Adopt-a-Book 2011, Part 2: Manifest Destiny on a Hankie

Today we continue a series of blog posts highlighting items from our upcoming Adopt-a-Book event, slated for Tuesday, March 29, 2011, at 6PM in Antiquarian Hall.  You can read the entire  Adopt-a-Book 2011 catalog on the AAS website, where you will find descriptions of all 176 items up for adoption this year.

Our second orphan for the spotlight is no. 79 in the catalog.

79. Just the thing for a child to have! John Adams’s Letter . . . . (Boston: Henry Bowen Chemical Prints, c. 1848), printed on muslin. Adopt me for $450.

The printer of this textile handkerchief was Henry Bowen who was a printer in Boston as early as 1818. For decades he produced books, periodicals, broadsides, and ephemera, running his business right up until his death in 1874.  Through out the nineteenth century he produced a number of broadsides printed on textiles like cotton, muslin and linen.  These printings included commemorative handkerchiefs for the opening of the Bunker Hill Monument, and textiles intended for children emblazoned with the Golden Rule, bible verses, or moral lessons.

The child’s handkerchief up for adoption has a more historical and patriotic message.  The border is made of state and territorial seals, arranged in geographical order from Maine, down the east coast and west to the Oregon territory, subtly reinforcing in small children who might use the textile the idea of westward expansion as an American right and destiny.  To solidify the patriotic message, the central portion of the piece reprints a 1776 letter by John Adams written the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, as well as a paragraph exclaiming upon the coinciding deaths of Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the fourth of July 1826.  Given Bowen’s history of printing textiles for events held in the Boston area, it is possible that he produced this handkerchief as part of the city’s Fourth of July celebration in 1848 or 1849.

In order to adopt this or any other object in the Adopt-a-Book 2011 catalog, please click on the link and follow the directions for “How to Adopt” which are found in the sidebar to the right at the top of the page.  Remember, you don’t have to wait until March 29th to adopt!

Published by

Lauren Hewes

Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, American Antiquarian Society

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