him samples of what the work would look like. Prang sent British ceramic painters James Callowhill and his sons James and Percy to Walter’s house in Baltimore to paint original watercolors that would be used by the chromists in Boston to reproduce them as chromolithographs, sometimes using as many as forty stones, or colors. After more than eight years (and Walters’ death in 1894), the set, along with text by Dr. Stephen W. Bushnell and 437 black and white lithographs of the rest of Walter’s collection, was ready to be published. Walters had given Prang $500,000 to produce this work, and only 500 copies were made, at a price of $500 per set, meaning only half of the production costs were recouped in sales. Prang considered this work the pinnacle of his career, and retired from the printing business in 1897.

L. Prang & Co., “CX. Sake-bottle and Censer of Hirado Blue and White.”

L. Prang & Co., “CX. Sake-bottle and Censer of Hirado Blue and White.”

The Acquisitions Table: Lilies from Lebanon

Miss Graham, Lilies from Lebanon. New York: J. C. Riker, 1849.

523201_0001Striped cloth bindings are fairly rare, and this is a magnificent example, especially given the fact that it is a children’s book (children tended to be harder on their books than adults). This is a collection of Old Testament stories told in the guise of conversations between parents and their children. New York publisher John C. Riker specialized in issuing handsome albums and annuals that had beautiful bindings like this one.

C-SPAN’s profile of Worcester is now available online!

The C-SPAN crew filming AAS President Ellen Dunlap.

The C-SPAN crew filming AAS President Ellen Dunlap.

Periodically, C-SPAN2 Book TV and C-SPAN3 American History TV profile regional American cities through a series they call C-SPAN Cities Tour. Working with their local cable partners, special C-SPAN production crews explore the literary life and history of these cities by interviewing local historians, librarians, authors, and civic leaders. Last Autumn C-SPAN visited Worcester and then broadcast nationally the programs they created during the weekend of December 19 and 20, 2015. These segments are now available for viewing on their website.

In addition to showcasing Worcester, the American Antiquarian Society was featured on both channels. For C-SPAN Book TV the crew created a segment on the Society that featured our president Ellen Dunlap, our librarian and curator of manuscripts, Thomas Knoles, and the Society’s curator of books, Elizabeth Pope. Each of these individuals shared treasures from the AAS collections, many with important connections to Worcester, while also describing the history and mission of the organization. C-SPAN Book TV also created another segment about AAS’s digitization initiatives and our growing involvement with the field of digital humanities. This segment featured Molly O’Hagan Hardy, the Society’s digital humanities curator, as well as various staff from Readex/ Microprint Corporation, one of our digital partners.

C-SPAN screenshotAdditionally, C-SPAN 3 American History TV profiled various local stories with connections to national history, including a segment on the role the region played in starting the American Revolution that featured AAS Director of Outreach Jim Moran. AAS materials relating to the abolition of slavery and the early women’s rights movement were also featured in a segment on Abby Kelley Foster.

The Acquisitions Table: Life on the Prairie

After Arthur F. Tait. Life on the Prairie. The Trappers’ Defence [sic]. “Fire Fight Fire.” New York: Currier & Ives, 1862.


Large folio lithographs by Currier & Ives represent the pinnacle of the firm’s production and were the most costly images that they issued. This image of western trappers setting fire to the prairie to act as a back stop for a larger blaze was published in 1862, at the same time that the nation was battling through the Civil War. The subject matter of tough, independent frontiersman working together to solve a problem must have been exotic and appealing to Currier & Ives’s clientele in eastern cities. This print was sold as one of a pair (the other depicts a buffalo hunt) and was priced at $3.00 uncolored and $5.00 hand-colored with watercolor.

Conservation of the 1709 Bay Psalm Book

The conservation of the exceedingly rare copy of the 1709 14th edition of the so-called Bay Psalm Book was recently completed, and it is now available for gentle study. This small, outwardly modest book was acquired in the fall of 2013, through funds generously donated by the Fred Harris Daniels Foundation in memory of Bill Pettit, after an observant dealer spotted it at an auction. Suffering from three hundred years of wear and tear, it arrived at the library with its front cover detached and its back cover weakly hanging onto the spine. A course of treatment was drawn up by Chief Conservator Babette Gehnrich, and, with the able help of Conservation Assistant Nancy Fresella-Lee, the book was restored to a readable condition. Happily, scholars can now turn its pages—albeit gingerly!

Bay Psalm 1709 before 1

1709 edition of the Bay Psalm Book before treatment

This acquisition has fittingly found a permanent home at AAS, where it joins its famous parent—the 1640 first edition of The Whole Book of Psalmes—as one of the library’s most prized possessions. It will be recalled that AAS holds one of only eleven extant copies of this book, the once commonly used, metered translation of the Psalms. It is renowned because it is the first book that was printed in British North America, by Stephen Day[e] in Cambridge (probably with his son Matthew) on a press owned by the recently widowed Elizabeth Glover, just two decades after the Puritans landed on the shores of the Massachusetts Bay. In 1698, for the 9th edition, “tunes” with musical notations were added following the Psalms—another landmark in the history of printing in the colonies. The 1709 14th edition that was printed and published in Boston by John Allen includes these musical notations, and, in addition to all its other accolades, this copy now represents the earliest example of music printed in North America in the AAS collections. (For a timeline describing all twenty-seven editions of the Bay Psalm Book, see the Almanac of March 2014.)

1709 edition of the Bay Psalm Book before treatment

1709 edition of the Bay Psalm Book before treatment

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Conservation treatment

Though complete in its components, the worn condition of the book’s binding made it too unstable for safe handling. To address the foremost problem, reattaching the front cover and reversing the concave shape of the textblock, the entire book had to be disassembled. First, the original sewing was removed, the sections were separated, and the pages were lightly cleaned with eraser crumbs. A series of baths came next: first in cold water (which turned a satisfying yellow), followed by a second with the addition of calcium hydroxide to raise the pH level of the paper and loosen more dirt; and the third and final bath in a solution of water and magnesium bicarbonate to alkalize them. After drying on felts, the folios were sized with gelatin to restore the softened paper to an appropriate crispness and crackle. After washing, there was a notable difference in the paper’s color. It became lighter and brighter except around the edges, and thus is now closer to its original eighteenth-century state. While in this disassembled state, the entire volume was sent to the AAS photographer for digitization.

1709 edition of the Bay Psalm Book during treatment

1709 edition of the Bay Psalm Book during treatment

Following aqueous treatment and digitization, the folios were sewn back together, using the original holes. The original head and tail bands had been precariously dangling from the binding, so these had to be reconstructed. Since there were fortunately few tears within the book, only a minimal amount of paper repair was required. The (unidentified) eighteenth-century binder had used Dutch-pattern marbled (imported?) paper for the endpapers. To replace the missing flyleaves, salvaged period papers that closely match the originals were found amongst the lab’s stores. Finally, the original covers were reattached, and the spine, with its decorative tooling between the raised bands, was carefully glued over a new leather rebacking.

It is always a difficult decision to disturb the valuable historical evidence from an old binding. While repair could not be avoided in this case, all of the fragments that were removed from the book during its treatment—the head and tail bands, the sewing thread, and even the accumulated dust of three centuries that fell out of the page gutters—were carefully saved for posterity, and the treatment process was photographically documented.

A Treasure within a Treasure: A Surviving Book for the Ages

1709 edition of the Bay Psalm Book after treatment, with the removed "Book of Ages"

1709 edition of the Bay Psalm Book after treatment, with the removed “Book of Ages”

A further cause for celebration of this rediscovered rare book is yet another treasure that has been almost miraculously preserved between its damaged covers: an insert that reveals poignant proof of its early provenance. Four folded sheets that are shorter but wider than the pages of the book itself were sewn into the spine, between pages 190 and 191; the information handwritten on them undoubtedly reveals at least one pair of its former owners, William McNutt (1769–1821) and his wife, Olive (1774–1840). The booklet is a “Book of the Ages,” just like the one made by Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister, which was the basis for historian Jill Lepore’s biography Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. It was probably Olive who made the booklet, stitched it into her cherished copy of the Bay Psalm hymnal, and recorded her own name, her husband’s, those of their parents, and then her ten children in the order of their births (including two sets of twins). She died in 1840, so whoever added the latest recorded death date, 1842 (that of one of her sons, Richard Sweeney McNutt), was perhaps the next keeper of the book.

The “Book of the Ages” pamphlet was not sewn back into the book, because it protruded from the fore edge of the Bay Psalm textblock and was already frayed at the edges. This pamphlet is now stored and protected in a separate compartment in the custom-made box that holds the Bay Psalm Book.

Oil of toads and the perishable arts

As visions of baked goods dance through the pages of holiday Instagram, we bloggers at Past is serverPresent have decided to take a look at some of our historical manuscript cookbooks to see what early American bakers were cooking up instead. Like our fellow bloggers at Cooking in the Archives and the experts at Colonial Williamsburg, we were curious to see what our collections could tell us about the dishes early modern and colonial bakers served during the holidays and year round.

Of course historical cooking is not new to us at Past is Present. Since we started posting around the holidays back in 2009, we’ve blogged about the history of early American cooking and had one amazing cookoff between staff members and fellows. But since we wrote those posts, the Society has scanned and made freely available all of our manuscript cookbooks with the generous support of the Pine Tree Foundation, and we thought it was time for an update!

To view these scanned cookbooks, you can go directly to GIGI (our collection of digital images), click on “Manuscripts,” and do a keyword search for cookbooks. Alternatively, you can click here to pull up a list of catalog records of the scanned cookbooks. Each record includes a link to the scanned images in GIGI.

Charles Brigham (1700-1781) was one of the original proprietors of Grafton, Mass. This recipe book belonged first to Anna Cromwell ( - ), who was evidently living somewhere in England. There is evidence that it was also owned by Brigham, while a note inside the volume states that at one time the volume belonged to Sarah Sartell Prentice (1716-1792), wife of Solomon Prentice (1705-1773), the first minister of Grafton. The volume contains cooking recipes and formulae for various home remedies. Many of the remedies are numbered. There are also farm accounts dated from the 1720s and 1730s. Several sections have been sewn into the volume at some later date. There are pages missing and many other pages torn. Digitization funded by the Pine Tree Foundation.The earliest cookbook in this collection is one of the most interesting, as it was owned by several women on both sides of the Atlantic. Once kept by Anna Cromwell, or Williams, in England (she dates the book December 23, 1650), the book was eventually transferred to Mary Parks and then Sarah Sartell Prentice in Grafton, Massachusetts, in the eighteenth century. Like many cookbooks from the period, it contains recipes for sweet and savory dishes and cosmetic and medicinal remedies. I toyed with the idea of making one or more of the recipes in the book, but the obscure ingredients made authentic recreation of the foodstuffs nearly impossible. Some foods, like “Queen Elizabeths cake,” incorporate musk and ambergris, both whale products that became popular flavorings in the seventeenth century, while the “haggasse pudding” requires sheep’s maw. Many recipes include rosewater—but an authentic rosewater, at least the best kind according to Anna, requires at least a month’s fermentation.

Charles Brigham (1700-1781) was one of the original proprietors of Grafton, Mass. This recipe book belonged first to Anna Cromwell ( - ), who was evidently living somewhere in England. There is evidence that it was also owned by Brigham, while a note inside the volume states that at one time the volume belonged to Sarah Sartell Prentice (1716-1792), wife of Solomon Prentice (1705-1773), the first minister of Grafton. The volume contains cooking recipes and formulae for various home remedies. Many of the remedies are numbered. There are also farm accounts dated from the 1720s and 1730s. Several sections have been sewn into the volume at some later date. There are pages missing and many other pages torn. Digitization funded by the Pine Tree Foundation.

Taffaty Tarts

At other times the lack of clarity in the instructions kept me from even thinking about picking up the spoon. For the “taffaty tarts,” the instructions say to put half of the butter into liquor but then never specify what to do with the butter-liquor mixture. I wonder if the purpose of including the liquor was to make an extra-flaky dough (as with a recent Cook’s Illustrated vodka pie crust). If anyone knows, please pass on your knowledge and I’ll try to make the recipe! Many of the medicinal recipes—”oyle of toads,” “a receipt against ye plague,” “to prevent a womans miscarrying with child“—are completely out of the question, especially when it comes to boiling live toads.

Clearly the author of our cookbook was familiar enough with certain methods of preparing her “paste,” or pastry, and other foods that she didn’t need to write down all of the instructions. Perhaps she watched the women who contributed recipes to her book, like her sister Elizabeth English and cousin Anne Hunte, as they prepared the dishes. This network of female bakers spent time baking together, sharing recipes, ideas, and maybe a little gossip. Rebecca Tannenbaum, who has written briefly about the book, has said that the book represents generations of women’s collective wisdom.

Not trying to recreate one of these dishes seems right, though, because they were “perishable arts,” as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has called them. Twenty-first-century Instagrammers digitally preserve their pies and cookies with a metaphorical digital shellac or varnish, something that was not available to the earlier bakers. The early bakers recorded their process in sometimes cryptic instructions and occasionally preserved their books for years. Maybe it’s only fitting that the historical recipes remain available in traces only, the original perishable art gone with their maker, their words presenting just a hint of what they enacted. These words and traces, fragile in the original book, are now preserved, like Instagram photos, in digital ink.

Christmas Comes of Age in Carolyn Wells’s Christmas Alphabet

Christmas Alphabet 1Although Clement Clarke Moore is now recognized as the celebrated Christmas poet, early twentieth-century writer Carolyn Wells (1862-1942) expanded on Moore’s vision of Christmas as a season of wholesome family-centered celebration in her Christmas Alphabet. Issued by New York picture book publisher McLoughlin Brothers in 1900, the Christmas Alphabet weaves evocative verse and gorgeous full-color chromolithograph illustrations to give a more modern cast to the image of a Santa laden with gifts  made famous by Thomas Nast’s illustrations for the Night Before Christmas, published shortly after the Civil War (also by Mcloughlin Brothers).

The Alphabet’s cover (above right) does not show a rakish fur-suited elf, but a dignified gentleman in a red suit with a snowy beard, inspecting a puppet made by his helper, not unlike a manufacturer examining his employee’s product. Santa is flanked by other toys, including a miniature pony, a sailboat, a ball, and a sled; perhaps he is about to load them into his pack!

Christmas Alphabet 7Inside the book, Wells’s poem is accompanied by illustrated vignettes capturing the essence of each letter (the mini illustration for “D” shows a girl walking her new doll dressed in the latest fashion). The alphabet is also interspersed with full-color images of Santa and his elves at work, and children indulging in winter play, making for a delightfully disjointed effect. The poem hearkens to the senses: “C is for Candy to please boys and girls; I is for Ice, so shining and clear; J is the Jingle of bells far and near; S is for Snow that falls silently down; U is for Uproar that goes on all day.”  Besides these sensual pleasures, there are appeals to social expectations: “L is for Letters the children all wrote,” and we see children Christmas Alphabet 11concentrating on writing their requests to Santa asking for gifts.  Wells also alludes to the gently reinforced sociability of Christmas parties: “Q [is for] the Quadrille in which each one must dance,” accompanied by an image of boy and girl couples bowing to each other in a square set.  Santa gets only one letter in the alphabet—“K is Kriss Kringle with fur cap and coat”—presented as more of a statement of fact than an explanation of who Santa is (that was already handled by Moore’s poem).

Christmas Alphabet 9Towards the end of the book is a full-page color image of Santa finishing his work decorating a tabletop Christmas tree, declaring, “There can be no complaints about this tree, surely!”  Beneath the tree are his latest deliveries, including a brand new bicycle (a pretty new-fangled vehicle in 1900), a toy drum, and an elegant rocking horse.  On the table are a set of toy blocks decorated with kittens, not unlike those sold by McLoughlin Brothers in their extensive toy line.  In this one image, supernatural wonder, winter beauty, and mass-produced consumerism all meld together, not unlike the sights, sounds, and expectations rendered in Wells’ poem.  This ABC is a playbook for what Christmas has been, and to a fair extent, what we want it to be.

You can see this delightful book in its entirety through the viewer below or in our image database!

To Give a Gift of Alcott

188104Like many born and bred New Englanders, I have developed a soft spot for Louisa May Alcott’s holiday pieces (1832-1888). Alcott’s literary career, which began with pseudonymously published magazine articles, was followed by beloved books; sprinkled throughout are works seasoned with festive subjects, settings, and themes. Her novels for children (which cue-in these topics) were wildly popular in her lifetime. Admiration has not waned; today it is easy to find reprints of her stories and poems, which have been collected and reissued as classic texts and are available to be read on limitless websites and online resources.[i]

Her semi-autobiographical novel (and most famous work), Little Women, opens with the grumblings of Jo 213722_0002March: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” This frontispiece was from the first volume of Little Women, published in 1868, and was illustrated by Louisa May’s sister, May Alcott. The image features Marmee, the March children’s mother, Amy, Jo, Beth, and Meg and shows the sisters in one another’s company. By the second chapter, titled “A Merry Christmas,” we find a delighted Jo with a gift, having slipped her hand under her pillow to discover “a little crimson-covered book.” (Though unnamed, is perhaps a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress hinted at in the previous chapter.) Sister Meg found the same with “a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes.” Meg opens her “new book and began to read. Jo put her arm around her, and, leaning cheek to cheek, read also, with the quiet expression so seldom seen on her restless face.”

Evidence of books as Christmas presents is found in AAS collection material in everything from appropriate-named annuals and gift books (many lavishly illustrated), to miniature books and temperance addresses, to countless items of children’s literature. Hundreds of books in the Society’s collection are inscribed with either Christmas or the date December 25, usually on the front flyleaf. But it is this scene in Little Women I’ve always been obsessed captivated by—this idea of book-receiving on December 25—and thought it worthy of exploring with Alcott’s works as being the ones gifted. Not only did Alcott create texts on the subject of Christmas (or include poems tucked in such as “A song for a Christmas tree” in The Rose Family: a Fairy Tale), but a search in WorldCat (and even my own personal library) shows that her books were given as holiday gifts as well.

The AAS collection also features several copies of Alcott’s books which bear evidence of Christmas gift-giving of the celebrated and beloved author.

213715An 1875 illustrated copy of Eight cousins; or The Aunt-Hill, a children’s novel about an orphan named Rose in the care of her aunts (surrounded by energetic boy cousins), has a mechanically-reproduced dedication by Alcott but is also inscribed, “Kittie from Johnnie, Christmas 1875.”

In addition to novels like Little Women and Eight Cousins, Alcott also wrote short stories, such as “My Boys,” published under the series title of Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag. Some of these short story collections were created for the holiday market, such as an 1871 edition of the first volume of Aunt Jo’s 213725Scrap-Bag, published in Boston by the Roberts Brothers. The preface is dated “Christmas holidays, 1871-72” and addresses her readership as a “large family so rapidly and beautifully growing about me.” This copy of the text also carries a presentation inscription reading, “For Lillie, with a ‘Merry Christmas’ from Alice, Dec. 25, 1871” and features the oft-reproduced story of “Tilly’s Christmas.”

217374_003A gorgeous book with gilt title, likely intended for the gift-giving market, is an anthology of poems, The Horn of Plenty of Home Poems and Home Pictures; editorship has been attributed to Sophie May and William Fearing Gill. Published in 1876, it excitedly announces new poetry by Louisa May Alcott and doesn’t disappoint by the placement—the frontispiece illustrates the poem “Merry Christmas,” which appears, along with another 217374_002Alcott poem called “Our Little Ghost,” on the 217374_001opening pages. The book is dedicated “to all the little women and little men who have been made happy by Aunt Jo who wishes them a Merry Christmas…by a warm admirer of Little Women and Little Men.” Of the two copies in the AAS children’s literature collection, one is inscribed, “A. Gertrude Kimball, from Aunt Hattie. Dec. 25, ’76.”

Perhaps some of these inscribed, gifted editions of Alcott’s work were slipped under a pillow on Christmas morning mimicking the beloved scene in Little Women? One can dream!

[i] Posthumously published biography Louisa May Alcott: Her life, letters, and journals edited by Ednah Dow Cheney with a A.W. Elson & Company photogravure frontispiece portrait of Alcott.

Yes, Virginia, That is a Christmas Card

PrangMadonnaIn December it is traditional to send Christmas cards. We have discussed this practice on the AAS blog in the past and also have looked at the popularity of the New Year’s card, something that has fallen out of fashion entirely in the United States. But one aspect of nineteenth-century holiday cards that we have not explored is the fact that so many of their subjects seem incongruous to twenty-first-century eyes. The cards do sometimes feature the more expected snowy scenes, Santa, and the Nativity (right) with greetings of “Best Wishes,” “Merry Christmas,” and “Peace and Joy.” But more often than not, today’s viewer is left scratching his head asking, “That’s a Christmas card?”

PrangAppleBlossIt was easy to pull examples of the unexpected genres we have in mind. The first, and by far the largest group with literally hundreds of representative cards in the Society’s collection, is the floral-themed card. These cards range from simple messages with floral borders to more elaborate depictions of bouquets and poetry. Spring flowers were especially popular, with apple blossoms (right), pea plants, and poppies appearing on cards, but autumnal botanicals also make an appearance, including maple leaves, nettles, and goldenrod (below). The language of flowers, where different blossoms denote different emotions and characteristics (pink carnations = you are unforgettable and rhododendrons = strength) was better understood in the nineteenth century, which might help explain the popularity of these cards. They are also quite pretty and were often saved by recipients and pasted into scrapbooks.


PrangShellOther themes produced by several printers in the New England region involved the sea. Messages are framed by elaborate coral and shells, ships sail into the sunset and beach scenes with rolling waves and children playing in the sand read “Merry Christmas” and “Happiness Be Yours.” Regional cards are still published today, of course, with snowy desert scenes of cacti and rock formations coming from our relatives in the American Southwest and lighthouses bedecked with Christmas lights and wreaths offered for sale in gift shops on Cape Cod. But the nineteenth-century cards lack those little clues (the snow, the wreaths) and just depict happy summer scenes and underwater plants that happen to also be carrying seasonal greetings.

PrangBirdFinally, popular nineteenth-century Christmas cards often featured animals of all kinds—and we are not talking about reindeer and penguins. Animals like elephants, cats, dogs, and birds grace hundreds of Christmas and New Year’s cards, some for comic effect and others with just decorative intent. Louis Prang, who is often considered the Father of American Christmas Cards and who produced all of the examples we selected for this post, produced whole series of holiday cards of birds with nests and comic cats and dogs dressed like people. Sometimes these animal cards make “holiday sense” to modern eyes (such as a mama elephant giving her baby a toy as a gift as seen below), but other times we can’t grasp the holiday significance of dogs wearing top hats or kittens in bibs.


So this holiday season when you send or receive a card, think for a moment about the significance of the image on the front of the card—it likely makes perfect sense to you, immersed as you are in the cultural context of the moment. But in 2080, will someone look at it and say, “That’s a Christmas card?” In fact, now that we think of it, will the practice of sending folded pieces of colorfully printed paper stock, with shiny inks and velvet touches, have fallen completely out of fashion and our 2080 imagined scholar asks instead, “What is a Christmas card?”

The Acquisitions Table: T. P. and D. C. Collins Daguerreotypes

Portrait of T. P. and D. C. Collins. Daguerreotype, Philadelphia, 1846. With T. P. Collins. Unidentified Girl Holding a Book. Daguerreotype, Philadelphia, 1846.

521966_0002This daguerreotype of brothers Thomas P. and David C. Collins lounging on a sofa was generously donated to AAS this spring by scholar Rebecca Norris. The donation was accompanied by the opportunity to purchase additional photographic material associated with the Collins brothers (all collected by Ms. Norris), such as the half-plate daguerreotype of a young girl with a book shown here. The collection includes daguerreotypes made by both brothers, portraits of their family members, and albumen photographs taken by them later in their careers. In April 2010, AAS acquired a pair of rare manuscript ledgers recording the clientele of the Philadelphia daguerreotype firm established by T. P. and D. C. Collins. The volumes list over 23,000 customers who sat for portraits in the company’s Daguerreian rooms between 1845 and 1854. These volumes were 521739_0007digitized by AAS and made available via the web, attracting the attention of Ms. Norris, who has written extensively on the brothers and their work. Her two articles in The Daguerreian Annual (in 2006 and 2013) were based on her research in archives, art collections, and private holdings, and made heavy use of the ledgers. In January 2015, Ms. Norris, who was impressed with our preservation of the ledgers and the fact that we provided open access to them, contacted AAS about placing her personal collection of Collins photographs at the Society. The plate of the brothers was her gift and, with a generous grant from the Breslauer Foundation, AAS was able to bring the collection of 31 additional daguerreotypes and 50 other photographs (ambrotypes, tintypes, albumen prints) to the Society. Gift of Rebecca Norris (daguerreotype of T. P. and D. C. Collins) and grant from the Breslauer Foundation.

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!


serverKennedy, Rick. First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015.

Powers, David M. Damnable Heresy: William Pynchon, the Indians, and the First Book Banned (and Burned) in Boston. Foreword by David D. Hall. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2015. (Hall: AAS-NEH Fellow, 1981-1982; AAS member)

Schiff, Stacy. The Witches: Salem, 1692. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 2015.

Wiegand, Wayne. Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. (AAS member)


Dayton, Cornelia H. “’The Oddest Man that I Ever Saw’: Assessing Cognitive Disability on Eighteenth-Century Cape Cod.” Journal of Social History 49 (2015): 77-99. (AAS-ASECS Fellow, 1991-1992; Mellon Fellow, 2004-2005; AAS member)

Den Hartog, Jonathan. “Religion and Politics in the American Revolution and Beyond.” Journal of the Early Republic 35.3 (2015): 475-481. (AHPCS Fellow, 2012-2013)

Edelstein, Sari. “Louisa May Alcott’s Age.” American Literature 87 (2015): 517-546. (Peterson Fellow, 2008-2009)

Hazard, Sonia. “Agency, the Idea of Agencies, and the Problem of Mediation.” Church History 84 (2015): 610-615. (CHAViC Fellow, 2013-2014)


Kathryn Neurnberger received the James Laughlin Award for her second book of poetry, The End of Pink (Hearst Fellow, 2010)

Amanda Herbert’s book Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain was named the best book of 2015 by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women. (Peterson Fellow, 2007-2008)

Cornelia H. Dayton and Sharon V. Salinger were awarded the Littleton-Griswold Prize for Robert Love’s Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston. (Dayton: AAS-ASECS Fellow, 1991-1992; Mellon Fellow, 2004-2005; AAS member)

The Acquisitions Table: The Game Fowl; for the Pit, or the Spit

Burnham, Geo. P. The Game Fowl; for the Pit, or the Spit. Melrose, Mass.: [s.n.], 1877.

509740_0002The frontispiece portrait of the “Earl of Derby” game cock provides a striking starting point to this thorough, and early, survey of American game fowl and their culinary and pugilistic applications. The poultry advice book was copyrighted by George P. Burnham in 1876 as part of his books for poultrymen, a series for which AAS already has the first and second titles. This third title promises to elucidate “how to mate, feed, breed, handle and match them; with practical suggestions as to cures for their peculiar ills and ails.” Included is a directory of suppliers of various breeds of game fowl.