The Acquisitions Table: Little Marian

Little Marian. Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, [ca. 1853-1857]. 

The American Sunday-School Union was a pioneer in the use of the shaped book format and chromolithography, competing directly with secular firms including McLoughlin Brothers. Little Marian serves as a sequel to the Pilgrim’s Progress-inspired children’s book Little Marian’s Pilgrimage, issued by the ASSU ca. 1852. The earlier book was issued in the less visually exciting format of marbled boards with leather spine, which was a much more typical format for children’s tracts. This shaped book has chromolithographs signed by European lithographer Ferdinand Moras (1821-1908) who had moved to Philadelphia and set up shop in 1853.

“the question of [her] sex”: Transgender Histories in Nineteenth-Century News

The first in a two-part series, this blog post features an AAS-based undergraduate project, “Queering the Archive” at College of the Holy Cross.  Under the advisement of Professor Stephanie Yuhl of the History Department, Carly Priest ‘18 and Emily Breakell ‘17 spent the summer searching for resources relevant to the history of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the United States.

Based in Boston and printed in the late 19th-century, The Illustrated Police News was a sensationalist periodical widely-circulated on the east coast. Much like contemporary tabloids, serials like The Illustrated Police News were interested in stories that would sell.

Their articles featured crime, subversive behavior, and any aberrations from mainstream culture that fell in-between— with little regard for the humanity of the people on whom they “reported,” or whether the stories presented were even true.

Shaw’s story appears in this issue

Though the content of publications like The Illustrated Police News were intentionally sensationalist (and therefore should not be viewed as reporting with journalistic integrity), The Illustrated Police News and similar serials ultimately offer important sources for our project, “Queering the Archive.” The articles, however aggrandized, discuss people on the fringes of society and frequently feature individual departures from nineteenth-century gender norms—even if only to reinforce mainstream social norms.

In July of 1876, The Illustrated Police News reported on Esther Shaw, a chambermaid who lived as a woman for most of her life (while The Illustrated Police News referred to Shaw with he/him/his pronouns, I will use she/her/hers to reflect what Shaw appears to prefer). The article, entitled “A Thirty-Years’ Masquerade: A Mulatto Chambermaid at New Orleans Proves to be a Male” sensationalized Shaw’s life and career as a maid.

Shaw became ill and was admitted to the women’s unit of a local hospital. Several days after her admittance, a medical student suspected Shaw was a biological male, and brought her into “the inspecting room.”  Disturbingly, despite Shaw having “fought and plead[ed],” the report nonchalantly indicated the hospital’s medical staff forcibly physically examined Shaw to determine “the question of [her] sex.”

“A Thirty-Years’ Masquerade: A Mulatto Chambermaid at New Orleans Proves to be a Male” mirrors several other articles we found in the archives of the AAS. While Esther Shaw lived happily, normally, and quietly, as a woman, The Illustrated Police News treated her gender identity as a spectacle. Though sensationalist papers regularly dehumanized the people they reported on, accounts of those who lived outside the boundaries of their assigned gender—those who cross-dressed once to commit a crime, or who lived as a man or woman for thirty years, as Shaw did—were especially derisive. Headline descriptions of people who cross-dressed regularly included the terms “man-woman,” “freak,” and “unnatural.” Such accounts illustrated social anxieties surrounding deviance from gender normativity and positioned periodicals as cultural signposts to reinforce acceptable expression of gender.

On one hand, the story of Shaw stood as a typical example in the  pattern we encountered in periodicals like The Illustrated Police News. As Illustrated by Shaw’s experience, invasive practices to identify gender and sex were common events in stories of people who cross-dressed. Like Shaw, these articles indicated enforcement of the gender binary by police and medical professionals in the nineteenth century.

On the other hand, the story of Shaw stands out from others we encountered in two ways: first, The Illustrated Police News account quoted Shaw in the article, allowing Shaw to explain, at least partly, why she cross-dressed. This marks a significant departure from other sensationalist stories we encountered, both in The Illustrated Police News and other serial publications, which frequently silenced those who subverted social norms. As The Illustrated Police News reported: “Shaw said…during [her] young days, [s]he wore smock frocks, and never felt at ease unless so attired. As [s]he grew up, [s]he found that man’s labor did not agree with [her], and therefore concluded that as a woman [s]he could succeed better.” Whether intentional or not, this brief description of Shaw’s life and preferences not only contextualize her life as a woman, but also gesture toward a depiction of Shaw as a whole person, a person who tried to live inside of gender norms, but found that they, like the boy’s clothes she tried to wear, never “felt” right. This moment of sympathy for Shaw renders her a potentially sympathetic character to The Illustrated Police News reader.

Second, the reporter further garners such sympathy by explaining why Shaw would have wanted to dress in feminine apparel in the context of other cross-dressing individuals.  As The Illustrated Police News pointed out, “Numerous instances are on record of women assuming male attire to better further their ends…on the other hand it is a rare occurrence for a man to don feminine gear, and for years carry out the deception.” In the patriarchal society of the nineteenth-century, biological females sometimes chose to live as men in the search for better jobs, better pay, and better treatment. Biological males who lived as women, therefore, existed in a more enigmatic space and were therefore pushed further to the margins. A society dominated by cisgender people—i.e., people that identify with the gender assigned to them at birth—would have a harder time understanding why a biological male would want to live as a woman. Given the prevailing attitude that no person would choose to live as a woman, male-to-female transitions were riskier, and more criminalized than female-to-male.[1]

NYC scene from Jan 23, 1873 issue of The Illustrated Police News

Prevalent commentary on race throughout this article invites further speculation about the societal norms the unnamed The Illustrated Police News journalist assumed.  Take the initial description of Esther: “Shaw is a medium-sized, delicate looking mulatto, about 30 years of age, with a few scattered hairs on his lip and chin, not any more than a large proportion of creole negroes or sufficient to betray his sex.” As was common practice in the 19th-century, the author of the article identified Esther as “Mulatto” in the subtitle before they flagged Shaw’s non-conforming gender identity. This served to portray Esther as a particular social conundrum: not only of mixed sex, but also of mixed race.  In short then, the story of Esther Shaw was not that of “A Thirty-Years’ Masquerade.” Rather, her story is one of a person who lived and worked as a woman of color in a time when mixed race and gender rendered Esther Shaw doubly marginalized.

[1] The News Desk. “Arresting dress: A timeline of anti-cross-dressing laws in the United States.” PBS Newshour. 31 May 2015.

New Online Exhibition – Victorian Valentines: Intimacy in the Industrial Age

Editor’s note: Originally from Texas, Zoe Margolis is an Art History major at Smith College, slated to graduate this upcoming spring (class of 2018). Zoe wrote the first draft of this post on behalf of the students in the Spring 2017 course at Smith College “ARH291: Be My Valentine.” It was later revised by Prof. Kalba for clarity and concision.

Students looking at material in Smith College’s archives.

To be honest, I didn’t really know what ephemera was before I joined Professor Laura Kalba’s art history course at Smith College, ARH291: Be My Valentine: Ephemera, Ephemerality and Affect From the Victorian Era to Today. The class caught my eye with the promise of field trips and hands-on experience creating original public scholarship in the field of art history. Focusing on a largely unprocessed collection of Victorian-era valentines held at the American Antiquarian Society, along with a variety of online digital artifacts such as GIFS and emojis, the class invited students to investigate a broad range of popular commercial imagery and reflect on how the study of these everyday images both draws upon and departs from the knowledge and skills foregrounded in most art history courses.

Over the semester, we worked to create the online exhibition Victorian Valentines: Intimacy in the Industrial Age. The exhibition explores both handmade and commercially manufactured valentines, their materials and iconography, as well as the sentiments that inspired them. In addition to romantic valentines, the exhibition also includes vinegar valentines, designed to mock and insult their recipient, and other types of ephemera related to the history of courtship and emotions, such as escort cards and “maps of the heart.”

Some of the AAS material presented for the students to explore.

Students collaborating on the online exhibition.

After visiting AAS and the Smith College Archives, each student chose a few of their favorite objects to research and write about for the exhibition. The class then collaboratively decided upon the exhibition’s themes and worked in smaller groups to write the interpretive “wall texts” and design specific sections of the website. Students assumed additional responsibilities, ranging from copyediting and quality control to social media “ambassador” to project manager. Final revisions to the exhibition were completed over the summer by Sally Stack ’19 and Clara Rosenberg ‘20.

We could not have completed this exhibition without the guidance of our fearless leader, Professor Kalba; Lauren Hewes, Nan Wolverton, and Molly Hardy, to only name a few of the people at AAS who helped us with the research, conceptualization, and design of the exhibition; and Ken Albers, from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, who not only taught us how to use Omeka but also provided Sally with essential technical assistance during the summer. We also wish to thank the Five College Blended-Learning Steering Committee for its generous financial support.

The Acquisitions Table: The Whip

The Whip (New York, New York), Oct. 8, 1842. 

Racy papers were scandalous newspapers mostly published in the 1840s and 1850s in New York and Boston. AAS has one of the larger institutional collections of these lowbrow papers. Opportunities to acquire additional issues of these papers are few and far between.

An issue for one of the New York papers, The Whip, recently showed up on eBay. It happened to be the one issue missing in the Society’s short run of this title. There were numerous bids, but AAS was victorious in acquiring it. There are several articles in this issue related to prostitution and bawdy women. The Whip’s editor, George B. Wooldridge, was in prison when this issue was published, but his imprisonment didn’t stop him from writing pieces for the paper.

Nimrod, Newspapers, and the Apocalypse of 1812

An undated edition of Hughes’s prophecy, published in 1811 or early 1812.

“I saw the gathering tempest and heard its dreadful roarings, which seemed to me the roaring and burstings of ten thousand canons at once. Then I saw the trees of the forest torn by the violence of the winds, and dashed against each other, and against everything that stood before them, and houses and rocks and hills torn from their foundations, and shattered into atoms, and blown about like the dust of the earth.” According to Nimrod Hughes, this is the fate that awaited the world on June 4, 1812, along with the destruction of one-third of mankind. In the wake of a bright and long-lasting comet, earthquakes, and an eclipse, Hughes’s prophecies fell onto a population primed to believe in any new natural catastrophe.

Hughes’s prophetic pamphlet was titled A solemn warning to all the dwellers upon earth, given forth in obedience to the express command of the Lord God, as communicated by Him, in several extraordinary visions and miraculous revelations, confirmed by sundry plain but wonderful signs, unto Nimrod Hughes, of the county of Washington, in Virginia, upon whom the awful duty of making this publication, has been laid and enforced; by many admonitions and severe chastisements of the Lord, for the space of ten months and nine days of unjust and close confinement in the prison of Abingdon, wherein he was shewn, that the certain destruction of one third of mankind, as foretold in the Scriptures, must take place on the fourth day of June, in the year of our Lord 1812. In it, Hughes claimed to have received apocalyptic visions from God during a recent imprisonment. A Solemn Warning was a bestseller, and many editions were published from mid-1811 into 1812, including at least six in English and two in German. On October 25, 1811, the Carlisle Gazette noted that “[Nimrod Hughes’s] prophecies are eagerly sought after from every corner, and the printers are hardly able to keep pace with the uncommon demand.” The popularity of this pamphlet eventually spawned a massive assault against Nimrod Hughes and his prophetic pretensions in the press.

A woodcut from a broadside poem about the Great Comet of 1811. The comet was seen all over the world and was viewed as a warning of forthcoming disaster. In the novel War and Peace, Tolstoy describes the comet as a sign, “said to portend all kinds of woes and the end of the world.” Hughes’s prophecy was published in the wake of the comet’s first visibility.

Some early newspaper articles about Nimrod Hughes and A Solemn Warning tried to simply present a balanced view of the available information. Kline’s Weekly Carlisle Gazette in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, published a communication from “a layman” in Baltimore describing a terrible hail storm in Alexandria, Virginia, ten days after its citizens mocked Hughes, concluding with the observation, “since this period the reputation of Nimrod Hughes, has greatly augmented in the public estimation; but as to his prophecies, (without hazarding an opinion) we leave them, and him with his motives to settle with his maker.”

Obed Alcox, the former owner of the undated copy of A Solemn Warning featured above, clearly shared the low opinion of Hughes’s prophecy present in the newspapers. His note reads: “Retire & rest: say I, and think of Hughes’s lie.”

Most writers, however, openly attacked both Hughes and the credulity of his readers. One of the earliest assaults on Hughes’s character appeared in a letter from William M’Kee to his brother on November 4, 1811, which received wide reprinting. In it, M’Kee describes Hughes as “one of the greatest villains I ever new [sic].…There is no man who is acquainted with him would believe a word he says; much less have the confidence in his prophecy, and I never was more astonished than to hear that his pamphlet excited a single enquiry” (Palladium of Liberty, January 28, 1812). Newspapers printed conflicting accounts of what landed Hughes in jail, and he was alternately accused of libel, horse theft, stealing bacon, and burning a barn. When some reports claimed he had been a Methodist minister, other reports were quick to say he’d never been any such thing. In many ways, the constant attempts to pin down facts, the in-depth arguments against false prophecy juxtaposed with quick character insults, and worries about the public’s willingness to believe anything in print would be instantly familiar to anyone who spends even a small amount of time looking at contemporary news.

The descriptions of Hughes in 1811 and 1812 newspapers easily presage the character attacks prevalent in contemporary journalism. Throughout the country, Hughes was described as “the pretended prophet” (Farmer’s Repository, Charles Town, Virginia); “the imposter” (Palladium of Liberty, Morristown, New Jersey.); “the false prophet” and “an abandoned wretch,” (Long-Island Star, Brooklyn, New York); and “that villain Nimrod Hughes” and “ye who fatten on human vice, ignorance and meanness” (The Pittsburg Mercury, reprinted in The Tickler, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Some writers went so far as to accuse Hughes of maliciously misusing the public’s trust. “It is matter of much regret to see persons, who ought to know better, take advantage of such a period to impress the minds of the people with idle fears,” lamented an anonymous writer to the Pittsburg Mercury. Under the headline “False Prophet,” the Long-Island Star complained, “there have been four or five different prophecies since the appearance of the comet but none of them so artful, so wicked, or so dangerous as Nimrod Hughes’.”  The vocabulary may have changed in modern discourse, but the sentiments are essentially the same.

What apocalyptic prophecy is complete without Biblical arithmetic? Here, Hughes attempts to prove that a prophecy from Daniel was scheduled to occur in 1812. Such attempts by Hughes to legitimize his prophecy lead to multiple newspaper screeds about how to recognize “real” prophecy.

When June 4, 1812, passed without any of Hughes’s predictions coming true, the papers wasted little time in pointing out the error of Hughes’s prophecies. On June 9, the American and Commercial Daily Advertiser in Baltimore reported “The 4th of June has past [sic].…[Hughes’s] prediction of the hail, and the whirlwind, and of the destruction of one-third of our species is blown to air.” The Courier in Washington, D.C., went so far as to publish a poem by one Julio Everard, which begins “Blush—ye weak deluded mortals, blush, / Ye who would believe and fear a man, / And not the words of thy all seeing God!” (The rest of the poem is equally melodramatic.) The New-England Palladium in Boston opined that believers in Hughes’s prophecy would have been better off buying lottery tickets, and the Public Advertiser in New York argued that the only apocalyptic occurrence following the publication of Hughes’s prophecy was the nomination of DeWitt Clinton for president.

I stumbled into this vicious nest of newspaper attacks after cataloging an undated, abridged edition of Hughes’s prophecy. While the outrage over Hughes’s audacity at publishing “lying prophecies” is amusing and entertaining reading to us, what truly struck me is how little the response to ridiculous news has changed in two hundred years. Aside from the medium of delivery, there isn’t much difference between a newspaper reprinting William M’Kee’s letter prefaced by their own commentary and a Facebook or Tumblr user sharing a link to an article and putting their thoughts with it. If there’s one thing exposure to the vast collection of newspapers housed at AAS has taught me, it’s that the news has changed very little throughout America’s history. So, the next time you’re rolling your eyes over an acquaintance believing a dubious news article or you’re exasperated by extended news coverage of a dubious scientific claim, remember the time Nimrod Hughes predicted the destruction of one-third of the population and was wrong.

The Practice of Everyday Cataloging: ‘Blacks as authors’ and the Early American Bibliographic Record

Recent conversations addressing the lacuna of representation of people of color in the bibliographic record have ignited a flurry of activity in our cataloging department that we hope users of our catalog will find helpful. As is often the case when we reflect on our cataloging processes and procedures, this activity has a long history here at AAS. In the 1990s and in response to scholars’ needs (most notably those of AAS Librarian Nancy Burkett, Randall Burkett, and Henry Louis Gates, the co-editors of Black Biography, 1790-1950: A Cumulative Index), the question was posed: is there a way to identify works by black authors in the AAS Catalog? AAS Head of Cataloging Alan Degutis reported that there was not, but that there could be, and he, in consultation with his staff, set to work devising a cataloging policy. Henceforth, AAS catalogers began adding to the MAchine Readable Catalog (MARC) records they created the following locally-defined subject headings: “Blacks as authors,” “Blacks in the printing and publishing trades,” and “Blacks as illustrators.” This work was begun in the 1990s, and all rare-book-level records created thereafter include these headings when appropriate.

But what about all of the MARC records that had been created before 1990 and the retrospective conversion records added to the catalog in the 1990s? How could we most efficiently and effectively add these headings to older records? In other words, what could we do to ensure that a user searching for black authors, illustrators, and people in the printing trades could be found in the early American bibliographic record that AAS has been dedicated to producing for centuries? To address this question, we did what we often do when faced with a bibliographic dilemma: we consulted our collections. On our reading room reference shelves, we identified some forty books and pamphlets that might help us identify the names of black people in our catalog and the works of those we might add to the North American Imprints Program (NAIP) records. (For more on NAIP, please see my previous post “Big Data in Early America.”) 

The earliest of these is Daniel Alexander Payne Murray and Wilberforce Eames’ Preliminary List of Books and Pamphlets by Negro Authors for Paris Exposition and Library of Congress (1900).  

This eight-page list was sent to libraries in an effort t to collect more “books and pamphlets by Negro authors” for both the Exhibit of Negro Authorship at the Paris Exposition of 1900 and for the Library of Congress collection.
With the blank form they inserted, Murray and Eames asked for reader responses:  “[a]ny person able to furnish books or pamphlets on this list, or having knowledge of such as are not on this list” should fill out the card and return it to the Library of Congress. The feedback “will greatly aid this effort … to make certain that all books or pamphlets are duly represented in the collection.” This pamphlet and the responses the blank generated surely deserve further scrutiny, but for now, I point it out as one of the many bibliographic treasures we encountered on our shelves. Ultimately, we identified eight references that would be most useful to help us identify the catalog records to which we could add “Blacks as authors.” This is our starting focus; though we are always looking out for “Blacks in the printing and publishing trades” and “Blacks as illustrators” mentioned in these works, we have not yet made those headings our focus. These references we used (with a brief description of them) include:

  1. Daniel Alexander Payne Murray and Wilberforce Eames, Preliminary List of Books and Pamphlets by Negro Authors for Paris Exposition and Library of Congress (1900), as mentioned above.
  2. Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, A Bibliographical Checklist of American Negro Poetry (1916) lists imprints by authors (though no dates are given) and includes, at the end, Charles Heartman’s bibliography of Phillis Wheatley.
  3. Vernon Loggins, The Negro Author: His Development in America (1931) that, at the end of 400 pages of prose, includes a “brief record” with holding institutions of imprints and serials by African Americans from 1760-1900.
  4. Dorothy Porter Wesley, Early American Negro Writings: A Bibliographical Study (1945) is a “checklist” that includes 292 entries for imprints, serials, and manuscripts held at 31 publicly accessible collections, as well as, in the private collections of Arthur B. Spingarn and Dr. Reynold Johnson.
  5. Dorothy Porter Wesley and Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, North American Negro Poets: A Bibliographical Checklist of Their Writings, 1760-1944 (1945) is an expansion of the Schomburg published in 1916. It does not include foreign titles, but it doubles the number of domestic titles, including books and pamphlets by individual poets, anthologies edited by Negro authors, and a few printed broadsides. It Includes holdings at 25 collections, and though the entries are not numbered, there are about 620 of them.
  6. William P. French and Geneviève Fabre, Afro-American Poetry and Drama, 1760-1975: A Guide to Information Sources (1979) includes both Afro-American texts in anthologies and single-author publications as well as studies of these works.
  7. William L. Andrews,  To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865 (1986) includes an annotated bibliography of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865 (333-342).
  8. Jean Fagan Yellin’s and Cynthia D. Bond, The Pen Is Ours: A Listing of Writings by and about African-American Women before 1910 with Secondary Bibliography to the Present (1991)  includes writings by and about African-American women who produced separately published writings; writings by and about African-American women who had been enslaved and whose stories, either dictated or written, had been published; and  writings by and about African-American women whose works appeared in periodicals and collected writings.

We went through these anthologies and made a spreadsheet of all names that might be found in our catalog. We then searched the Library of Congress Name Authority File (LCNAF) for the identified individuals, matching the form (or forms) of a person’s name as given in the bibliographies to a person’s name (or names) as authorized in LCNAF; it is the latter that we use in the catalog. For example, Wesley and Schomburg identify the author of Catoninetales as Hattie Brown, which is the name on the volume’s title page. However, Catoninetales was written by William James Linton under the pseudonym Hattie Brown, and Linton’s name in LCNAF is authorized as “Linton, W. J. (William James), 1812-1897”; it is this name that we needed to search with to find the thirteen records in which Linton is traced. With this new list in hand, we could identify the books and pamphlets written by a black author with catalog records that did not yet include the subject heading “Blacks as authors” and then add it. We made sure that the headings were applied comprehensively to all works by each author.  All of this work continues to be in process, but thus far we have added the heading to almost 300 monograph records.  

The blue bars in the graph indicate the progress we have made since we began this work in March 2017. It is a start: we have much more to do, especially to identify “Blacks as illustrators” and “Blacks in the printing and publishing trades.” We are currently mining the amazing collection of North American Slaves Narratives in Documenting the American South not only for more headings we might add to existing records and to records we might create, but also for links we can include in our catalog to full text and XML files for these texts. We have a number of other ideas in the works to enhance our catalog in the hopes that it will serve our users better, make these important works more accessible, and ensure that the AAS does its part to combat the further “symbolic annihilation” of people of color in the historical record.

This work has led to some important conversations in Antiquarian Hall about when to apply the term “Blacks as authors.” We do not determine the terminology used; the Library of Congress Subject Authority Cooperative Program (SACO) does that. In 1990,  we decided to use “Blacks” rather than “African Americans,” the two possibilities offered by the Library of Congress. For our purposes, “blacks” seems best because it captured not only people of African descent living in “America” but also those living elsewhere and who might be in our catalog. We are now asking: how is a person identified as black? And how does that identification delimit and circumscribe other identities? For the time being, we consider inclusion in the references listed above as reason to add the subject heading “Blacks as authors.” We are eager, however, to be a part of the the current work at the intersection of digital humanities and bibliography that might alter our practice insofar as this work can interrogate the assumptions under which those who compiled these bibliographies worked. Any alterations of our own practice must  be considered along with our adherence to cataloging standards that render AAS data interoperable and meaningful in digital environments beyond our own online public access catalog (OPAC).  This balance of subject expertise, bibliographic prowess, and data demands are how we at AAS arrive at our practices of everyday cataloging.

Thanks to Head of Cataloging Services Alan Degutis and Project Cataloger Amy Tims for their help with this post. 

Interview with Chris Phillips

Chris Phillips is associate professor of English at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, and the author of Epic in American Culture, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2012. Chris has been a Lapides Fellow at AAS and is presently an ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Fellow spending time at AAS researching his new book on reading hymns.

In this interview Chris discusses his own epic adventures searching in libraries and archives for material that formed the foundation of his newest book, The Hymnal Before the Notes: A History of Reading and Practice, which Chris began working on at AAS several years ago. He also talks about his early years as a graduate student working with Jay Fliegelman, the nature of epic in America, libraries and reading, and even reads a little Milton poetry for us.

Construction Begins On Antiquarian Hall

After months of preparation that included shifting stacks, boxing up objects, and countless meetings about architectural plans, the ground has finally been broken—both figuratively and literally—on the expansion and renovation of Antiquarian Hall.

Architect’s rendering of the new exterior facade on the Park Avenue side of Antiquarian Hall.

The Preparation

As with any major building project, much of the time in the months preceding the actual construction was spent on refining and finalizing the architectural plans. Meetings with architects, contractors, and various staff members have been a constant presence here at AAS. But beyond the blueprints, there are also a lot of other preparations that need to be done when renovating and expanding an over-one-hundred-year-old building with over four million items residing in it. Two of the biggest projects involve removing various artwork and collection items on display and shifting collection material in the stacks to make room for the renovation work.

Though AAS’s collecting focus is on printed material and manuscripts, as anyone who has been on a tour can attest there is also a substantial amount of artwork as well as interesting artifacts on display around Antiquarian Hall. Portions of our large portrait collection line the walls of Antiquarian Hall; Isaiah Thomas’s first printing press, Old No. 1, has a permanent home on the balcony; and a collection of nineteenth-century Staffordshire pottery nestles comfortably on the shelves of the Council Room (now renamed the Thomas Room in the course of this building project). All of these items need to be protected from the vibrations and other movement caused by the construction of the addition.

Our in-house photographer shooting the Morse pottery collection in place before taking down for storage.

The Emma DeF. Morse Collection of American Historical Pottery, which has 324 pieces of nineteenth-century Staffordshire pottery illustrating major sites in the United States and commemorates events in the nation’s past, was the first collection to be put away for safekeeping. Each case was photographed in situ before being packed away by a professional art handling company with the help of Lauren Hewes, our curator of graphic arts, and Nan Wolverton, our director of fellowships and the Center for Historic American Visual Culture (CHAViC). Other small but popular items, such as the vial of tea from the Boston Tea Party and the Celeron Plate, have been temporarily moved and put on display in the Orientation Room off of the front foyer of Antiquarian Hall. In mid-June, the portraits currently hanging on the walls will be removed and Thomas’s printing press will be boxed up for protection. (Due to the removal of these items and other construction-related restrictions, we will be temporarily suspending our weekly Wednesday afternoon public tours after June 14.)

Rows of empty shelving after the shifting, waiting for construction work.

The other large undertaking—shifting collection material in the stacks—was a long and complex task, but necessary to the success of the project. With so many collection items housed within the walls of Antiquarian Hall, it was a challenge to figure out how to keep the collections here—thereby allowing minimal impact on library operations—but still maintain proper levels of safety while giving the contractors room to renovate the HVAC system. With their usual precision and doggedness, library staff have managed to shift and consolidate collections within the existing stacks to provide enough room for the contractors to safely complete their work. In total, nearly 10,000 shelves of material were shifted during the process.

The Groundbreaking

While these preparations have been ongoing, AAS also planned a Groundbreaking Ceremony, held in the Reading Room on April 27. With remarks by AAS Council Chair Sidney Lapidus, AAS President Ellen Dunlap, AAS Council member James Donnelly, project architect Samuel Anderson, and Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus, and a champagne toast for the standing-room-only crowd, it was a celebratory event marking the beginning of the construction phase of the project. Chairman Lapidus also announced that more than $9.5 million has been raised to date towards the $20 million goal for construction costs, a sum that reflects the first part of our “Safeguarding the American Story” campaign.

Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus addressing the crowd

It was a bit unusual for this antiquarian crowd to have a trough of mulch in the Reading Room, but if ever there were a proper occasion, this was it! Samples of the pre-patinated copper that will be used to fabricate the new Park Avenue façade and screens showing the architectural plans of the building were also on view.

From left to right: Sidney Lapidus, AAS chairman; Samuel Anderson, architect; Edward Augustus, city manager of Worcester; James Donnelly, AAS treasurer; and Ellen Dunlap, AAS president. The samples of pre-patinated copper are visible at the bottom of the picture.

The Construction

With the planning, preparation, and pleasantries under our belt, we’re now ready for the construction phase of the project. Work has already begun on building a new, specialized server room within Antiquarian Hall. The work trailer for the construction crew is in the parking lot, and the construction fence has been erected. 3D imaging that the engineers will be using to plan out the placement of the new HVAC ducts is being completed. Digging and drilling related to the building of the expansion portion of the project has also begun.

As construction continues in the coming months, we’ll be providing regular updates about the progress here on the blog, as well as on our website. For more details about the goals of the building project, check out the September 2016 and March 2017 issues of our newsletter, Almanac. Upcoming issues of the newsletter will also feature more information. And as the project nears its end in the fall of 2018, we look forward to sharing with you not only the physical building, but also the exciting new possibilities that its completion will bring to the Society. We hope you’ll follow us on this journey!

Now in Print from the AAS Community

Every quarter at AAS we release a list of publications by those who have researched at the library as fellows, members, or readers. If your book, article, or other achievement is not included, just let us know if you’d like to see it posted here!


Cohen, Michael David, editor. Correspondence of James K. Polk. Volume 13. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2017.

Coward, John. Indians Illustrated: The Image of Native Americans in the Pictorial Press. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016. (AHPCS Fellow, 2010-11)

Hansen, Kathleen and Nora Paul. Future-Proofing the News: Preserving the First Draft of History. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.

Peterson, Dawn. Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017. (Hench Fellow, 2012-13)

Rusert, Britt. Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2017. (Peterson Fellow, 2011-12)


Altschuler, Sari and Christopher J. Bilodeau. “Ecce Homo! The Figure of Benjamin Rush.” Early American Studies 15.2 (2017): 233-251. (Altschuler: Legacy Fellow, 2011-12 and Hench Fellow, 2013-14)

Baumgartner, Kabria. “Building the Future: White Women, Black Education, and Civic Inclusion in Antebellum Ohio.” Journal of the Early Republic 37 (2017):117-146. (Peterson Fellow, 2015-16)

Bernstein, Robin. “‘I’m very happy to be in the reality-based community’: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Digital Photography, and George W. Bush.” American Literature 89 (2017):121-154. (Last Fellow, 2008-9)

Brown, Joshua. “‘Our sketches are real, not mere imaginary affairs’: The Visualization of the 1863 New York Draft Riots.” In The Civil War in Art and Memory, ed. Kirk Savage. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art/Yale University Press, 2016. (Drawn to Art Fellow, 2011-12)

Capshaw, Katharine and Anna Mae Duane, editors. Who Writes for Black Children? African American Children’s Literature before 1900. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017. With contributions by AAS staff and fellows Laura Wasowicz (staff), Nazera Sadiq Wright (Ford Fellow, 2013-14), and Brigitte Fielder (CHAViC Fellow, 2011-12)

Casmier-Paz, Lynn. “‘A Dying Man:’ The Outlaw Body of Arthur, 1768.” In Reading African American Autobiography: Twenty-First Century Contexts and Criticism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017. (Botein Fellow, 2009-10)

Cohen, Lara Langer. “The Depths of Astonishment: City Mysteries and the Antebellum Underground.” American Literary History 29 (2017): 1-25. (Botein Fellow, 2008-9; AAS-NEH Fellow, 2011-12)

Finley, James S. “A Free Soiler in his Own Broad Sense: Henry David Thoreau and the Free Soil Movement.” In Thoreau at Two Hundred: Essays and Reassessments, ed. K. P. Van Anglen and Kristen Case. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. (Packer Fellow, 2012-13)

LaFleur, Greta. “‘Defective in One of the Principle Parts of Virility’: Impotence, Generation, and Defining Disability in Early North America.” Early American Literature 52 (2017): 79-108. (Peterson Fellow, 2013-14)

McLaughlin, Don James. “Inventing Queer: Portals, Hauntings, and Other Fantastic Tricks in the Collected Folklore of Joel Chandler Harris and Charles Chesnutt.” American Literature 89 (2017): 1-28. (Peterson Fellow, 2015-16)

Stone, Andrea. “Lunacy and Liberation: Black Crime, Disability, and the Production and Eradication of the Early National Enemy.” Early American Literature 52 (2017) 109-140.



The Acquisitions Table: Friendship Album, 1842-1846

Esther Blackmer, Friendship Album, 1842-1846

This album looks similar to other albums from the period, with its hand-colored lithographs and manuscript poetry. The album’s  owner, unlike the many students who kept friendship albums, was a chambermaid at the State Lunatic Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. The hospital’s trustees’ report indicates that Esther Blackmer’s compensation was board plus $1.50 per week and that several of her family members also worked at the hospital as attendants, a table girl, ironer, and kitchen help. On the first two pages of the volume, Samuel B. Woodward, founder of the hospital, writes to Esther, “Have you ever duly considered the necessity of cheerfulness to a happy life? It is above the price of rubies.” Esther eventually married Benjamin F. Slow in Worcester in 1846, the same year the entries in this album end.

Say Cheese! Photographs of Printers at Work, Redux

Back in 2014, I prepared a post for Past is Present that featured four photographs of newspaper print shops, two from the collection and two recently acquired. In the three years since that post, AAS has added several more occupational images featuring print shops of all shapes and sizes. These images add to our knowledge of the appearance of nineteenth-century printing businesses, the people who worked there, and the machinery and spaces required for success. When looked at more broadly, the photographs also tell us something about the history of photography and its use to document work.

The carte-de-visite photograph format was invented in Europe around 1854 and was popular in the United States from that date to the late 1870s. Cartes-de-visites were usually albumen photographs mounted on 2 x 4” cards, making them perfect for slipping into albums, using as calling cards, or swapping with friends. We recently bought this circa 1875 carte-de-visite of unidentified typesetters standing in a studio with their type cases in a posed arrangement. The young men, shown in their shirt sleeves, would have carried the cases (which we suspect are empty of type for easy transport) to the photo studio to set up this shot. Occupational photographs like this are not unusual in America—sitters with shovels, machinery, tools, and other props are common enough—although this is the first we have seen with type cases! Mind your p’s and q’s, gentlemen, and be careful getting that rig back to the print shop!

An image of the Boston Globe composing room, taken in 1887, turned up recently during a shift of the Society’s Boston photographs from one drawer to another. It was tucked inside a folder with unrelated material donated by AAS member Charles Henry Taylor Jr. (1867-1941, elected 1912), who worked for over forty years at the Globe as a journalist, editor, treasurer, and publisher. Here, the entire crew has stopped work to pose for the photographer who has brought his camera to the newspaper office to make the shot. This shows an important difference from the carte-de-visite image above, the success of which depended on the controlled environment of a photo studio. The decade between 1875 and 1885 saw many advancements in camera technologies and lens development which allowed cameras to finally move outside of the studio.

Taken around the same time as the Globe image, these two stereo views, taken about 1888, show the composing room of the Boston Transcript when it was located on Washington Street. The paper moved to that location after the 1872 Boston fire. The Transcript divided their composers into three teams, one for news, one for editorial, and a third for advertising. They also employed female composers and a few are visible in these group shots. Stereo photography became popular in the United States starting in the 1850s and the hand-held devices that allowed three-dimensional viewing continued to be used as entertainment in middle-class parlors well into the early twentieth century. Occupational images like this were often sold or given away by companies (like textile mills, manufacturers, and Sears & Roebuck) to promote their brand, to showcase new technologies, or to advertise their services.

The Globe and the Transcript were big city papers with hundreds of employees. AAS is also very interested in smaller papers like the Österns Weckoblad (Eastern Weekly), whose Worcester, Massachusetts, office is shown in this circa 1896 photograph. Österns Weckoblad was a Swedish-language newspaper that was founded in New York in 1890, moved to Worcester in 1896, and then on to New Britain, Connecticut, before closing down in 1926. The type cases and composition area is at center and the wheel of a printing press can be seen at the far right. Sunlight pours in the large front window, which is emblazoned with the paper’s name. This photograph is larger than any of the others discussed so far, measuring 7 x 9”. It could have been made from a negative of that size, or it could have been printed using a solar enlarger. By the 1890s, enlargers were becoming more commonly available to photographers and were used to create large-format prints of factories, machinery, and shop fronts that were then prominently displayed in business offices or sent to prospective customers or investors.

In March of 1893, D. B. Waggoner, the editor of the Eight O’clock Club column at the Philadelphia Times, had this photograph taken of himself in his office at the paper. The Eight O’clock Club was designed to engage young readers with the news and featured a variety of writing for children, from essays on natural phenomena to jokes, poetry, and fictional moral tales. Waggoner gestures to the club’s mascot, Semper the cat, who is ignoring him while trotting towards the photographer. The paper sent the photo out to club members—this one is inscribed by the editor to “Estelle, Hortense and Mary English” of Philadelphia. A label on the back explains that the image was “taken instantaneously by means of ‘flash light.’” Flash powder was used in fireworks and theatrical productions after the Civil War, but it was not until 1887 that two German inventors created BlitzLicht—a dangerous but effective blend of magnesium powder and potassium chlorate that could be ignited to create enough light to fill a room like Waggoner’s office and also allow the movement of Semper to be captured on film.

Finally, a 1912 photograph of staff at the Ruemely Press and Print Shop in Manchester, New Hampshire, is one of a set of six images that show a small print shop owned by Albert Ruemely. Founded around 1883, the shop did job work, specialized in Masonic printing, held contracts with the city clerk of Manchester, and offered German-language printing. In 1887, Ruemely added the printing of novelty advertising to his repertoire. This photograph is a silver gelatin print, rather than the albumen-based collodion wet plate technique used on many of the earlier images. Silver gelatin, which was a more stable photo printing process, was perfected around 1880 and became the dominant photographic printing process after 1900.

I continue to look for images of printers in America and hope to add photographs of shops large and small. They turn up on eBay, at paper fairs, in our own stacks, and from generous donors. My interest in these small reminders of past printers has rubbed off on the other curators here at AAS. Recently our curator of books picked up a small photographic print of a group of unknown printers, including four women, while hunting for books to add to the Society’s collection. From the washed out faces we can say flash powder was definitely used, so the photo is likely post-1890. We are still doing research on this image as it has only just arrived in Worcester. Maybe we’ll end up with enough images for another post in a year or two! 

Past is Present podcast with Ezra Greenspan

Ezra Greenspan delivering a talk at AAS on March 16, 2017

The Past is Present podcast returns with an interview with Ezra Greenspan. Ezra is the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Chair in Humanities at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and author of George Palmer Putnam: Representative American Publisher (2000) and William Wells Brown: An African American Life (2014). During the past year, he’s been working on a new book titled The Lives and Times of Frederick Douglass and His Family: A Composite Biography. Ezra is a member of the American Antiquarian Society (elected 2003), was AAS Distinguished Scholar in Residence from 2009 to 2010, and is  an AAS-National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow for the 2016-17 academic year.

In this episode, Ezra discusses the research and writing of his latest book on Frederick Douglass’s family; his work as editor of Book History, the annual journal from SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing); and his lifelong relationship with the printed word.

You can listen to this podcast at the top of this post or subscribe to it through iTunes. Stay tuned for much more from the Past is Present podcast!

Spring Issue of Almanac Now Available

The spring issue of the AAS newsletter, Almanac, is fresh off the press and ready for your perusal. Here are some highlights from this issue:

  • The first part of a three-part series about the expansion and renovation of Antiquarian Hall focusing on the HVAC upgrades
  • An “AAS Heritage” piece about the various HVAC issues the Society has experienced since the very first Antiquarian Hall
  • A feature story on our beautiful and illuminating bookplate collection
  • Descriptions of our newest digital projects and exhibitions
  • A new acquisition from a multi-generational donor family

All that and more is packed into this issue. Happy reading!

Tribute to a Great Friend and Book Dealer

One of the duties of a curator at the American Antiquarian Society is to interact with dealers of antiquarian books, manuscripts, and paper ephemera. Over time we develop professional relationships with them as we get to know what type of materials they have, and they get to know our wants.

Bob and Wendy Mooers

In 2003 I was using eBay to find newspapers and periodicals that were not in our collection. Over time I noticed I was bidding on a number of lots from the same seller. After winning a few lots, I found out the seller was Bob Mooers of Gateway Books in Hebron, Maryland. He and his wife, Wendy, had a small antique business and they had piles of newspapers in their warehouse.  Over time it became apparent to us that they had amazing newspapers in their stock. Often I would bid on a few issues, ask if they had any more, and they would quote a long run of the title to us.

In August 2004 I accepted an invitation to visit them and spend some time going through their shelves of newspapers. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. I spent three hot days working my way through stacks of newspapers, noting the titles and years and checking our online catalog. It was obvious to me that there were many rare titles and that much of the inventory could have a major impact on our newspaper holdings.

The newspapers in the Gateway Books warehouse.

The truck full of newspapers back at AAS.

After much deliberation and many meetings and negotiations, a deal was made between AAS and Gateway Books. In 2006 AAS purchased Part A, a large block of newspapers, with the option of first refusal in subsequent years to buy Parts B and C.  Once the paperwork was prepared and a check cut for the first payment, I flew down south, rented a twenty-six-foot truck, and drove to Hebron to complete the agreement. As it happened, a few days before I flew down, Mr. Mooers had a major heart attack and was in the hospital, where he had undergone major bypass surgery. He still insisted I come down. We ended up completing the deal on his hospital bed and I handed the check over to him and his wife. Arrangements were made and a crew was waiting at the warehouse to help load the truck.

Part A had a major impact in our holdings for Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

Part B was purchased the next year and fit in a cargo van. This contained more Florida, Maine, South Carolina, and Tennessee newspapers. In 2008, due to the economy, AAS decided not to exercise its option on Part C of the newspapers.

During these years, I spoke with Bob and Wendy over the phone many times, dropped by when my travels took me near Hebron, exchanged Christmas cards, and got to know each other. Bob would tell me tales of his time in the merchant marines, how he got started in his business, and experiences dealing with libraries, other dealers, and collectors.

Even though we didn’t buy Part C at the time, Bob knew those newspapers were rare and wanted to see them come to AAS. Over time as my budget would allow, I would buy individual lots. He could have easily sold them off to other collectors and dealers, yet he held onto them for years, giving me a chance to buy what I could. One summer I stopped by and he offered me the newspapers from Clarksville and Shelbyville, Tennessee, from 1818 to 1820, at a large discount. These were the only known copies of the titles. Bob was relieved to see them come to AAS. He said they really belonged here.

Last summer I made another stop to visit Bob and Wendy. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was not in the best of health. Bob wanted to finish off the last of the lots and suggested a price that enabled me to buy the last of the newspapers. He said he didn’t want them hanging around and complicating things down the road if they got tied up in his estate. In September 2016 the last of the newspapers arrived here in Worcester, already paid for. As it happened, the next month Wendy let me know that Bob had cancer and shortly before Thanksgiving he died.

I had known Bob for twelve years, but in that time we got to know each other, enjoyed sharing company and meals, and developed a friendship. That is not part of the job description, but in the fifteen years I’ve been curator of newspapers and periodicals I’ve gotten to know many dealers. I enjoy talking with them and getting to know them. It is true that I want them to remember me and my wants, but for several of them, it is more than a professional relationship. I enjoy their quirkiness and find them interesting.

So long, Bob. I’m glad I knew you.

Tenth Annual Adopt-a-Book – Now Launched!

Disorderly Girl. Young America Series. Electrotyped by Vincent Dill. New York: McLoughlin Brothers, ca. 1867.

Springtime means it is time for the AAS Adopt-a-Book fundraiser! A hearty thank you to all who have participated in this popular event in the past. We have raised over $125,000 for acquisitions over the last nine years. Today, Tuesday, April 4th, we launch our tenth annual online catalog of “orphans” to be adopted.

This year, to mark the tenth anniversary, we have changed the focus of the event from the usual support of acquisitions to support for an upcoming exhibition. In December 2017 the Society will be sending over 150 books, games, prints, and watercolors to the Grolier Club in New York for our exhibition Radiant with Color & Art. Co-curated by AAS Children’s Literature Curator Laura Wasowicz and Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes, this show will examine the work of the McLoughlin Brothers, well-known publishers of children’s picture books. “This will be a groundbreaking show,” says Wasowicz. “It will celebrate the production methods and marketing used by McLoughlin over four decades and will include original never-before seen artwork and printing blocks used by the firm.” We have posted on this blog previously about the curatorial process of selecting material for the show. We are in the home stretch and will be busy this summer preparing a printed catalog and building exhibition mounts and labels.

Sarah Noble Ives. “At the Ball.” From Cinderella. Watercolor, pen and ink, ca. 1912.

Raising funds for the exhibition has occupied AAS staff for the last two years. Donations from many generous AAS members and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation are already in hand. Using the tenth annual Adopt-a-Book event as a way to crowdsource additional funding for Radiant with Color & Art engages additional constituents with our collections. All of the material in this year’s Adopt-a-Book online catalog is traveling to New York and will be on display in the exhibition. As in past years, participants may donate in honor of someone (friends, family, colleagues), but this year supporters will be recognized on a special acknowledgement page in the printed catalog for the exhibition, as well as on the Adopt-a-Book page on the AAS website.

Josephine Pollard. The History of the United States Told in Words of One Syllable. New York: McLoughlin Brothers, ca. 1887.

“Adopt-a-Book is always a popular event with our former fellows, scholars, staff, and friends,” says Hewes, who is organizing the event this year. “This year’s online catalog selection is especially attractive, with lots of gorgeous watercolors, picture books, and even paper dolls.” Due to our impending construction project, there is no evening event in Antiquarian Hall scheduled this year for Adopt-a-Book, so the only way to participate is via the online catalog of “orphans.” We appreciate all and any support of this initiative! Thank you!