Recently the Graphic Arts staff at the American Antiquarian Society posted its latest illustrated inventory, a complete listing of political and social engraved satires from the Charles Peirce collection (yes, that last name is spelled correctly! Peirce, not Pierce!). You can have a look by following this link http://www.americanantiquarian.org/Inventories/Peirce/
Like many collections here at the Society, the Peirce collection is amazing and rare and wonderful for many reasons. It includes the only known copy of James Akins’ (1773-1846) sharp-witted cartoon The Philosophic Cock which depicts Thomas Jefferson as a rooster and his slave Sally Hemmings as a hen. There are rich social satires by the English engravers Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and George Cruikshank (1792-1878) that lampoon everything from fashion to dentistry in the early nineteenth century.
Our web resource for this collection features an introduction written by 2009 Last Fellow Allison Stagg (University of London) documenting her research on how the Peirce album was used in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Peirce, a bookseller, compiled the album then rented it out for parties – see the image Twelfth Night by Cruikshank (Folder 40) for a group of Brits using a set of prints in a similar manner. We have also illustrated Peirce’s newspaper advertisements documenting the album, which Allison found in the course of her research.
What you will not learn from this great new finding aide is the way the album was originally found by the donors. In a compelling little essay titled “All I wanted to do was put the vacuum cleaner in the closet,” the donor, Edith Fisher Hunter, describes how she discovered the somewhat-tattered, portfolio-sized album among a large group of books from her spouse’s multi-generational family library. The books had been boxed up and shoved into the hall closet under the stairs during various moves and renovations in the 1798/1810 family farmhouse.
Until 1990, the boxes had been competing for space with the vacuum cleaner and tubs of Christmas decorations. One muggy August day, while trying to cram the vac into the closet, Edith decided enough was enough. She pulled everything out and began sorting. The results: two boxes of material relating to bookseller and relative Charles Peirce were put aside, including the album of caricatures. It all eventually made its way to AAS, much to our pleasure. “The closet in the hall is delightfully empty,” Edith wrote in her conclusion, “The box of Christmas decorations fit into the closet very nicely as does the vacuum cleaner!” The moral of this tale could be – It is never too late to tackle spring cleaning. Or, for those of us who lack acute housekeeping motivation – Clean out the closet to avoid dealing with the dust and dog hair on the rugs. Yep, I admit it. I’d rather lose myself in twelve boxes of early American imprints than push the Hoover!