If you’ve been Concord, you should be Worcestered

I take this title from the eminently quotable Thoreau, who once quipped to his Worcester friend Harrison Gray Otis Blake in April 1857, “Come & be Concord, as I have been Worcestered.” Thoreau had already lectured in Worcester several times and had been visiting the city for over seven years when he wrote to Blake.  

So I say the same thing to readers of this blog: If you saw the recent exhibit of Thoreau’s journals at the Concord Museum, featuring collections from both the Morgan Library & Museum and the Concord Museum, you should visit AAS and Worcester. Even if you didn’t see the exhibit, you should still visit Worcester. After all, Thoreau’s journals did spend thirty years in the city.

After Thoreau died in 1862, his sister Sophia first inherited the manuscripts. She eventually deposited them at the Concord town library where they were under Ralph Waldo Emerson’s trusteeship. After Sophia died in 1876, her will stated that Harrison Gray Otis Blake, the Worcester friend to whom Thoreau wrote in 1857, should receive the two trunks of manuscripts containing the journals. Blake published several volumes of excerpts from the journals, arranged seasonally (one for summer, one for spring, one for autumn, and one for winter). When Blake died in 1898, most of the journals passed to the director of the Worcester State Normal School, Edward Harlow Russell, before Russell eventually sold them to a New York dealer, George S. Hellman.  When Russell owned Thoreau’s journals, he allowed Houghton Mifflin to publish the manuscript edition of Thoreau’s works, with each copy containing an original Thoreau manuscript. Hellman sold the manuscripts to Stephen Wakeman, who in turn sold them to J. P. Morgan. The journals remain at the Morgan today.

When Blake owned the journals, he marked off many sections of Thoreau’s journals in blue pencil, which you’ll see if you read the original journals. Blake also pasted (sometimes inaccurate) dated labels on their covers. Unfortunately, Blake also inaccurately transcribed some passages and often omitted whole passages.

In his effort to universalize Thoreau’s experiences, Blake disregarded the specifics of Thoreau’s local conditions. He omitted Thoreau’s description of his neighbor, the faint warbling of sparrows, and the world that immediately surrounded him. In favor of Thoreau’s general and quotable quotes, Blake erased the specifics of Thoreau’s microcosm and, with them, one could argue, the man himself. So, I say, come, be Worcestered, take a look at some of the original editions of Thoreau’s works (seen above), and be more thoroughly thorough than Blake.

Blake omitted all italicized sections below; passage taken from the 1861 Thoreau journals online.

Mar 18th– Tree sparrows have warbled faintly for a week.

When I pass by a twig of willow, though of the slenderest & d kind, rising above the sedge in some dry hollow early in Dec. or in mid-winter above the snow–my spirits rise as if it were an oasis in the desert– The very name sallow — from the Celtic sal. lis near water suggests that there is some natural sap or blood flowing there. It is a divining wand that has not failed but stands with its root in the fountain.

The fertile willow catkin are these green caterpillar-like ones–commonly an inch or more in length–which develop themselves rapidly after the sterile yellow ones which we had so admired are fallen or effete, arranged around the bare twigs, they often form green wands 8 to 18 inches long–

A single catkin consists of from 25 to 100 little pods–more or less ovate & beaked–each of which is closely packed with cotton, in which are numerous seeds so small that they are scarcely discernable by ordinary eyes. I do not know what they mean who call it the emblem of despairing this love–!

“The willow, worn by forlorn paramour–“! It is rather the emblem of triumphant & never dying love–a sympathy with all nature. It may droop–it is so lithe & supple–but it never weeps. The willow of Babylon–flourishes with us–trailing its slender branches perchance in N.E. streams–& it blooms not the less hopefully–though its other half is not in the new-world at all, & never has been. (Nor were poplars ever the weeping sisters of phaeton–for nothing rejoices them more than the sight of the Sun’s chariot, & little reck they who drives it)

They droop, not to represent Davids tears but rather to rival the crown for Alexander’s head. Ah willow willow–

No wonder its wood was anciently in demand for buckles, for like the whole tree, it is not only soft & pliant, but tough & resilient (as Pliny says?) closing not splitting at the first blow–but closing its wounds at once & refusing to transmit its hurts

I know of one foreign species which introduced itself into Concord–as withe used to be of  a bundle of trees. A gardener–stuck it in the  ground & it lived–& has its descendants–

Herodotus says that the Scythians divined by the help of hollow rods–I do not know any better twigs for this purpose.

How various are the habits of men– Mother says that her father-in Law–Capt. Minott–not only used to roast & cut a long row of little wild apples–reaching in a semicircicle from jam to jam under the andirons on the reddened hearth– (I used to buy many a pound of spanish brown at the stores for mother to redden the jams & hearth with) but he had a quart of new milk regularly placed at the head of his bed which he drank at many draughts in the course of the night– It was so the night he died–& my Grandmother discovered that he was dying, by his not turning over to reach his milk, I asked what he died of, & Mother answered apoplexy–! at which I did not wonder– still this habit may not have caused it–

I have a cousin, also, who regularly eats his bowl of bread & milk just before going to bed–however late– He is a very stirring man.

You cant read any germaine [Blake has “genuine”] history –as that of Herodotus, or the Venerable Bede–without perceiving that our interest depends not on the subject–but on the man, on the manner in which he treats the subject & the importance he gives it. A feeble writer & without genius must have what he thinks a great theme–which we are already interested in through the accounts of others–but a genius–a shakespeare for instance–would make the history of his parish more interesting than another’s history of the world.

Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told–& it depends chiefly on the story-teller or –historian whether that is interesting or not–

You are simply a witness on the stand to tell what you know about your neighbors & neighborhood– Your account of foreign parts which you have never seen should by good sights be less interesting.

Worcester’s “Garden City”

My favorite part of cataloging is figuring out a mystery. When little information is given with an object and I am able to solve that mystery, I’m a happy camper. So when a set of three photographs came across my desk, one of them a very sweet image of children holding rabbits and chickens, I wanted to find out the story behind it. Written in pencil on the back of all three photographs was “Garden City group (c1905).” This caption doesn’t help me much. Garden City? Well, New Jersey is the garden state, so maybe there’s a connection there. A little Googling didn’t turn up anything. I then thought, maybe, because many of the other photographs in this miscellaneous box contained views of Worcester, these photos may be from Worcester, too. At least, I wanted it to be of Worcester. Some more Googling and I found it. Garden City was in fact in Worcester.

Citizens of Garden City, along with their mayor, at center, holding some of the many animals kept in their zoo. Rabbits, guinea pigs, and a white rat were kept among foxes, a raccoon, and a hawk.

Garden City was the brain child of Dr. James G. Floody, a progressive pastor born in Canada, who preached in Gladwin, Michigan, and Boston, Massachusetts, before coming to Worcester where he is most remembered for his work in social services. Dr. Floody, seeing the petty crimes taking place by some of the adolescent boys in the city’s Island District (South Worcester and Green Island), he sought to help them change their ways. He said he “came to the conclusion that the only way to teach a boy respect for another’s property was to let him have property of his own.”[1] Possibly influenced by the City Beautiful movement of the 1890s and 1900s, Dr. Floody set to work to help revamp at least one parcel in the city. In 1907 he obtained a dump, not so affectionately known as “Dead Cat Dump,” which was owned by Crompton Mills and is today known as Crompton Park. He enlisted the help of the boys and girls of the Island District, ages six to sixteen, many of whom were immigrants of different faiths from Poland, Lithuania, Ireland, Sweden, and France. They completely cleared the more than four-acre lot of old mattresses, bricks, and yes, dead cats. One young girl was reported to have won a prize for carrying out 217 bricks from the dump. The city of Worcester then came and helped prepare the lot for small gardens. Each child was given one of six hundred 10×20-foot plots, five cents, five packets of seeds, and a deed to their garden. Each pathway in the Garden City was named after a prominent Worcester citizen, and two city squares were decorated with flowers and named in honor of Senator George Frisbee Hoar and philanthropist Lucretia Graton.

Citizens of Garden City pose with founder Robert J. Floody, at center, wearing a bowler hat. The children sitting in the front row hold some of the vegetables grown in their gardens. The first mayor of the city is seen standing in the back row, wearing a dark-colored cap, with his friend’s hand seen on his shoulder.

A city government for Garden City was soon instituted, with the young men being elected to positions as mayor and commissioners of the gardens, streets, tools, and water. (The girls were allowed to vote in the second election, still more than ten years before the rest of the country!) There was also a young police force of forty boys. It was reported that more than five thousand spectators came to Garden City the day the first mayor was inaugurated. Dr. Floody helped the children establish a zoo within the city, and the image here shows some of the citizens holding the animals they kept: rabbits, chickens, a white rat, a hawk, and a raccoon that was supposedly given to the children from Clark University. After the accidental death of the raccoon, the children’s sorrow led them to start a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals. Garden City not only helped the children learn about the value of property and civic engagement, but it also brought the rest of the neighborhood together. Parents of the children were often found tending to their child’s garden or aiding with the animals. The produce grown in the gardens not only helped feed the families of the gardeners, but many were also able to sell the extra for added household income.

Two young citizens are seen standing outside of the fox den in the city’s zoo. All of the zoo’s structures were built by the children, often with help from their parents.

After the success of the Garden City in the Island District, at least three more of these cities were started in other areas of Worcester, including one at Beaver Brook and one in a neighborhood referred to as the Meadows (possibly Broad Meadow Brook in the eastern part of the city). Dr. Floody and his wife Adeline oversaw all of the operations of the cities and lectured throughout New England on the success of the project and the importance of their work. Dr. Floody’s cities were known and copied throughout the country; when he died in 1915, his death was reported in newspapers as far away as Honolulu, Hawaii. After Dr. Floody’s death, Adeline Floody took charge of the project until it became too overwhelming, at which point the City of Worcester took over the projects. Although I could not find a date at which the Garden Cities ended, the Island District city has become a large park named Crompton Park, as has Beaver Brook Park, which today also houses one of the city’s many community gardens.

[1] Ethel G. Rockwell, “Worcester’s Garden City,” Our Boys (Milwaukee: October 1910), 12.

How to Sing the Isaiah Thomas Ballads?

David Hildebrand, Ph.D., specializes in researching, recording, and performing early American music. He presents concerts and educational programs throughout the country for museums, universities, and historical organizations, and has consulted for and provided soundtrack materials for numerous documentaries, such as the PBS series Liberty!—the American Revolution, Rediscovering George Washington, and Anthem. He also teaches at the Peabody Conservatory and has worked closely with AAS to record broadside ballads as part of the Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project.

Single-sheet broadsides printed over two hundred years ago are quiet things. The 298 sheets amassed by Isaiah Thomas in 1814 were designed to communicate stories and opinions, and many of them were no doubt read quietly by individuals while others were read aloud, proclaiming that text in public. This post concerns those clearly intended to be sung, 37 of which are now recorded and available for listening through the Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project.

How does one accurately interpret the style of singing these ballads? Better, is there one “historically accurate” manner in which they were sung in their day? I believe the answer to be no, there was no clearly defined group of people who purchased and sang these; rather those early nineteenth-century American singers were diverse. Some were wealthy and could afford musical training, but most probably didn’t. And regardless of training, people’s ability to carry a tune well, at pitch and with proper rhythm, probably varied more according to their natural musical talent and practice than whether they had taken lessons or not. The same is surely true today as well!

Hopefully, whoever sang about Thomas Jefferson’s ill-advised trade embargo (The Embargo. A Favorite New Song ) would allow the biting satire and harsh accusations within the lyrics to come out with force and heartfelt anger. President Jefferson ironically thought an embargo would convince the British in 1806 to respect our right to free trade, but it was an economic disaster, hated by nearly all. And these same citizens, greatly relieved at the embargo’s repeal, celebrated mirthfully by singing Thomas’s The Death of the Embargo to the tune of “Yankee Doodle.”

As a singer with practically no formal vocal training yet decades of practical experience interpreting songs of all sorts, I put myself in the mindset of those vociferating their convictions, for or against the topic at hand. When singing a narrative ballad, like The Death of General Wolfe, I become a storyteller, pretending to be the first to deliver, to eager ears, the dramatic account of the Battle of Quebec. This means throwing extra energy into such lines as “when shot from off his horse,” where clearly the accent falls on the word SHOT with its abrupt finial consonant. Similarly, in Massachusetts Song of Liberty such lines as these require vituperative delivery:

The italics and exclamations in the text emphasize the word Tyrants! These are clearly guidelines for the singer to follow: spit such words out, sneeringly!

Other questions I had to ask in bringing music to life from a centuries-old page: in which key do I sing it? I chose to pick the one that best suits my vocal range. How fast or slow should it be? Slow enough to enunciate and communicate the text, yet fast enough to catch and keep a listener’s interest. Should I use vibrato? I don’t think much should be used; a mild, natural vibrato works, but certainly not a big, wobbly operatic one.

For comic songs, and there are plenty, I chose to include a chuckle in my voice on the punch-lines—why not?  Lawyers and Bullfrogs is simply silly; the listener has even more fun hearing it sung with gusto and some lines delivered deadpan for extra emphasis. The Frog and Mouse, or the Frog He Would a Wooing Go involves such a jaunty nonsense chorus it’s hard not to have fun singing it. Francis Hopkinson’s famed Battle of the Kegs reminds me of the writings of Dr. Seuss; the words are so clever, imaginative, and well-crafted rhythmically.

At the other end of the spectrum are the serious and moving “Indian Speeches,” in which the horrific impact of alcohol upon Native Americans is denounced, along with the belligerent and cruel behavior of white Americans towards them. Five of these are recorded, including Indian Letter and Indian Speech, Delivered before a Gentleman. These all stand out from the others as being spoken rather than sung. My brother Mark Hildebrand declaims these with a dark foreboding.

Try a few yourselfthere is a huge variety of topics. You’ll discover, as I did, that the chief obstacle to making them work smoothly is determining which syllables within each line fall on the musical accents of the indicated tune.  Making a printout and adding underlines helps, such as the following verse and chorus of Nancy Dawson, seen here as marked for recording next to a detail of the original broadside:

See how she comes to give surprise,
With joy and pleasure in her eyes:
To give delight she always tries,
So means my Nancy Dawson.

Was there no task, to obstruct the way,
No shutter bold, nor house so gay,
A bett of fifty pounds I’ll lay,
That I gain’d Nancy Dawson.

In some cases, when no tune is indicated, try to find one that works in terms of number of lines and syllables per line. So listen, learn, re-create, and celebrate this amazing slice of U.S. history. You may just find yourself humming on the way out the door.

2017 Annual Report Now Available

We’re always looking forward to the next exciting thing happening here at the Society (especially with a soon-to-be-completed building addition in the works!). But as archivists and historians we also know how important it is to take a look back. This past year’s annual report serves to remind us how strong our core functions have remained, even as we look to the future. Fellowships, seminars, public programs, acquisitions, digital projects—all are integral to fulfilling our mission and will serve as the strong base for all of our future plans.

As much as we love reliving the record of the year, we also enjoy a little fun, which is why we’ve included lots of beautiful images (those watch papers!) and some word games from the collections. Some of the rebuses on the back cover—pulled from each of the Society’s collecting areas—had us stumped. See if you have better luck!

You can view the entire issue here.


New Illustrated Inventory: Photographs of North American Indians, 1850-1900

Today, the American Antiquarian Society is launching a new illustrated inventory featuring photographs of Native Americans from our graphic arts collection. This collection of 225 photographs spans from 1859 to 1910 and makes available photographs of members of thirty-nine tribes. The collection was compiled as a resource decades ago, long before the creation of the Society’s online catalog, and represents just a fraction of the resources documenting Native people in AAS collections. Information on other holdings can be found on our resources page.

The new inventory includes many studio portraits of Native Americans and views of their homes and surroundings. Most were intended for non-Native audiences and were reproduced in government reports, illustrated newspapers, or were mounted as stereo cards for general distribution. Many of the photographs in this collection were included in William Henry Jackson’s Descriptive Catalogue of Photographs of North American Indians (1877). Jackson worked as a photographer for the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey and documented Native Americans across the west. The collection also includes photos from Thompson and Powell’s series U.S. Topographical and Geological Survey of the Colorado River of the West.

If you are interested in nineteenth-century photography, be sure to explore the other visual resources for the Society’s photography collection.

Isaiah Thomas’s Library Catalog Is Now Digital

Jeremy Dibbell is the director of communications and outreach at Rare Book School and the volunteer head of the Legacy Libraries and Libraries of Early America projects for LibraryThing. He is always happy to receive information on American book lists/inventories/catalogs of any size, particularly for the colonial period.

In July 1812, Isaiah Thomas presented a large collection of books, pamphlets, and newspapers to the nascent American Antiquarian Society. He documented this gift, and additional items given through 1821, in a manuscript volume headed “Catalogue of The private Library of Isaiah Thomas, Senior, Of Worcester, Massachusetts.”

Marcus McCorison (1926–2013), who served as librarian, director, and then president of AAS from 1960 until his retirement in 1992, worked for many years to transcribe and annotate Thomas’s library catalog, identifying the works indicated and adding important bibliographical citations and context. In September 2012, AAS President Ellen Dunlap and I met with Marcus and proposed the use of the social book-cataloging website LibraryThing to present his work on Thomas’s library as part of the site’s Legacy Libraries project. Established in 2007, this project allows for the documentation and cataloging of historical libraries; information on more than 1,900 libraries (including more than 1,700 early American libraries) has been added to date. I had demonstrated the possibilities of this project to Marcus several years earlier by showing him the LibraryThing catalogs of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, so when Ellen and I suggested that it might work for Thomas’s library, he wholeheartedly approved the idea, and I got to work.

Thomas’s manuscript entries for dictionaries

As is the way of such things, it took a whole lot longer than I thought it would when I agreed to do it, but in January I finally finished adding books to the Isaiah Thomas account on LibraryThing. The account now includes the titles included in Thomas’s manuscript catalog, as well as more than 550 additional books in the AAS collections identified as being given by Thomas after the period covered by the catalog. Marcus’s citations and transcriptions have been included with each record mostly as given in his final draft version of the catalog, though I corrected a handful of obvious errors where found, and in several instances I was able to identify specific editions unlocated by McCorison. I have also added the current AAS call number and any copy-specific information as given in the catalog records.

Thomas’s dictionary entries in LibraryThing

Isaiah Thomas’s bookplate

Thomas’s catalog in LibraryThing is keyword-searchable and browseable (click on the header of any column to re-sort), and includes both books still at AAS and those no longer in the AAS collections. Sorting on the “Dewey/Melvil” column, which contains McCorison’s citation number for each book, will display the records in the order given in Thomas’s manuscript. Tags have been added to each record based on Thomas’s own categories as given in the manuscript catalog.

There is much more work that might be done (many books currently at AAS are not specifically identified as Thomas’s, for example, so those could be checked to determine whether they bear marks of his ownership), and I will happily add any updates, corrections, &c. as needed. I hope that this resource will prove useful for anyone interested in Isaiah Thomas’s books, the output of his printing and publishing outfits (very well documented in the catalog), and the early AAS collections.

An Adventure with Nineteenth-Century Knitting

I would like to begin by saying, I consider myself a fairly capable knitter. I can read a pattern, my stitches are even, and I can occasionally knit without looking, detecting by touch if something goes awry. I am by no means a “lady expert,” as Miss H. Burton, author of The Lady’s Book of Knitting and Crochet (1875), claims to be, but I’m competent. I admit that my “skills” have been bolstered by the existence of the internet. If I can’t quite visualize a new stitch, I can turn to YouTube and watch someone else doing it until I have mastered it. If that doesn’t work, there are dozens of knitting blogs with step-by-step tutorials, tips, and tricks to guide me through. This makes knitting much more approachable, and I have been advancing in this manner for the better part of the last five years.

With this in mind, I thought it might be fun to consult one of the nineteenth-century knitting books in the AAS collection and try to follow one of the patterns without my modern training wheels. The challenge here lies in the complete lack of visual aids and the reliance on the written pattern and explanations in the book. Not only are the descriptions of the stitches limited (and inconsistent—but we’ll come back to that), but there are no pictorial representations of what the completed pattern should look like. I selected a pattern that had a descriptive title and a recommendation of what needles and yarn to use so that I could at least get an impression of what the end product may be. I planned to do this without my trusted YouTube or Google, though I allowed myself the modern luxury of electric light to knit by. (Full disclosure, at one point I did consult an outside text to confirm I was doing something correctly. I was correct, so there was really no need to doubt myself and cheat a little, but in the moment I panicked.)

While many librarians may be more skeptical at this point in their careers, I am still generally trusting of promises made by books. I chose The Lady’s Book of Knitting and Crochet to guide me through this experiment because it held the promise of “over one hundred new and easy patterns…compiled and edited by a lady expert who has conscientiously tested all of them” [emphasis added]. I like a challenge but also I wanted to keep this as frustration-free as possible, and who could resist that sort of guarantee?

The decorative edge in progress.

A quick scan of the book revealed that some of these patterns were scant, to put it generously, but my first real warning should have come when I discovered that there was a section on crochet terms but not knitting ones. Well that’s fine, I have a good base knowledge of knitting terms, I thought. But then I got into the pattern itself…

The “lady expert” author recommends using a coarse cotton and no. 13 “pins” to complete this pattern, a decorative rose-bud patterned edge. Size 13 needles sounded surprisingly large, especially given the delicate weight of the cotton. I sized down the needles and doubled the cotton strand and still something seemed amiss. Certainly this would knit up quickly but it would be a huge boarder edge—almost the size of a washcloth in and of itself. That’s when I remembered that British (and “Old” U.S.) needles were on a different measurement scale. I knew it couldn’t be metric, 13 mm would still be too large, and thus my Google dependence deepened, my second cheat for a seemingly simple pattern.

I discovered that British and “Old” U.S. needles were based on wire gauges and count down, with 1 representing the largest size. Modern U.S. needles do the exact opposite and count up, with 1 being among the smallest needles, because nothing asserts independence like doing the exact opposite of what your parents say. An “Old” U.S. 13 is about a 1 in modern U.S. gauging—a fairly extreme difference when trying to follow a pattern (see image below). America switched to the present system in the 1950s but it is difficult to find reliable sources clarifying the reason for the change.

A modern 13 needle compared to an “Old” U.S. 13 needle.

Once I got going, it quickly became clear that needle sizing was not going to be my only source of confusion. Maybe it would have helped if other people had tested the author’s patterns. I often find that, when writing recipes, knitting patterns of my own, or really any sort of instruction, it helps to have someone else take a look to make sure they can interpret what made complete sense in my own head. I know what I was going for…does anyone else?

Here is how the pattern is written.

Here are my points of confusion.

  1. The instructions indicate 19 stitches for the pattern with 2 additional stitches for the edges. The first row accounts for all 21 stitches. By row two we are down to 19 stitches total with instructions for only 18 stitches and subsequent rows don’t all begin and end with a plain. So…????
  2. What’s going with the punctuation? Does it have any sort of significance or is the author just using semicolons or commas interchangeably without reason?
  3. What about those rows that only tell you what to do with 18 of the stitches? Do I have an extra stitch? Do I just assume it ends on a plain because of that note at the beginning? Do I turn my work leaving the last stitch behind?
  4. Is there a difference between a knit and a plain stitch? If yes, what? If not, why mix and match in one pattern? (Note: My research into historic knitting needle sizes revealed that a knit and a plain are, in fact, the same thing)
  5. Sometimes the word comes first (i.e. Knit 1), sometimes the number comes first (i.e. 3 pearls) and sometimes there are no numbers at all.
  6. Did the author just abandon punctuation entirely toward the end? Or is a pearl plain and a plain pearl something I am supposed to know?
  7. To complete row 8, I tried ending the pattern on a pearl plain rather than a plain pearl and it seemed to fit in with the pattern much better. Typo or style choice? The world may never know.

The completed project.

So how did it go? Well, I did my best but I am not completely confident in my result.

Did I do it correctly? Maybe. I ultimately decided that when the last stitch in a row did not have specific instructions I would knit a plain stitch. The pattern is supposed to create an edge, so perhaps the left side is for attaching to the rest of a work? And the right side sort of looks like rosebuds, if you look at it the way you would look at a magic eye poster (squinty and with your head at an angle—maybe try standing a little farther back).

I invite all the readers to give this pattern a try and see if you come up with anything different or can determine where I may have gone astray. It is entirely possible (i.e. likely) that I misinterpreted something due to the limitations of my modern visual learning style.

Interview with Gregory Nobles

Gregory Nobles is professor emeritus in the School of History and Sociology at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia, where he first started teaching in 1983. Prior to that he taught at Virginia Tech. Dr. Nobles’s accomplishments are too many to list here, but he has received numerous research grants and fellowships, including two Fulbright professorships and several National Endowment for the Humanities and Mellon Foundation awards. In fact, he just finished a term as Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the American Antiquarian Society, where he was elected to membership in 1995. Dr. Nobles has been on the advisory council of SHEAR (Society for Historians of the Early American Republic) and has published and lectured widely on everything from early and revolutionary American politics to the American frontier to John James Audubon. His most recent book, John James Audubon: The Nature of the American Woodsman, was just published by University of Pennsylvania Press. His current work is tentatively titled “Betsey Stockton’s Mission: From Slavery to Freedom, From Princeton to the Pacific.”

In this interview, Dr. Nobles talks about this newest project, tells us a bit about the history of social history, and discusses how his work as a historian has affected his personal life.

My Thirty Years’ Adventure with McLoughlin Brothers

“Royal Picture Gallery,” copyrighted 1894.

The exhibition Radiant with Color & Art: McLoughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books, 1858–1920, now on display at the Grolier Club in New York, is the culmination of my three decades’ worth of work in cataloging, documenting, and interpreting the output of this titan New York publisher that dominated color picture book publishing in the United States in the latter half of the nineteenth century. My contact with the some 1,800 McLoughlin picture books in the AAS Children’s Literature Collection began almost immediately after I joined the AAS staff in 1987. One of my first tasks as senior cataloger of the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded American Children’s Books project was to write the renewal proposal that would fund the cataloging of these color-filled treasures.

I quickly discovered that cataloging these books to rare book level would pose a variety of challenges, one of the biggest being that many of them did not have publication dates because they were meant to look eternally new, regardless of how long they might have sat in a warehouse before they were sold. I also realized that outside of a few brief essays in book dealers’ catalogs and periodicals, there was very little substantive information written about the history of McLoughlin Brothers because the firm’s business records did not survive. Furthermore, McLoughlin, unlike competitors such as E. P. Dutton or Frederick Warne, did not flourish after the early twentieth century, keeping it removed from modern memory. After the death of its co-founder and innovator-in-chief John McLoughlin Jr., McLoughlin Brothers was sold to Milton Bradley in 1920. The new  owners reissued the hefty inventory of McLoughlin games under the Milton Bradley name and recast the picture books as the McLoughlin line of Milton Bradley. The McLoughlin line was sold off by Milton Bradley in the early 1950s, eventually becoming a brand used on a few books published by Grosset & Dunlap, until the legal demise of the McLoughlin corporate name in 1984.

The bookplate for all of Herbert H. Hosmer’s donations.

Due to these challenges, I acquired my knowledge of McLoughlin Brothers by cataloging the picture books themselves and by speaking to a few McLoughlin collectors, including Herbert Hosmer (1913–1995), who donated a large cache of books and artwork belonging to the McLoughlin business archives to AAS in 1978. Herbert was a charming eccentric, a schoolteacher who spent most of his career in the Lancaster, Massachusetts, public schools. A graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art, Herbert was a skilled puppeteer and the proprietor of the Toy Cupboard Theatre, which delighted generations of local children. His great uncle was John Greene Chandler (1815–1879), an engraver and lithographer who designed picture books and paper dolls. Chandler’s daughter Alice (referred to by Herbert as “Cousin Alice”) told young Herbert about her father’s career as a book illustrator in antebellum Boston, and she eventually gave him some of those picture books, thus planting the book collecting seed that became Herbert’s lifelong passion. By the 1960s, he was a serious collector of children’s books, dolls, and dollhouses.

Fortunately for AAS, Herbert was also a serious reader of newspaper obituaries, so when he read that Charles Ernest Miller (1869–1951), a longtime McLoughlin Brothers executive, had died, he eagerly contacted Miller’s surviving daughter, Ruth, to see if she had any McLoughlin Brothers books he could purchase. Miss Miller didn’t answer until many years later, but when she did Herbert was more than ready to examine what she had, which turned out to be over one thousand items, including picture books, games, paper toys, illustration blocks, and original artwork belonging to the McLoughlin business archives. Herbert arranged to buy the whole collection from Miss Miller on an installment plan. He made at least the first installment and took possession of the McLoughlin treasure trove, but his ambition as a collector was not matched by his salary as a public schoolteacher in the 1970s. Seeking a way to pay Miss Miller the money due her and keep the magnificent collection together, Herbert sought the help of then American Antiquarian Society President Marcus McCorison. Herbert had been an occasional researcher at AAS since about 1940, using AAS holdings to document the careers of his artist ancestors Winthrop Chandler and John Greene Chandler. When Marcus examined Herbert’s McLoughlin trove, he swiftly realized its importance in the history of the book in America; as a whole the archive reflects the profound changes in picture book production in the mid nineteenth century from poorly hand-colored wood engravings to sophisticated chromolithography done on steam-powered presses. McCorison paid Miss Miller the balance and made Herbert honorary curator of children’s literature. It was just when Herbert had retired from his honorary curatorship that I came to AAS and met him in 1987.

McLoughlin Brothers publishers’ catalog, 1871-1874.

In unpredictable health and unable to drive, Herbert came to AAS occasionally during my early days at AAS, regaling me with tales of nineteenth-century publishers and his joy in collecting the books they had produced, as well as showing me his arrangement of the books and drawings awaiting substantive cataloging. Examining the neatly typed envelopes housing each of the fragile picture books, I soon came to recognize his curvaceous Palmer method handwritten notes on some of the envelopes, identifying illustrators, color printing processes, or estimated publication dates. These notes eventually informed my cataloging of these books. I can still hear his lively cadence when I read those notes. He urged me to phone him if I had any questions about the collection, of which I had many, particularly in my first few years at AAS. Talking to Herbert on the phone was always an adventure. I realized that he preferred to live in the past—not his personal past, but his extended family’s past in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries! He would tell me of fantastic Fourth of July celebrations in mid-nineteenth-century Boston and the tragic ends of long-lost relatives and eventually cycle back to answering my question; regardless of whether I actually got an answer, the journey was splendid!

Thankfully, I had the Society’s premier collections to help answer my questions, including a nearly complete run of New York city directories to document the dates of activity of McLoughlin Brothers at specific addresses. Another crucial source was the McLoughlin publisher’s catalogs, which came to AAS as part of Herbert Hosmer’s donation. They linked specific titles to dates and showed how McLoughlin largely arranged its inventory within a complex system of series that were produced in an array of price points ranging from one cent to two dollars.

“Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper,” 1897.

While cataloging the McLoughlin picture books I began to give conference presentations on my work, drumming up interest among scholars to come to AAS and use this fascinating visual material. AAS was way ahead of the curve in providing rare book-level access to historical children’s literature, and very few researchers coming to AAS in the 1980s and 1990s came to work specifically with children’s books. I had to both build the intellectual infrastructure and promote the material. While writing one conference presentation about the portrayal of the picture book Cinderella in nineteenth-century America, I discovered that this popular tale was produced by McLoughlin among a number of series simultaneously (including the Cinderella Series) and at a variety of price points. Cinderella also provided a key way into exploring developments in McLoughlin’s use of illustration technologies, from wood engraving to zinc etching and eventually chromolithography. I was learning to navigate the world of McLoughlin on a number of levels!

Left: “Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper,” ca.1858. Right: Detail from image in “Puss in Boots. Cinderella. Little Red Riding Hood.,” ca. 1895. The switch from hand-coloring to chromolithography can be seen in these two images.

Enter AAS member George King Fox (1937–2017). Elected in 2005, George had a direct family connection to McLoughlin Brothers: both his father, George Marshall Fox, and his grandfather George Albert Fox worked as executives for the McLoughlin line of Milton Bradley. Having grown up in Springfield, Massachusetts, near the Milton Bradley plant, George King Fox moved west to California to pursue his passion of alpine skiing. He eventually convinced his father to move to San Francisco and donate his children’s book collection, which included many picture books from the McLoughlin business archives, to the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL). I met George King Fox shortly after his election to AAS membership, and we spoke briefly about our respective McLoughlin Brothers collections. Several years later I received a phone call from George inviting me to San Francisco to give a lecture on the history of McLoughlin Brothers in conjunction with the first major exhibition of his father’s collection at SFPL since its donation in 1978. I was given a magnificent opportunity to put together all the bits of information about McLoughlin that I had acquired over some twenty-five years of cataloging these picture books, and I embraced the assignment! Using my old friend Cinderella, I worked with my colleague AAS Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes to pinpoint when McLoughlin Brothers started to switch over from hand-coloring to machine-color printing, which turned out to be about 1867. Between my memory of how the picture books looked and Lauren’s technical expertise, we made a great discovery little documented in the history of illustration!

“Cenicentilla, ó, El Escarpin de Cristal,” published by D. Appleton & Co., manufactured by McLoughlin Brothers, 1864.

Once in San Francisco, I took a look at the George Marshall Fox Collection and realized that the collection contained material filling gaps in the AAS collection and that I needed to dig into it. Thanks to the hospitality of George and his partner, Dorothea Preus, I was able to return to San Francisco several more times to mine the riches of the Fox Collection, which is a wonderful resource. In the course of my research with the collection, I discovered that McLoughlin manufactured Spanish-language picture books for seeming rival D. Appleton & Company. The business records apparently don’t survive for either firm, so the only way of discovering the relationship was through examining the books themselves.

When Lauren Hewes and I were approached by members of the Grolier Club to submit a proposal for an exhibition on McLoughlin Brothers, we knew that we had the material and the knowledge to write on McLoughlin’s seminal place in the business of picture book publishing. I am absolutely thrilled that I was able to do the research and select the material that tells this long untold tale, and that this story is so beautifully documented in our exhibition catalogRadiant with Color & Art: McLoughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books, 1858–1920. Like Cinderella, I got to go to the ball after many years of hard work. The exhibition will be on view at the Grolier Club (47 E. 60th St., New York) through February 3. Please consider coming to the public reception for the exhibition on Tuesday, January 23, at 2:30 p.m.

Designing McLoughlin: Finding Inspiration for the Exhibition Catalog

1898 McLoughlin Brothers publisher’s catalog

When we were faced with the challenge of designing the catalog for the McLoughlin Brothers exhibition at the Grolier Club in New York in-house, the task seemed a bit overwhelming at first. The collection material featured was already so lively and engaging. But the answer quickly became clear when we began creating a plan for the recently published catalog—use the firm’s own work for inspiration.

The Society holds the archival collection of the McLoughlin Brothers firm, which was assembled by former McLoughlin vice president Charles Ernest Miller in the twentieth century. The archive includes drawings, watercolors, proofs, print samples, correspondence, and original manuscripts, as well as order forms, catalogs, and price lists. We were drawn to the firm’s publisher’s catalogs (as seen in a sample page here), which proved to be the inspiration for our own.

Catalogs as Inspiration

Endpapers of new catalog featuring a McLoughlin Brothers publisher’s catalog from1871

In our publication, Radiant with Color & Art: McLoughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books, 18581920, we wanted to create a layout with elements that hinted at these past publisher’s catalogs, so we incorporated parts of their design—size, double bars at the top of the page, a similar font style, and margins—into the whole of the modern one. We also liked the organized structure of the catalogs produced from the 1870s through the 1940s, as well as the saturated color palette of the artwork in the later copies, which made them inviting to flip through. We even reproduced pieces of the original catalogs where there was available space, such as on the endpapers (see above), which feature the firm’s publisher’s catalog from about 1871.

McLoughlin Brothers publisher’s catalog from 1946

Once a basic layout had been decided, including the spacing, columns, and so on, we incorporated the photographs of the collection items taken by our staff photographer, Nikki Grdinich. At this point we also began focusing on the use of color in our catalog’s final design and narrowing down choices for cover artwork. The firm had a practice of “putting color on every page,”[1] so in homage, we put it on every spread; this gave us the opportunity to showcase some of our favorite items and to incorporate the vibrant colors of the firm’s later catalogs, such as this one from 1946.

However, matching “McLoughlin red,” a bright shade of scarlet found in many of the firm’s publications, proved problematic as it varied over the decades the firm was in business and in some cases by what the products were printed on (linen or paper). One thing that remained consistent was that it was vibrant. We used it on both the cover and introductory pages to sections of the catalog. The sampling of images included in our catalog seen below show some of the variations.

Another challenge in the design process was the great variety of types of items we needed to illustrate. They ranged from archival watercolors to block illustrations, shaped toy books to inexpensively made pamphlets, and board games to ABC and picture books. Looking through the archival collection of catalogs for inspiration on how to make these items work with each other, it seemed that McLoughlin wanted the viewer to easily make comparisons between texts. As we liked this strategy of comparison, we employed it in our design as well, such as in the section about “McLoughlin Brothers and Its Competitors” (seen here), which gives side-by-side comparisons of originals done by McLoughlin’s competitors and the pirated copies done by McLoughlin.

We also liked the font on the McLoughlin publisher’s device (two owls with the motto “Educate-Amuse”) and found that the font family Myriad would complement it. Throughout the catalog we also used small caps of Myriad for the san serif (as well as in the captions); we combined this with Minion as the serif typeface for the body text. These two fonts work together and seemed to fit the criterion of educating and amusing!

The final catalog is an upright, perfect-bound paperback of 144 pages; the trim-size is the same as a McLoughlin catalog produced in the 1910 to 1919 decade.

Printing the Catalog

The press used to print the catalog at Puritan Capital’s print shop

When it came to the actual printing of the catalog, we relied on the expertise of the sales representative and project manager at Puritan Capital, Richard Denzer. Puritan Capital, located in Hollis, New Hampshire, is well known to cultural institutions for printing fine art books and museum catalogs. Our catalog, done in 4/color process, was produced in their print shop on their 28 x 40-inch Komori Lithrone S40 Press. As we had requested to have 750 copies printed (a relatively short print-run), Denzer assured us this press would maintain the high print quality we desired of the finished product in a cost-effective way. “We chose the Komori Lithrone to print the catalog because it ends up being much more efficient price-wise to offset print the project, as opposed to producing it digitally on our HP Indigo press,” Denzer explained. “We also have a lot more control in regard to managing the color images with offset printing. Digital printing is great for a lot of things, but when it comes to art books, color reproduction can be less stable and less consistent.”

Sorting through the rounds of proofs

Denzer delivered two rounds of loose proofs (for color) from the prepress department at Puritan, as well as a composite proof (for layout). We reviewed them, comparing the illustrations with the original artwork and making notations on individual pages that needed corrections.

When we received the final copies of the exhibition catalog a few weeks ago, the first question upon opening the box was whether we achieved our version of “McLoughlin red.” We compared our Pantone formula guide—a fan-deck tool we used throughout the process for specific color and printing accuracy—against the color block on the cover. It was spot on.

Matching the “McLoughlin Red”

Design can be a solitary activity. But for this catalog, there was nothing isolated about it—from working with curators Lauren Hewes and Laura Wasowicz to receiving feedback from editor Kayla Hopper to having conversations with other designers, such as AAS member Ingrid Jeppson Mach (elected 2008), who provided invaluable advice in the final stages of design. There was also input from the Society’s managers. Indeed, there were lots of voices. The entire team felt great pride when we finally opened those boxes from the printer (complete with the glee of the new book smell!). We hope you enjoy working your way through the catalog as much as we did laying it out and designing it.

Copies of the catalog can be purchased onsite at AAS and the Grolier Club or for shipping through Oak Knoll.

[1] Radiant with Color & Art, p. 61.

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. To see the full list, please visit our recent scholarship page on the AAS website. If your book, article, or other achievement is not included, just let us know if you’d like to see it there!


D’Alessandro, Michael. “George Lippard’s ‘Theatre of Hell’: Apocalyptic Melodrama and Working-Class Spectatorship in Quaker City.” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 5.2 (2017):205-237. (CHAViC Fellow, 2012-13)

Garcia, John J. “‘He Hath Ceased to Be a Citizen’: Stephen Burroughs, Late Loyalists, Lower Canada.” Early American Literature 52.3 (2017): 591-618. (Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, 2015-2016)

Harvey, Sean. “Colonial Indigenous Language Encounters in the Americas and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World.” Co-authored with Sarah Rivett. Early American Studies 15.2 (2017) 442-473. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2010-11)

Hunter, Christoper A. “William Smith’s Catonian Loyalism, Race, and the Politics of Language.” Early American Literature 52.3 (2017): 531-558. (Reese Fellow, 2012-2013)

Pope, Justin. “Inventing an Indian Slave Conspiracy in Nantucket, 1738.” Early American Studies 15.3 (2017): 505-538. (Legacy Fellow, 2016-17)

Roy, Michaël. “The Vanishing Slave: Publishing the Narrative of Charles Ball, from Slavery in the United States (1836) to Fifty Years in Chains (1858).” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 111.4 (2017): 513-545. (d’Héricourt Fellow, 2013-14)

Zuba, Clayton. “Apess’s Eulogy on King Philip and the Politics of Native Visualcy.” Early American Literature 52.3 (2017): 651-678. (CHAViC Fellow, 2015-2016)


Bramen, Carrie Tirado. American Niceness: A Cultural History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017. (NEMLA Fellow, 2009-10)

Kiechle, Melanie. Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Nineteenth-Century Urban America. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2014-15)

Rozga, Margaret  Pestiferous Questions: A Life in Poems. Lit Fest Press, 2017. (Baron Fellow, 2014)

Roy, Michaël. Textes fugitifs. Le récit d’esclave au prisme de l’histoire du livre [Fugitive Texts: Slave Narratives in Antebellum Print Culture]. Lyon: ENS Editions, 2017. (d’Héricourt Fellow, 2013-14)

Smith, Steven C. Empire of Print: The New York Publishing Trade in the Early American Republic. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017. (Reese Fellow, 2011-12)

An American at an 1820 German Christmas

The trappings of an American Christmas have become as familiar as one’s own family—lights and trees, Santa Claus and reindeer, food and good cheer. That hasn’t always been the case, of course. The Puritans, for one, simply banned Christmas in the New World. Stemming from pagan celebrations of the harvest and the winter solstice, the Christmas season had historically been a time for inverting the social order, featuring a rowdy carnival atmosphere of mobs, alcohol, and excess. Even when, later in the eighteenth century, American Protestants began to celebrate Christmas once more, it looked very different from our Christmas today—many chose to retain the elements of public disorder and excess, while others called for moderation and piety.

An 1882 book featuring Irving’s Christmas stories, “Old Christmas: From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving,” published in London.

But by the early 1820s, the seeds of our modern, domestic version of Christmas had begun to be planted. In the late eighteen-teens, several Boston ministers, mostly of the Universalist and Unitarian variety, joined Episcopalians and Catholics in offering Christmas Day services. Though the religious focus of Christmas saw its heyday in these years, Christmas as a cultural phenomenon was just beginning. In January 1820, Washington Irving, in his The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (which included the soon-to-be classics “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”) published several nostalgic stories describing how Christmas was still celebrated in the “old” way in England. The Sketch Book was incredibly popular, and these stories, along with Irving’s earlier depictions of Saint Nicholas (though as a patron saint of Dutch New York with no attachment to Christmas)in his satirical A History of New York, served as one of the inspirations for Irving’s friend Clement Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Within a few years that poem would be the smash hit it continues to be to this day, and is largely responsible for the association of St. Nicholas with Christmas.[1]

Likewise, in 1820 America almost no one had heard of a Christmas tree. Though they would become common within a couple of decades, all of that was in the future when a young Massachusetts man visited the home of a baron in Berlin, Germany, to celebrate Christmas Eve. George Bancroft, who would become the preeminent American historian of his generation, witnessed the relatively new German ritual centered around the Christmas tree in the house of the renowned jurist Baron Friedrich Karl von Savigny. Writing home to his parents in Worcester, Massachusetts, on December 30, 1820, Bancroft describes a scene both magical and moving:

Beginning of Bancroft’s Dec. 30, 1820, letter. From the George Bancroft Papers.

Christmas is kept in Germany as the most sacred & cheerful festival. On the eve preceding it the general custom prevails of making presents to one another. The parents, be they poor or rich have a Christmas gift for each of their children. The circumstances attending the evening donations are exceedingly moving. Mrs. de Savigny had invited me to spend the evening at her house, & this gave me a chance of seeing the whole of the beautiful domestic scene. A little evergreen tree, the top or branch of a fir tree is always placed in the centre of the room, & hung full of little wax candles. This is done in every house; in the houses of the rich with greater profusion of lights. The tree is generally loaded with sweetmeats & gift apples, which glitter charmingly amidst the candles. The children are long before hand full of the joy that awaits them at Christmas, and are perfectly happy at receiving these pleasing tokens of parental affection. No festival is looked forward to with such longing expectation, & none celebrated with such sincerity of joy – On reaching the house of Baron Savigny I found the children assembled in the antechamber, and waiting with uncertain expectation the presents destined for them. The parents were busy in arranging the tables, kindling the lights, & preparing all things in the saloon. At length the signal was given; the Baron rang the merry bell, & the folding doors were thrown open. A bright blaze of light burst upon our eyes. In the centre of a large table a fine branch of fir & two smaller ones on the right & left were filled with little tapers, the splendor of which inspired gladness into the hearts of children & men. A Geranium on each side of the larger fir was another emblem of immortality with it’s [sic] perpetual freshness & fragrance. We all hastened into the apartment. First came the infant son: he found his presents spread on a table, so low that he could reach them. The other children followed & rejoiced loudly at finding the very books, clothes, playthings, they had long been wishing for. The parents had their good things too, which their elder relations had sent them. I too found a plate loaded with good things for me, apples, burnt almonds, and sweetmeats. At length curiosity was satisfied: each had found his own treasures & examined those of his neighbours. The tapers on the “Christ’s tree” were extinguished, the halls lit up as usually, & while the young ones still continued amusing themselves with their newly acquired playthings, the elder part of the company withdrew to the tea table, and began an interesting conversation on the wise & great men, whom Germany had produced in later years.

Though the types of gifts are somewhat different, and it was the custom to have just the top of a fir on a table rather than an entire tree, it’s easy to see the connections between this German Christmas in 1820 and ours today. “No festival is looked forward to with such longing expectation, & none celebrated with such sincerity of joy,” and food, candy, presents, lights, and a focus on children are all hallmarks of the celebration Bancroft describes.

That Bancroft would be witness to such a ceremony when Christmas in America was still nascent was suiting in that his father, Aaron Bancroft, was among the Protestant ministers in Massachusetts who tried to resurrect Christmas as an observed holy day in the eighteen-teens. Aaron Bancroft was a Congregational minister in Worcester and held services on Christmas Day from at least 1816 to 1818. Among the congregants was AAS founder Isaiah Thomas, who in his diary for 1816 noted, “Rev. Dr. Bancroft preached a Christmas Sermon at West-boylston, by request.” In 1817 Thomas’s Christmas Day again included a “Sermon preached by Dr. Bancroft at his Church.” And on Christmas Day 1818, Thomas “Went to Church. Sermon at Dr. Bancroft’s Meeting. Dined with many other Gentlemen with the Sheriff, at Sikes’s—a handsome dinner and a very respectable Company.” Bancroft had this last sermon published as The Doctrine of Immortality: A Christmas Sermon.

By the late 1830s and into the 1840s, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, the nativity, and presents had all become mainstays of a new domestic American Christmas (though an excess of alcohol, food, and good cheer, of course, has never fully disappeared from the Christmas landscape). But in his 1820 German Christmas, Bancroft unwittingly got a glimpse of what Christmases would soon be like in his own homeland. It leads one to wonder how his father, who had tried to spur observance of the holiday, reacted to the description, and if both Bancrofts, in later years, ever remarked on how quickly that Christmas, the likes of which George had obviously never seen, became commonplace in America.

[1] For a full treatment of how Christmas changed in American from European settlement through the nineteenth century, see Stephen Nissenbaum’s The Battle For Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday (New York: Vintage Books, 1996).

Identifying the Unidentified

Kathleen Major has been volunteering in the Manuscripts Department at AAS for several years. She worked at AAS from 1976 to 1984 and was Keeper of Manuscripts for a portion of that time. After leaving the Society to care for her children, Kathy worked at the Gale Free Library in Holden, most recently as head of technical services, until her retirement in 2014.

A large number of unidentified diaries have been purchased by or donated to AAS in the last several years, and it’s been a fun challenge for those of us cataloging manuscripts to attempt to identify the diarists by searching for any clues that might spoil the anonymity of the writers. We can then move the diaries to the identified category, thus making them more accessible to researchers.

Two such diarists were recently exposed through evidence offered to us in the journals via references to the given names of siblings and cousins, possible locations, and occupations. These clues were then fed into ancestry.com and other websites. A gift of the Uxbridge Free Public Library has now been identified as the diary of Frederick Taft (1759-1846), covering the period 1837 to 1843. A Revolutionary War veteran, Taft was a prominent member of the Uxbridge community and was a prosperous farmer and cranberry grower. He was a distant ancestor of President William Howard Taft.

A greater challenge was an unidentified diary from 1817, given to AAS by member Ross W. Beales Jr. (elected 1982). After quite a bit of digging and using the process of elimination concerning references to nearby towns, siblings’ first names, and, finally, a reference to “cousin Wheeler,” I determined that the diarist was Claudius Wheeler (1790-1863). Wheeler was the son of a prosperous merchant and farmer who had also served in the Revolutionary Army. What is especially interesting about the diary is Wheeler’s reference to Conradt Burghardt, who owned the mill that processed Wheeler’s wood in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Knowing that the sociologist, historian, and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) was from Great Barrington and that the “B” in his name stands for Burghardt, we were able to determine, following additional research, that Conradt Burghardt’s Dutch colonial ancestors, also named Conradt, had been the owners of a slave named Thomas, who assumed the Burghardt surname and settled in Great Barrington as a freeman after serving in the Continental Army. He was the great-great grandfather of W.E.B. DuBois, although the diary does not appear to have any references to the “black Burghardts” of Great Barrington (DuBois’s grandfather, Othello Burghardt, was living in the town in 1817).

It is always very rewarding to find the key that will unlock the anonymity of these diarists, especially when the result becomes a piece in the puzzle of another story.

A “Sour” Construction Surprise

Progress on the new addition to Antiquarian Hall has been moving steadily over the past few months. Collections have been moved for protection, windows abutting the new addition have been boarded for safety, and these days you may even see staff and readers with ear plugs in the reading room, still hard at work despite the intermittent interruptions. And just last week, the steel beams have finally arrived and passersby can now see the frame starting to take shape.

One of our favorite unexpected developments during the construction process, however, was the discovery of these Old Crow Sour Mash bottles, which were dug up during excavation for the foundation of the project. Founded in 1835, the Frankfort, Kentucky, distillery produced hundreds of barrels of bourbon whiskey each year, which was said to be favored by Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain. Based on the label design and construction features, these bottles have been dated to the early 1900s and so were likely deposited there during the construction of Society’s library building from 1909 to 1912.

The bottles are also marked with the name and address of George F. Hewett Co., a liquor and water bottler located in Worcester from 1860 to at least 1915. Like many New England towns, Worcester was home to many bottling companies over the years. These firms sold and refilled glass containers for everything from milk to soda water. Standing orders for beverages, including liquor, soda, and seltzers, were delivered to customers by horse cart and empties were hauled away.

Detail of a chromolithograph, “Coburn, Lang & Co. Manufacturers of Soda & Mineral Water… No. 100 Worcester St. Boston,” published in Boston, 1870s.

A view of the construction of Antiquarian Hall in 1910.

Finding the bottles intact was thrilling for the work crew and staff at the library. The bottles have now been cataloged and are housed safely inside the stacks. They are a reminder of the crews of workmen who built the Society’s library building before the days of modern backhoes and jack hammers and, after a hard day’s labor, may have sat at the job site and passed a bottle of Kentucky bourbon around.