What’s the Difference Between a Watch Maker and a Jailer? Adventures in Amateur Newspapers (Part I)

If you’re like me and occasionally find yourself lying in bed endlessly scrolling though BuzzFeed quizzes and pop culture articles, then you are no stranger to the modern-day dad joke. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, I like to define a “dad joke” as a cheesy and often predictable pun told by (but not limited to) a middle-aged man. One of the most classic examples of a dad joke is when a son or daughter tells their father, “I’m hungry,” and he replies, “Hi hungry, I’m Dad. Nice to meet you!” Jokes such as this one have become such a staple amongst young Millennials and Gen Z’ers that it’s almost impossible not to come across one on Twitter, Facebook or any other online social platform. But what exactly do dad jokes posted on the internet have in common with the American Antiquarian Society and, more specifically, old newspapers?

The amateur newspaper collection at AAS.

Over the past few months I have started the slow (but extremely entertaining) process of going through every amateur newspaper held at AAS to make sure the entire collection has been scanned and digitized. Most simply put, an amateur newspaper is a periodical that is written, edited, and published by teenagers or young adults. Arguably, most of these papers were created for the love of the craft and not for profit; consequently, many publications were small in size as well as short-lived. Although amateur journalism saw its heyday in America during the latter half of the nineteenth century, one of the earliest papers held at AAS dates from 1805.

Multiple issues of The Star published in Des Moines, Iowa. Our collection contains issues from 1897 and 1898, many of which have brightly colored wrappers.

One of the many tiny amateur newspapers I’ve seen so far! Florida Mite (Orlando, FL), May 1878.

In total, our collection has over 3,900 titles from every state except Alaska and Hawaii, so I was a bit overwhelmed when first starting this project (so far I’ve made it through 550 titles and I am currently looking at amateur newspapers from Iowa). However, much to my delight, I’ve found that every paper has something fun and unique to add to the world of amateur journalism—one of these things being the nineteenth-century version of a dad joke! Although dad jokes are sweeping their way through the internet today, they are certainly not a new phenomenon. Even then, people my age and younger were drawn to the groan-worthy jokes of their fathers, and one of best ways to spread that cheer was through their version of the internet—amateur newspapers.

Here are some of my favorite nineteenth-century dad jokes!

“Why is the Letter g Like Matrimony?” The Peanut (San Francisco, CA), 6 May 1878, p. 1.
“Miscellaneous.” The Western Star (Rockford, IA), Oct. 1878, p. 2.
“Scraps.” Monthly Star (Albany, GA), Aug. 1885, p 3.
“Original Gems.” Gem of the West (Lansing, IA), Sept. 1878, p. 3.
“Tag Ends.” The Bohemian (Washington, DC), May 1879, p. 4.
“Conundrums.” Hail Columbia (Hartford, CT), July and Aug. 1867, p.2.

I hope that at least some of these puns gave you a light chuckle! I know that they’ve certainly provided me with much needed laughter during these cold winter months. I’ve barely scraped the surface of AAS’s vast collection and I already have several more topics that I’d love to share with you. But in the meantime, let me know if you have any questions about our collection or feel free to leave some of your best “antiquarian” dad jokes down in the reply section!

Coloring McLoughlin—in the annual report and into the new year!

“Young Artist Painting Book,” drawings by W. Bruton (New York: McLoughin Brothers. copyrighted 1882)

In past years of the AAS annual report, we have included in the back pages quotes about the institution over its two centuries, a traveling chess game and paper dolls (with pieces to be cut out!), an Instagram hashtag match-up, and in last year’s iteration, a rebus-palooza. This year’s “back fun pages” (as they have been dubbed in-house) serve as a nod to the countless hours of work put into the 2017 Grolier Club exhibition Radiant with Color & Art: McLoughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books, 1858–1920 by curators Lauren Hewes and Laura Wasowicz. In addition to many of the firm’s published works, AAS is also fortunate to have McLoughlin Brothers’ extensive art archive of its published materials, including some coloring, outline, and painting books! And since the McLoughlin Brothers were known as trailblazers for their experimentation with color printing and book formats, we thought we would use one of those painting books (pictured here) for a bit of fun.

Both the physical exhibition and printed catalog are highlighted in the annual report (just published!), but the concluding pages of the report (see below) hope to encourage readers to kick back, pull up a palette, and relax. After all, isn’t one of the many pros of the still-growing adult coloring book phenomenon near-instant stress relief (although for those keeping score, these aren’t relief prints at all, but chromolithographs!)? Although countless books in the McLoughlin archive could have been appropriate, it was the firm’s Young Artist Painting Book by William Bruton which really caught our eye (and begged reproduction as both the catalog’s frontispiece image and for these pages).

In “Try Your Own Brush with History” we’ve included a period color sample palette as well as excerpts from the (comprehensive) directions by the McLoughlin firm. In addition, the lithographed cover plate from 1882 and its black and white version for readers to color on their own were also reproduced. But if you feel compelled to color more than what we supplied in the annual report, we offer here as a PDF file the remainder of the book! This includes Bruton’s gorgeous uncolored images of children: “On the Sea Shore,” “Sailing the Yacht,” “In the Hay Field,” “In the Meadows,” “Off for a Sail,” London Bridge,” “The Skipping Rope,” “Four in Hand Team,” “The Swing,” “Tug of War,” “Picking Blackberries,” and “Gathering Blossoms.”

Color us scholarly, but we just can’t help providing facsimiles! Try your hand at it!

An Early Christmas Gift: The First Illustrated Edition of A Visit from St. Nicholas

Front wrapper of 1848 edition

Not so long ago I got a phone call from AAS member David Doret (elected 2009), telling me that he had a Christmas book of potential interest. It was what seemed to be the first fully illustrated book-length edition of Clement Clarke Moore’s classic Christmas poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, better known as “The Night before Christmas.” Although Moore’s poem was first published in an 1823 issue of the Troy Sentinel newspaper and had appeared in children’s poetry anthologies, it was not until 1848 that the poem commanded center stage as the subject of its own picture book replete with wood engravings by Theodore C. Boyd. It was published in New York by Henry M. Onderdonk, who issued various publications for the Protestant Episcopal Church and was likely well acquainted with Moore, who was a professor of Divinity at the Episcopal General Theological Seminary in New York. It is a humble square book of sixteen pages, cheaply bound in a paper wrapper emblazoned with the title “Santa Claus.”

The post author with the 1848 edition of “A Visit from St. Nicholas”

I listened to David with great interest. I had been on the prowl for this little book during my entire thirty-year tenure at AAS, and my collecting predecessor, former AAS director Marcus McCorison, had been eagerly searching for it for some decades before that. It was always in the back of my mind as I perused catalogs from book dealers and auction houses, but it was eerily absent. The truth of the matter is that only a handful of copies of the 1848 edition of Visit survive in institutional collections. Even in the 2006 Sotheby’s catalog devoted to Jock Elliott’s Christmas Collection—a collection compiled over half a century by the late chairman emeritus of the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather—the 1848 Onderdonk edition of Visit is nowhere to be found. A copy of the 1823 Troy Sentinel issue containing the famous poem, however, was listed with a starting bid of between ten and twenty thousand dollars; I can only guess what a copy of this little book with its Santa pictures would have fetched, had it been available.

When David told me he would send me the book, I was cautiously optimistic. Over the years I had received various queries from people saying that they had a copy of the original picture book edition, but upon further research, I realized they had copies of a twentieth-century facsimile edition bound with a flamboyant tassel to make it “look” antiquarian. Happily, the copy that David sent us was contemporary to 1848, with its slightly foxed paper stock and tiny stitches made by a former owner mending a tear at the spine, and as of today AAS can count itself among the few institutions to hold a copy of this coveted book.

Self-proclaimed as “a present for good little boys and girls,” it features wood engravings by Theodore C. Boyd celebrating Santa as a scrappy elf shouldering a gift-laden peddler’s pack and smoking a stubby pipe. In Boyd’s hands, Santa operates nimbly through the densely crowded townhouses of Antebellum New York (below); conveyed in its spare black line, this image offers an austere contrast to Thomas Nast’s full-color illustrations of Santa driving through an expansive American countryside, published two decades later by McLoughlin Brothers.

Depictions of St. Nick’s sleigh in 1848 edition (left) and an 1869 edition published by McLoughlin Brothers and illustrated by Thomas Nast (right)

Perhaps most delightful of all the illustrations is the full-length view of Santa; dressed in knee britches and buckled shoes, he looks like a holdover from the eighteenth century. He is a stout man of action, who could effectively wield the stick in his right hand if necessary, but the twinkling eyes of this “right jolly old elf” tell us we indeed have nothing to fear. The famed closing message “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!” is encased in a banner festooned with a medallion of Santa jauntily smoking his pipe, visually branding the ultimate Christmas poem for generations to come.

Thank you, David Doret, for donating one of the best Christmas gifts to AAS in a very long time. It is as though I have been handed the Holy Grail! 

Now if I can only find that long-rumored seventeenth-century copy of the New-England Primer. The chase goes on!

Check out the full book in the gallery below!

Interview with Tara Bynum

Tara Bynum has been assistant professor of African American literature and culture at Hampshire College since fall 2017. She previously taught at the College of Charleston and Towson University and has published articles on Phillis Wheatley in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers and Common-place and other works of cultural criticism in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Tara was an AAS–NEH Fellow for the 2016–17 academic year with a project titled “Reading Pleasures.” In this interview Tara discusses her work on Wheatley’s poetry and why pleasure and joy were essential elements in the lives of African Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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 next quarter!


Boutelle, R.J. “‘Greater Still in Death’: Race, Martyrology, and the Reanimation of Juan Placido.” American Literature 90.3 (2018): 461–493. (Peterson Fellow, 2014–15)

Fagan, Benjamin. “The Fragments of Black Reconstruction.” American Literary History 30.3 (September 2018): 450–465. (Tracy Fellow, 2008–9)

Harvey, Sean P. “Native Views of Native Languages: Communication and Kinship in Eastern North America, ca. 1800–1830.” The William and Mary Quarterly 75.4 (2018): 651-684. (AAS–NEH Fellow, 2010–11)

Imholt, Robert J. “Connecticut Confronts the Guillotine: The French Revolution and the Land of Steady Habits.” New England Quarterly, 90:3 (September, 2017), 385–417.

Jaros, Peter. “Irving’s Astoria and the Forms of Enterprise.” American Literary History 30.1 (2018): 1–28. (Peterson Fellow, 2017–18)

“Keywords in Early American Literature and Material Texts.” Early American Studies 16.4 (2018). Contributions by past fellows: Joseph Rezek, Sarah Schuetze, James N. Green, Christy L. Pottroff, Nora Slonimsky, Molly O’Hagan Hardy, Sonia Hazard, Seth Perry, Meredith McGill, Juliet S. Sperling, Myron Gray, John J. Garcia, Alea Henle, Steven Carl Smith, Michael Winship, Jessica C. Linker.

Van der Woude, Joanne. “Sweet Resoundings: Friendship Poetry by Petrus Stuyvesant and Johan Farret on Curacao, 1639–1645.” The William and Mary Quarterly 75.3 (2018), 507–540. (Reese Fellow, 2006–7)

Wisecup, Kelly. “‘Meteors, Ships, Etc.’: Native American Histories of Colonialism and Early American Archives.” American Literary History 30.1 (2018): 29–54. (Peterson Fellow, 2014–15)


Altschuler, Sari. The Medical Imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. (Legacy Fellow, 2011–12; Hench Fellow, 2013–14)

DeLucia, Christine. Memory Lands: King Philip’s War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018. (Peterson Fellow, 2011–12; AAS–NEH Fellow, 2015–16)

Hyde, Carrie. Civic Longing: The Speculative Origins of U.S. Citizenship. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018. (Peterson Fellow 2009–10)

Miller, Laura. Reading Popular Newtonianism: Print, the Principia, and the Dissemination of Newtonian Science. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown. New York: Viking, 2018. (AAS member, 2002)

Phillips, Christopher. Hymnal: A Reading History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018. (Lapides Fellow, 2012–13; Burkhardt Fellow, 2016–17)

Some of These Things Are Not Like the Others: Discovering Medieval Incunables at AAS

Jessica Bigelow is a second-year English master’s student at Clark University and served as a Readers’ Services page this past summer. Her current master’s thesis focuses on medieval literature, and she aspires to someday be a rare book curator working with medieval and early modern materials. Her time at AAS fostered her passion for the curation and preservation of early published works.

As an English master’s student with a particular interest in medieval studies, I didn’t ever expect my interests to align with the materials housed at the American Antiquarian Society. After I began working here as a page, however, I discovered a little-known collection within the Society—a collection of medieval incunables. Now, the definition of an incunable, or incunabula (a word that literally translates to “from the cradle”), is a book that was printed during the first fifty years after the invention of the European printing press, roughly 1450 to 1500 CE. Therefore, it came as a shock to me that an institution focused on collecting materials printed in what is now the United States before 1877 would hold texts that were not only non-American but printed significantly earlier than the set timeline of the Society’s collection. Because of this, I decided to dig deeper into this collection of incunables and see what I could discover about their connection to the rest of the collections housed within AAS.

Doing so came with some difficulties, however. First, because these items are not the stated focus of the Society’s collection, they were not fully cataloged when I began this project. (This is also one of the reasons it is not well known that the Society owns these texts.) Of the six incunables that AAS currently holds, only three had online catalog records when I began this project, although all have since been cataloged. Furthermore, those records that did exist were limited and difficult to use. For example, one of the most interesting (in my opinion) incunables the Society owns is a copy of Liber Cronicarum, otherwise known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, printed in 1493. The Nuremberg Chronicle is a history of the world that begins with biblical times and continues through the fifteenth century, touching on many major cities and political/religious figures from history. The Chronicle is also revered for its liberal use of woodcut illustrations (such as the images shown here), which depict the people and places being discussed throughout history. Not only is this text vastly interesting to study on its own, the AAS copy is particularly valuable because it is in excellent condition. The catalog record for this text, however, is almost entirely in Latin, which makes it hard to find in the online catalog and also hard to decipher if you do find it. Furthermore, although this record contains all the information needed to find the Nuremberg Chronicle, the information provided is very technical and not very user-friendly.

Confusing catalog records for incunables are common, as they are notoriously hard to catalog due to missing leaves, lack of publication information, faded text, and other time-consuming difficulties. At AAS, because they are outside of the normal collection scope and because the Society does not have a curator specialized in materials from that time period, creating detailed catalog records is especially difficult. Fortunately, AAS currently has someone working very hard to improve these catalog records, which will make them much easier to find and access in the near future.

Once I was able to get into the text of the Nuremburg Chronicle, as well as a few of the other incunables, I discovered an interesting connection between the incunable collection and the rest of the material owned by the AAS, which helped me discover how they ended up here. Several of the incunables were donated by Isaiah Thomas, the Society’s founder, and he left extensive notes within each incunable on both the monetary value and the academic value of each piece based on their connection to the history of printing. This has led me to the conclusion that the incunables were kept not just for their donors’ connections to the Society—some other notable donors of incunables were the Mather and Hunnewell families, which you can read more about here and here—but because of their connection to the Society’s history. The Society had a much broader scope when originally founded by Thomas, and it was only in the 1970s that it was narrowed to North America. This new scope lessened the broad interest the Society used to have in the history of printing. There are a number of other resources at AAS that also deal with the history of early European printing, the existence of which makes the presence of the incunables within the collection make sense.

“Bible Latina,” 1476, examples of illumination in incunabula

This change in scope led me to my second difficulty—deaccessioning. Deaccessioning is the official disposal of items within a library collection, which generally entails selling those items in order to raise money for the library. In the early 1970s, several of the Society’s dozen incunables were deaccessioned; there was a lot of change happening to the Society’s collection during the ’70s, and the deaccessioning of these incunables appear to go hand-in-hand with AAS lessening its focus on the general history of printing within the collection. I tried to discover where the texts went after being a part of our collection, but although the American Antiquarian Society Proceedings of 1873 and 1879 list these incunables as being owned by the Society, during the short time I was at AAS I was not able to find the records that indicate who bought them during their deaccessioning.

Therefore, my research into the incunable collection at AAS led me down many mysterious rabbit holes that did not always lead to answers. But, one thing I definitively learned was how unique and interesting this collection of incunables is. To prove this, I’ll leave you with this final example of an incunable you can find at the Society: the Hortus Sanitatis, printed in 1491. The Hortus Sanitatis was the first natural history encyclopedia and was published by Jacob Meydenbach in Mainz, Germany, the home of the first European printing press. Many copies of this text still survive, and the Society’s copy, like many others, is in poor condition. Therefore, this copy is not considered special just because it survived. Rather, it is the annotations that make this text not only academically interesting, but fun to look at as well. As you can see from the images, the book is full of hand-painted woodcut illustrations of the different plants, animals, and people that are discussed throughout the encyclopedia. Many of these images have readers’ marks next to them that contain puns and jokes applying to the image they are situated next to, enhancing anyone’s reading of this delicate text. While the culprit of these notations is currently unknown, I hope to someday learn their name—and if you come and see this amazing collection, maybe you can figure it out for me!

Further Reading:

Bouchot, Henri. The Book: Its Printers, Illustrators, and Bonders, from Gutenberg to the Present   Time. London: H. Grevel & Co., 1890.

Duff, E. Gordon. Early Printed Books. London: Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1893.

Haebler, Konrad. The Study of Incunabula. New York: Grolier Club, 1933.

New Online Exhibition: Radiant with Color & Art 

Did you miss the Radiant with Color & Art exhibition featuring a portion of the AAS’s large archive of McLoughlin Brothers material that was shown at the Grolier Club last winter? Yes? Then you’re in luck! The exhibition has now been fashioned into a colorful online exhibit showcasing the history and work of the McLoughlin Brothers, the New York publishing firm that transformed American children’s book publishing.  

Box cover for “Parlor Football Game,” 1891.

Original watercolor by Sarah Noble Ives, ca. 1907, used in “The Story of Teddy the Bear.”

The McLoughlin Brothers were publishers who operated in New York City from 1858 to 1920. Their firm produced books, games, and toys for children for over fifty years, a notable achievement for any business, but an especially important one in the history of picture book publishing. 

As one of the first publishers to focus exclusively on products for children, McLoughlin Brothers was able to shape and define the American picture book market. The firm used wholesale and retail channels to distribute its books across the United States and in Latin America and Europe; produced picture-dominated books that significantly escalated consumer’s expectations that image-laden books could be had at affordable prices; and created popular content that reflected the modern world of the child reader. The Brothers never rested on their success, always striving to use technological innovation to improve their products and keep prices down and profits up. In no small way, McLoughlin Brothers sold the idea of picture books as a cultural necessity of American childhood—a belief still held by parents today. 

Cover for “Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper,” 1897.

The exhibition and catalog, which was curated by AAS Children’s Book Curator Laura Wasowicz and AAS Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes, highlighted more than two hundred items from the Society’s collections, including picture books, games, original watercolors, and wood blocks. This shortened online exhibit, built on the Omeka platform, draws from the Grolier exhibition and tracks the evolution of children’s book publishing in America and the rise and fall of the McLoughlin Brothers firm. The exhibit is  broken down into nine distinct themes, which give a glimpse into the audience the brothers sought to engage, the social norms at the time, the technological advances in printing, and the introduction of the stories and tales that are still passed down to today’s children. Enjoy!

Fall Issue of Almanac now available!

We’ve finally reached the point in our major expansion and renovation project where everything is all construction all the time. The finish line is in sight, and we can’t wait to share it with everyone! In the meantime, this issue of Almanac was an opportunity for us to reflect on the construction at AAS, past and present, and to also say goodbye to an invaluable friend and member of our Council, Bill Reese, who championed the current project from the start.

In this issue you’ll find:

  • A collage of photographs illustrating construction progress
  • A feature highlighting the staff’s perspective on working in a construction zone
  • A memorial to Bill Reese and his legacy at AAS
  • A history of building additions to all three Antiquarian Halls
  • An update on the Safeguarding the American Story Campaign

And of course the lineup for this fall’s public programs and introductions to our newest long-term fellows. We hope this issue will get you as excited for the Society’s next phase we are!

Creative Artists and Writers Fellowships: Apply now!

The deadline for our Fellowships for Creative and Performing Artists and Writers is Friday, October 5th. The 2019 class of fellows will be our twenty-fourth. This initiative encourages creators of all types to come to AAS for a month and conduct research on original works of art and non-fiction related to pre-twentieth-century American history and culture. The competition applies equally to people creating many different kinds of works of art, such as musicians, painters, playwrights, poets, and fiction writers, as well as journalists, documentary filmmakers, and public historians working in museum or historic site settings. The fellowships are designed for people creating work aimed at the general public as opposed to an academic audience.

While similar programs now exist in many research facilities, the Society’s program was the first of its kind when it was established in 1995. Since that time, we have hosted 98 fellowships. Their disciplines have been as varied as their personalities and have included a performance artist, a Civil War reenactor, a radio producer, two book artists, a sculptor, a cellist, two choreographers, a doll artist, and two cartoonists, among many others.

From exhibition “Solitude of Selfie,” Number 19, “Heroism,”
18×12, cyanotype and sharpie on watercolor paper, 2017, by Carol Flueckiger

Carol Flueckiger, a painter from Lubbock, Texas, who held a Jay and Deborah Last Fellowship in 2009, expressed the sentiments of many of our fellows when she wrote in her fellowship report:  “The American Antiquarian Society Creative Artist Program is stellar. This mission is clear: come, absorb the resources in the library, bounce ideas off fellows, talk to the staff, consult the online catalogue, attend fellow lectures, and fill up on content to take back to the studio. The environment of scholarly research challenged me to confront my own field in general, the way I research imagery for my paintings, and how I define art. At first I was hesitant to leave the studio for a month, but as I got to know the staff, collections, and other fellows, my passion to integrate historic sources into my images grew as much as my passion for devising a unique painting/blueprint technique.”

Flueckiger’s latest work, an exhibition of thirty-six mixed media images called Solitude of Selfie, is on view at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York. This exhibition visually revises “Solitude of Self,” one of the most well-known speeches delivered by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Some of the images in this collection were based on her research here at the Society.

The fellowship program, initially funded by the Lila Wallace Reader Digest Fund, is now supported by Charlotte and Robert Baron, the Hearst Foundation, and Deborah and Jay Last.  For more information about the Fellowships for Creative and Performing Artist and Writers, visit our website.

The Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project: Now Featuring Comprehensive Transcriptions!

The transcriptions can be found at the bottom of the entry for each ballad, as indicated by the arrow.

The Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project has been fully transcribed! Each of the more than three hundred ballads in the collection now has a text-searchable transcription, as well as the option to download an XML file of the document that includes tags related to the subject matter contained within the text (both can be found at the bottom of the page for each individual ballad).

Previous blog posts have detailed the unique place this project holds at the Society, the many features the website offers to help the reader navigate the holdings of the project, and how the Society collaborated with students of Assumption college to begin transcribing these documents to make them more accessible to all. An original member of this group of students, I fell in love with this project, and it has been my duty and pleasure to continue transcribing these ballads for AAS over the last year and a half. Having the chance to continue working so closely with the ballads has also made me think differently about the history of printing.

When we consume written words today, we don’t think of the way in which they are being provided to us. They simply come over on a screen or through mass-produced books likely printed via automation. Connections we feel to the words most likely link us to the author and the author alone.

Examples of “n” and “u” inversed

Not so for the ballads. Sure, I read the content of each ballad as I was transcribing it, and I felt I could appreciate the emotions coming through the words themselves. More often, I found myself feeling more and more connected to Nathaniel Coverly, the printer of many of these documents. There are many aspects of the printing process that would be foreign to us. Think about actually having to lay out (backwards and upside down) every character you wanted someone to read. It seems almost miraculous that there are so few typos in the ballads to begin with, but it makes Coverly seem more human, more real, whenever you come across one. Some of my favorite typos to find when transcribing were when he would accidentally forget to invert an “n” or a “u,” creating words such as “turuing” instead of “turning.” I purposefully left these typos in the transcriptions both to more accurately reflect the physical printed words on the page, as well as to convey this same sentiment to the reader.

My other favorite “Easter egg” found in the ballads is also reflective of an aspect of the printing process that I believe would occur to very few of us. Typing with digital files, we have a limitless number of characters before us. We have no finite amount of the letter “A” or symbols such as a semicolon. Not true for printers such as Coverly. The ballads in the collection range from 200 to 1,000+ words, with most averaging somewhere around 500 to 600. Often, the lines in the ballad start with the same capital letter, often a “T” or an “I”. If you look closely enough, in many of the ballads you can see where Coverly ran out of capital “T”s (for example) and had to start using the italic versions of the characters simply to complete printing the ballad. I often liked to imagine Coverly mentally budgeting his use of different characters as he prepared the type for the ballad.

Examples of arbitrary roman and italic “T”s

This is what makes this collection so unique. The ballads certainly give us the chance to catch a glimpse into the life of the “common person” in Boston during the early nineteenth century, getting to see and hear the songs that would have been playing in the streets, pubs, and homes of the city. They also give us the chance to peek into the life of a particular and important profession of the time and allow us to feel like we know one of those professionals just a little bit better. I found this to be both an interesting and rewarding part of working with these ballads, and I hope as you explore and enjoy them you find rewards of your own.

An AAS Curiosity: The Puzzle of the Mayan Mural Drawings

Emily Isakson is a senior at Mount Holyoke College and was a Readers’ Services page this past summer. As an ancient studies major with a focus in art history and archaeology, Emily has always been interested in what has shaped the society we know today. Her time at AAS has only furthered her curiosity about the world.

My interest in the museum world has stemmed from many different places—one of which is my love of history. Though my focus is on the ancient Mediterranean, I believe that to truly understand history one must not limit oneself to a single perspective. Because of this, I find myself digging through the AAS’s collections for histories that do not come from the United States. This is how I came across the vibrant drawings of Mayan images by Worcester resident Edward Herbert Thompson.

Before the American Antiquarian Society became a research library focused specifically on collecting printed material related to pre-twentieth-century American history and culture, the Society also collected antiquities of the world and AAS served as a place where these curiosities could be interacted with and researched. When the Society’s collecting focus shifted in the early twentieth century, most of the antiquities were deaccessioned and given to places like such as the Peabody Museum at Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution.

I enjoyed being able to handle the original materials, which are oversized. I felt like Indiana Jones!

However, some curious items still remain in the Society’s collection (one of the most popular being the vial of tea from the Boston Tea Party). With the help of Graphic Arts Curator Lauren Hewes, I was able to uncover some of these remaining curiosities. To me, the most curious of all is E. H. Thompson’s set of mural drawings and glyph replicas, both made to scale. In this post, I’m going to focus on the mural reproductions.

Thompson, originally from Worcester, made the drawings on one of his many archaeological trips to Mexico. Thompson served as American consul for Yucatȧn in Mexico in 1885, the same year he befriended Stephen Salisbury III, who was AAS’s president at the time and also had a keen interest in archaeology. Thompson’s mural drawings were made from a building at Chichén Itzá around 1890. Chichén Itzá, a major Pre-Columbian city built by the Mayan People, is located in the Yucatȧn State and remains today one of the most visited archaeological and tourist sites in Mexico.

The drawings are important because the murals are no longer visible in their original state. Due to damage from a number of sources including archaeological excavation, exposure to nature and weather, and continuous tourism, the colors have faded and so have the pictures themselves. From the remaining evidence, the murals seem to depict an allegory of sorts—a look into daily life, war, and religion—but their meaning is up for debate. Even with information deduced from the drawings and other historical accounts, the story can mean different things to different people.

 Much of the information available on what the original murals looked like is represented through Thompson’s drawings and those of one of his contemporaries, Adela Breton, an archaeologist well known for her vivid drawings of the same site. Thompson and Breton even conversed and sent letters back and forth to each other. In one letter that was reproduced in the AAS Proceedings, Thompson believed that the building the murals were in was a temple, while Breton believed it was a ball court.

I wanted to piece together Thompson’s drawings to see the recreation of the mural as a whole. By using a photograph of Breton’s painting of the same wall scenes for reference, I attempted to piece together Thompson’s drawings, which AAS has digitized. As his drawings are made to scale they are quite large, so I printed color-copies of them on 8×10” paper and fit them all together like a puzzle.

My brother, Joshua, helped me to sort through copies of the images on my living room floor.

I quickly ran into some issues during this process. Thompson and Breton, even though they were painting the same mural, had different perspectives on them. There are many similarities between the two, but the main difference lies in color choice. Where Breton may use red, Thompson uses blue, etc. There is no way for me to tell what color the original was, so I am left to wonder whether when the walls were copied down the color was missing or indecipherably faded from these spots. The biggest similarities can be seen in the yellow rooftops. In my own puzzling, these rooftops stood as the main markers for putting Thompson’s drawings in order.

The yellow-roofed buildings depicted in the mural drawings.

I ran into some other issues as well. Thompson redrew many scenes with only small discrepancies in color between the versions. He drew and redrew the same image, leading me to speculate as to why he felt he needed a second go at capturing the image. This practice, combined with the color differences between his drawings and those of Adela Breton, suggests that neither truly knew the color of certain parts of the mural. Chichén Itzá was settled in the 400s, making the site almost 1,500 years old when the paintings were created. Even at the time the mural reproductions were painted, the original murals had already begun to fade, while other areas may have already disappeared completely.d

Some of the drawings depict symbols or people. This man appeared when I pieced four drawings together.

Another valuable source of information for me was the Society’s own Proceedings, where Stephen Salisbury III reported on Thompson’s findings and excavations. It appears that Salisbury funded Thompson’s trips to Yucatȧn because of his own interest in archaeology. Salisbury seemed to have a vision for the direction he felt AAS should move in. During the late 1800s, the fascination with archaeology was growing, and Salisbury was following suit with the latest trend in the academic world.

Using letters from Thompson to Salisbury in the AAS manuscript collection, I was able to find out details about Thompson’s encounters with Mayan people still living around Chichén Itzá, several of whom assisted Thompson in his excavations of the site. I also found a list of the objects and items that Thompson uncovered and sent back to America. Thompson was greatly indebted to Salisbury. He was constantly asking Salisbury for money, but always insisted he would pay it back. In 1906, almost a year after Stephen Salisbury’s death, Thompson wrote to an acquaintance that “by the direction of Mr Salisbury…who furnished me with the funds with which to take them [artifacts] out were turned over by me to the Peabody Museum.” Even after Salisbury’s passing, Thompson recognized how much was owed to him.

Regardless of the inaccuracies of his drawings, E. H. Thompson helped to contribute to preserving a visual representation of the art that once appeared on the walls of one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Alongside Adela Breton’s drawings, the pictures give amazing insight into how the Mayan people once lived and what they valued. There are still questions to be answered in terms of the accuracy of the drawings and who they should be attributed to, as in an account of her experiences in Chichén Itzá, Adela Breton mentions that Thompson hired indigenous people to create some drawings for him.* But the drawings are just one piece of the puzzle. To fully understand the drawings and Mayan culture—as with any historical topic or culture—one must look at other sources of information as well. I am fortunate to be able to work, live, and learn in environments that help to foster my understanding of the many perspectives of the past and present.

Further Reading:

American Antiquarian Society. Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, New Series Vol. VIII (October 1892): 262-273. Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1893.

Gura, Philip F. The American Antiquarian Society, 1812-2012, A Bicentennial History. Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 2012.

*McVicker, Mary Frech. Adela Breton: A Victorian Artist Amid Mexico’s Ruins. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.

Thompson, Edward H. People of the Serpent: Life and Adventure Among the Mayas. Boston & NY. 1932. Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press Cambridge, 1932.

 A bibliographic coincidence, or Does anyone know what these are?

PART I, by Doris O’Keefe, AAS Senior Cataloger

Several weeks ago Brenna Bychowski, one of the Society’s former catalogers who is now at the Beinecke Library at Yale, posted a short video on Facebook and described a book she had recently cataloged:

Two volumes of a James Fenimore Cooper novel (The spy: a tale of the neutral ground. By James Fenimore Cooper. New York: Bowling Green Press, 1929) that end abruptly on page 32, followed by partially written on blank pages that fill the rest of the volume. It’s unclear quite what the original intention was. Repurposed publisher’s dummies? Intentionally created hidden journals? Who knows!

The bindings of the facsimile edition of Martineau’s work, one with dust jacket and one without.

I “liked” her post, made a comment about invisible ink, and turned my attention to the volumes on my book truck. At the moment those books are some of the approximately 750 titles (1,000 volumes) in the bindings collection put together by the late antiquarian bookseller Kenneth G. Leach and purchased by the Society in 1989. Other than some annotations on the slips accompanying each title, made by former AAS president Marcus A. McCorison and the acquisitions staff soon after the collection arrived in Worcester, these books have remained virtually untouched until now. Support from AAS members William S. Reese and Michael Zinman has now made it possible for us to give the collection visibility in the online catalog.

In a great bibliographic coincidence, on the same day I read and commented on the above post, my book truck full of this collection held a two-volume set, in dust jackets, purporting to be Harriet Martineau’s Retrospect of Western Travel (London: Published by Saunders and Otley. New York: Sold by Harper & Brothers, 1838). When I opened the first volume I saw the title page, the first page of text, and page 15. The rest of the first volume and all of the second volume consisted entirely of blank pages.

Blank pages in the facsimile edition of Martineau’s work.

I contacted Brenna and after a series of exchanges we agreed that these were intentionally published with blank pages, but probably not as publishers’ dummies. So what then?

When I compared these volumes with our copy of Martineau’s 1838 edition, it was obvious that the Leach copy was not published in 1838. The three pages of text are photographically reproduced and the paper is of a distinctly later production, though how much later I wasn’t sure.

Title page of original 1838 edition (left) and the title page of the facsimile edition.

Dust jacket of the facsimile with the Blackstone Bond watermark.

The next week, I showed the volumes to Lauren Hewes, AAS curator of graphic arts, who noticed a watermark in the book jacket for Blackstone Bond paper, which was produced by the Byron Weston Company in Dalton, Massachusetts. A bit of googling and I learned that this paper was introduced in 1923. Armed with this information I created a brief catalog record. So while my work is done, the other half of the mystery remains unanswered. I can’t help but think that there are people who have seen these kinds of books before and know why they were published, and perhaps by whom. Through the power of social media perhaps we’ll get an answer.

PART II, by Elizabeth Watts Pope, Curator of Books

Few things pique the curiosity of a rare book person more than a good biblio-mystery. So when I heard about the remarkable coincidence described in Doris O’Keefe’s part above, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about the copy of Harriet Martineau’s Retrospect of Western Travel in the Leach bindings collection at AAS.

I picked up the investigation where my colleagues had left off. Thanks to their research into the watermark, I knew this photo-reproduced book was published sometime after 1923, but it remained a mystery exactly who issued it, when, and why it would be issued almost entirely blank. (Salesman’s sample books or canvassing books were usually issued with blank pages, but they usually had a more substantial portion of the text to appeal to potential buyers and the blank pages were usually lined to be filled in with subscribers’ names.)

To further complicate matters, the fact that this photo-reproduced edition of Retrospect of Western Travel was published after 1923 presented two problems:

  • Twentieth-century publishing history is not our area of expertise at AAS—you might say everything after 1900 is a bit of a blur to us.
  • Most post-1923 imprints are not freely available online due to potential copyright issues. This greatly limited the utility of that essential first step of all modern sleuthing—a keyword search in Google.

My first guess was perhaps this photo-reproduction was published to mark the centennial of Martineau’s work in 1938. I tried searching Google and various databases for keywords “1938” and “Martineau.” When this hypothesis didn’t pan out, I turned to that refuge of librarians everywhere: WorldCat. (WorldCat is a “master” catalog that includes library resources from around the world maintained by the Online Computer Library Center, or OCLC.)

I searched OCLC’s WorldCat for “Retrospect of Western Travel” and browsed the results for twentieth-century dates of publication. The best lead I came out with was a rather nondescript catalog record for a “Facsimile reprint, 1942.”

With a more definite date to go by, I now searched in Google for “Retrospect of Western Travel” and “1942” and was able to confirm the publication of the facsimile edition with a number of articles in periodicals, such as this Publishers’ Weekly article:

“In selecting for facsimile publication Harriet Martineau’s diary of American travel in 1834, ‘Retrospect of western travel,’ Harper & Brothers has made a particularly welcome choice of a book to help mark the firm’s 125th anniversary. Harper’s facsimile, boxed at $4, is a faithful reproduction … of the two handy volumes issued in New York by Harper & Brothers in 1838.” –The Publishers Weekly, v. 142, p. 2137, 1942

The Leach collection copy (left) and the newly acquired full facsimile (right) showing the same bindings.

With the date and publisher now established, I was able to locate a complete copy of the two-volume set with the full text on eBay. AAS acquired it in order to determine definitively that it has the same binding, book jacket, and printed spine label as the copy with blank pages already at AAS in the Leach bindings collection (which it does).

Reviewers in the 1940s had commented on how closely the facsimile copied the original, so the Leach bindings copy at AAS could very well be a binding dummy to demonstrate how exact a replica it would be. This is our current best guess as to what we have at AAS, though this doesn’t help explain the original example of The Spy at the Beinecke. Was this a common practice of the time? Do other examples exist? Perhaps you have the clues to help us clear up the remaining questions of this biblio-mystery.

AAS Catalog Is an Award-Winner!

On May 17, 2018, during the annual meeting of the American Historical Print Collector’s Society (AHPCS) in California, the American Antiquarian Society received the Ewell L. Newman Book Award for our exhibition catalog Radiant with Color & Art: McLoughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books, 1858–1920. The Newman Book Award recognizes and encourages outstanding publications that enhance the appreciation of American prints. The selection committee considers “original research, fresh assessments, and the fluent synthesis of known material” when making the award.

During the presentation of the award in Sacramento, California, Sally Pierce, retired curator of prints and photographs at the Boston Athenaeum (and an AAS member), noted, “The award is well deserved. The committee was excited by the illustrations and descriptions of the printing processes contained in the catalog. Jackie Penny did a great job with the design and production values. Your AAS team did an outstanding job.” The head of the Newman Book Award committee, Thomas Bruhn, wrote his congratulations, stating, “The McLoughlin Brothers catalogue is a really good piece of work, and as an investigation into mechanisms of 19th-century children’s book publishing very informative. Also, its design and production values are very high which makes it so appealing visually. AAS should be very pleased.” The award was gratefully accepted on behalf of AAS by Lauren Hewes, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts.

Hewes with the AHPCS group inside Yosemite National Park, May 2018.

In winning the Newman Book Award, Radiant with Color & Art joins a long list of prestigious publications on American printmaking, including 1995’s winner, Ron Tyler’s Prints of the West; Jane R. Pomeroy’s Alexander Anderson, 1775-1870, Wood Engraver and Illustrator, an Annotated Bibliography, which won in 2007; and Michael Twyman’s important tome on lithography, A History Of Chromolithography: Printed Colour for All, which took the award in 2015.

“A Lot of Handsome Badges”: A New Illustrated Inventory

Grand Army of the Republic Veterans from Ohio gathered at Mount Vernon, 1890. (Detail)

AAS collects American printed materials of all kinds, including multiple types of ephemera, from broadsides to tickets to ribbon badges. We have recently completed an illustrated inventory of the Society’s collection of more than 170 ribbon badges, ranging in date from 1824 to 1900. The inventory includes ribbons worn during political campaigns and civic events as well as badges worn by women fighting for the right to vote, children attending school activities, and citizens attending events such as fairs, dedications, and parades. These objects were intended to be worn on the clothing, usually pinned to a lapel, shirt front, or dress. Several pre-1900 photographs in the Society’s collection feature people proudly wearing ribbon badges at reunions, field days, and sporting events.

Advertising ribbon for C.S. Martindell, Philadelphia, ca. 1887.

In the nineteenth century, ribbon badges were engraved, lithographed, or run through relief letterpress presses; all of these printing processes are represented in the collection. Some printers, after seeing the profitability of printing on silk and other fabrics, specialized in the trade and hired skilled artists to create the visual designs that characterize many of the earliest examples. During the nineteenth century, ribbon printers offered pictures, gilt lettering, fringe options, and more, often creating advertisements for their services in the form of a ribbon. Demand increased steadily as the century progressed. In August 1872 an article in a St. Louis newspaper documented the craze for political ribbons in that city, noting “The sales are large and increasing. The St. Louis dealers disburse on average of 1,000 or 1,600 a day. The demand is largest in the country, although large amounts are sold by canvassers on the streets and on trains.”[1] By 1910, a well-equipped printing shop could create 4,000 ribbons per hour.[2]

W. H. Harrison mourning ribbon. Baltimore: Edward Weber & Co., 1841.

Customers would acquire ribbons in various ways.  For events at fraternal organizations and schools, ribbons were distributed directly to membership and students. For public events, such as dedications, parades, and funerals of important individuals, printers would place advertisements in local newspapers to let people know special printed badges were available. After the sudden death of President William Henry Harrison on April 4, 1841, for example, many printers quickly offered ribbons for sale. An April 20th advertisement in a Baltimore newspaper promoted mourning badges for the president offered by local publisher H. A. Turner priced between twelve and nineteen cents per piece.[3]

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, Baltimore, Maryland (April 20, 1841).

Henry Clay, Democratic Whig National Convention, Philadelphia: John B. Keller, 1844.

Printed ribbons were used for all kinds of special events and promotions throughout the nineteenth century. Many ribbons that survive today were used during political campaigns. An affordable way for candidates to rally their constituents, ribbon badges were first used in the 1820s and 30s during the presidential campaigns of Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay. Thousands of ribbons were also created to promote social causes such as temperance and women’s suffrage, to mark local and regional celebrations, and to celebrate anniversaries. They were given out in schools for good attendance or behavior, used as awards at sporting events and fairs, and were worn by trade groups and firemen marching in parades. By 1875, printed ribbon badges had become nearly ubiquitous at most civic events across the country from New York to California.

Judge’s ribbon, State Agricultural Society of New Jersey, 1858.
Reward ribbon for good attendance, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1868.

Schoolchildren wearing ribbons at a potato race, Worcester, Massachusetts, ca. 1890.

New England Laundrymen’s and Allied Trades Association, Boston meeting. Newark, New Jersey: Whitehead & Hoag Co., 1897.

Printed ribbon badges started to decline in popularity at the end of the nineteenth century due to the development of the celluloid button, first patented by Whitehead Hoag & Co. in 1896. The buttons were sturdier, cheaper to produce, and provided better quality images that were less fragile than silk ribbons. Several examples of early buttons are also found within this collection and can be seen in the inventory.

Our hope is that the new illustrated inventory will bring these fragile, ephemeral objects to the attention of scholars and collectors. We continue to add printed ribbons to the collection, so be sure to check back now and then to see the latest acquisitions.

[1] Daily Missouri Democrat, St. Louis, Missouri (August 15, 1872): 4.

[2] Charles S. Anderson, “Printing Ribbon Badges,” The Practical Printer vol. 13 no. 1 (January 1911): 7.

[3] “Mourning Badges,” American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, Baltimore, Maryland (April 20, 1841): 3.

Join AAS This Summer On a Social Media Road Trip

You might want to pick up one of these “drummer’s valises,” advertised here by the U.S. Tea Co. circa 1883. They even give you some great ideas about what to pack – don’t forget your tooth powder and whiskey!

For many people, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. As we antiquarians here at AAS began thinking about summer in the collections, we started to imagine how wonderful it might be to go on a road trip and visit every state represented in our collections—that’s all fifty, of course!

Since the feasibility of a national road trip seems a bit out of reach, we decided to quell our wanderlust in another way. Beginning on June 18 using #AASroadtrip, our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook feeds will take you on a journey through the collections and the United States, highlighting items from one state every week day. To up the nerd factor just a tad further, we’ve decided to post in the order that each state entered the Union. We’ll be looking at you first, Delaware!

Road trips always bring some surprises, and this one will be no different. Perhaps you’ll run into Davy Crockett on your way south or hook up with a dogsled team around the northern border. Games are necessary entertainment on any road trip, and don’t forget to record your trip with photos, poems, and watercolors.

So grab your device and antiquarian curiosity and tune into #AASroadtrip starting June 18!

It’s also always handy to have some traveler’s checks on hand, like the ones advertised here by American Express in 1893.