‘To Which is Added’: The History, Structure, and Conservation of New England Primers at the American Antiquarian Society

In the summer of 2023, while completing my MA in book conservation at West Dean College in Chichester, England, I undertook a 10-week internship at the American Antiquarian Society, working alongside Chief Conservator Babette Gehnrich and Library and Archives Conservator Marissa Maynard. In between my time spent writing a thesis, attending a week-long course on the history of the book in China at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School, and undertaking pigment identification research at Harvard’s Weissman Preservation Center, Babette and Marissa provided a fantastic opportunity to explore the wealth of the AAS collections and hone my treatment skills in an exceptional lab environment.

Beyond the physical repair of cultural heritage objects, conservation involves the preservation of the intangible values, meanings, and stories embodied by those artifacts. The first step in an effective treatment, then, must be to consider what makes those objects worth preserving. Babette encouraged me to take advantage of AAS’s unique collection of early American printed works and pursue personal research interests in 18th-century decorated papers and book structures. These elements found a happy balance in a short study of one quintessential American publication, The New England Primer.

What is a Primer?

Primers are among the earliest printed schoolbooks developed expressly for children, offering lessons in reading, spelling, and morality. Following some prototypical publications in the 16th century, English printer Benjamin Harris published The Protestant Tutor in 1679, which included woodcut illustrations of the alphabet and several prayers. The positive reception of this publication led Harris to develop a similar work, The New England Primer (NEP), for audiences in the newly established American colonies between 1687 and 1690. This history of the NEP is known only through publishers and booksellers advertisements: no copies of the text dated before 1727 are known to survive, making AAS’s 1727 copy an exceptional treasure indeed.

Example of alphabet woodcuts in a New England Primer.

Schoolbooks like the NEP were subject to heavy use and wear as they passed from one generation to the next. The examples that survive today speak to that history. Despite their fragility, the books were cherished — many volumes bear evidence of multiple owners and homespun repairs, decorations, and re-coverings, illustrating the value systems of thrift in which these books were used. Often, it was preferable to make a single copy last as long as possible rather than purchase a new copy when the old one began to break down. These alterations and interventions offer a glimpse into that reality, rendering the bindings (and their damage!) just as valuable as the texts they hold.

Working closely with Babette and Laura Wasowicz, Curator of Children’s Literature, my survey of pre-1821 primers at AAS grew from that mindset: setting aside content, what are these books made of, and what can that information tell us about their place in the book history continuum?

Book Structure Surveys

The study of physical book bindings is one of materiality as well as functionality. How and with what materials a book was made can provide insights into how, when, and by whom it was used. This might be especially true considering the historical focus of bibliographers on highly decorated “extra” bindings and their general dismissal of books without full leather coverings or gold tooling as unfinished or temporary. In truth, these simpler bindings speak to the practical needs and buying power of their intended audience, offering a more inclusive and representative perspective on the way books were used in the 18th and 19th centuries. Material analysis helps to highlight this shift in the role of printed books from the status symbols of the privileged to the cherished tools of a rapidly growing middle-class readership.

A characteristic scaleboard binding.

One common structure recorded during this survey is the scaleboard binding, a distinctly early American structure which deserves exploration in its own right. Scaleboard bindings are unique in their use of thin (1–3 mm) wooden cover boards nearly two hundred years after the uptake of paper-based paste- and pulpboard in the West. The lack of a developed papermaking industry in the American colonies, the expense of importing paper products from Europe, and the wealth of natural forest resources in the New World made scaleboard economically preferable in the Colonies, but the practice persisted for a variety of reasons through the 1840s. The books are generally quarto size or smaller and bound in full leather before the 1790s, after which time quarter leather with blue or decorated paper sides proliferated. Bindings from the 17th and 18th centuries often hold theological imprints such as sermons, psalms, and religious treatises, but by the turn of the century these bindings are largely associated with schoolbooks and primers.

As utilitarian products, scaleboard and wrapper bindings have been neglected by booksellers and historians focused on the more refined products of contemporary Europe. Only recently has there been a rise in scholarship addressing the important place of these structures in book history, and this burgeoning knowledge base has shown us how much we have yet to learn about American bookbinding. As conservators, we start not by treating objects according to our preconceived ideas, but by letting the objects speak for themselves.

NEP Bibliographic Survey Results

Of the 269 primers surveyed at the American Antiquarian Society, 105 were bound in scaleboard, 97 in paper wrappers, and 32 in paper-based boards. The binding style of 34 textblocks was indiscernible due to extensive damage or rebinding, and the survey turned up a single example of a post-gothic style binding, with wooden boards thicker than those of scaleboard bindings (3–6 mm) and beveled along the head, tail, and fore-edges.

Most scaleboard bindings from this survey were bound in quarter tanned leather with either blue (72 examples), marbled (4), plain (4), or block-printed (1) paper sides. Full leather bindings were the next most popular covering category (11 examples). This survey presented the first recorded example of a full alum-tawed skin covered scaleboard binding (The New England Primer, Boston, 1756). Of particular note is the fact that the AAS copies of both the 1679 Protestant Tutor and the 1727 NEP were originally bound in full leather over scaleboards, though the NEP was sympathetically rebound following extensive conservation treatment in 1997.

Paper wrappers were most popularly plain blue (27), printed blue (13), block-printed (11), marbled (11), plain (10), and brocade (Dutch gilt) (6). The rarer types of decorated paper from this survey, including paste paper, sprinkled paper, and flocked wallpaper, also survive as wrappers. While most of the surveyed wrapper bindings held imprints dated after 1780, this could be attributed to a limited survival of these fragile structures as well as to contemporary production trends.

Primer Treatments at AAS

During this bibliographic research, I did my own bit of work to keep these objects accessible, contributing to their physical history by recognizing and preserving them. The following three treatments demonstrate the various forms this work can take:

1798 American Primer: Ramieband Board Re-attachment

As dictated by conservation standards, treatments are generally minimized to the greatest extent possible, with the primary focus of the work being not on restoration but on facilitating access, whatever that might mean. In one case, a primer in a scaleboard binding had a snapped tanned leather support, resulting in a loose board. A standard Japanese paper hinge reattachment would have been overkill and masked bits of the original text. Instead, I took note of the original board attachment method and wove a strip of new ramieband (a strong plant-fiber ribbon) through the original support slot, fraying it out onto the inner face of the boards. The ramieband was toned with acrylic paint and adhered to the original scaleboards with wheat starch paste, which can be easily softened and removed with water. This treatment not only restores access to the binding by making it safe to handle but also preserves its original unique construction.

1798 American Primer – Detail of ramieband board attachment.

1814 Windsor Primer: Decorated Paper Wrapper Restoration        

Minimal treatments are not always possible if a book is intended for regular use. This copy of the Windsor Primer, originally stitched through the side of the textblock and covered with a simple marbled paper wrapper, had been at some point damaged by water, torn in half, and resewn into a limp leather cover to keep the contents together. The textblock was interleaved with archival paper slips in 2008 to keep the relevant page fragments aligned, but even in this state the text was too vulnerable to be accessed by researchers. Treatment necessitated removing the leather wrapper in a manner that preserved as much of the object’s history as possible. The thread was cut from the inside and the thread ends were pasted in place to maintain the visual aesthetic of the overcover. Removing the leather wrapper allowed the textblock to fall to pieces, facilitating surface cleaning, washing, re-sizing, pressing, mending, and collation. The reconditioned textblock was sewn through the fold to allow for smoother opening, but the original bits of side-stitching thread were re-sandwiched into the structure to restore the tactile sensation of that structural terrain. Even in this intensive treatment, great efforts were made to preserve not just the object but also its sensory experience and history of use.

1814 Windsor Primer – Disbound.

1772 NEP: Faux-scaleboard Historical Rebinding

The same is true for the last project I completed during my internship. The binding on this NEP was totally obliterated, but evidence remained of the original structure (slots for stabbed supports) and access to a later edition of the same work offered some idea of the original binding. Knowledge of scaleboard and other contemporary structures facilitated the design of a replacement binding altered to improve access (sewing through the fold over frayed cords using the original spine notches) while respectful of the original tactile and aesthetic experience (including faux tawed supports, blue paper covering, and exposed ‘wooden’ boards). This treatment managed to preserve the original structural evidence while re-establishing access and even restoring historical information which was lost through neglect and degradation.

1772 NEP – Before treatment.

Their idiosyncrasies and unique considerations notwithstanding, the goal of each of these treatments was to facilitate access, allowing more readers to engage with these historical objects and bring their own perspectives to bear on their history and social value as heritage artifacts. From a conservator’s point of view, this is best accomplished when such treatments maintain and even highlight the damage and repairs these books have been subject to. Content, structure, and evidence of use each reveal insights on the intended audience for these objects: they are not finely tooled leather bindings meant to sit on a shelf, but everyday objects subject to heavy use, repair, and alteration over generations. These, in turn, are the stories conservators must strive to recognize, share, and preserve.

Unrecorded Textblock Edge Decoration Style

In closing I offer up a new mystery uncovered over the course of this research: a particular style of textblock edge decoration which, so far as I can tell, has not been recorded or explored in any published literature. While fully colored and sprinkled edges are fairly common for 18th century bindings, the bands of red, blue, green, or brownish black ink found on several bindings are unique in both appearance and the fact that they are apparently exclusive to the NEP. When I first noticed this decoration during a survey at the Library of Congress, I was ready to write it off as personalization by a previous owner. After gathering more data, however, we’ve found 75 examples of this decoration on imprints spanning 100 years, 7 states, and 20 cities. Edge decoration is important because these books were produced at minimal cost and maximum efficiency: the extra time and expense required to decorate these books must have had some financial justification. Was the bright decoration a form of advertising for the NEP, meant to catch the eye of children or parents? A nationalist attempt to distinguish the new American product from English imprints with similar content?

The origins of this style are yet unknown, but it bears some resemblance to the sprinkled band edge decoration on some 16th- and 17th-century German bindings and to some bindings from the collection of Edward Gwynn, a 17th-century English bibliophile known for his personalized bindings. Is the style linked to European bookbinders coming over to the New World and bringing their training and aesthetic sensibilities with them? Might Colonial binders have seen these books and decided to emulate the style themselves? In any case, why was the practice confined to primers? Whatever the reason, it is linked to the global history of the book, and deserves further exploration.


  1. American Antiquarian Society (2022) 350969 – The New England Primer. [Catalog Entry]. Available at: https://www.americanantiquarian.org/350969-new-england-primer
  2. American Antiquarian Society (n.d.) The New England Primer: Perspectives from the Collection. [Virtual Presentation]. Available at: https://www.americanantiquarian.org/virtual-public-program-new-england-primer
  3. Gundrum, M.; Knoll, J. (2023) Knowledge Before Oratory: A Preliminary Survey of Scaleboard Bindings at the Boston Athenaeum. 51st Annual Conference of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) [Poster]. Available at: https://www.culturalheritage.org/docs/default-source/publications/annualmeeting/2023-posters/29-knowledge-before-oratory_a-preliminary-survey-of-scalebord-bindings-at-the-boston-athen%c3%a6um—gundrum-and-knoll.pdf
  4. Miller, J. (2013) “Not Just Another Beautiful Binding: A Typology of American Scaleboard Bindings” in Miller, J. Suave Mechanicals, Volume 1. Ann Arbor: The Legacy Press, pp. 247–315.
  5. New York Times (1897) A Famous Book—The “New England Primer”. Available at: https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1897/11/14/105957671.pdf
  6. Pattison, Todd (2024) “As Good as it Needs to Be: The Myth of Temporary Book Covers in American Book Production, 1700-1850” in Miller, J. (ed.) Suave Mechanicals, Volume 8. Ann Arbor: The Legacy Press.
  7. Pearson, David (2005) English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800: A Handbook. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press.
  8. Rhodes, B. (1995) 18th and 19th Century European and American Paper Binding Structures: A Case Study of Paper Bindings in the American Museum of Natural History Library. Available at: https://cool.culturalheritage.org/coolaic/sg/bpg/annual/v14/bp14-06.html
  9. Sims, Liam (2018) “Edward Gwynn and his bindings.” Cambridge University Library Special Collections [Blog]. Available at: https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=16492
  10. Wasowicz, Laura (2011) “19th Century American Children’s Book Trade Directory.” American Antiquarian Society. Available at: https://www.americanantiquarian.org/btdirectory.htm 
  11. Wikipedia (2023) ‘The New England Primer’. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_England_Primer
  12. Williams, R. (2017) “Scaleboard Wood and Potential Loss Replacement” in Miller, J. (ed.) Suave Mechanicals, Volume 4. Ann Arbor: The Legacy Press.
  13. Wolcott, R. (2013) Splintered: The History, Structure, and Conservation of American Scaleboard Bindings. The Book and Paper Group Annual 32. Available at: https://cool.culturalheritage.org/coolaic/sg/bpg/annual/v32/bpga32-12.pdf
  14. Wolff, S. (2012) American Cookery: A Scaleboard Binding. Available at: http://dartmouthpreservation.blogspot.com/2012/06/american-cookery-scaleboard-binding.html

Mitchel Gundrum was the Conservation Intern at AAS in Summer 2023. He began his training in 2017 at the San Francisco Center for the Book, from there earning a diploma in traditional bookbinding techniques from North Bennet Street School in 2021 and an MA in book conservation from West Dean College in 2023. He has previously worked at the US National Archives, the National Park Service, and the Boston Athenaeum, and taught workshops in book repair and related arts at North Bennet Street School, Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, and West Dean College. He is currently the Kress Conservation Fellow at UCLA’s Library Preservation program.

Interpreting Coded Messages in Friendship Albums

The Stubbs Collection at the American Antiquarian Society contains hundreds of friendship albums. Friendship albums usually contain messages to the album owners from friends, family members, and schoolmates. Many messages have a “forget me not” theme, or they may be philosophical or humorous. The contents of friendship albums were not private, in that the albums were circulated by the owner among those who made entries, and in many cases the albums would have been on display for household visitors to read. Some messages are in foreign languages, including Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and various Asian languages. While reviewing the albums recently, we noticed coded messages in two of the albums.

The first example is in 17-year-old Mary Boyden’s 1854 album from South Walpole, MA. It contains the following dedication:

A birthday present from her friend Dkaqhcfd, July 27th/54

The person who presented Mary Boyden with her album wrote his name in code, perhaps to preserve a sense of privacy, but it is a code which is easily solved. If we shift each letter by one place in the alphabet, D becomes E, k becomes l, and so forth, yielding the name Elbridge for the album donor. We can determine who Elbridge was by looking at public records. From marriage records, we find that at age 23, Mary Boyden, the daughter of Harvey and Esther Boyden, married E. P. Boyden, a schoolteacher, the son of James and Lucy Boyden on June 3, 1860. Later records confirm that E. P. Boyden was Elbridge Boyden. In other words, the coded name “Dkaqhcfd” represents the person that Mary would marry, six years after the entry was made in her friendship album.

A more complex coded message was found in an 1858 album owned by Lydia Rise of Lebanon, PA. Lydia was 12 years old when she was given the album in 1858, but there is no date on the message itself. The first part of the message is not encoded and reads as follows.

To Lydia

                        O May the path of life for thee

                        still wear a vernal smile

                        May hope thy sweet companion be,

                        And friendship, love, and sympathy

                        Thy happy hours beguile.

                                                            Your Friend


This is a fairly typical friendship-album expression of hope and good wishes. However immediately underneath the “ordinary” message there is an extension of the message written in a code with curious symbols (Figure 1). Some of the symbols look similar to Greek letters or mathematical symbols, but as a whole they do not correspond to any standard alphabet or symbol set.

Figure 1. Message from Lilly in Lydia Rise’s 1858 friendship album.

To solve the code, we start with the assumption that this is a substitution code — that is, we assume that each symbol corresponds to a letter of the Roman alphabet. Next, we assign a number to each symbol in the message, so that we can refer to individual symbols. The symbol numbers are arbitrary, here we assign them according to the order in which a particular symbol first appears in the message. We also note the total number of characters in the coded message (99), the number of distinct symbols (23), and we count the frequency of each symbol, that is, the total number of times a symbol appears in the message. The symbol numbers and their frequencies are given in Table 1.

Since there are 99 characters in the coded message, a symbol’s number frequency is approximately equal to its percent frequency. For example, using Table 1 we see that symbol 1 corresponds to 1% of the characters in the message, symbol 2 appears as 4% of the characters, and so forth. This information is useful because the frequencies with which individual symbols appear can be used in guessing which letter of the Roman alphabet they correspond to.

Table 1. List of symbols in the coded message, with their symbol numbers, and their frequencies in the coded message.

The frequencies with which particular letters occur in the English language are available from numerous online sources. According to Ref. 1, the ten most frequent letters in order of frequency are: E, T, A, O, N, R, I, S, H, and D. We can use this list to make initial guesses for the symbols in the Lydia Rise album, after ranking the symbols in order of frequency. The results are as follows.

symbol no.:       10  15  16  (5  11  13  14  21)

possible letter:   E    T   A    O   N   R    I    S

The symbols with numbers in parentheses all have a frequency equal to six, therefore the specific O N R I S assignments are arbitrary.

We can now start to decode the message using this letter assignment. The process can be carried out using pencil and paper, however it is convenient to set up a spreadsheet which automatically populates the coded message with our trial letters. This allows us to make rapid guesses for the letters corresponding to the symbols and immediately see how the message is affected. With the letter assignments given above the message appears as follows:

Examining the message, we notice that the word TAEE appears twice, which may be thee, therefore the symbol 16 should be an H. Also, the last word in the third line may be innocence, which means that symbol 13 should be an I, and symbol 22 should be a C. Making these three changes we get:

In the first line, the fifth word looks like protect, which means symbol 20 is P and symbol 21 should be an R. In the second line, the first word may be is, which means that symbol 14 is S.  The word before innocence may be of, which means that symbol 19 is an F. With these changes we get the following:

Now we are getting closer. We can make changes based on the following guesses. The last word in the first line is ever. The third word in the second line is wish and the last word is Harrisburg. (This is a Pennsylvania album.) The phrase in the third line is the snowy wings of innocence. After incorporating these guesses the message appears as follows:

Now we are quite close. Proceeding with a few more guesses we obtain the final message,

                        May God love and protect thee ever

                        is the wish of Lilly Speel of Harrisburg.

                        May the snowy wings of innocence

                        protect thee.

The coded message is a benediction which is more or less a continuation of the first (unencoded) part of the album entry. Through looking at vital records, we can determine that “Lilly” is Elizabeth Speel, born on April 11, 1847, in Harrisburg, PA. One may wonder why Lilly Speel encoded the second part, since the character of the message does not seem to require privacy. Was this code only used in private communication between Lydia and Lilly? Did other students use the same code? Did Lilly Speel have an album of her own, and did Lydia Rise write a coded message in Lilly’s album? (We do not have Lilly’s album for comparison.) More generally, was the encoded communication between Lilly and Lydia a rare occurrence, or was it common among 19th century friends and correspondents? We can’t address the prevalence of coded messages in friendship albums in general, but they are certainly not common in the Stubbs Collection albums.

A young person might write a coded message to a friend in order to emphasize the special nature of that friendship, as if to say, We can communicate in our own private language because we have a special relationship.

That is, communication with a particular code may have been a sort of textual shibboleth, a unique means of communication distinguishing a small set of friends from the wider community.

Or, the use of codes may have been just for fun, a sort of parlor game. It appears that the topic had a degree of popular interest because Edgar Allen Poe wrote an article about it in Graham’s Magazine in 1841. Titled “A Few Words on Secret Writing,” the article is essentially a tutorial on the writing of coded messages using a variety of techniques. Poe introduces elementary substitution codes using the Roman alphabet, and then he explains that one can use arbitrary non-alphabetic characters, as shown in Fig. 2.

(a) p. 36
(b) p. 37  Figure 2. Edgar Allen Poe’s example of a coded message written with non-alphabetic symbols, from Ref. 2. The key is on the top and a sample coded message is below. Images from AAS copy of Graham’s Magazine, vol. XIX, no. 1, July 1841.

In his example Poe shows how to encode the message which begins,

We must see you immediately upon a matter of great importance.

The encoded message is shown on p. 37 (b), starting with the symbols $0.£][]..  and so forth.

A close reading of the encoded message shows that it contains numerous errors.  For example, if we decode the first five words of the encrypted message we get:

Wmeust see you xmmedxasely.

Perhaps Poe’s manuscript submission was not clear to the typesetter, or the errors could have occurred if the typesetter struggled with such a peculiar string of symbols. In the five words shown here the typesetting errors were as follows.

(i)  The e and m symbols were interchanged in the first and second words, producing Wmeust instead of Wemust.

(ii)  The question marks are upside down in the fifth word, turning i into x in the word immediately.

(iii)  A right bracket was used instead of a left bracket, turning t into s in the same word.

Revisiting Lilly Speel’s coded message (Figure 1 and Table 1), there are a few coding errors in that case as well. The first involves the symbol used for the letter o. In the first case, as symbol number 5, it is written as a circle with a double cross superimposed. It reappears in symbol 8 with one of the lines in the cross missing, and as symbol 18 with the crosses entirely absent, although in all cases the symbol represents the letter o. The other type of error in Lilly’s message is in the word innocence at the end of the third line, where the last c in the word contains the superposition of two symbols, one being the correct one (symbol 22).

Poe’s example in Figure 2 shows the same type of code as the one used by Lilly Speel and Lydia Rise. The only difference is superficial: whereas Poe used symbols available to a typesetter (such as brackets, an asterisk, and the British pound symbol), Lilly and Lydia used their own invented symbols which were drawn by hand. It is possible that Lilly and Lydia were familiar with Poe’s article in Graham’s Magazine, but the 17-year time delay between the article and the friendship album may make this unlikely. Nonetheless, the general idea of writing coded messages in the middle of the 19th century may have had a degree of cultural currency. The message in the Lydia Rise album may simply be one example out of many.


    1. Herbert S. Zim, Codes and Secret Writing, Scholastic Book Services (New York, 1948).
    2. Edgar A. Poe, A Few Words on Secret Writing, Graham’s Magazine, Vol. XIX, No. 1, pp. 33-38 (Philadelphia, July 1841). (AAS Catalog Record: http://clarence.mwa.org/Clarence/full-holding.php?bib_id=17055)

Frank Lamelas is a volunteer in the manuscripts department at the American Antiquarian Society. 

Artifacts of an Antebellum Physician

Within the vast collections at the American Antiquarian Society there is a particularly interesting assortment of items that offer a unique glimpse into the world of Dr. Nathan Staples Pike, his family, and the medical trade in antebellum America. The Pike-Wright Family collection, donated to AAS by Susan Pike Corcoran, contains Dr. Pike’s early 19th century medical equipment alongside numerous letters, ledgers, journals, and more. A handful of these items are currently on display in the AAS reading room, along with related materials. Looking at these items brings to life the daily activities of Dr. Pike more than just reading words on a page. You can almost see him plucking one of the tools out of his bag while visiting a patient recorded neatly in his ledger.

Born to Isaac Pike and Rebecca Briggs on August 19, 1819, Nathan’s lifelong passion for learning is revealed through the material safely housed in the Pike-Wright Family collection. In 1837, at the age of 18, he began teaching in the Foster Connecticut school district. Two years later, in 1839, Nathan enrolled at the Berkshire Medical Institution in Pittsfield, MA. Leaving school the same year, he first apprenticed with D. W. Hovey and then in 1840 with Dr. William Hubbard while beginning a two-year course of study at New York University. Nathan graduated in 1842 and went on to set up a successful medical practice in central Connecticut.

Dr. Nathan Staples Pike c. 1845.

Though Dr. Pike had completed his medical degree and an apprenticeship, he continued to attend lectures and further his knowledge of the latest innovations to the antebellum medical field. To hear a medical lecture in the first half of the 19th century, matriculated students and the curious public could purchase a ticket to attend and receive credit for their topic of choice. This method allowed physicians to continue their medical education long after earning a degree or completing an apprenticeship. Evident in the twelve lecture tickets found in the Pike-Wright Family collection, Dr. Pike took full advantage of the academic opportunity the ticket system provided throughout his career.

Now a well-established physician, Dr. Pike turned his focus to his personal life. On April 28, 1853, he married Jane Frances Perkins of Sterling, CT. Beginning in December of 1853, the pages of his diary tell us of his daily struggle against a worsening tuberculosis infection, the sad passing of his infant daughter, Jennie, in 1855, and the stillbirth of a second daughter in 1856. Most often noted, aside from the weather, are Dr. Pike’s symptoms, and how he treated the often debilitating symptoms of tuberculosis with opium, diluted calomel (a mercury chloride mineral), and several other common cures of the day. Another medicinal highlight mentioned that would cause some alarm today is deadly nightshade. Dr. Pike writes on February 9, 1855, “…Belladonna is good very good.”

On March 17, 1854, Dr. Pike recorded a conversation he had with William Tenner, who likewise suffered from tuberculosis. Tenner found that travel and the use of opium best alleviated his suffering, two treatment options that Dr. Pike employed himself. Much of the diary reports on Dr. Pike’s trips south to keep up with warmer weather and the many stops to hospitals, medical lectures, and visits to colleagues he makes along the way. An earlier blog post documents Dr. Pike’s experience at a slave auction he attended while in New Orleans. The diary ends just ten days before Nathan succumbed tuberculosis on February 16, 1857.

Included in the display of Dr. Pike’s materials are two 19th-century medical books. While these did not belong to Dr. Pike, they serve as examples of the type of printed materials available to those practicing medicine at that time. The first of these is a diagnosis manual, which helped inform medical students and practitioners to identify known ailments and diseases based on the symptoms presented in their patients. Chapter 18 in Barclay’s 1858 A Manual of Medical Diagnosis explains how to use differences in breathing, speaking, and percussion resonance to determine the condition of a patient’s lungs. Perhaps assisted by the use of a stethoscope, a physician might notice “the breathing is louder on the duller side,” a possible indication of a “tubercular deposit” (Barclay, p. 199).

Dr. Pike’s wooden monaural stethoscope.

Accompanying Barclay’s chapter on pulmonary diagnosis is Dr. Pike’s beautifully carved monaural stethoscope. The monaural stethoscope is an invention of French physician René Laennec in 1816, who wished to find a way to listen to a female patient’s heartbeat without placing his ear against the chest. Originally crafted from boxwood, Laennec modeled his stethoscope after a rolled-up quire of paper. The bell-shaped end of Dr. Nathan Pike’s stethoscope amplifies sound to a higher decibel than Laennec’s straight tube design, making it possible to hear a fetal heartbeat. Adding a removable earpiece would prevent damage when Dr. Pike traveled to visit his patients.

The second book on view, Manual of Materia Medica, is an example of a medicinal guidebook used by medical students in the mid-19th century. Preceded by herbals, these guides contain in-depth instruction on the application of the latest medicinal science and are the forerunners to the pharmaceutical drug texts available today. Manuals such as this would have been invaluable references in any doctor’s library. While individual titles are not listed in the “library valued at $100” in Dr. Nathan Pike’s inventory records, it is possible that he owned a medicinal manual such as this.

Early 19th century scarificator and velvet lined wooden box.

Among the most curious of Dr. Pike’s tools is a spring-loaded, multi-blade scarificator, first developed in the 17th century and considered a more compassionate bloodletting tool than the earlier lancets and fleams. To use, Dr. Pike would pull back the lever and then push the round button to release the blades inside the device, creating a series of superficial cuts in the patients’ flesh. This intimidating tool was often used in conjunction with a cup adhered by suction to collect the blood, like the small glass cup also found in Dr. Pike’s collection.

If you found this article of particular interest, check out the previous blog posts about the Pike-Wright collected linked below, or come visit us at Antiquarian Hall to see a select number of objects on view in the reading room display cases.

Related posts:

Time Stands Still in Collection of Family Photographs” by Lauren Hewes

An Antebellum Physician’s Kit” by Christine Morris

A broadside of note” by Ashely Cataldo

Mining the Numbers in a Medical Ledger” by Sande Bishop

The Medical Education of Nathan Staples Pike” by Sande Bishop

Conservation of the Brown Family Collection

The Brown Family Library was donated to the American Antiquarian Society in 2019 by Dr. John Goldsberry, Jr., and his wife Dr. Dorista Goldsberry, along with their family. The family’s library joins other part of the Brown Family Collections already at AAS, donated by earlier generations of the family starting in the 1970s. Together the collections consist of family papers, portraits, photographs, and over one hundred 19th-century books. The materials center around William and Martha Ann Brown and their descendants, a prominent Black family living in Worcester, Massachusetts, in the mid-1800s. 

Recently, a conservation survey was conducted to assess the overall condition of each of the 19th-century books. From this survey, books were pulled to be placed in custom housing for preventive conservation, or for treatment to help improve the longevity and stability of these historic materials. Below is a snapshot of the spreadsheet created to record the condition and treatment or rehousing measures taken for each Brown family book.  

Figure 1. Sample of Excel spreadsheet used for survey of Brown Family Collections.

Some of the main treatments included minor repair of the original cloth bindings using wheat starch paste or animal glue and toned Japanese papers, as well as reattaching loose spines and cover boards (figs. 2-7). Here is one example where the back cover board and spine were detached from the text block (figs. 2 and 3).

Figure 2. Cover of Bib. no. 79519.
Figure 3. Detached spine and board of Bib. no. 79519.

Due to the size and weight of the book, a piece of cotton was adhered to the spine with some excess to the side where the board was detached (fig. 4). The cotton was further secured with thread that was sewn through the first three signatures (fig. 5) 

Figure 4. Cotton fabric pasted to spine.
Figure 5. Awl used to pre-punch holes before sewing.

A “tube” made from strong paper was adhered using animal glue over the cotton and thread, then adhered to the loose spine (fig. 6). The endpaper on the back board was carefully lifted and the excess cotton piece was inserted under the paper, thus reattaching the board. Finally, a piece of toned Japanese paper was adhered over the interior joint to secure and hide the slightly exposed back cover board (fig. 7).

Figure 6. Paper tube adhered to spine.
Figure 7. Toned Japanese tissue paper guard on inner hinge.

In addition to these more extensive treatments, like the one seen above, some more minor treatments were performed on the Brown family books. These minor treatments included pasting down pieces of spines that were lifting; adding guard tissue to lose pages with wheat starch paste and toned Japanese paper; and adding partial tubes to the spine to ensure that the spine stayed attached to the book cloth and boards during repeated opening and closing of the volume.

Another issue addressed during the conservation survey was how to safely house the many newspaper clippings, bookmarks, and pressed botanicals that were found between the pages of several Brown family books. These added objects show how the book was used by Brown family members, which is of great importance not only for the curators, but for future researchers. However, these materials are not always compatible with the paper of the book and can cause staining through acid migration (fig. 8).

Figure 8. Example of acid migration from newspaper clipping housed between pages of book.

A discussion was had on how to best preserve the physical properties of the book while also respecting and preserving the history of its use. After much debate, conservation staff and the curator of books decided to house pressed materials into polypropylene sleeves with a note stating on which page the materials were found so that this information is not lost for future researchers (fig. 9).

Figure 9. Example of polypropylene sleeve with clipping and location information.

Due to the fragile nature of some of the clippings, an inner folder of translucent paper was added for safe removal of the clippings from the sleeves (figs. 10). These smooth, translucent, acid-free papers are often used to make folders because they allow for a preview of the object without opening the folder.

Figure 10. Open Reich folder.

These sleeves are then placed with the book in which they were found in a conservation binder (fig. 11) or a custom-made clamshell box (fig. 12).

Figure 11. Open Gaylord binder with book.
Figure 12. Open custom clamshell box with book.

After the collection survey, treatment, and rehousing of several books, the Brown Family Collections are in more stable condition and ready to be used for research! The goal of the survey and treatments was not to make the books look new or alter original material, but rather enhance their stability so that they can be safely accessed by current and future researchers.

Below is a snapshot of Brown family books that were treated and rehoused, and then placed safely back in the stacks (fig. 13).

Figure 13. Snapshot of Brown family books that were treated and rehoused.

Want to know more about the Brown Family Collections at AAS? Check out these links below to other blog posts and public programs!




Marissa Maynard is the library and archives conservator. Marissa helps to ensure that collections are not only preserved but also usable by researchers, working closely with library staff to prioritize and assess conservation needs. Prior to joining AAS, Marissa worked at the Cleveland Museum of Art as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in photograph conservation. Marissa has also worked in the conservation lab of libraries including the Indiana State Library and Syracuse University Special Collections. Marissa has a Master of Art Conservation (MAC) degree, specializing in paper and photograph conservation from Queen’s University. She also holds an MA in art history from Syracuse University and a BA in chemical microscopy from North Central College.

Reflections from a Returning Intern

As I near the end of my second summer at the American Antiquarian Society as an intern through the Library Internship for Nipmuc Community Members, supported by a grant from the United Way Central MA, I wanted to reflect on what this internship has done for me, and what I have been doing for it in return.

Sophia speaking to visitors during the meeting of the Northeast Regional and Digital Native American Archives Collective at AAS.

This internship has given me a passion for archives and librarianship – things I didn’t think I’d be interested in when I applied, as I’d mainly applied due to my love of books and history. I remember when I wrapped up my time at AAS last year, I was in disbelief at just how much I loved my time here and how much excitement for my future and career I came away with. It’s given me opportunities by way of admission to Simmons University for a library science degree and has given me hope for a future where I can steward cultural archives and give other youth from underprivileged communities the same opportunities I was gifted. It has fostered my love for research and has given me tools for hunting down topics I’m interested in, or for tracking down genealogies.

My main project upon returning to AAS was the John Milton Earle Papers. As a Nipmuc working under the Nipmuc Community internship, the Earle Collection was the end goal for me. Detailing land purchases and other dealings of mainly Nipmuc individuals in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Earle Papers are thought to be some of the most important manuscript items for the Nipmuc tribe. Last year, I assisted in rehousing the papers – a job that entailed poring over difficult to read handwriting and dividing items into categories of “surveys,” “deeds,” “correspondence,” etc. This year, I came back to focus on changing the description of the Earle Papers to center the Indigenous people the collection items are about. I wanted future researchers to be able to know right away that this collection is about Indigenous communities, not the white man for whom they’re named. As someone who’s struggled in research to find her people and any mention of past relatives, I wanted to make sure it’s known right away who may be found in this collection to trim down the time it may take for someone to find out if any one of these hundreds of documents mentions their tribe or their ancestors. This is what has motivated my work.

A folder from the Earle Papers containing correspondence and collected statements speculating on the relationship between a Nipmuc woman and an enslaved man. The dark brown document to the left reads “Depositions of several persons to ascertain whether a negro man by the name of Aaron was ever married to Sarah Muckamug.” (Earle Papers Folder 14)

A lot of the heart and effort I put into this work wasn’t exactly asked of me. I spent an hour or two creating a family tree of prominent Nipmuc names mentioned in the Earle collection, just for people to have an easier time visualizing the connections between these people. This amount of effort wasn’t asked of me, but I enjoyed doing it. I’d forgotten just how much I loved doing research and hunting information down with only a name and date to guide me.

A family tree following the Printer-Burnee and Printer-Lawrence Line, all of whom are referenced in the Earle Papers. The Printer family are lateral descendants of Wowaus (James Printer), the first Indigenous printer’s apprentice in North America and the printer of the first Algonquin Bible. The genealogy was researched by Sophia using the Native Northeast Portal.

I’m not totally set on what I’ll be doing in 5-10 years, when I’ve completed a degree in Library and Information Science. So far, I can only think in terms of ideals: It’d be ideal if I could support public libraries because they supported me. It’d be ideal if I could make cultural archives accessible. It’d be ideal if I could work in the National Archives, but also at Ivy League libraries, but also at my hometown public library, but also just do research for a playwright’s next historical piece, but also help my relatives create a tribal library. I don’t have a clear plan for my future, but that doesn’t worry me the way it would have only two years ago. I feel prepared for whatever path I may end up taking, because I’ve spent these two summers working at AAS making sure I’ll be equipped for anything the future has for me.

Sophia Ramos is the summer 2023 Nipmuc Community Intern through the Library Internship for Nipmuc Community Members, supported by a grant from the United Way Central MA, returning to the role for a second summer. She is a transfer student at Simmons University where she is earning an accelerated Computer Science + Library and Information science degree. She hopes to turn her experience at AAS into a career in libraries and archives. Her summer project has been focusing on re-describing the John Milton Earle Papers.

DeWitt Clinton and the Common School Fund: Early Public Education in the Collection

For the past few months, I have had the opportunity to work as an intern in the manuscripts department here at the American Antiquarian Society. Usually, I spend my days the digitizing department working as a liaison between AAS and our vendors, paging newspapers and serials. I jumped at the chance to work in manuscripts and learn a little more about a different part of our collections.

I started my internship working with the miscellaneous oversized manuscripts. My task was to sort through the box, pull out items that needed different housing, and identify any items that should get their own catalog record. One item particularly caught my eye: a large, undated, hand-written document addressed to the New York state legislature signed by one DeWitt Clinton. Reading through the document without any context, it seemed as though Clinton was calling for less funding for New York public schools; but I knew there was more to the story, and in any case, I needed to figure out when the document was created to catalog it. So, with the permission and encouragement of manuscript curator (and my internship supervisor) Ashley Cataldo, I dove into the world of early 19th-century New York public education.

(Document from DeWitt Clinton addressed to the New York state legislature, undated.)

DeWitt Clinton (b. 1769- d. 1828) was a prolific New York politician and philanthropist. Clinton served as a New York state senator (1798-1802, 1806-11), a United States senator (1802-03), mayor of New York (1803-07, 1808-10, 1811-15), lieutenant governor of New York (1811-13), and governor of New York (1817-22). Clinton also served on the Erie Canal Commission from 1810 to 1824 and was instrumental in the construction and completion of the Erie Canal. (He was also elected as a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1814 and was voted vice president in 1821.) Clinton was a staunch supporter of public education. He founded and served as the president of the Free School Society of New York from 1805 until his death in 1823.

(Portrait of DeWitt Clinton, 1830.)

The Lancasterian system of education (now more commonly referred to as the Monitorial system) was a system of education popularized by Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838). The system relied on students to educate other students – a small number of adult masters would oversee the education, while students who mastered a topic were enlisted to help their less advanced peers. The system was cost-effective and efficient. Clinton was a dedicated proponent of free and accessible education in New York, and the Free School Society supported the Lancasterian schools, which made it even more confusing why this mysterious undated address was seemingly calling for less funding for the schools and less payment for the teacher.

The missing piece of the puzzle that I discovered through my research was the existence of the Common School Fund. By searching the AAS catalog, I found a legal memorial from the Free School Society published in 1823 that detailed the purpose of the Common School Fund (catalog record link here). According to the memorial, the fund was established in 1813. At the time, the New York legislature decided that the money in the fund should “be applied exclusively to the payment of teachers, and to no other purpose whatever.”

(Information on the Common School Fund.)

With this knowledge, the Clinton document started to make sense. Because the Lancasterian schools relied on students to educate their peers, there were fewer teachers who needed pay, meaning that the Common School Fund money allotted to pay teachers at Lancasterian schools was equal to “the pay of ten ordinary ones,” as Clinton wrote in the address. Clinton was asking the legislature for a reallocation of the Common School Fund to include funding for school buildings, textbooks, and even lower application and enrollment fees for students of Lancasterian schools.

(Reasoning for the reallocation of funds.)

 The 1823 memorial states that on April 5, 1817, the legislature passed an act containing a provision to grant Lancasterian schools the ability to use their excess funding for “the erection of buildings for schools, and to all the needful purposes of a common school education” – of course, after teachers had been granted “ample compensation.”

(Information on the reallocation of funds.)

After finding this date, I was able to finish describing the document before me. Though I didn’t know the exact date that Clinton delivered this address to the New York state legislature, I knew it must have been around the time that the act was passed. By using our catalog to find related collection materials, I put together the puzzle pieces and learned a lot more about early systems of education than I ever expected.





“An Opulence Unexpected”: Examples of Red Morocco’s Use in Bookbindings

The history of the book is predicated on the idea that the book itself as an object is significant in its own right, not simply on its printed content alone. Which materials were used, how they were made, and who made them all speak to a vast network of economic, environmental, and human systems that came together to create a printed volume; these elements of bookbinding are always interesting and worthy of investigation. And if those things are beautiful to behold, even better!

“An Opulence Unexpected” brings together a variety of books bound in red morocco leather, which have been prized for centuries for their beauty and exemplification of a binder’s craft. Also known as “Turkey leather,” it was first produced in North Africa from Turkish goats and exported to Spain as early as the 11th century. It is made traditionally with tawed goatskin stained with sumac (a tangy spice prevalent in Middle Eastern cuisine) for its iconic deep red color. The use of morocco in western book binding became popular in the 17th century, as goatskin leather was supple, long lasting, and took color and tooling well, especially gilt tooling, a method of finishing bindings by pressing gold into covers and bindings with specific tools to create ornate, sometimes lavish, designs. Continue reading “An Opulence Unexpected”: Examples of Red Morocco’s Use in Bookbindings

“Your cooperation is requested”: The American Antiquarian Society and Operation Alert

Operation Alert was a Cold War exercise designed to assess how prepared both government agencies and citizens were in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States. Starting in 1954, about 200 cities around the country took part in these drills until the project ceased in 1962. Worcester, Massachusetts, the home of the American Antiquarian Society, was one of these cities.

This fall I’ve been an intern at AAS as part of my graduate program in public history and archives, and one of my projects has been cataloguing the objects in the Society’s archives. While working with these objects, I came across a sign that reads, “There will be a civil defense exercise during the course of this morning May 6, 1958. If you are still in the Library when the alarm sounds your cooperation is requested.” On that day, alarms and air raid sirens would have gone off and people were required to stay indoors, sheltering in place for fifteen minutes. Depending on the location, certain penalties were in place for noncompliance. For example, in New York City, there was a fine of $500 for people who didn’t follow the directions of the Civil Defense Agency.

This agency had a clear situation in mind when they devised drills and exercises. Not only did they plan the drill itself, but they created an entire fictional story around what might cause a scenario where the United States was under attack. In this case, the story goes that tensions around the world increased to the point where, during the week prior to May 6, 1958, things came to a head. On May 6, with only a couple hours’ warning, an “attack” was launched on the country. This drill scenario evaluated government and citizens’ reactions to a potential event when little time was available to develop a strategic plan to protect themselves and their constituents as best they could. The 1958 test was taken extremely seriously, with members of multiple organizations coming up with reasonable facsimiles of a nuclear attack plan that was as realistic as possible.

The exercise was also meant to test preparedness in general. At the time of “attack,” was there enough food and clothing in a city’s holdings to supply people who were sheltered? What about medical supplies? Was there a plan for transporting people to places where they would be safe? Was there a power supply and fuel that could be depended upon? As part of the drills, communications would black out on the day following the “attack” in order to replicate what might really happen and gauge the responses of the local and federal agencies. The plans were very detailed, even down to using the actual weather conditions of the day to model potential nuclear fallout.

Not everyone cooperated with the sign requests like the one at AAS, however. A great many Americans protested, some because they felt the drills were terror-inducing and not actually effective, and others because they were pacifists. Many protesters said it was laughable that the government thought they could protect people during a nuclear attack and proposed putting the money and resources that went into these drills toward attaining peace. Peace was, they claimed, the only defense against nuclear war.

The final Operation Alert exercise occurred in 1961, when over two thousand people protested in New York City, and even more at college campuses and other locations nationwide. The project itself was canceled in 1962. You can read the full standards for the 1958 Operation Alert exercise issued by the Office of Defense Mobilization and the Federal Civil Defense Administration here.

Adultery, crime, and the “professedly obscene”: The beginnings of book bans in the United States

Book bans and challenges have been on the rise in libraries and schools across the United States: according to the American Library Association, who have tracked book censorship since 1982, over 1,600 titles have been affected in 2022 alone. These challenges, whether for political, legal, religious, or moral motivations, illuminate a variety of the nation’s current cultural anxieties, are not the first instances of books being banned in America. The American Antiquarian Society holds a panoply of materials that have been repressed, hidden, and censored, including a facsimile of the book which lit the flame of North America’s relationship with the concept of literary obscenity and government sanctioned censorship. In 1651, William Pynchon’s 1650 writing The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption was publicly burned in Boston via court order for its perceived criticism of the Puritans, who dominated local governance; Boston’s common executioner personally carried out the order. The book was so efficiently destroyed that only four copies are known to be extant, and are held at the Congregational Library in Boston, the British Museum, the New York Public Library, and the Connecticut Historical Society. 

Title page of a reproduction copy of The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, including details of Pynchon’s main argument, directly opposing Calvinist theory of the time.

Over 200 years later, after an aggressive morality campaign led by Civil War veteran and founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, Anthony Comstock, the Comstock Laws of 1873 were passed in Congress which would effectively outlaw the distribution, sale, and possession of “obscene” materials, especially those solicited and sent through the U.S. Postal Service. U.S. obscenity laws were largely overturned through a series of Supreme Court decisions in the late 1950s, backed up by the First Amendment, which ended a nearly 90 year crusade on novels, valentines, song sheets, textbooks, contraception, newspapers, and erotica. Materials were confiscated and destroyed en masse during this time, significantly impacting the history of material culture in the United States.  

Evidence of the volume and variety of materials seized during this time can be found in an 1874 report of the Committee for the Suppression of Vice, which urges readers to destroy its words after reading, as it contains information on contraband seized in “the work of Mr. Comstock,” and such materials were “a fruitful source of demoralization and crime.” Listed alongside “indecent playing cards,” “rubber goods,” and abortifacients are not only books (134,000 lbs. worth, both bound and unbound), but materials and information used in their production, including names of “persons likely upon receipt of circulars, etc., to send orders.” AAS’s copy was personally given to the Society by Comstock in 1893.  

Full list of goods and their amounts seized and destroyed by Comstock roughly between 1872
and 1874.

Many of what are now to be considered classic works of Western fiction were affected by Comstock Laws, including John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, Daniel DeFoe’s Roxana and Moll Flanders, Candide by Voltaire, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. 

The novel Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, also known simply as Fanny Hill, is considered to be one of the most prosecuted and banned books in United States history due to its overt representation of pornographic sex. It has been explicitly banned by the US government twice, once in 1821 and once in 1963 (both times for “obscenity”), before being legally cleared for publishing again in 1966. This 1820 copy lacks portions of the text, most of the plates, and is significantly worn. 

The only plate in the AAS 1820 copy.

Considered an essential text of Western canon, Voltaire’s literary satire Candide has been historically censored from the reading public in France, Switzerland, the United States, and by the Catholic Church since it was first published in 1759 for containing religious blasphemy and political sedition. Both the U.S. Customs and Post Offices have influenced circulation of Candide, from seizing inbound copies from France for obscenity to demanding the work be omitted from the shelves of major book retailers. 

Front matter from Candide, published in New York in 1864, marketed as “the spiciest, wittiest, and most exciting book in the French language.”

Throughout the 19th century, the Portsmouth Athenaeum, a membership library located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, regularly published advertisements in local newspapers with lists of books missing from their collections alongside a plea for their prompt return. Beginning in March of 1873 (just as Comstock Laws were being passed), Moll Flanders — rife with allusions to sex outside of wedlock, adultery, prostitution, and crime — populated that list for the first time. Its loss from the Athenaeum’s collections may have happened through honest mistake, political cowardice, or perhaps a patron looking to squirrel away a title that would prove harder and harder to come by, as Moll was banned from shipment in the US post, drastically affecting available supply.  

Title page of a well-worn copy of Moll Flanders, and advertisement listing missing books from the Portsmouth Athenaeum, published in the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, March 15, 1873.

Described as “professedly obscene” and “objectionable” since its first publication in 1855, it wasn’t until the 1881 edition of Whitman’s magnum opus Leaves of Grass that its production was halted due to legal concerns. Under pressure by Comstock himself, Boston’s District Attorney advised Whitman’s publisher James R. Osgood that the book could not continue to be legally published without significant alterations to the text. Initially open to changes, Whitman later refused to revise his work due to the sheer volume of objections and was forced to find a new publisher. Due to the publicity this action caused— which increased further after the subsequent arrest of activist Ezra Heywood of Princeton, MA, for mailing excerpts of Leaves of Grass alongside other contraband—its popularity rose and under a different publisher the new edition’s first printing sold out in a single day. Heywood went on to publish a rebuke of both his treatment by Comstock’s goons and more broadly of federally backed, morality-based censorship titled “The Impolicy of Repression” in the Boston Commonwealth. Heywood was pardoned by President Harrison in 1878 after a successful, highly publicized petition and protest movement.  

See the full article here. 

For more information on the banned books discussed here, and others, check out the resources below. An exhibit featuring some of these works will be on display in the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society from November to December 2022.


American Library Association. (2022, September 16). American Library Association Releases Preliminary Data on 2022 Book Bans. News and Press Center. https://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2022/09/ala-releases-preliminary-data-2022-book-bans 

Crown, D. (2015, November 15). The Price of Suffering: William Pynchon and The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption. The Public Domain Review. https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/the-price-of-suffering-william-pynchon-and-the-meritorious-price-of-our-redemption#fn1 

Joseph P. Hammond, “Stevens, Oliver (b. 1825)” (Criticism) – The Walt Whitman Archive. (n.d.). Whitmanarchive.org. Retrieved October 26, 2022, from https://whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/encyclopedia/entry_211.html 

Ockerbloom. (n.d.). Banned Books Online. Onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu. https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/banned-books.html 

Sohn, A. (2021, July 20). How Anthony Comstock, Enemy to Women of the Gilded Age, Attempted to Ban Contraception. Literary Hub. https://lithub.com/how-anthony-comstock-enemy-to-women-of-the-gilded-age-attempted-to-ban-contraception/ 

Stern, S. (n.d.). Fanny Hill. Www.mtsu.edu. Retrieved October 26, 2022, from https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/808/fanny-hill#:~:text=Fanny%20Hill%20led%20to%20early 

Poetry (and Portraits) of the Past and Present

“The world is full of poetry, the air is living with its spirit, and the waves dance to the music of its melodies.” ~ James Gates Percival’s “Poetry” copied into Martha Ann Brown’s commonplace book from 1849.

Please join us at the American Antiquarian Society this Thursday, November 17, at 7 p.m. (register here to attend in-person or virtually) to explore the power of poetry and its role connecting us to the past. What did poetry mean to Martha Ann Brown, a nineteenth century woman of color integrally connected to the local Black and Indigenous communities, and what does poetry mean to us today? How did women in the Brown family pass along forms of artistic expression through generations, and how are similar generational connections maintained today?

In partnership with the Worcester Black History Project, Thursday evening’s event in the new AAS Learning Lab will be moderated by Deborah Hall and begin with a brief historical introduction to the Brown Family Collections at AAS by Kimberly Toney. Then we will hear new original poems from three Black women poets working in Worcester today – Rev. Catherine Reed, Xaulanda Thorpe, and Ashley Wonder – who will reflect on connections especially among the women of the Brown Family as well as in their own families and lives.

The women of the Brown family expressed themselves artistically in many ways.

→ Martha Ann Brown kept a commonplace book that included artistically arranged pressed flowers and poetry in the 1840s. (The entire book is digitized here thanks to funding from the Delmas Foundation.)

Page from Martha Ann Brown’s commonplace book.

→ Emma Griffin Brown (Martha Ann’s daughter-in-law) wrote her own penciled annotation into the margins of a printed book of “Moore’s Poems,” commenting on favorite poems or expressing philosophical angst, in the 1890s.

Page from Moore’s Poetry with annotations by Emma Griffin Brown.

→ Bernice Brown Goldsberry (Martha Ann’s granddaughter and Emma’s daughter) inked her own illustrations in a book in the family’s library and became a professional commercial artist producing Valentines and greeting cards in the 1910s-20s.

Page from novel with ink illustrations added by Bernice Brown Goldsberry.

BONUS EVENT: Intrigued by the Brown Family and interested in learning more about them and their descendants? There is another event you can attend in Worcester on Thursday, November 17 (learn more and register here). At 7 a.m. there will be a networking breakfast at Mechanics Hall to learn more about their Portraits Project, a plan to increase representation of women and people of color among the portraits on display at Mechanics Hall. Martha Ann Brown and William Brown are among those for whom new portraits are to be commissioned, and one of the descendants of the Brown family, James Goldsberry, will be speaking at the breakfast.

If you then come to the American Antiquarian Society at 185 Salisbury Street for the evening’s poetry event at 7 p.m., you will see on permanent display in the reading room a portrait of one of the Brown family’s ancestors, John Moore, Jr., as well as photographs brought out for this event of Martha Ann and William Brown, that will help provide inspiration for today’s artists to create new portraits of the family.

From left to right: Oil on canvas portrait of John Moore, Jr. (b. c. 1800) and carte-de-visite photographs of his nephew, William Brown (1824-1892), and William’s wife Martha Ann (Tulip/Lee/Lewis/Lewey?) Brown (1818-1889).

EXTRA BONUS EVENT (not related to the Brown Family): As if that weren’t enough, AAS also will be holding a virtual book talk on Thursday, November 17, at 2pm. Marcy J. Dinius will talk about her book, The Textual Effects of David Walker’s “Appeal”: Print-Based Activism Against Slavery, Racism, and Discrimination, 1829-1851 (learn more and register here).

So consider bookending your day on Thursday, November 17, with the amazing Brown Family: 7 a.m. at Mechanics Hall for breakfast and 7 p.m. at AAS for poetry!

This Day in History: Great Chicago Fire Erupts

October 8, 1871 – On this day in 1871, the Great Chicago Fire erupted. The fire burned for two days, destroying buildings, claiming about 300 lives, and causing an estimated $200 million in damages. In all, the fire decimated a four-by-one-mile area of Chicago, including the city’s business district. The city quickly began reconstruction efforts, fostering a newly booming economy and a population to match.

Map from Hartford Fire Insurance Co. showing the burned area of Chicago.

On October 18, 1871, The Chicago Times reported on the fire and the destruction it caused, as well as the rescue and reconstruction which was already underway. Continue reading This Day in History: Great Chicago Fire Erupts

This Day in History: Stamp Act Congress Convenes in Protest

October 7, 1765 – On this day in 1765, the Stamp Act Congress convened in New York City. Representatives from nine colonies met to protest the Stamp Act, which imposed the first direct tax by the British Crown on American colonies. The passage of the Stamp Act is often cited as one of the first catalysts of the American Revolution, as some people living in the colonies felt they were being unfairly taxed without representation in Parliament.

The Boston Gazette and Country Journal published a page-long criticism of the Stamp Act on that day. The newspaper reads, in part:

“AWAKE! – Awake, my Countrymen, and, by a regular & legal Opposition, defeat the Designs of those who enslave us and our Posterity. Nothing is wanting but your own Resolution…Be Men, and make the Experiment. This is your Duty, your bounden, your indispensable Duty.” Continue reading This Day in History: Stamp Act Congress Convenes in Protest

This Day in History: Lincoln Proclaims, ‘Turkey Day!’

October 3, 1863 – On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation designating the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. The proclamation came in the midst of the Civil War. In his address, Lincoln chose to focus on the country’s prosperity:

Closeup of the text of Lincoln’s proclamation as published in the Evening Star.

“[T]he country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

His words throughout the address encourage unity during the Civil War.

Continue reading This Day in History: Lincoln Proclaims, ‘Turkey Day!’

In-person & Hands-on Early Worcester History, Featuring the Brown Family

Who and what springs to mind when you reflect on early Worcester history?

Figure 1: Portrait of Brown family ancestor John Moore, Jr.

Isaiah Thomas & his printing press? Major Taylor & his bicycle? Esther Howland & her Valentines? These classic Worcester historical figures will all be represented at AAS’s upcoming Chat with a Curator open house this Wednesday, but we hope many of the materials and stories are new to you. We are especially excited to feature items related to the Brown Family Collections from one of Worcester’s early Black families. Of particular interest books from the family’s library, which is one of the earliest and largest intact nineteenth-century Black family’s libraries in existence. Continue reading In-person & Hands-on Early Worcester History, Featuring the Brown Family