Under its generous domeFor those of us who have the privilege and pleasure to work everyday with the remarkable collections of the American Antiquarian Society the past is indeed present. Whether we are selecting new acquisitions, cataloging collections, preparing web exhibits, processing photo requests, conserving materials that have seen better days, planning workshops, editing publications, or assisting researchers in the reading room, we often become immersed in the lives of Americans who lived 150, 250, even 350 years ago. By collecting the books they owned, the newspapers they read, the almanacs they consulted, the letters they exchanged, and the prints they enjoyed, we make it possible for researchers to recreate long-ago happenings, reconstruct conflicts and causes, and reclaim from obscurity individuals whose separate stories can now be woven into the larger narrative of our collective history as a people and a nation.

And while all that sounds lofty and terribly (self-)important, it’s also a lot of fun! Through our Past is Present blog, we hope to share with you some measure of our excitement at acquiring a pamphlet that escaped the collecting grasp of our predecessors, our delight in helping a reader solve a research conundrum, and our amusement with the weirdly wonderful things that turn up in the collections here at AAS on an almost daily basis. Many individuals will be contributing to this blog, but I want here to acknowledge the good work of Diann Benti, Tom Knoles, and Elizabeth Pope in getting it launched and keeping it lively.

I often use the word “generous” is describing the relationships that form among the staff and readers at AAS. It is very common for research discoveries to be shared openly, rather than hoarded in a miserly fashion. Readers regularly help each other and take great interest in each other’s projects, as does the staff. There’s a sense of community here that is highly valued, and through the Past is Present we are pleased to include our blog readers in our community as well. In that way, the past will be our present to you.

Published by

Ellen S. Dunlap

President, American Antiquarian Society

2 thoughts on “Welcome!”

  1. Maurice Bouchard in his good note in this blog on the use of advertisements reproduces a Boston Beaneaters 1887 baseball trade card schedule which depicts nine small creatures cavorting around a baseball, which appears to be much larger than they are. [The card is also to be found in the Readex digital American Broadsides and Ephemera collection.] He raises the question of whether the little figures are pixies, fairies or brownies. I wonder whether the nine figures, the number of players on the Beaneaters team, might be an imitation of the famous Brownies in Palmer Cox’s extremely popular series of his Brownies stories in St. Nicholas Magazine and then in book form in the 1880s. Here is an illustration of the Palmer Cox Brownies from his 1887 work The Brownies, Their Book, which is also in the American Antiquarian Society’s collection:

    If an argument for brownies can be made on etymology, do the pixies and faires seem to be a stretch when compared with brownie? A “Brownie,” based on the OED entry is “a denominative from BROWN, with somewhat of diminutive force: compare with the Old Norse svartálfar or dark elves of the Edda. A ‘wee brown man’ often appears in Scottish ballads and fairy tales.” Pixy, on the other hand, is of uncertain origin: perhaps from PUCK + -SY suffix. English Dialect Dictionary at Pixy records use overwhelmingly from southwestern England, which accords well with early use of the word. Any connection therefore seems unlikely with Shetland Scots pisk small thing or creature, naughty child, frequently as a term of endearment.” And yet the case for the pixies identification is supported by the definition, again from the OED, “in folklore and children’s stories: a supernatural being with magical powers, typically portrayed as small and human-like in form, with pointed ears and a pointed hat.” Fairies too tend to be diminutive – Walt Disney’s creations aside; and indeed some neo-scholastic philosophers have debated the question of the number of fairies who can dance on a baseball. The word Fairy, again relying on the OED, derives from Old French. faerie, faierie (mod.F. féerie), f. Old French. fae (modern French. fée) FAY and refers to “one of a class of supernatural beings of diminutive size, in popular belief supposed to possess magical powers and to have great influence for good or evil over the affairs of man.” Admittedly it is hard to argue with magical powers [and what baseball team, especially the Boston Beaneaters, did not need them?], but doesn’t “brownie” simply go better with the Boston baked beans Beaneaters? Unfortunately the team’s official color was red rather than a nice Boston baked beans brown.

    August A. Imholtz, Jr.
    Readex Vice President
    Nov. 4, 2010

  2. When the original Milwaukee Brewers of the American League moved to St. Louis in 1902 (after just one year in Milwaukee) they became the St. Louis Browns. Eventually, they adopted the Brownie (which looked a little other-worldly, kind of like what people thought Martians would look like) as their mascot. See http://www.sportslogos.net/logo.php?id=1339

    Thanks for the great comments. I am now jumping on the Brownie band wagon.

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