AAS to Participate in Greater Worcester GIVES, May 6th

On Tuesday, May 6, 2014, the American Antiquarian Society will be part of Worcester County’s first-ever online giving challenge, Greater Worcester GIVES. Organized and hosted by the GWG_400x300px_R-1Greater Worcester Community Foundation, Greater Worcester GIVES seeks to inspire people to support local nonprofits within that 24-hour period, for a collective impact that will benefit the region as a whole. Please help AAS contribute to a strong total for the community by donating to us in the challenge!

How it works:

On May 6th, go to http://www.gwgives.org/ and follow instructions to make an online donation of $25 or higher to the American Antiquarian Society. Your gift will be tax-deductible. All gifts are unrestricted unless you specify otherwise in the notes field on the giving form.

Stay tuned for more details closer to May 6th!

2014 Spring Public Programs Now in Full Swing

Now that the spring weather seems to have (finally) reached us here in Worcester, everyone is beginning to get out and partake in all of those activities they put off during the winter, including cultural events. We hope that our spring lineup of public programs at Antiquarian Hall—including the one tonight—will be among those that make it on to your springtime calendar!

“Dreaming up a Nation Forever on the Move: The Strange Quest for the ‘Great American Novel’”
By Lawrence Buell
Tuesday, April 22, at 7:00 p.m.
Co-sponsored by the Franklin M. Loew Lecture Series at Becker College

There have been hundreds of candidates for the Great American Novel in the nearly 150 years since John William DeForest first introduced the idea, but why have these books been buell (3)contenders for this title? What do claims of being the GAN really mean? In this lecture based upon his recently published book The Dream of the Great American Novel, lecturer Lawrence Buell charts the history of the quest to write the Great American Novel and then uses this history as a platform for exploring some of the characteristic ways that GAN candidates have acted as explorations and reference points for imagining a national identity.

Buell is Powell M. Cabot research professor of American literature at Harvard. He has written and lectured worldwide on American fiction, on the Transcendentalists and their legacies, and on the environmental humanities. His books include Literary Transcendentalism (1973), New England Literary Culture (1986), The Environmental Imagination (1995), Writing for an Endangered World (2001), and Emerson (2003).

“‘Slavery in the Bowels of a free & Christian Country:’ People of Color and the Struggle for Freedom in Revolutionary Massachusetts”
By Thomas Doughton

Tuesday, May 13, at 7:00 p.m.
Co-Sponsored by Africana Studies at the College of the Holy Cross

Regional people of color submitted three important petitions to the provincial legislature: one calling for an end of slavery in the colony, another asking that former slaves be transported back to Africa, and a third that the legislature set aside lands in the western part of Massachusetts for former slaves. This presentation will explore the relationships of people of color in central New England as “A great number of Negroes …detained in a state of Slavery” to an emerging political discourse of revolutionary freedom and racial equity in rural Massachusetts.

Thomas Doughton is the senior lecturer at the Center for Interdisciplinary and Special Studies at the College of the Holy Cross. Doughton specializes in the history of people of color and their relationships with whites in Central New England.

worcrevolution(This program is being presented as part of the Worcester Revolution of 1774, a celebration of Worcester County’s overthrow of British Authority seven months before the fighting at Lexington and Concord. For further information about this project see http://www.revolution1774.org/)

“Sifting the Uneven Archive: Researching The Forage House
By Tess Taylor

Thursday, May 29, at 7:00 p.m.

In this program, poet Tess Taylor will recount how a residency here at the AAS helped her as she researched and wrote her latest book of poems, The Forage House. Her poems layer oral TessTaylor-tnhistories, documents, and folksongs to craft an exploration of her ancestors—a mix of New England missionaries and Southern slave owners, including Thomas Jefferson. Taylor’s poems are as much about the imperfect material of family stories as they are about the politically charged material of history.

Taylor’s poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Atlantic, Boston Review, Harvard Review, Literary Imagination, The Times Literary Supplement, and The New Yorker. She currently reviews poetry for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley.

“On the Trail of the ‘Heathen School’: Local History, American History, and World History”
By John Demos

Tuesday, June 10, at 7:00 P.M.

john ridgeThis lecture will be based on Demos’s newly published book unraveling the forgotten story of a special school for “heathen youth” brought to New England in the early nineteenth century from all corners of the earth. Located in the little town of Cornwall, Connecticut, this uniquely fashioned institution embodied an early version of what we now call American exceptionalism: convert them, educate them, civilize them, then send them back to found similar projects in their respective homelands, and the world will be saved in the shortest time imaginable. After a seemingly brilliant beginning, however, the plans ran afoul of racism—when some of the heathen students courted local women. The result was scandal, widespread controversy, and permanent closure of the school. Demos will also reflect on the process of his research, including his time as a distinguished scholar at the Antiquarian Society and his visits to places central to the story.

John Demos is the Samuel Knight professor of history emeritus at Yale University. Demos’s award-winning books cover topics ranging from family life in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, to witch-hunting in the Western world, in such works as A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony (1970), the Bancroft Prize-winning Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (1982). Demos is a member of the American Antiquarian Society and was the AAS-Mellon Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence during the 2012 calendar year.

The Acquisitions Table: The Bookbinders Shop

The Bookbinders Shop. Philadelphia: P.S. Duval for the American Sunday School Union, ca. 1850.

This image of the interior of the British bookbinding establishment of Westleys & Clark was issued by the Philadelphia lithographer P.S. Duval sometime between 1842 and 1850. A second, related print showing a ship and its furniture was printed by Duval using the same bordered vignette format, also for the American Sunday School Union.  Possibly the images (along with others not yet located) were used to educate children about trades – each features workers and modern equipment along with relevant vocabulary.  Duval had a steady relationship with the American Sunday School Union, publishing several small-format, paper-covered books for children during this period.  The bookbinding shop shown in this print includes both male and female workers surrounded by reams of paper and the tools used to create books for the booming markets of Europe and America.

Adopt-a-Book 2014

This year the American Antiquarian Society will be holding its 7th annual Adopt-a-Book event on Tuesday, May 6th, from 6:00 to 8:00pm.  This event has been an entertaining and successful fundraiser for the library’s continued acquisitions of historic material. The money raised helps curators buy more books, pamphlets, prints, newspapers, and manuscripts.  coveradoptabookOn May 6th, participants will have the opportunity to view all kinds of material recently acquired by AAS, including a book on fortunetelling, a Confederate newspaper, and a copy book made by a New England schoolchild.   You can adopt in your name or in memory/in honor of a special person (or both, with multiple adoptions!). The event has become so popular with our members, fellows, local supporters, and staff, that many previous participants ask the curators in advance for hints about the type of material that will be made available for adoption!  Everyone has been waiting for the catalog.

And here it is!  Today, we launch the 2014 Adopt-a-Book event with the online catalog, which will remain active through May (or until everything is adopted).  Participants who wish to pre-adopt can do so now, direct from the digital catalog (and as an added incentive, entrance to the May 6th event is FREE if you pre-adopt from the online catalog, otherwise $10).  So click on over and have a look at the 110 objects the curators have selected for the online portion of this event.  Don’t worry if it seems like everything is getting snapped up quickly – we are always gratified by the enthusiasm our supporters show.  And, the curators have already selected additional, exclusive, material that will only be up for adoption in person at the event on May 6th.

To further tempt you, here are selections in the online catalog from each of the five curatorial departments:

1The Valley Farmer (St. Louis, MO).  May 1864 
Adopt me for $25

This is a nice western agricultural periodical in its original wrappers.  This issue was edited by Norman J. Colman who was later the first U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.  He purchased the failing periodical in 1855 and made it very successful promoting modern agricultural techniques.


fThree Little Kittens. St. Louis: Scruggs, Vanderwoort & Barney, ca. 1880.
Adopt me for $50

Mamma Cat puts her three kittens to work washing their mittens in this delightful chromolithographed Three Little Kittens, a picture book issued by the St. Louis department store Scruggs, Vanderwoort & Barney.  The back cover has a full-page advertisement for the store touting its reputation as “a vast storehouse of everything that the feminine mind can think of for immediate wear.”

inkThaddeus Davids, The History of Ink: Including its Etymology, Chemistry, and Bibliography. New-York, 1856.
Adopt me for $100

Designed in large part to promote Thaddeus Davids’ company, self-proclaimed maker of “the best ink known,” later editions of the book were plastered with advertisements and press notices. It took its subject matter seriously, though, from its first sentence declaring, “Ink is history.” Egypt and the Aztecs, writing ink and printing ink, paper mills and poetry about ink are all discussed.

childrenThe Children’s Pic-nic. New York: Currier & Ives, 1872-1874.
Adopt me for $75

This charming scene of well-dressed children playing outdoors was issued by Currier & Ives towards the end of their long run as print sellers and publishers in New York. The firm listed numerous genre prints of happy and adorable (and adoptable!) children under the heading “Juvenile” in their catalogs.

yankeeThe Yankee Pedlar, vol. 1, no. 3, 1842.
Adopt me for $100

According to the masthead, this handwritten newspaper was “published every Saturday Morning at 31 Broad St.”  The cover features a piece titled “The contents of the little Tin Box with a hole on the top” as well as a woodcut portrait of Shakespeare.


We are grateful to the following vendors for their generous donations for your enjoyment on May 6th:

  • Ed Hyder’s Mediterranean Marketplace
  • Sahara Restaurant
  • Crown Bakery

This event is being held in conjunction with Greater Worcester Gives.

The Acquisitions Table: Samuel Dickinson Barton Lecture Notes

Barton, Samuel Dickinson. Lecture Notes (Amherst College), 1827 and undated.

Barton notebooksSamuel Dickinson Barton was a student in the class of 1831 at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts.  These two volumes contain notes written by Barton while attending lectures at Amherst.  One is dated 1827, the other is undated.  The lectures he attended cover a variety of topics including theology, geology, mineralogy, natural philosophy, English, French, and chemistry.  These volumes are particularly interesting because they include lectures delivered by Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864).  Hitchcock is considered one of the founders of American geology and geology as a science.  He founded the Association of American Geologists, was head of the first geological survey of Massachusetts, and was appointed State Geologist of Massachusetts in 1830.  He began teaching at Amherst College in 1825, and served as president of the college from 1845-1854.  These volumes show that Hitchcock not only made his mark on the science of geology, but remained devoted to teaching and education as well.  He continued teaching at Amherst College until his death in 1864.

Adventures in Cataloging: Some Sleuthing Required (Part III)

This week, the series ends by correcting a case of mistaken identity. And if you missed the first two parts, be sure to check them out: Part I, Part II.

3. The Doctors Jackson

We like to trace provenance information in our records when we can. This allows one to find former owners, virtually reconstruct an individual’s book collection, and think on questions about audience and readership in relation to the titles at hand.

An Eulogium upon Benjamin Rush, M.D. by David Ramsay (Philadelphia, 1813) was given to “S. Jackson from E. Lewis” at an unknown time in the early nineteenth century. Later, it was owned by Dr. Asa M. Stackhouse of Morristown, N.J., who inscribed the title page, and William R. Stackhouse, who affixed his bookplate to the front flyleaf.

Dr. Asa M. Stackhouse’s notes about Dr. Samuel Jackson, which proved to be the key to disentangling the identities of the doctors Jackson.

Dr. Asa M. Stackhouse’s notes about Dr. Samuel Jackson, which proved to be the key to disentangling the identities of the doctors Jackson.

Unfortunately, “S. Jackson from E. Lewis” is a rather uninformative inscription and gives little information that would help identify the individuals involved. However, Dr. Stackhouse obligingly added a note concerning provenance. He tells us that Dr. Samuel Jackson of Northumberland was the former owner and annotator of the volume, and that Dr. Jackson was the father of Francis Aristides Jackson, a professor of Latin in the University of Pennsylvania.

Searching for biographical information about the father of Francis Aristides Jackson proved productive, and we discovered that Dr. Samuel Jackson was born in 1788, earned his M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1812, lived in Northumberland, Pa., and died in 1869.

However, the process of discovery did not stop there! Dr. Samuel Jackson (1788-1869) was actually one of two individuals by that name who lived in Pennsylvania and obtained an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania during the early nineteenth century. The other Dr. Samuel Jackson was born in 1787, earned his M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1808, and died in 1872.

Unsurprisingly, the good doctors had been confused and bibliographically conflated. All the titles ascribed to a Dr. Samuel Jackson of Pennsylvania had been attributed to Dr. Samuel Jackson (1787-1872), and Dr. Samuel Jackson (1788-1869) had disappeared from the bibliographic record. Knowing that there were two Dr. Samuel Jacksons allowed us to disambiguate them and correct errors in attribution.

Dr. Samuel Jackson (1788-1869) is now correctly listed as the author of two pamphlets, The Annual Discourse before the Philadelphia County Medical Society, delivered February 10, 1852 (Philadelphia, 1852) and The Organizing of the American Medical Association (Philadelphia, 1852). Additionally, he has been identified as the former owner of two titles held by the American Antiquarian Society, Elements of Surgery for the Use of Students by John Syng Dorsey (Philadelphia, 1813) and The Philosophy of Human Knowledge, or A Treatise on Language by A.B. Johnson (New York, 1828). These corrections will not, perhaps, set the academic and bibliographic worlds afire, but they help make the bibliographic record a little more correct than it was before.

A Young Reader’s Appreciation for Johnny Tremain

Editor’s note: In a twist that follows up on Jackie Penny’s account of reading pre-1900 fiction to her children, retired AAS director of book publication Caroline F. Sloat turned to her ten-year-old grandson for an enthusiastic recommendation of Esther Forbes’s Johnny Tremain.

Our bags were packed and we were ready to leave for the airport when Henry chose to ask about Johnny Tremain.  He had read it before school closed for the summer and was captivated. My grandson usually stops reading a book when “something bad” happens to the hero, but the injury to Johnny’s hand was an exception. In fact, Henry even thinks the book needs a sequel.

Tremain 1998

Cover of and illustration from the 1998 edition of Johnny Tremain. The illustration depicts the injury to Johnny’s hand.

His comments begged further discussion, but then, alas, was not the time. I knew it would be a few months before I would see him again and, and as full as his days are, I wondered how much he would remember.  A lot it turned out, and he was eager to talk.  He began by saying that he liked the way the author “blended an invented story into a real story.” The result “made sense” to him because it was a way to learn a lot about the time in which it took place, one that he considered important.  He particularly liked the way the plot revolved around more than Johnny’s accident. In his experience with fiction he thought that many writers would have ended the story there.  “Instead,” the author wrote “the extra section” that was “really long and you learn a lot more than you expected.”


Cover of the original 1943 edition

Nuances were not lost on him either: “most people would think that Americans only wanted independence and the British only wanted to keep the colonies. But that’s not true because a few Americans really wanted the British to keep ruling and some of the British wanted America to be separate. Sometimes people think that the United States already had a big military, but they didn’t and so they had to train their own soldiers.”

Esther Forbes might be pleased to know that reading the book was a “fun way” for Henry to explore Boston from his Seattle classroom. Boston came alive as Johnny “carried mail for money and delivered letters as a spy.” He also enjoyed reading about working in the ships and how to get around Johnny’s Boston and felt it was important to learn about such topics as the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s Ride, but—and here comes the critique that Forbes might not find as gratifying: “I also noticed that the book didn’t have a really good ending. You need a second book. Johnny wanted to go into the army and you need to teach about life in the army and learn more about the whole revolution.”

Map from the inside cover of the 1943 edition - a helpful tool for understanding the text

Map from the inside cover of the 1943 edition – a helpful tool for understanding the text.

That said, Henry reported that the book started a “Revolutionary War craze” in Mr. A.’s classroom. The kids watched the 1957 Disney Johnny Tremain movie and found other books. Over the summer Henry himself was able to visit Mystic Seaport to see old ships and Old Sturbridge Village, which seemed to him a “lot like the outskirts of Boston.”  The “blacksmith and the tin shop also give you the idea of silversmithing and the printing office and houses also help you learn about what life was like for Johnny. “

Cover of the 1971 edition

Cover of the 1971 edition

Henry summed up our conversation by observing that the book has a lot of facts for kids who don’t like to read nonfiction on their own and was a “good way to sneak them in.” As Henry’s grandmother, I would say it was a good way of sneaking fiction into his usual diet of nonfiction by creating a character and situation that he found completely credible and engaging.

Seventy years after Forbes won the Newbery Medal for this book—a product of her creative imagination and skillful transformation of archival research at the American Antiquarian Society—it still resonates with young people. Johnny Tremain will be the subject of a Hands-On History Workshop to be offered by the Society on Saturday, May 10, 2014, and a portion of the day will feature discussion about the use of the novel in the classroom. If you are a teacher, take it from Henry: “it adds to your knowledge and it’s nice to read.” And if you’re an adult who hasn’t read it recently, it’s still in print (or available for download) and a wonderful glimpse of some of the best research and writing to emerge from “under the generous dome.”

Adventures in Cataloging: Some Sleuthing Required (Part II)

Last week, in Part I, Amy discovered the title and date of a pamphlet missing a title page by scouring the newspapers. Now, she puts a name to a remarkable but unidentified woman.

2. The life of Ms. Sally (or Sarah) Rogers

Sometimes, I catalog a book or pamphlet and a person appears whom we know nothing about and who isn’t in the Name Authority File, the international database catalogers use to identify people.[1] When this happens, I once again dive into research to sort out the identity of the such people so that I can identify them with a unique heading in our records and they can be found as an author or subject.

Title page of A Real Object of Charity (Walpole, N.H., 1806).

Title page of A Real Object of Charity (Walpole, N.H., 1806).

Sally Rogers was such an individual. I first encountered her when I cataloged A Real Object of Charity, a small pamphlet published about April 1806 in New Hampshire. She is the subject of the pamphlet, although it gives only her father’s name, not hers; however, she did sign the original artwork accompanying it. Isaiah Thomas, the founder of the American Antiquarian Society, placed a value of $1.00 on the pamphlet, and it has resided in our collections for the past two centuries.

I couldn’t find Sally Rogers in vital records, and I was skeptical about my chances at discovering more about her due to the common nature of her name. Happily I was proved wrong, and now she can be found in our catalog as “Sally Rogers, approximately 1788-1813.” Unfortunately, her history survives primarily in ephemeral newspaper advertisements and reviews, which makes it difficult to trace her story in full and know what she thought about her life and choices.

In the pamphlet, Sally’s age is given as “about 18,” and she lived with her parents in Lempster, New Hampshire. It states that “nature seems to have denied her … the use of her limbs” – other reports described her as lacking hands and feet – but made “amends… in the exercise of other faculties as surpassing all human belief,” namely, the ability to create art by holding her instruments in her mouth and the ability to excel at such tasks as threading needles and moving with grace and decorum.

Watercolor illustration from A Real Object of Charity (Walpole, N.H., 1806). The painting, an image of a bird on a flowering tree, was created by Sally Rogers; it, along with three other illustrations, was inserted into the pamphlet after it was printed.

Watercolor illustration from A Real Object of Charity (Walpole, N.H., 1806). The painting, an image of a bird on a flowering tree, was created by Sally Rogers; it, along with three other illustrations, was inserted into the pamphlet after it was printed.

A Real Object of Charity marks the beginning of Sally Rogers’ public career as a working artist and performer. On June 17, 1806, the Repertory, a Boston paper, announced the commencement of her stay at the Columbian Museum. There she had “consented to perform in publick” and would “paint, mix colours, thread a needle, cut paper or cloth with scissars [sic] held in her mouth, &c.” Sally Rogers is unnamed in this advertisement, but the positive reviews which followed recognized the talents of “Miss Rogers.” She worked steadily for the next seven years, both under the name Sally Rogers and, after 1807, under the name Sarah Rogers. She toured from New Hampshire to South Carolina, experimenting with admission prices, taking commissions, exhibiting her work, and, in the South, sometimes working alongside Martha Ann Honeywell, another woman who lacked hands and adeptly performed artistic and feminine tasks. Sally/Sarah’s performances ended only with her death in Philadelphia on October 30, 1813. According to her obituary in the Democratic Press (Philadelphia, Pa.), she was twenty-four years of age, and her funeral would be held at the house of General James Barker.[2]

Next week, in the third and final part, Amy will clear up a case of mistaken identity!

[1] For example, the Name Authority File links different forms of an author’s name, so that you’ll find the Harry Potter books if you look for J.K. Rowling, Joanne K. Rowling, or Jo Rowling.  It also differentiates between people, so that the works of Cotton Mather, the New England Puritan (entered under Mather, Cotton, 1663-1728) aren’t confused with the works of Cotton Mather, the professor of geography (entered under Mather, Cotton, 1918- ).

[2] Lanning, A. “Sally Rogers: The Celebrated Paintress.” In Historic Deerfield (Summer 2012).

Spring issue of the Almanac is here!

2014March Almanac final_Page_01We’re excited to share the March 2014 issue of the Almanac with everyone. This issue has a feature story about a unique acquisition related to the Bay Psalm Book (the first book printed in North America), news about an extremely generous gift that is already having a significant impact on the Society, and a history of conservation at AAS. As always, the Almanac also contains information about our upcoming public programs and events, including our popular new Hands-On History Workshops and our annual Adopt-a-Book event.

So take a look, revel in the beautiful images from our collections, and we hope to see you soon at one of the many events on our spring calendar!

Adventures in Cataloging: Some Sleuthing Required (Part I)

Our 25 miles of shelves hold many mysteries for the intrepid cataloger to unravel.

Our 25 miles of shelves hold many mysteries for the intrepid cataloger to unravel.

One of the neat things about working as a cataloger at the American Antiquarian Society is solving the puzzles that come across my desk. I work exclusively on books and pamphlets published in the early nineteenth century, and over the course of 200 years title pages are lost, authors are forgotten, and people disappear into the mists of history. Often, I try to reconstruct the who, where, and when of early U.S. imprints based on what is in my hands; I leave the why to scholars’ debates!

1. No author, no title, no imprint – no problem

Sometimes I work on a pamphlet without an author, without a title page, and without a known date of publication. Such was the case of Address. Gentlemen of the Union Harmonic Society, a pamphlet of 13 pages with its title taken from a caption on the first page of text and a conjectured publication date of 1816.

We try not to leave our records with that many question marks (although sometimes it can’t be helped), so to research it I visited America’s Historical Newspapers and searched for booksellers’ advertisements, Union Harmonic Society events, and mentions of William Collins’ “Ode to Music,” which was reproduced in the pamphlet. It was the last that proved key to discovering the identity of the mysterious pamphlet.

Catalogers in 1892 describing items and solving mysteries; today I use the internet alongside reference books, but the spirit of our goals remains the same -- to accurately identify and describe AAS's holdings.

Catalogers in 1892 describing items and solving mysteries; today I use the internet alongside reference books, but the spirit of our goals remains the same — to accurately identify and describe AAS’s holdings.

An advertisement in the Jan. 1, 1821 issue of the Charleston City Gazette announced an anniversary concert of the Union Harmonic Society. “In the course of an evening,” it proclaimed, “an address will be delivered by Dr. Henry T. Farmer, a member of the Society—in which will be introduced Collins’ Ode on the Passions, with appropriate and descriptive music.”

This was a promising lead, albeit one more suggestive than conclusive. However, I discovered that Henry Farmer’s 1821 address to the Union Harmonic Society had been printed and I reached out to the Charleston Library Society, which holds the pamphlet. They confirmed that the pamphlet on which I was working, known as Address. Gentlemen of the Union Harmonic Society, was, in fact, Farmer’s discourse at the 1821 anniversary concert.

Victorious, I edited the pamphlet’s record, filling in blank elements and conjecture with information from the title page and unifying the pamphlet’s fractured presence in two different early American bibliographies under one (correct!) title: Henry Farmer’s An address, pronounced before the Union Harmonic Society of Charleston, S.C. on the 30th day of January 1821 (Charleston, 1821).

“Adventures in Cataloging: Some Sleuthing Required” will continue next week with part II, when Amy will track down the name of an unidentified woman who is the subject of a pamphlet. Stay tuned!

Abby Goes Digital

AKF1AAS is excited to announce the launch of an important new digital resource.  In partnership with the Worcester Historical Museum, AAS has digitized both the Worcester Historical Museum’s and our own collection of Abby Kelley Foster Papers.  Foster was a noted mid-nineteenth-century reformer, involved in both the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements.  Both AAS and the Worcester Historical Museum hold substantial collections of Foster’s correspondence and papers, and although located less than two miles apart, the collections have been separated from each other and not readily available to the wider world.  Now, over 2500 images of Foster’s letters are freely accessible and available to researchers everywhere through a new digital archive.

There are a number of upcoming special events and workshops in Worcester to celebrate and showcase the new digital archive.

“Abby Kelley Foster: The Unsung Hero of Abolition,” Thursday, March 27, 2014, 7:00pm, Worcester Historical Museum, 30 Elm Street

Dr. William Casey King will lead a lecture and discussion about Foster, Worcester, and the larger social narrative of the nineteenth-century social reform movements of abolition and women’s rights.  Dr. King is a scholar, author, and distinguished lecturer, and past Executive Director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African American Research.

AKF“Accessing Abby,” Friday, March 28, 2014, 5:00pm, Boyden Salon, Mechanics Hall, 321 Main Street

The online collection will be launched, with comments from the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester Historical Museum, Dot Willsey, president of the National Abolition Hall of Fame in Peterboro, NY, and artist Charlotte Wharton, who painted Abby Kelley Foster’s portrait in Mechanics Hall.

“Suffragists, Teetotalers, and Abolitionists: Social Reform in the Nineteenth Century,” Saturday, March 29, 2014, 3:00pm, American Antiquarian Society, 185 Salisbury Street

This Hands-on History Workshop is for K-12 teachers, museum professionals, and the interested general public.  Featured lecturer Thomas Augst will lead a lecture and discussion, and participants will engage in hands-on sessions with collection material. These sessions will explore how reform movements used print culture to spread their messages, focusing on the careers of two individuals: temperance lecturer John Gough and Abby Kelley Foster. This workshop will also include an introduction to the new Abby Kelley Foster digital collection.  Visit our website for more information and to register.

Please click here for more details about each event, and join us as we share this wonderful new resource with the world.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The Mathew Carey Account Volumes: A Digitization Case Study

Under cover of night on the Dublin docks in 1784, Mathew Carey, disguised as a woman, set sail for Philadelphia. Having spent the previous week hiding out in his friends’ bookshops along Grafton Street, Carey decided that this was the only sure way to escape the British officials who were in hot pursuit of him because of his unfavorable depiction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his radical newspaper. This printer turned polemicist turned newspaper editor turned publisher turned activist assumed many roles in his life, and fortunately for us, he ceaselessly wrote for most of that time. AAS holds a significant portion of his writing, in the form of his financial records from 1785-1847. They include receipts, bills, memoranda, invoices, bills of lading, and other records of his publishing business, and its successors: Carey, Lea, and Company; and Lea and Blanchard. These records not only detail Carey’s daily business dealings, but they also offer a window into the early American national and international book trade and larger worlds of trade and politics (see, for example, Vincent Kinane’s “‘Literary Food’ for the American Market: Patrick Byrne’s Exports to Mathew Carey” in The Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society (1994)). As a recent special issue of Early American Studies reflects, Carey’s archive can help us to understand the politics, economics, and culture of early America through the lens of an extraordinarily successful businessperson. For example, Carey is credited  with being the first to publish a bestseller in the United States, Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple (1794) (see Michael Winship’s “Two Early American Bestsellers” in Common-place (2009)).

St. Patrick’s Day seems like a good time to take stock of this Irish émigré’s archive, parts of which are available at different levels of digital accessibility here at AAS. Having scanned the individual pages of the Carey financial records, we have made all 16,000 scans free to browse and download through our digital asset management system, GIGI. We are now beginning to consider the ways in which we will make these 16,000 images searchable, knowing that optical character recognition software is not yet up to the task of transforming these scrawls into searchable text. The work that we are doing now to make Carey’s business records navigable and therefore far more valuable to researchers relies on metadata that was created when AAS acquired this archive in 1928. And this work also raises questions around the threshold between metadata—or “data about data”—and the text or data proper. Where is the line between a text and the metadata about a text? When does that metadata become as important as the text itself?

Carey_Gigi-535For example, let’s take a look at the physical pages onto which Carey’s records are pasted. As a publisher, Carey was well aware of the cost of paper, and thus reused spare sheets in creating his records. The waste paper to which Carey’s records are glued functions as a sort of “accidental paratext,” an addition to the text that mediates between the work of the author of the transactions and the publisher of the waste paper (Carey was both), but not intentionally so. When we examine this waste paper, we are essentially digging through Carey’s recycling bin, but this evidence is not readily visible in the digital surrogates.

Let’s start with an image from the Carey archive that is available in GIGI. To the right is account #535, which was once a part of Accounts Volume 21 (when the books were disbound for scanning, it became part of Box 13, Folder 1).

This is a fairly typical looking page from the financial records in that it has a number of names and transactions listed on it. Shortly after acquiring this archive, Clarence Brigham hired a “special assistant to begin the tremendous task of making a name index to the entire series.” This index, which includes about 50,000 individual cards and occupies three card catalog drawers in the reading room, is the key to making use of this collection, whether one encounters it in manuscript form or online. The cards that might lead one to this leaf (or its digital surrogate) in Box 13, Folder 1 include:

535_cardsFrom these cards, one would learn an account number, which corresponds to a box and folder number in the finding aid. The finding aid has recently been augmented to include links to the images of each box and folder number, so that a user can scroll through about 10-20 images of the pages in that folder to find the account number she wants. We are currently in the process of keying the index cards into a spreadsheet; soon, we hope to make available both the spreadsheet and a database that can be used to run name searches. If we wanted information about early Bible printing in America, for example, we might have looked up the name “Aitken, Robert,” a printer of one of America’s earliest Bibles, on the index cards (soon to be in the online database) and found that one of the transactions between Carey and Aitken can be found in Box 13, Folder 1. But wait, there’s more!

Carey_535_BacklitIf we scrutinize the high-resolution TIFF in GIGI of account #535, we can see that printed text is visible on the left margins. A backlighting of this page (left), which was presumably waste paper Carey had on hand, is an advertisement for Carey’s King James Bible (Carey also published the first version of the Roman Catholic Bible printed in the United States).

This layering of a transaction between one of the first American Bible printers and advertisement for another prominent American Bible is largely serendipitous in this instance, but I mention it to show what we might uncover by examining the physical paper sheets that Carey used in making his records. In another instance (below), we can see Carey’s transactions with the prominent radical London publisher Joseph Johnson. The columns of numbers are barely discernable. But, when the researcher encounters the actual physical page, one quickly realizes that these columns lift up.

carey582Underneath is a blank form (presumably printed by Carey) from the Land Office of Pennsylvania for a tract of land for 100 acres and a receipt for the money paid for the land. What other scraps might one uncover under the pasted down accounts in Carey’s records? In a 1980 article in Book Collector, Marcus McCorison examined scintillating evidence about what Isaiah Thomas might have been printing but not recording based on marbled waste paper glued to the boards of various volumes here at AAS. What might one find if left to illuminate the waste paper Carey used as the foundation for his financial records? And, how might digitization account for that accidental paratext? It can only be photographed with the use of a special backlight, and unlike the name index we have on cards and are transforming to a spreadsheet, it cannot be organized and sorted in the same way. This waste paper can be read as revealing the limits of digitization, or as an invitation, made possible through digitization, to disrupt the hierarchy of the page and the information architecture that implicitly accompanies it.

By St. Patrick! Irish Ballads

This post will present approximately one hundred years of Irish ballads contained within the Society’s collections. The first is a fascinating 1769 broadside containing a New Year’s address by Ireland native Lawrence Sweeney (-1770), a popular figure in New York City journalism in the 1760s. Sweeney is one of the first identifiable Irish-American voices. He was so well-known that he made an appearance in AAS founder Isaiah Thomas’s History of Printing in America for his assistance in the distribution of the Constitutional Courant, a seditious newspaper printed during the Stamp Act crisis of 1765.[i] Sweeney’s authored text displays an American interest in Ireland and the emerging Irish-American experience (with its share of satire and sadness). The ballad concludes, “Arrah! Pardon me, Gentle-folks! Look in my Face/ And you’ll laugh, as you weep, at my terrible Case:/ If your Aid I forget while my Christian-Name’s Sweeny,/ May I ne’er ‘till I’m blind, see the Land of KILKENNY./ Sing, Balinamona o a, your best Usquebaugh then for me.”

Irish ballad 1click here to enlarge in GIGI

The ballads transitioned from the Sweeney-authored (i.e. Vehicle General of News and Grand Spouter of Politics) to ones of Irish and British origin that were reprinted in the United States. The first edition of Paddy’s Resource, a collection of political ballads and Irish national songs (with toasts and sentiments), was first printed in 1796 in Philadelphia. AAS owns a later edition printed in New York in 1798. Contained within it is “Teague and Pat” set to the tune of “Patrick’s Day in the Morning.” It’s a song that looks forward to expanded freedom: “The time is approaching, we yet WILL BE FREE;/ When Peace and good will every bosom will fill,/ Then Paddy’s Resource shall have its free course-/ On Patricks’ day in the morning.”

Irish ballad 2click here for the title page and contents enlarged in GIGI

A search of Irish songs and music of the Society’s collection also provides several from the Isaiah Thomas collection of broadside ballads, presented to the Society in August 1814. AAS owns three copies of one broadside ballad, “A Sprig of Shillelah, and Shamrock so Green,” by Irish songwriter and dramatist Henry Brereton Code (-1830) and printed by Nathaniel Coverly in Boston. (AAS also has an 1830s copy sold by L. Deming which is paired with “O’er the hills and far away.”) The ballad is one which represents the “love” theme in Irish music (this theme meaning to include love of country and/or love of a girl). The song starts, “O LOVE is the soul of a neat Irishman,/ He loves all the lovely, he loves all that he can,/ With his sprig of shillelagh and a shamrock so green…”

Irish ballad 3click here to view all three copies of this ballad broadside

Other Irish songs are incorporated into the Society’s ephemera ballad collection. One with an illustrated ornamental border, “Paddy on the Canal,” printed and published by H. De Marsan, is a song of an Irish emigrant and his path to becoming a canal construction worker after leaving his family. The author learns the “art of canalling” – and he “…learned to be very handy, although I was not very tall,/ I could handle the sprig of shillelagh, with the best man on the canal.”

Irish Ballad 4click here to view an enlargement in GIGI

Other ballads were reproduced by specific song publishers, stationers, and printers such as John H. Johnson in North Tenth Street in Philadelphia. “Dear Little Shamrock” by Irish writer, dramatist, and actor Andrew Cherry (1762-1812) has two songs and a note that if you send Johnson “10 Cents, he will send you the Music for this Song.” “No. 2” on the sheet may be the most St. Patrick’s Day-appropriate for a modern audience as it invokes the beautiful “Emblem of Old Ireland.”

Irish ballad 5click here to view an enlargement in GIGI

Songs and music about Ireland, though mostly represented in the Society’s Boston, New York, and Philadelphia imprints, were printed on the West Coast of the United States as well. The Bella Union, which originally opened as a gambling house, also hosted minstrel shows and varied types of entertainment.[ii] Theodore C. Boyd, the publisher and engraver of Shamrock Green, printed this ballad in 1862 which was sung by Joe. Mabbott at the Bella Union. The text describes an Irish exile/convict – Shamrock Green – who drinks to his rescue.

Irish ballad 6click here to view an enlargement in GIGI

Irish music is a staple of St. Patrick’s Day; we have offered here print-size copies of songs to pair with a pint-size portion of your choosing. Feel free to use, share, sing, or study in your celebrations.

[i] Isaiah Thomas and Benjamin F. Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, Vol. 2 (Albany, N.Y: J. Munsell, printer, 1874), p 130.

[ii] Jeremy Agnew, Entertainment in the Old West: Theater, Music, Circuses, Medicine Shows, Prizefighting and Other Popular Amusements (Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co., 2011), p 83.


The Acquisitions Table: The Fanwood Chronicle

Fanwood Chronicle (New York, NY). Dec. 1864. Vol. 1, no. 2.

FanwoodThis periodical was published by the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. One of the goals of the institution was to train its students in a vocation. In 1864 it acquired enough materials to establish a print shop for its students. The publisher was H. Ward Smith, who practiced printing the previous summer working in the office of the Orleans American (NY). The Fanwood Chronicle contains institutional news, news about the Civil War, including Sherman’s march to Atlanta, poetry, and the tragic story of a former student of the institution murdering his father. The 46th annual report for this institution in 1865 included the following: “I have nothing new to report in the Mechanical Department …except that some of the pupils of High Class, having a small printing office, have started a little monthly paper, The Fanwood Chronicle, which I hope we may be able to continue and enlarge. Such a paper I consider a valuable auxiliary to the labors of our teachers, especially in the incitement it offers to habits of reading. Many of our pupils will make through this little paper the discovery that they can derive pleasure and profit from independent reading, and will be encouraged to preserve in the practice.” This is a very scarce newspaper. The only other institution that has copies is the Gallaudet University Library which has two issues from 1865.

When Old and New Meet: The History of the Reading Room Chairs

RR 1910January 6, 2014, marked a notable acquisition here at the American Antiquarian Society. It also signaled the end of an era. When the Society’s current library building opened in 1910, it featured library tables and chairs manufactured by the Francis H. Bacon Furniture Company of Boston. For over a century, readers engaged with AAS’s peerless collections sitting in Colonial revival Windsor chairs, made of a variety of different hardwoods and designed to be light in RR todayweight in order to be easily moved. Yet these chairs were not built in a period when readers took notes using laptops or tablets, nor were current reading room policies governing the use of book cradles in place. The arms of the chairs were too high to fit underneath the reading room tables, and until roughly 15 years ago, our reading room chairs did not even have cushions. Sore backs and tired shoulders were frequent side-effects of research visits to Antiquarian Hall. Despite their period appeal, it was becoming clear that the Windsor chairs had outlived their usefulness (a fact that was borne out by the growing graveyard of fractured spindles and broken legs in the library basement).

So, on January 6, we got new chairs. Still, being the Antiquarian Society, we cannot resist one last look back at our previous furnishings, however uncomfortable. Francis H. Bacon had been trained as an architect at MIT, and started his career as a draftsman in New York City before sailing for Europe with a friend in 1878. The two 22-year-olds purchased a small boat in England, which they then sailed across the Channel, down the Rhine and Danube to the Black Sea, and then to the Aegean, where they planned to sketch archaeological sites in Greece and Turkey. He returned to New York in 1879, “stone broke but in good health and having had a famous experience.” The day after his return, he was hired as a draftsman in the firm of McKim, Mead, and White, where he worked until returning to Europe in 1881 (his position at McKim was filled by Cass Gilbert, who would go on to design the Woolworth Building in New York and the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington).

In 1884, Bacon returned to the U.S. and joined the firm of H.H. Richardson outside Boston, where he worked for several years as a designer before leaving to join the Boston furniture manufacturer A. H. Davenport and Company, which provided the furniture for most of Bacon stampRichardson’s Romanesque buildings (if your grandparents refer to a sofa as a “davenport,” it’s because of a line of furniture made by that company). He struck out on his own in 1908, making custom furniture for high-end clients. His many commissions include manufacturing the new chairs and desks for the U.S. House of Representatives chamber in 1913 after reapportionment resulted in expanding the membership of the House to 435, and designing the “shrine” that housed the Declaration of Independence in the Library of Congress from 1924 until 1952. Thus AAS’s purchase of tables and chairs for its reading room in early 1910 likely represented one of Francis Bacon’s earliest major orders. Although Francis’s architect brother, Henry, is more prominent today (he designed the Lincoln Memorial), Bacon’s career working with many of the leading architects of his day led him to be considered one of the most influential furniture designers in early twentieth-century America.

It’s not clear from records in the AAS archives what woods were used to make the original chairs and tables, nor do we know how much they cost. An early report by the AAS building committee included notes from visits to other libraries, which indicated that the metal tables stained mahogany in use in the reading room of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania were of “fine appearance,” but that the “complaint [was] frequently made that they are cold.”

chairs old and new

Instead of sending a committee out to visit other libraries, we brought several different models of chairs in to the reading room and asked AAS fellows and readers to test drive them in the late fall of 2013. After extensive evaluation—and yes, there were written reports—we purchased 50 Knoll ReGeneration work chairs. Our new chairs are ergonomic, fully adjustable, and cushioned, and thus far the reviews have been enthusiastic. The surviving old models were mostly distributed among staff offices at AAS, where they will continue to age gracefully. We hope that the next time you’re in the neighborhood you’ll stop by and give the new chairs a try yourself. They should make your visit a bit more comfortable.

Digitizing the Visual Records: AAS Plays Metadatagames

Last week, about twenty AAS catalogers, research fellows, curators, and other staff members gathered to discuss the challenges that come with transforming the visual code of an image into a written code. The creation of metadata in the form of indexing images is an inexact science, and it is one challenge that faces us as we, like many similar institutions, look to make our graphic arts collections as searchable and accessible as possible. In preparation for our conversation, we read Wanda Klenczon and Pawel Rygiel’s “Librarian Cornered by Images, or How to Index Visual Resources,” detailing the difficulties that come with assigning “high quality semantic metadata to the non-textual materials.” Though the development of automated image recognition software is underway, Klenczon and Rygiel explain, “there are layers of meaning that can be indexed only with human knowledge, experience, and intuition. Properties of an image such as shape, texture, and color contribute to our understanding of an image, but do not define it. Text-based search techniques remain the most efficient and accurate methods for image retrieval” (43). Our  graphic art catalogers shared their own experiences of creating this metadata, and we discussed how  we think about the 94,000 visual objects represented in the AAS’s online digital image archive, GIGI. As detailed in Klenzon and Rygiel’s articles, crowdsourcing or social tagging present considerable disadvantages, such as inconsistency and subjective expression, while at the same time we have institutional limits to how much indexing we can do ourselves.

We then turned our attention to one attempt to address the disadvantages of social tagging while still taking advantage of the many people willing to assist in the herculean task of providing metadata to the vast digitized, but not searchable, visual record. Recently developed at Dartmouth College with the support of NEH and ACLS, Metadatagames is a digital gaming platform that entices players to contribute metadata while playing games, either against a clock or against other anonymous participants on the site. The goal of Metadatagames is to refine the crowd’s tagging efforts by testing how many others would associate the same word or phrase with a given image. To simulate the games one plays in Metadatagames, we turned online games into group activities and then discussed our findings.

First, we looked at an image that is near and dear to us all at AAS:

Image 1 AntiquarianIn silence, we each wrote down five words or short phrases we would use identify this image, and then we compared our results.  Our tags varied considerably, and we quickly realized how many of our tags were subtle acts of interpretations, rather than just descriptions. Our resident experts in nineteenth-century American graphic arts added valuable context that made many of us rethink some of our tags. For example, in reaction to many people’s use of the word “man” to describe the image, one participant asked if we can know that the figure depicted is in fact male. One of our curators responded that because the painting dates to the 1830s and that is too early for women to wear bloomers, we can be pretty sure that the figure is male. We discussed how such knowledge is specialized and would not necessarily be present in an unmitigated social tagging experiment.

We then tried another adopted version of Metadatagames. Half of us left the room, and the remaining half looked at this image:

Image 2 Bird

Those of us in the room had to come up with one word or short phrase to describe this image. We then asked the other half of the room to come back into the room, and we showed them these six images:

Image 3 Many Birds

Based on one descriptor, “birds of prey,” the group that had been out of the room had to determine which image we were describing. After much debate among themselves, they chose correctly: number one. We then talked about how it took an expert curator, who was part of the describing group, to convince the group to use “birds of prey” and not just “birds,” the tag others suggested. Had we just chosen “birds,” the group that had been out of the room would have been lost: all six images either have birds in them, or, as is the case in #3, have a “bird’s eye view.” We then discussed the need to be specific when tagging and searching images. In these ludic activities, we came to see the ways in which tagging is an act of representation, and how it grows much more precise as more people collaborate to generate the tags.


List of images above:

Image 1: The Antiquarian. Lithographed Senefelder Lithorgraphy Company. c. 1830.

Image 2: Goshawk. Drawn from nature by J.J. Audubon.  Lithographed and printed by J.T. Bowen. Between 1840 and 1844.

Image 3:

1.) Goshawk. Drawn from nature by J.J. Audubon.  Lithographed and printed by J.T. Bowen. Between 1840 and 1844.

2.) My Little Favorite. Lithographed and published by Currier and Ives. Between 1857 and 1872.

3.) New Bedford, Mass. Lithographed by J.F.A. Cole. Between 1857 and 1860.

4.) The young mother. Lithographed and published by Currier and Ives. Between 1857 and 1872.

5.) [Woman with birds]. H. Thomas 64 [signed on stone]. Published by Kimmel & Forster. 1864 or 1865.

6.) Buff-breasted sandpiper Tringa rufescens Vieill. Chromolithography by J. Bien. 1860.

Twelve Years a Slave, The Book: Dramatizations, Illustrations, & Editions

Have you already picked your favorites for the Oscars this Sunday? Here in Worcester, American Hustle is a popular choice since scenes from it were shot on Worcester streets and in the Worcester Art Museum. Captain Phillips even shot a few scenes at the Worcester Airport (yes, there is a Worcester airport!). Here at the American Antiquarian Society, though, we probably have the closest connection to the film 12 Years a Slave, given its grounding in American history and publishing as described in an earlier post.

In a time before multiplexes and Netflix, the arenas for information and entertainment in the nineteenth century included books, illustrations, lectures, newspapers and periodicals, music and theatrical productions. Solomon Northup’s experience as a free black man sold into slavery was reproduced in all these forms during his lifetime, and often under his direction. Before turning to the book form, let’s investigate some of the other ways Northup’s experience was conveyed.



Worcester playbill [AAS catalog record]


Fitchburg playbill [AAS catalog record]

The recent Academy Award-nominated movie is not the first time Solomon Northup’s story was dramatized. For years after the book’s initial publication in 1853, Northup appeared on the anti-slavery lecture circuit. Perhaps most fascinating, Northup himself apparently wrote/produced the play “The Free Slave” based on his experience. The American Antiquarian Society has two playbills for “The Free Slave” as performed in Massachusetts towns: one from when it was performed in Worcester in October 1855 and another from Fitchburg. The date for the Fitchburg performance is not listed, but the cast is essentially the same, which would seem to indicate they were relatively contemporaneous. Interestingly, the content of the acts has shifted somewhat (click on the images to enlarge and compare for yourself).

Not only was No199111_0007rthup’s story available for a 19th century audience to watch and hear in dramatic form, they could even participate themselves, in some small part. At the end of the book Twelve Years a Slave is the tune to “Roaring River: a Refrain of the Red River Plantation,” appropriate since Northup was a renowned fiddler. Including the tune in his book invited his nineteenth-century readers into a more active form of participatory engagement. And it still does today: just see the YouTube video embedded below for an example of a recent movie-goer who was inspired to read the book and then couldn’t resist performing the tune at the end of Twelve Years a Slave.

Or for a more scholarly response, check out Mary Caton Lingold’s blog post, Fiddling to Freedom: Solomon Northup’s Musical Trade in 12 Years a Slave (bonus: she also has great audio recordings!).



Closeup of frontispiece titled “Solomon Northup in His Plantation Suit”

When preparing for his role playing Solomon Northup in the recent film, Academy Award-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor described being particularly moved by the frontispiece illustration of Northup:  “The look on his face is kind of strange, almost relaxed kind of way.” (CBS Sunday Morning, February 2, 2014) While it is uncertain how much control Solomon Northup would have had over his representation in visual form, what we do know for certain is who produced the images. The illustrations were drawn by Frederick M. Coffin and then produced as wood engravings by Nathaniel Orr. Both were in upstate New York and had worked with Northup’s publishers Derby, Miller & Co., illustrating other books.

Coffin’s signature appears on the left, Orr’s on the right

Frederick M. Coffin was a born on Nantucket in 1822 before moving with his parents to Auburn, NY in the 1840s. He moved between there and Buffalo and became closely associated with the publishers of Northup’s narrative, Derby, Miller & Co., after 1850, where he is described as spending “three subsequent years in designing and drawing on wood for the publishers.” He also drew for Harper’s Weekly. (History of Cayuga County, New York, 1879, p. 68)

Nathaniel Orr was also born in 1822 and became an engraver much in demand, working in Albany and later New York City. His firm, which eventually included his brother and his son also, cut steel and wood plates, usually from work of other artists. He retired in 1888 “with the reputation of having brought the art of wood engraving to the highest perfection, and the signature ‘Orr,’ cut in the block was always a sure guarantee of art excellence.” (National Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1901, p. 426)

One feature of the illustrations in Northup’s account is that they all refer to specific significant moments in the text rather than iconographic moments used to illustrate slavery generally. A contrasting example can be found in the illustrations titled “Life as a Slave” or “Life as a Freeman” that appeared in the slave narrative of Frederick Douglass, My Bondage, My Freedom (also done by Nathaniel Orr, and published in 1855 by the same firm that was publishing Northup’s narrative).

The illustrations in Twelve199111_0003 Years a Slave were specific to Northup’s narrative, but they also drew on a larger visual vocabulary of slavery and antislavery images — an area many scholars come to AAS to study. This visual vocabulary could be utiilized by publishers to help market and sell the book. As a possible example, one of the seven illustrations in Twelve Years a Slave, “Separation of Eliza and her last child,” is particularly reminiscent of similar illustrations in the international bestseller Uncle Tom’s Cabin of Eliza crossing the river in that story, reinforcing the connection between the two books. “Separation of Eliza and her last child” had not been listed among the illustrations in early advertisements while the book was in press. This last minute addition was perhaps meant to capitalize on the recognition a slave mother named Eliza being separated from her child would undoubtedly spark in the minds of a reading public who just the year before made Uncle Tom’s Cabin so popular.

Think about a world with no TV or movies, where even still photography is a newfangled invention, and you begin to realize the power book illustrations had to their 1850s audience. An example of the power of slavery images in particular comes from the end of Northup’s own narrative. Reunited with his family, they discuss what the past twelve years without him had been like and his wife, Anne, recounts how one day the children returned from school “weeping bitterly” because:

While studying geography, their attention had been attracted to the picture of slaves working in the cotton-field, and an overseer following them with his whip. It reminded them of the sufferings their father might be, and, as it happened, actually was, enduring in the South. (p. 321)

With this last anecdote in his book, Northup emphasizes the power of pictures comes from the realities lying behind them, a lesson that could be extended perhaps to the illustrations in his own book (see directly below) which depict the most dramatic and horrific moments in his narrative.



Publishing History

Things moved quickly after Solomon Northup was reunited with his family on Jan. 23, 1853. Within three months, Northup had produced the text of his narrative with the help of his editor, David Wilson, and in less than six months the book was available for sale. Twelve Years a Slave was advertised as “Now in press” between April 15 and July 2. By August 1, 1853, it was described as “Just published.” Such a tight turn around was certainly helped by the fact that the entire production crew for the original 1853 publication of Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave – the illustrator, engraver, publisher, editor, and author — all lived and worked basically along a straight line from Buffalo to Auburn to Albany (and Glen Falls, just north of Albany).

Early ads for the book in these first few months claimed “A large portion of the net price secured to Solomon,” but this promise was dropped from later ads. Northup did receive $3,000 for the copyright of his book, which he used to buy land in Glen Falls next to his now married daughter. Over the next few years, he also received some compensation from the lectures he gave at anti-slavery events, but his attempts to capitalize on his story as a play ultimately proved to be financially unsuccessful.

This despite the fact that his book was quite successful, at least according to the publishers. By way of contrast, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was published in 1845, and within four months it sold 5,000 copies. Twelve Years a Slave sold 5,000 copies within weeks of the initial printing. Similarly, while it took 15 years to sell almost 30,000 copies of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Twelve Years a Slave was printing its 25,000th copy in the first year and had reached almost 30,000 copies printed in four years time. (Frederick Douglass sales reported in “The Autobiographies of Frederick Douglass” in Phylon by James Matlack, March 1979).


Early Editions, 1850s 

The original edition of Twelve Years a Slave, published by Derby & Miller in 1853, was reprinted from stereotyped plates by their successor publishing company Miller, Orton & Mulligan from 1854-1857 and their successor C.M. Saxon in 1859, with a self-reported 30,000 copies printed in all printed in the 1850s.

[Copies not held at AAS are in brackets; those at AAS have links to their catalog records.]

1853 (July)    First edition, first printing includes Auburn, Buffalo, and Cincinnati

Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River, in Louisiana. Auburn [NY]: Derby and Miller; Buffalo: Derby, Orton and Mulligan; Cincinnati: Henry W. Derby, 1853. [AAS catalog record]

1853  Later printings drop Cincinnati but add London’s Sampson Low, Son & Co.

Auburn [NY]: Derby and Miller; Buffalo: Derby, Orton and Mulligan; London: Sampson Low, Son & Company, 1853.  (“Entered at London in Stationer’s Hall” added to copyright statement on verso of title page.)

- [Fifth thousand; University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill copy digitized in Documenting the American South]

- Eighth thousand; [AAS catalog record]

- Thirteenth thousand; [AAS catalog record]

[1853     London: Sampson Low, Son. & Co.; Auburn: Derby & Miller, 1853 (no copyright statement); Johns Hopkins University copy digitized in Internet Archive]

1854       Publisher name changes when Derby leaves, firm now Miller, Orton & Mulligan

Twenty-fifth thousand. Auburn & Buffalo: Miller, Orton & Mulligan; London: Sampson Low, Son & Company, 1854. [AAS catalog record]

[1855    Twenty-eighth thousand; New York Public Library copy digitized in Google Books]

[1856    Twenty-ninth thousand; University of Toronto copy digitized in Internet Archive]

[1859    New York: C.M. Saxton, 25 Park Row; Library of Congress copy digitized in Internet Archive]


Disappearance #1, 1860s-1870s

Solomon Northup himself had disappeared at this point, and so did his story. The book doesn’t appear to have been printed or advertised at all during the 1860s and 1870s. During these decades, the Civil War and Reconstruction evaporated the market for antislavery publications.


Later Editions, 1880s-1890s

The copyright period of 28 years had lapsed in 1881, which may explain the timing of this small trickle of late-nineteenth century editions. A new publisher’s preface in these later editions also attempts to distance their present-day from slavery in the past. Differences in subtitles between the first editions and these later ones also reflect the changed cultural climate. Rather than a factual narrative of an individual citizen who is given a name, the story is framed in sensational and racial terms and the unnamed “colored man” is described as “reclaimed” like property rather than rescued as a person. Solomon Northup’s full name is not even included on the title page.

Wording in the first edition:        Wording in this later edition:

Narrative                                        thrilling story

Solomon Northup                         [later on title page: “S. Northup”]

a citizen of New-York                    a free colored man

rescued                                            reclaimed by state authority


1881 New subtitle, preface, and publisher. Printed from same stereotyped plates, degraded, no illustrations.

Twelve Years a Slave: the thrilling story of a free colored man, kidnapped in Washington in 1841, sold into slavery, and after a twelve years’ bondage, reclaimed by state authority from a cotton plantation in Louisiana. By S. Northup. Philadelphia: John E. Potter and Company, [undated but advertised in Publishers Weekly, Sep. 12, 1881] [AAS catalog record]

1891-2  Another new publisher. Same stereotyped plates, further degraded, no illustrations.

New York: International Book Co., 17 & 19 Waverley Place [undated but moved to this address in 1891 and had moved to Worth Street by Jan. 1893] No AAS catalog record yet, as we just found this title on eBay!

1880s-1890s     Uncertain or unexamined later editions with new publishers/titles:  

[Philadelphia, PA : Keystone Pub., 1880s-1890s?]

[Dallas, Tex.: Talty & Wiley, 1890]

[Solomon Northup. A freeman in bondage or twelve years a slave. (Companion story to "Uncle Tom's cabin.") A true tale of slavery days. Columbian library, no. 6. Philadelphia, Columbian Pub. Co. 1890.] Advertised in Publisher’s Weekly Aug. 16, 1890 for 25 cents.]


Disappearance #2, 1900-1968

Northup’s narrative then disappears entirely for a second time. It wasn’t until generations later that Northup’s story was revived in an era of Civil Rights protest, black power politics, and efforts to recover African American history and literature, when a 1968 scholarly edition was published  (and vindicated for its historical accuracy). Since that time, Twelve Years a Slave has remained in print, although largely in the domain of academics, college classrooms, and PBS (see their 1980s film Solomon Northup’s Odyssey).



Which brings us up to the present, when Solomon Northup’s story has once again come to prominence during a period of historic change along racial lines in the United States. First it was the decade of the Fugitive Slave Law and lead up to the Civil War, then the tensions following Reconstruction, then the Civil Rights movement, and now his story is once again at the fore of popular culture during the historic term of the first black president of the U.S. (who just yesterday unveiled his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative designed to focus attention on issues facing young black men).

Hopefully taking this journey along the winding path Solomon Northup’s story has wended it way through more than a century and a half of American history will add historical drama to your Oscar party this weekend. But even after all the hype of the Hollywood machinery dies down, it’s worth considering if the actor portraying Northup, Chiwetel Ejiofor, wasn’t exactly right when he said:

“The look on his face is kind of strange, almost relaxed kind of way,” Ejiofor said. “To come out of that experience, and to write about it with such kind of gentility and poetry and absolute grace was something that really stunned me, and I realized that this was a person who had something to teach.” (CBS Sunday Morning, February 2, 2014)

Is there something more his story has to say to us today?


P.S.: For the next couple weeks, you can still see a display of original items related to Solomon Northup’s book Twelve Years a Slave on display in the AAS reading room in person during our regularly scheduled free public tours of the building every Wednesday at 3pm.


Twelve Years a Slave, The Book: Truth Stranger than Fiction

I can speak of Slavery only so far as it came under my own observation – only so far as I have known and experienced it in my own person. (p. 17-8)


Twelve Years a Slave frontispiece titled “Solomon Northup in his Plantation Suit”

So Solomon Northup begins his harrowing account of slavery from the inside. In Twelve Years a Slave, Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, describes how he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. For twelve years he was held as a slave on various plantations in the South before he was able to get word to his friends and family to affect his release. His book narrating this astonishing story was published in 1853 and became an instant bestseller, and exactly 160 years later, the Academy Award-nominated film 12 Years a Slave was released in 2013.

Northup’s book not only supplied the film’s narrative, it also provided the filmmaker’s motivation and inspiration. Both the director and star have revealed in interviews that reading a copy of the physical book Twelve Years a Slave made them determined to make the movie. Director Steve McQueen described how he was introduced to Northrup’s memoir by his wife:

“[My wife] found this book called 12 Years a Slave, and I read this book, and I was totally stunned. It was like a bolt coming out of the sky; at the same time I was pretty upset with myself that I didn’t know this book… I basically made it my passion to make this book into a film.” (Fresh Air interview, NPR, October 24, 2013)

Best Actor nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Solomon Northup, described how he almost turned down the lead role:

“I just wondered whether I could tell the story. I felt the responsibility of it, and I felt intimidated by it, actually.” So what changed? “Well, in the end, what changed was, I read the book,” he said. (CBS Sunday Morning, February 2, 2014)


Closeup of frontispiece

Ejiofor went on to describe being particularly moved by the frontispiece illustration:

“The look on his face is kind of strange, almost relaxed kind of way,” Ejiofor said. “To come out of that experience, and to write about it with such kind of gentility and poetry and absolute grace was something that really stunned me, and I realized that this was a person who had something to teach.” (CBS Sunday Morning, February 2, 2014)

What was it about this book that proved so inspiring?

One answer might be the true-to-life, insider perspective that gives such power to the narrative. As Frederick Douglass’ Paper described the book upon its release in 1853: “It is a strange history, its truth is far stranger than fiction.” This dichotomy between “truth” and “fiction” was at the center of Solomon Northup’s story, in part because of the direct corollaries between his narrative and the best selling novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which had first appeared in book form just the year before. The fact that most of Northup’s captivity took place in the same Red River region of Louisiana where Harriet Beecher Stowe had set her novel only served to reinforce the comparisons.


Another Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin

A few of the more than 100 editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin available at AAS

A few of the more than 100 editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin available at AAS

From its first appearance in print, the similarities between Solomon Northup’s narrative and Uncle Tom’s Cabin was noted. Even though the book Twelve Years a Slave was released only six months after Northup had safely returned to New York, it was not the first published account of his sensational story. Early newspaper reporting based on court records appeared in January 1853 in The New York Times. Quickly picked up across the country, it was largely reprinted verbatim, including the misspelling of his name as “Northrop.” The newspaper account described the location where Northup was held down South as a place “where slavery exists with features more revolting than those described in Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and declares:

The condition of this colored man during the nine years that he was in the hands of EPPES, was of a character nearly approaching that described by Mrs. STOWE, as the condition of “Uncle Tom” while in that region.

From Uncle Tom's Kindred, or The Wrongs of the Lowly. Mansfield, Ohio: E. Smith, for the Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America, 1853.

From Uncle Tom’s Kindred, or The Wrongs of the Lowly (Mansfield, Ohio, 1853).

The earliest appearances of Northup’s story in book form were taken directly from the New York Times’s original newspaper reporting. In these early instances, Northrup’s story is always told as one account among many that serves to validate the truth of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Northup’s story was told for children as “The Kidnapping Case” (in which he is named as “Northrop”) in the first volume of Uncle Tom’s Kindred [AAS Catalog record], published for Wesleyan Methodist Sabbath school children also in 1853.

Most notable of all, Harriet Beecher Stowe herself used the newspaper account of Northup’s story in her book: A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin [AAS Catalog record], published in April of 1853. In it, Stowe attempted to counter the critics’ claims (especially loud coming from the South) that her work misrepresented slavery. To accomplish this, Stowe recounted factual narratives to bolstered her depictions of slave life.

AKey_toUTC_0001Twelve Years a Slave was published only months after A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and was deliberately positioned as part of this debate. The book was dedicated to Harriet Beecher Stowe and described itself as “another Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. In later printings, the dedicatory page also included a direct quote from Stowe’s Key.

In this mutually reinforcing setup, Stowe borrowed truth from Northrup’s narrative to bolster her fictional novel, and Twelve Years a Slave attempted to capitalize on the popularity of the novel among anti-Slavery audiences. In other words, she needs his narrative facts and he needs her bestseller status. (Two key references to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin within Northup’s narrative, see Heidi Kim’s fascinating article in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Feb. 17, 2014.)

The earliest advertisements and reviews of Twelve Years a Slave focused on its similarity to the incredibly popular international bestseller from the year before. One of the first notices predicted:

This volume is attracting considerable attention, and will probably achieve a popularity something akin to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Moore’s Rural New-Yorker for August 6, 1853)

Stay tuned: our next blog post will reveal if Twelve Years a Slave was able to rival Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘s level of publishing success!


Truth Stranger than Fiction

Northup was undoubtedly aware of these potential comparisons and took pains to emphasize his story was an example of the axiom, “Truth stranger than fiction!” (a headline that topped many of the advertisements and reviews of his book). He described his purpose at the beginning of his narrative as follows:

My object is, to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage. (p. 17-8)

Over the years, people have doubted the veracity of the story told in Twelve Years a Slave and just how much of it was coming from the actual Solomon Northup.  At the time of its initial publication, this concern was addressed by the book’s editor. David Wilson was from the same area of upstate New York as Northup, which may help explain his selection, since he had only published one earlier book. As editor, Wilson attests to Northup’s authorship and the truthfulness of his account in the preface:

He has invariably repeated the same story without deviating in the slightest particular, and has also carefully perused the manuscript, dictating an alteration wherever the most trivial inaccuracy has appeared. (p. xvi)

The question of white editors’ role in mediating black narrators’ voices has vexed scholars for years. In this case, Northup was a literate, educated man, so the editor’s claim that Northup had “carefully perused the manuscript” checking for inaccuracies seems reasonable.

Furthermore, the past few decades of scholarship since the 1960s (especially the work of Dr. Sue Eakin) have uncovered documentary evidence supporting the accuracy of Northup’s account. A free colored man from upstate New York, Northup was indeed lured to Washington, D.C. with the promise of work where he was drugged and sold into slavery. For 12 years he was enslaved on various plantations, including one in the very same Red River region of Louisiana where Harriet Beecher Stowe set her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He was finally able to obtain his freedom, and legal documents and state records validate this fact. However the case against his kidnappers that followed highlighted the problems African Americans faced in a legal system in which they were not allowed to testify. The kidnappers were eventually released and no one was convicted for the crime.

While some may have found it difficult to accept his account as fact, Northup’s tragic story was certainly not unique: many free blacks were kidnapped and sold into slavery. What makes Northup’s life remarkable was that he was able to return to his life as a free black man, even if it was only for a few years before he disappeared again.

After Twelve Years a Slave was published, the next few years saw Northup frequently speaking in public and performing his own plays based on his story until he suddenly disappeared from the public record in the fall of 1857. To this day, no one knows exactly what happened to him. There is some evidence Northup may have been involved with the Underground Railroad, others speculated he was kidnapped again or killed, although the fact that his legal case against his kidnappers collapsed makes the latter seem unlikely. (For more details on his life, see the recent book Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave [AAS catalog record].)

A follow-up blog post later this week will present more information about the various editions and formats of the physical book that so inspired director Steve McQueen and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. We hope you will have a deeper appreciation for the history behind Solomon Northup’s story. You’ll certainly have all kinds of insider knowledge to share at your Oscar viewing party this Sunday, March 2nd!

NOTE: A selection of the items described in these posts (along with some others) has been on display in the AAS reading room in honor of Black History Month. The display will remain up for at least the next few weeks and is accessible during our free weekly public tours Wednesdays at 3pm.

Global Encounters in Worcester

We know how to keep busy in the dead of winter here at the American Antiquarian Society.  In late 2012 Patricia Johnston, the Professor Rev. J. Gerard Mears, S.J. chair in fine arts at the College of the Holy Cross, approached AAS with the idea of having one of her Holy Cross classes research and prepare an exhibition on an aspect of life in pre-1830s America.  The students arrived at the library in September of 2013, and working with the Society’s curators and reference staff, began searching the collection for material related to the ways in which early Americans encountered the rest of the world, a theme selected by Dr. Johnston and the students.  They looked at exploration and travel narratives, maps, children’s books, ephemera, and broadsides.  Nearly fifty items from the library were selected for loan to the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery exhibition, scheduled for winter 2014.

The AAS staff and the Holy Cross students, faculty, and staff involved in the exhibition.

The AAS staff and the Holy Cross students, faculty, and staff involved in the exhibition.

The frontispiece of the 1694 Dutch "Atlas Minor."

The frontispiece of the 1696 Dutch “Atlas Minor.”

During the 2013 winter holidays, the books, maps, and ephemera moved to the conservation lab at AAS where each item was evaluated, cleaned and conserved if needed.  Many large, eighteenth-century maps from the collection had stains and old repairs removed and tears mended. An important, hand-colored 1696 Dutch atlas, donated to AAS in 1848, was repaired and fortified for travel.  Each item was next photographed by the Society’s photographer and the material was packed up for delivery to Holy Cross earlier this month.  Some objects will be missed at the Society.  The case for a 1795 British globe in the Graphic Arts workroom now sits forlorn and vacant, and the head librarian will be looking at empty hooks on a wall in his office where our ca. 1850 painting of Canton, China, usually hangs.  However, we all realize that more people will see these wonderful objects and the rare material from the library collections at this exhibition than would ever see them in our offices!


The Society’s conservation team discuss book cradles with designer Frank Gregory. The cradles were custom-made for each volume.

Installation began in early February for the exhibition, called Global Encounters in Early America, which opens tonight and runs through April 6, 2014. Over one hundred objects are included in the show, almost entirely borrowed from local Worcester county organizations like AAS, Old Sturbridge Village, and the Worcester Historical Museum.  For more on the exhibition and all of the activities surrounding the show—including a K-12 teacher workshop on March 15 and an academic symposium on April 4 and 5—please see the complete description and calendar.


Timothy Johnson, a preparator for the Cantor Art Gallery, places the Society’s Dudley Adams globe, 1795, during the installation of “Global Encounters.”

So, no excuses for having cabin fever in all this winter weather and snow—come out to the opening tonight, or visit the Cantor any time between then and April 6 to see wonderful treasures from several local historical organizations.  AAS may not loan that Dutch atlas again for another 166 years, so be sure to stop in and see it, and all the other wonderful books, prints, ceramics, costumes, and maps on display!

The Acquisitions Table: Lessons in Dancing

Dilettante [i.e. Edward W. Clay] Lessons in Dancing, Exemplified by Sketches from Real Life in the City of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Published by R.H. Hobson, 1828.

DancingOnly the second known copy of this title with eight delicately hand-colored plates of dancing couples mounted on stubs and sewn into printed tan paper wrappers with the imprint information. The finely-detailed plates depict couples from a range of social classes, races, and religious groups performing different dance steps in a variety of costumes. This copy has the first four plates of dancing pairs annotated in pencil with the names of historical figures including Arthur Middleton (grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence), Don Francisco Tacon (Spanish ambassador to the U.S. who arrived in Philadelphia in July 1827 and was in residence in 1828) and Monsieur and Madame Hutin (French dancers who appeared briefly at Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street Theatre in 1827). Though the work is anonymously attributed to “A Dilettante,” the last four plates are signed EWC so it can be identified as the work of the artist Edward W. Clay (see also Clay’s The Sorcerers’ Adieu above). Clay became famous for his caricatures such as the series “Life in Philadelphia” (1828-1830) satirizing middle-class African American Philadelphians. A somewhat less offensive example can be seen here in the dancing couple labeled “Pat Juba African Fancy Ball.” Gift of Michael Zinman in honor of the American Antiquarian Society’s bicentennial.

Valentines Outside the Envelope

TheValentineAs has been blogged on Past is Present before, AAS has an extensive and representative assortment of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century valentines. Part of the Graphic Arts Collection, these ephemeral pieces of affection were exchanged on or before February 14, as Valentine’s Day provided the perfect opportunity to give that special someone a card. Many were sentimental; sometimes they were comical.

But Valentine’s Day culture appears in more than just valentines themselves. Gift books and annuals, for example, show the predictable scene of giving and receiving the greetings. “The Valentine,” a plate appearing in Temperance Offering circa 1853, was engraved by John C. McRae and shows two women outdoors sharing the opening and reading of a valentine.

Yet exterior views such as these seem to forget the reality of valentine making, manufacture, and mailing, a point not lost on several periodical writers in the nineteenth century. Instead of surveying the collection or showing some of the enchanting examples of romantic/sentimental valentines (which have been featured this week to our Instagram followers), this post will examine a particular valentine found within the collection and look at it from a few angles.

The valentine “Pride of the Mills” (below) is housed in the comic valentine category. It features a caricature of a well-dressed woman worker in the Merrimack Mills in Lowell. In one hand she holds a rolled copy of the Lowell Offering, in the other bags of coins. The poem beneath reads, “At loom, at the spindle, in parlor, at pen,/So ably each station she fills;/She’s the envy of maidens-the idol of men,/As they point to the ‘Pride of the Mills.’”


Though the mill girl is the subject of this comic valentine, and perhaps not its intended recipient, part of its ironic interest is that the Pride is outside the mill. Indeed, the image and text show a deceptively independent woman (as opposed to other comical valentines, which range from the crude or rude to exaggerated features and professions). Comparatively, this one is tame. And yet it is one laced with confusion. The Pride of the Mills is an advocate for change, yes. Women, for any number of reasons, have to work in a factory to earn money and yet, re: valentines, are to maintain a passive role in the game of love.

The Lowell Offering—written, edited, and published by female operatives employed in the mills—instigated a conversational line about the sending of Valentines.

In the March 1, 1845, issue of the periodical, “Q” states:

There have been several thousand Valentines distributed from the Lowell post-office this month. We are acquainted with one lady who wrote a letter to a stranger, last Valentine’s day, who is this year upon the eve of marriage with him. Girls! Is this an argument in their favor or not?

Like many articles in the Lowell Offering, this piece invites the readership into dialogue. Much in the same way the comic valentine does.

factorygirlsThe discussion about factory girls is never uncomplicated, as this illustration of “‘Mind Among the Spindles,’ or Factory Girls’ Study” in the April 1846 Boston City Crier and Country Advertiser makes clear. In the image, young women sit gathered around a table or curled up in bed together reading; a discarded copy of the Lowell Offering is cast on the floor. The girls are reading copies of Eugène Becklard’s Physiological Mysteries and Revelations in Love, Courtship and Marriage, a guidebook on marriage, sex, and hygiene (AAS has several copies of the text in its collection). They are also reading J.H. Ingraham’s Eleanor Sherwood (Ingraham also wrote The Beautiful Temptress), Lady Blessington’s “Etiquette,” and The Philosophy of Mystery by Walter Cooper Dendy. The illustration and selected texts suggest the less than ideal reading habits among the factory’s spinning machines and that little else is on the mind of these women but the vagaries of love and the human experience.

Though factory work and valentines seem an unlikely alliance to make, we can momentarily look at Worcester-born Esther Howland (1828-1904) who, when her amorous art skyrocketed in popularity, employed the assembly-line system to create her valentines. While Howland remains one of Worcester’s success stories, the industrial-made cards were not without their critics.

Godey’s Lady’s Book lamented in its February 1849 issue that “the title [Valentine] is bestowed on printed doggerel, bought in market and distributed through penny-post, with no more of sentiment to consecrate the offering than though these were patented recipes for colds, or notices of a new milliner’s shop.” The reproduction of sentimental cards, according to the Lady’s Book, was mournfully sublet to the factory setting rather than lovers creating their own homemade (or at least less generic) sentiments.

Similarly, an article called “A Valentine Factory” in the January 1874 American Artisan and Illustrated Journal of Popular Science echoes the same general attitude. Noting the disconnect between the delicate sentiments contained within a Valentine and the reality of how they are created, the author of the article notes, “Brawney-armed mechanics are turning out a strange medley of lovers and bowers, flowers, birds hearts and arrows, bachelors and pining spinsters.”


A Harper’s Weekly engraved illustration by Frank Bellew (above) shows an interior where women are at work creating valentines.[1] Harper’s, with its general-audience appeal, even comments on the manufacturing process of valentines: “Few guess the amount of capital invested in the manufacture of these missives – amatory and otherwise – or the vast number sold and dispatched each year.” (The article, from February 13, 1858, is reproduced here and here). The article continues with regards to the employment behind these valentines, “seventy-five are women and twenty-five boys and men” – or to the point, it was another employment opportunity for women.

If you are looking for valentines, the Antiquarian Society is undoubtedly a unique resource of study. And if you’re looking for periodical writers and editors (such as Harper’s, the American Artisan, Godey’s, and even to an extent the Lowell Offering) to critique and admit the disconnect of making these items commercially, we are fertile ground as well – love knows no bounds!

[1] See additional images in AAS Online Exhibition A Woman’s Work is Never Done.

The Acquisitions Table: Costume Plates from Norway

Bufford, J.H. Vinter dragt [i.e. drakt] fra Karasjok i Finmarken and Dragter [i.e. Drakter] fra Hitterdal i Tellemarken. Costume plates from Norway Illustrated. New York: Arthur Gilbert & Co., 1872.

PlateAAS holds an uneven medley of the pieces that made up an ambitious 1872 printing called Norway Illustrated. The set was to be issued by New York publisher Arthur Gilbert & Co. in eighteen parts, each with four black and white lithographed views of the Nordic landscape and one color costume plate. The publication was copied directly from C. Tønsberg’s, Norge fremstillet i Tegninger med oplysende (Oslo, 1848). The U.S. re-publication was apparently not very successful as only three partial sets are recorded (AAS, University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin). In fact it is unlikely that all eighteen parts were ever issued. When the Society’s set was cataloged in 2009, we found that we had the first part as issued with text, and eighteen additional landscape sheets from later sets. Unfortunately we had no examples of the color-lithographed costume plates. Recently, however, AAS visual materials cataloger Christine Graham-Ward located five of the costume plates online by searching for the publisher and printer’s names. This discovery indicates that at the very least at least five parts of Norway Illustrated were probably issued.