The Acquisitions Table: An Unidentified Printing Office by Photographer C.P. Michael

The Society’s collection of photographs of working print shops continues to expand (see blog posts on this topic from 2014 and 2017). Most of the photographs feature businesses in New England, New York, or Pennsylvania. This newly acquired photo, showing a tidy shop with a ca. 1882 Hoe flatbed newspaper press, was taken in Nebraska. The city of Norfolk, where the photographer was based, was founded in 1866 by German farmers from Wisconsin. The first newspaper, The Norfolk Journal, was printed in 1877 and by 1879 the town was connected to the railroad.

The mount is stamped with the name C.P. Michael, who had a photo studio in Norfolk in the 1890s. Around 1900 he made a series of interior views of businesses in Madison County, including a bank, a general store and a barber shop, all on identical mounts (copies in the Nebraska Historical Society). While this photo was acquired primarily for the details of the shop interior, research once the piece arrived in Worcester revealed more about Michael.

In 1903, the photographer was active as a member of the International Reform Society (a temperance and moral reform organization). Local reports of him threatening news dealers in Fremont with legal action for selling novels and periodicals like The Police Gazette and Vanity Fair appeared in the Norfolk papers. In his defense, Michael stated that the society was “determined to stamp out blood and thunder literature, stories of crime and immoral and sensational publications, to the best of its ability.”

Conservation of a Fragmentary Early Menagerie Poster

In advance of my summer work placement at the American Antiquarian Society, I discussed a slate of proposed activities with Chief Conservator Babette Gehnrich while in New York City. On their list was a housing project for manuscripts, standardized treatments of broadsides, and an introduction to digitization workflows for the Society’s collections. “Also,” she mentioned at the end of our conversation, “I have a poster to work on. Perhaps you might be interested in assisting with that? It’s large, so we will be able to maintain social distancing!”

“Of course,” I said, thinking it might be at most the requisite six feet in length for recommended social distancing.

Not long after my arrival in Worcester, followed by a 14-day quarantine in the charming Montvale Cottage,[1] I saw the poster in the flesh. It sat in a pile of folded and tattered fragments (Figure 1). A note perched on top of the heap read, “Preservation Needed.” Babette explained to me that the poster awaited the completion of the new conservation lab; its dimensions were thought to exceed those of the old lab’s equipment.

Figure 1: The poster as it was formerly stored at the American Antiquarian Society, awaiting treatment. Photo: Lauren Hewes.

As we removed the fragments from the box, tigers, lion tamers, and large birds emerged. Typefaces of all kinds declared fantastic attractions: “King of the Vultures,” an orchestra containing fourteen musicians, and large cats “as docile as any of the domestic animals.” The printer’s name, Jared W. Bell, was clearly visible on what remained of the bottom edge (Figure 2). To our surprise, none of the large horizontal strips of the poster connected to one another. We estimated that the fragments comprised approximately fifty percent of a poster measuring about six feet wide and twelve feet tall. Only one smaller fragment, a very large “R” and the top of the elephant’s head, connected two of the large fragments (Figure 3).

Figure 2: The largest seven fragments, laid out in their proposed orientation. Photo: Babette Gehnrich.

Figure 3: A composite image of the largest fragments before treatment, in their presumed positions in relation to one another. The grey outline shows the tentative border of the entire poster. Blue lines indicate seams where two sheets overlap. Note the large “R” in the upper right, connecting two large fragments.

We decided that the large sections would be treated and stored as physically separate pieces of the same catalog item. Smaller fragments would also be treated and reattached to one of the larger sections if possible. Also in the box were a number of bundles of densely multi-layered fragments (Figure 4). In the course of advertising on the same building, it was possible that multiple posters could have been pasted over each other.[2] We assumed that each laminated packet probably contained one or two pieces from the menagerie poster and many layers of older ephemera.

Figure 4: Detail of a fragment with multiple adhered layers.

As Babette and Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes discussed the poster’s relative treatment priority, it became obvious that this was a major undertaking, and in demand by scholars. The poster was printed for display on buildings lining the parade route of an early traveling menagerie. Part of an advertising campaign, these posters were not typically saved; the fragments of this particular imprint comprise the only known surviving copy. The American Antiquarian Society acquired the pieces somewhat inadvertently; a dealer would have thrown the pile away, had Hewes not recognized Bell’s work out of the corner of her eye.

The top two largest fragments show two tree trunks bearing the name “J. R. & W. Howe & Co.” J. R. and W. Howe were owners of a traveling menagerie based in New York that toured New England during the 1830s.[3] These menagerie proprietors solicited Jared W. Bell’s printing operation because he was an innovator in the nascent medium of large-scale advertisement.[4] The New York printer had invested the exorbitant sum of $4,000[5] in a steam-powered Napier Cylinder Press, which allowed for significantly increased scale and efficiency. On another large-scale poster in the collection at the Society, Bell boasts alongside his name and business address that his press is “The Largest in the World” (Figure 5). [6]

Figure 5: Another of large menagerie poster printed by Jared W. Bell in the AAS collection, measuring approximately 6.5 feet wide by 9.25 feet tall. Text along the bottom edge (not visible in the digital image) reads: “Printed by Jared W. Bell, Franklin Hall, 17 Ann-Street, on his Improved Napier Cylinder Press, the Largest in the World.”

The poster features woodcuts from multiple artists, including Alfred A. Lansing and Joseph W. Morse.[7] Morse’s contributions included the arching trees and the “Elephant Columbus.” After printing, posters would be shipped in multiple sheets to towns along the menagerie’s route, assembled by an advance man on-site, and posted on the sides of buildings. The poster exhibits yellowed adhesive residue at the seams, as well as possible nail holes, evidence of this history of use (Figure 6).

The goal of conservation treatment was not only to stabilize the material artifact, but also to salvage and reconstruct unique visual information. Research interest in the poster is great; a photograph the lower right corner fragment, which shows a performance in an early circus ring, is already slated for publication.[8] If we needed a timelier motivation for our task, we couldn’t have asked for one; the work of my summer placement was set.

The white rag paper was strong in some areas and unstable in others. Mold had contributed to the breakdown of the fibers and left the sheet tissue-thin and delicate in patches. Overlapping areas of staining indicated that the poster had endured multiple “water events,” that is, periods of partial wetness and dryness (Figure 7). As dirty water containing impurities such as iron and organic debris travels through an absorbent piece of paper, it also solubilizes compounds present in the paper itself. Where the wetness stops, a brown stain or tideline occurs. The poster had been partially wet and dried many times.

Figure 7: The verso of one large section. The cloudy, dark brown lines near the top are indicative of multiple water events. Note the symmetrical pattern of both the lines, and the losses around the edge. This indicates that the sheet was folded when the damage occurred.

As we examined the largest fragments more closely, we discovered remains of overlapping sheets. The largest section was approximately 74 inches in width, with a single vertical seam in the middle. During the initial assessment, we were unable to determine the height of the sheets.

With care, we unfolded the sheets for surface cleaning. The procedure easily removed what appeared to be loosely-adhered, gritty, abrasive dirt, and dust. Powdered eraser crumbs were used in this process, and gently lifted up dirt as they rolled across the surface of the paper (Figure 8).

Figure 8: During surface cleaning. As eraser crumbs are gently rubbed over the surface, the paper appears more uniform in color, and the hazy effect of dust and dirt on the black printing ink is lessened. Photo: Babette Gehnrich.

After surface cleaning, a gentle washing procedure was undertaken. The goals were two-fold: to improve the aesthetic appearance of the paper by reducing staining, and to solubilize and remove acidic byproducts that occur naturally in ageing paper. Luckily, the oil-based printing ink was reliably chemically and physically stable. In the most degraded areas of the print, we found that the ink actually helped hold the paper fibers together.

Due to their extensive complex tears, the fragments were washed by spraying on top of a moisture-permeable sheet of Hollytex, over an absorbent layer of Tek-wipe.[9] These materials ensure a gentle flow of liquid through the sheet, wicking away staining. Spray-washing instead of immersion reduces the chances of accidental damage during handling or unintended distortion in structurally compromised areas. We mixed several liters of a washing solution with a controlled pH and conductivity. This tactic is used to reduce staining overall in paper more effectively than simply washing with deionized water. During washing, the solution released a dramatic flow of deep, rust-colored compounds from the heavily stained areas of the paper (Figure 9). A number of tidelines were reduced.

Figure 9: Babette Gehnrich lifts a section of the poster to inspect the release of discoloration, while Abby Slawik prepares the spray bottle of adjusted water for the next application. Photo: Nathan Fiske.

The results are consistent with the goals described above; legibility of the text and image contents is paramount. The appearance of a brand-new circus poster is not desirable, appropriate, or within the scope of treatment. Had a full restoration of the print been the goal, we would have targeted each stain individually in a more localized procedure and attempted to return the paper to an unstained appearance.

Figure 10: The upper left section, after washing and drying, in raking light. Note the deep horizontal creases.

Curiously, the wet treatment had less of an effect on deep creases in the paper than anticipated. After washing and drying, the paper returned to its crinkled state (Figure 10). The creases had a long memory. Babette and I mused upon the various causes of this. Perhaps they were present when the sheets were originally posted with paste on the side of a house. Perhaps they were from the poster’s second life in a basement or attic, folded and rolled over on itself, as it went through several cycles of wetting and drying over the decades.

After washing the sections, we returned to the smaller fragments. During humidification and delamination, we made a striking discovery: the bundles of laminated paper, crusty with dirt, were from the same poster (Figures 11 and 12). They were not, as originally assumed, layers from other prints, but rather a multitude of jigsaw puzzle pieces belonging to the main poster. We realized that more than fifty percent of the poster had survived as we arranged the smaller pieces (Figure 13). This discovery also threw light on the possible circumstances of the poster’s storage. Fragments were adhered face to face and back to back, from different sections of the poster. The packets appeared to be from areas that had endured multiple cycles of moisture and drying and had become adhered to one another.

Figure 11: Babette Gehnrich lifts the top layer of one fragment to reveal more imagery from the same menagerie poster beneath. Photo: Nathan Fiske.

Figure 12: using a mylar sheet to delaminate a bundle of adhered fragments while wet. Photo: Babette Gehnrich.

Figure 13: Babette Gehnrich places the bandwagon coachman fragment. Photo: Nathan Fiske.

As we uncovered more fragments from the laminated bundles and placed them into position, we were able to reconstruct edges and seams and determine the sheet size. The poster was assembled from three rows of horizontally printed sheets, with a bottom row slightly shorter in height: six 25 inch by 38 inch sheets, with two shorter sheets measuring 18 inches by 38 inches comprising the bottom row. We estimate that the poster measured approximately 6 feet wide and 7.5 feet tall when fully assembled (Figure 14).

Initially, we proposed to line the fragments with a strong tissue. However, as treatment progressed, the delicate state of many areas became more apparent. In addition, the great number of smaller and smaller fragments to be attached meant that the poster was a more complex object than we originally understood. A revision of the original treatment proposed was deemed necessary. Lining would require manipulating these very delicate, complex areas while wet, a risky proposition. Instead, the treatment was modified to simply repair the tears and reattach fragments. Then, housing would be determined based on each fragment’s size. They would be encapsulated in polyester film with a sheet of backing material for added stability.

Figure 14: A composite image of approximate relative positions of fragments during treatment. As smaller fragments were delaminated and washed, they were placed in proximity to their original location, if known. Repairing tears and reattaching pieces with tissue and wheat starch paste is the next phase of treatment, already underway. Blue lines indicate seams where two sheets overlap. The grey grid in the background indicates approximate sheet positions.

As my contribution to the treatment of this early menagerie poster ends, I reflect on the role of the conservator in 2020. One of the greatest privileges of this placement was to learn from the scholarly community of researchers and staff at the American Antiquarian Society. How can I anticipate the questions they might want to answer when investigating objects such as this poster? Advertisements were not meant to survive. Their nail holes and adhesive stains are not damage, but evidence of their original use as ephemeral media. Although impermanent, visual culture in entertainment advertising provides insight to the values of the broader public at the time.

In the course of this treatment, we chose to reduce evidence of the poster’s degradation and poor storage conditions, in favor of making the graphic media more legible and hopefully, prolonging the lifespan of the paper. In this case, the history of degradation and damage is less important than the image contents. But I also wish to acknowledge that even cleaning destroys artifactual information and such decisions should be made intentionally.[10] After all, museums are not neutral, libraries are not neutral, and conservation is not neutral. How might the preservation of one aspect of an artifact obscure its other histories and untold stories? I consider these questions as I continue my education and training in the profession.

I am tremendously grateful to the staff and council of the American Antiquarian Society for allowing me to learn and work during the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to the day when the poster is available for research in the digital catalogue and in the reading room at Antiquarian Hall.


Further Reading:

Wittmann, Matthew. Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010 New York, and New Haven/London: Bard Graduate Center and Yale University Press, 2012.

— “Menageries and Markets.” Common-Place: The Interactive Journal of Early American Life 12, no. 1 (Fall 2011). Accessed August 21, 2020.

Brooks, Mary M., and Dinah Eastop. “Matter Out of Place: Paradigms for Analyzing Textile Cleaning.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 45, (2006): 171-181. Accessed August 21, 2020.

Rogers, Kory W. “Shelburne Museum’s Colchester Posters and Circus Advertising.” In The American Circus, edited by Susan Weber, Kenneth L. Ames, and Matthew Wittmann, 136-151. New York and New Haven/London: Bard Graduate Center and Yale University Press, 2012.

Abigail Slawik is an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow in Library and Archives Conservation, beginning her second year in the dual MS/MA program in Art Conservation and Art History at the Conservation Center in the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. She received her BFA in Studio Art also from NYU, and completed conservation internships at the Minnesota Historical Society and KCI Conservation, a private art conservation firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The author would like to extend special gratitude to Chief Curator and Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes, Photographer and Media Producer Nathan Fiske, Digital Expeditor Amanda Kondek, and Chief Conservator Babette Gehnrich for their particular insights and generosity during the course of her summer placement.

All photographs and graphics by the author except where otherwise noted.

[1] Address 0 Montvale Road, not recognized by Google maps and, therefore, problematic to even the most intrepid pizza delivery drivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

[2] For an account of the removal of several layers of circus posters from the side of a house in Colchester, Vermont, see Kory W. Rogers, “Shelburne Museum’s Colchester Posters and Circus Advertising,” in The American Circus, ed. Susan Weber, Kenneth L. Ames, and Matthew Wittmann (New York and New Haven/London: Bard Graduate Center and Yale University Press, 2012), 136-151.

[3] Matthew Wittmann, Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010 (New Haven and London: Bard Graduate Center and Yale University Press, 2012), 36-37.

[4] Wittmann, Circus and the City, 36.

[5] According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, this amount is equivalent to approximately $110,000 in 2020.

[6] Quote transcribed from a reproduction of the same poster in the collection of the Shelburne Museum, Wittmann, Circus and the City, 108.

[7] Readers interested in a discussion of another of Bell’s circus posters in the American Antiquarian Society’s collection will find detailed technical information in Matthew Wittman’s article “Menageries and Markets,” Common-Place: The Interactive Journal of Early American Life 12, no. 1 (Fall 2011)., including discussion of the development of large-scale wooden type, innovations in wood engraving in the early 19th century, and Bell’s steam-powered Napier Cylinder Press.

[8] The image shows an early circus attraction in the ring: a “Dandy Jack,” or monkey trained to perform tricks while riding a pony or horse, Wittmann, Circus and the City, 28.

[9] For an inventory of these and other materials and tools in common use in book and paper conservation, see the American Institute for Conservation’s WIKI resource:,_Equipment,_and_Tools.

[10] For a consideration of paradigms of cleaning in textile conservation, see Mary M. Brooks and Dinah Eastop, “Matter Out of Place: Paradigms for Analyzing Textile Cleaning,” in the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 45 (2006), 171-181.


Navigating the Book Trades Manuscripts with the First AAS Seiler Intern

This summer, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I was given the immense privilege to be the first Seiler Curatorial Intern at the American Antiquarian Society. Even through uncertain times, the Society and my supervisor Ashley Cataldo, Curator of Manuscripts, advocated for my internship and was able to offer me a blended virtual and in-person experience.

As someone who is at the very beginning of their career, I was not entirely sure what to expect when I first arrived (with mask on) to Antiquarian Hall. I had no idea just how incredible and vast the collection was, especially the book trades manuscript collection, one of the largest collections of book trades history in the United States. As an intern, my goal coming in was to soak up as much experience and information as I could, while also contributing to the overall mission of AAS, with a focus on accessibility. With the help of Ashley, I was able to take on a new project, on which I compiled all the manuscript book trades items into a complete, comprehensible web page.

My journey with working in this collection started with a few key manuscripts that really highlight the assortment of resources that the book trades manuscripts can offer to scholars. These manuscripts (as well as the collection as a whole) can provide bridges in the gaps of the archive by representing underrepresented voices like women and African Americans and give all of us a deeper understanding of our past.

These manuscripts also allow us to see connections within our own local community that we may have never seen before. The Whittemore collection is a perfect illustration of how the book trades intertwine with the Worcester community, including AAS. One of the local discoveries I found in the collections were John and Clark Whittemore, binders working in the Leicester, MA, area with had deep connections with the bookbinding industry in central Massachusetts. I worked to catalog nine account books in total as part of the Whittemore collection. I was surprised to find that not only did Clark Whittemore work with Isaiah Thomas, the founder of American Antiquarian Society, but also his son Isaiah Thomas Jr. At this time, Isaiah Thomas Jr. was helping with his father’s book store and bindery, even though he was kept at a distance because of his poor business skills. For this reason, Thomas’ son never really took over the family business, but these accounts prove that he was not exempt from participating at this time. It’s extremely exciting to see that these account books show the interconnected relationships between book binders in Worcester, Massachusetts, at the time.

Before coming to AAS, I didn’t understand how an account book from this time period could give such incredible insight, but these ledgers and waste-books prove to be an important piece of the book trades puzzle. They allow us to see the day to day, sometimes mundane transactions, as well as how much people were paid for their labor, and what titles or authors were most popular at the time. The book trades manuscripts aren’t just for bibliophiles, they give insight into popular culture, trends in labor and can inevitably show a holistic view of American life. Overall, these accounts prove that binders were part of a larger community, one that the American Antiquarian Society has deep roots in.

The importance of the account book again proves itself in one of the first objects I worked with and cataloged: the Ticknor and Fields account book, from the late 1850s in Boston. At first glance, it may look like any other binder’s account book, but, upon further inspection, it reveals itself as a valuable piece into how gender specifically played a role in the book trades collection. The account book actually has the names of twenty-nine different women book binders who worked on Ticknor and Fields titles. Some authors mentioned include the poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Alfred Lord Tennyson. A book entitled White Horse by Thomas Hughes also seems to have been one of the most popular titles of the time as it pops up on almost every page.

Women surprisingly played an absolutely vital role in book binding in the mid-nineteenth century. It was believed that because of their slenderer hands they could fold and sew faster than a man. Not to mention, sewing was already considered women’s work. Not only were they faster, but because they were women, they could be paid significantly less than a man. By the middle part of the century, binderies were employing hundreds of women to do work at a reduced cost. Although they were prevalent in this time it is rare still to find actual accounts of their work with their names attached. This account book gives us insight into how much the women were actually paid for work and can prove that the underpaying of women based solely on gender is embedded in almost every profession in the United States. I was especially happy to be able to bring this manuscript to life and make it an accessible piece for scholars to do more research with.

One of the main through lines in my experience here at AAS has been to shed light on, and make more accessible items written by or about women, African Americans, or indigenous groups. My favorite manuscript item, so far, that I researched and cataloged has been an autographed copy of a sermon by Lemuel Haynes.

Haynes was one of the most significant African Americans of his time. Born in 1753 in Connecticut to an evangelical family and used the Bible to improve his literacy. He then served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, which then inspired his anti-slavery essay “Liberty Further Extended” calling for immediate emancipation; the essay is the earliest known work by an African American that attacks the institution of slavery. Haynes then went on to study theology and is believed to have been the first African American to become an ordained minister in the new United States of America. He then moved to Vermont to be a preacher where many of his sermons would become famous.

Delivered in 1805, this sermon in particular was a response to the dangers of universal salvation, one of the biggest theological debates among the ministry in this time. Shortly after the sermon was given, Haynes wrote it out in this manuscript copy for it to be published that same year by William Fessenden. This is one of only three manuscript copes of sermons written in Hayne’s own hand. It marks one of the most important shifts in religious thought in the United States, and serves to show us Haynes’ original thought before it went through the editorial process to be published. This manuscript, in my opinion, is one of the most valuable things at AAS. It is now searchable in the library’s catalog and I think will prove an exceptionally important piece for researchers. Something as simple as a manuscript version of a published sermon, part of the book trades for that reason, can provide us a more complete history of our country.

At the time in which I am writing this, we are not only going through a pandemic, but also the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement. It is especially important during this politically charged time to recognize that the way in which we collect and preserve history directly affects how we understand it. This internship has taught me that archives are meaningful and that being a part of them is an act of social responsibility that I (and my colleagues in the field) must take very seriously. By taking a closer look into a collection, like the book trades, we can recognize injustice in our past and begin to move into a more equitable future.

Please click the following link to learn more about the AAS Book Trades Manuscripts.

2020 Seiler Intern Ashley Tooke is a first year Dual Degree Master’s student in History and Archives Management at Simmons University, where she plans to research the history of visual print culture and it’s intersections with medicine in America. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Early American Literature from University of North Texas, and worked as a bookseller for 3 years in both Boston and DC before beginning her graduate work.

Artists in the AAS Archive: September 2020

This week we continue our Artists in the AAS Archive series.  This installment offers a spotlight on four more past fellows: book artist Maureen Cummins; performer-scholar Anne Harley; playwright and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher; and playwright and performer Laurie McCants.

This series celebrates the 25th anniversary of Artist fellowships at the American Antiquarian Society.  More information about these programs may be found at the following:

Maureen Cummins


The month that I spent at AAS came at a pivotal time in my career as an artist. When I arrived at AAS, I was in my early thirties and experimenting with altering pages of books that I found in antique shops, flea markets, and dumpsters. Being allowed into the treasure trove that AAS represented was, for me, a nerd’s dream come true. Naturally, though, it was not an option to overprint, burn, or alter the precious books that I handled in the reading room, so being in residence pushed me to think about new ways to work with historical imagery and text. Ultimately, I ended up finding ways to reproduce the materials I found, which also led to editioning and making more books for a larger collector base. Since that original visit in 2001, I have returned to AAS repeatedly, and created three more projects based on the collections. 

One object that influenced an entire project was a mezzotint print of a Native American skull with a bullet through it. The image was from Samuel Morton’s infamous book, Crania Americana, a racist, faux-scientific text which set out to prove the “inferiority” of Native peoples. The prints in the book were so fine and exquisite, so lovingly created and beautifully crafted, that when I learned what the book was about, it disturbed me for days. I wanted to apologize for what this man had done. A title came to me, spontaneously: Anthro(A)pology.I spent the next ten years gathering similar racist images from historical text books, many of which I also found at AAS, in geography books and primers for children, but it was that haunting Morton image that originally got me thinking, and feeling. 

Other excerpts of the works Divide and Suffering by Cummins:

Maureen Cummins was born in 1963 and is a native New Yorker. She graduated with a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art, where she studied printmaking and book arts. In 1993, following a series of apprenticeships with master printers and binders in New York and California, Cummins established her own printshop/studio in a nineteenth-century packing box factory in Brooklyn. 

Since that time, she has produced over twenty-five limited-edition artist’s books. Her work is held in over one hundred permanent public collections internationally and has been included in exhibitions at the American Craft Museum, the Zimmerli Art Museum, the Rotunda Gallery, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Art Complex Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum. Cummins has received over a dozen grants and awards and has been an artist-in-residence at numerous venues, including the American Antiquarian Society and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. 


Anne Harley

Anne Harley received a Fellowship for Creative and Performing Artists and Writers at the American Antiquarian Society in 2012. The sound clips presented below are of  Harley singing “The Morning is Up” and “Hail Columbia.” She is accompanied by Olav Chris Henriksen on guitar and Na’ama Lion on flute, both playing historic period instruments. These songs were recorded in Antiquarian Hall in May of 2015.

All three performers also presented a public concert entitled “‘Mild Melodious Maze’: Songs and Instrumental Music from Early America (1770-1830)” on Thursday, May 21, 2015, as part of the Society’s series of free public programs. This musical program celebrated some of the over 70,000 musical scores in the Society’s collections of American music and featured political songs of the Early Republic, shape note and Shaker tunes, popular hits from imported English stage shows, and the strains of the first art music composed on American soil.

Anne Harley is a prize-winning Canadian performer-scholar, director and educator based in Claremont, CA. She specializes in performing and recording music from challenging and groundbreaking contemporary composers, as well as researching and recording music from early oral and written traditions in Europe, North America and Russia. Her solo performances are available on Hänssler Profil, Naxos, Sony Classics, Canteloupe, Musica Omnia, einKlang and BMOP/sound, among others.

Harley is recognized internationally as a specialist in contemporary classical music and extended voice techniques. Over the course of the last two decades, she has premiered, performed and recorded works by contemporary composers Evan Ziporyn, John Adams, Ralf Gawlick, Lee Hoiby, Louis Andriessen, Peter Eotvös and John Harbison, Jodi Goble, Christine Southworth, Moshe Shulman, Yii Kah Hoe and Chaipruck Mekara, among others. In 2012, she founded the new music project Voices Of The Pearl, which transmits, in newly commissioned song cycles, texts by and about female spiritual practitioners from all world traditions. She also performs internationally in the area of historically informed performance, in medieval, baroque, early American, early Russian and Russian Roma music. She leads the pioneering early Russian music ensemble, TALISMAN with Dr. Oleg Timofeyev.

Since 2009, she is on faculty at Scripps College (Claremont, CA), teaching voice, music history and interdisciplinary humanities and in 2015, became Chair of the Music Department.


Jeffrey Hatcher

I came to the American Antiquarian Society in the Fall of 1995 to research and write a play called Sockdology about the actors who were in Our American Cousin the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater. I didn’t know quite what to expect when I arrived, what the AAS routines and rhythms would be. Most of the other fellows were engaged in research of a more traditional kind, or at least for more traditional kinds of projects: books, studies, etc.

As an artist fellow, there was something exotic about my presence, although I find nothing exotic about a playwright writing for the theater. Within days the rhythm of the place had asserted itself: coming in at 9:00, putting one’s things in the locker, the soft pencil and paper, the requests made on cards. There was information to be had, but some of the richest discoveries were in the realm of the atmospheric: programs, posters, the kind of typeface and coloring used in playbills and flyers; the ways in which actors, composers, and yes, playwrights, presented themselves in the 19th century.

Writers look for dates, facts, quotes, all vitally important, especially when working on a piece of dramatic invention based on fact. But there is as much or more inspiration in a handbill advertising a final performance or an advertisement using the image of an actor to sell a product. All this: the style of the time, its flair, its excesses and demurrals, make up the soil and seed from which a book, a play, a poem, a film script, may grow. I loved my month in Worcester at the American Antiquarian Society. Would that I could do it again.

Jeffrey Hatcher is an American playwright and screenwriter. He wrote the stage play Compleat Female Stage Beauty, which he later adapted into a screenplay, shortened to just Stage Beauty (2004). He also co-wrote the stage adaptation of Tuesdays with Morrie with author Mitch Albom, and Three Viewings, a comedy consisting of three monologues—each of which takes place in a funeral home. He wrote the screenplay Casanova for director Lasse Hallström, as well as the screenplay for The Duchess (2008), Mr. Holmes (2015), and The Good Liar (2019). He has also written for the Peter Falk TV series Columbo, The Mentalist and E! Entertainment Television. Hatcher was a 1995 Wallace Fellow at AAS.

Laurie McCants

My performance-in-progress is based on the story of Frances Slocum, a 5-year-old Quaker girl, kidnapped in 1778 by the Lenape, married into the Miami in 1795, and in 1837, reunited with her Slocum siblings, who found her in Indiana,  the  revered widow of a chief. They entreated her to return to Pennsylvania and “civilization.” She refused, living out the rest of her life with her people.

Her story was popularized through epic poems, ballads, family memoirs, historical studies, children’s books, melodramas, and public pageants. At AAS, I focused on what I could learn about the true story of Frances Slocum/Mahkoonsahkwa (her Miami name) and what the many tellings of that story over many decades reveal about how we Americans tell stories about ourselves.

My research revealed that the story has been mostly told through the “white” lens, which dominates the historical, literary, and pop culture archives. The story Frances actually told her relatives was one of kindness from her captors and eventual prosperity as a tribal elder. And yet a book about this mostly happy tale, written in 1906 by one of her Slocum descendants, is titled HISTORY OF FRANCES SLOCUM, THE CAPTIVE:  A Civilized Heredity Vs; A Savage, and Later Barbarous, Environment. I learned a useful phrase from my fellow Fellow Elspeth Martini:

“Empirical evidence never dislodges his imperialistic views.”

At first, I felt (foolishly) intimidated by the scholars in the reading room, but that quickly vanished when they invited me to join them for their weekly RuPaul’s Drag Race watch party. My time at AAS was greatly enriched by my conversations/breaking bread/sharing drinks/telling stories with my fellow Fellows.

I sort my research into the Pot of Troubles and the Pot of Possibilities.  The Frances Slocum story proved enthralling (“enthralling”!) for decades. What is so captivating about this captivity story?  The answer, I think, lies at the bottom of that Pot of Troubles. The Pot of Possibilities contains staging ideas, the figurative and literal threads I want to weave together in the telling.  Literal: I will do the Miami traditional craft of ribbon work as I perform. In my AAS research, I found what struck me as theatrical– those moments that ask to be performed, to be embodied (like this– Mahkoonsahkwa had an old scar from a wound received while dancing in her youth, and she was dancing when she caught a cold that took her to her death bed; so yes, this goes into the Pot of Possibilities! I will dance!). I also know that my own process must be a slow, cautious, eyes open, ears open, mind and heart open dance as I make my way through many cultural tripwires. I must be wary of what seems “theatrical,” lest I repeat the errors of my other white chroniclers—sensationalizing, sentimentalizing, obscuring with overly-dramatic flash. I think I can do it. I hope I can do it. I hope I can honor the truly human moments, the moments of real rage, confoundment, sorrow, and joy.

Laurie McCants at Frances Slocum State Park, Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania. August 24, 2020.

Laurie McCants co-founded the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (BTE) in 1978. BTE was named the “2016 Outstanding Theatre” by the National Theatre Conference. In 2010, Laurie was named an “Actor of Distinguished Achievement” through a Theatre Communications Group/Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship.  She was composer Julia Wolfe’s “coal region consultant” for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner, ANTHRACITE FIELDS. Her solo show INDUSTRIOUS ANGELS was created and performed at the Ko Festival of Performance. As a Baron Artist Fellow with the American Antiquarian Society, she is continuing research toward her new solo show about white captive child/Miami Indian elder Frances Slocum/Mahkoonsahkwa.


Celebrating National Dog Day at AAS!

It should come as no surprise that the staff here at the American Antiquarian Society is passionate about books and prints related to American history.  But we’re also deeply committed to our pets. From time to time, we’ll even share photos of our favorite furry or feathered friends on the AAS Instagram page.

Today is National Dog Day! In honor of this special day, we thought we’d take a quick glimpse inside our collections to acknowledge the role our furry friends have played in our lives, both publicly and personally.

National Dog Day is just one of many unofficial holidays to spring up in the late twentieth century. Founded in 2004 by Animal Rescue Advocate and Conservationist Colleen Paige, this holiday celebrates our deep appreciation for our four-legged friends. Today it is recognized worldwide and not only celebrates all dogs but also encourages adoption.

In the twentieth century, dogs found new public roles and a new public status.  In World War I, they were employed as sentries, trackers, and messengers, and, not soon after that, they were trained as assistance dogs to aid those with disabilities. With the rise of radio, film, and television, they also became celebrities. We only have to think of Toto from The Wizard of Oz, Rin-Tin-Tin, and Lassie. However, dogs were depicted to symbolize guidance, protection, loyalty, and love well before these popular characters reached American audiences. Although our relationships with household pets have certainly evolved since the founding of our nation, one sentiment remains true: Americans love their dogs.

Although print media might first come to mind when imagining our collections, the American Antiquarian Society also holds a large photograph collection, which includes 219 daguerreotypes. Notable subjects for these portraits include Edgar Allan Poe, Clara Barton, and Dr. Samuel B. Woodward. The collection also includes rare views of San Francisco and Worcester and a number of unidentified portraits including this cute little one (above).

As we share selections from our catalog, we are reminded of the important part our dogs play in our lives, from observing our first president and nation’s founding to reminiscing about our first loves and first friends.

Our first president, George Washington, kept a large variety of dogs at his home at Mount Vernon from hunting dogs to working dogs to companion dogs. The American Kennel Club credits him as one of the people who helped develop the breed known as the American Foxhound. Washington’s writings reveal that he inspected the kennels each morning and evening, during which time he visited with the dogs.

The Marquis de Lafayette sent Washington seven French hounds, so it might not be much of a surprise that several works depicting the two at Washington’s home also show dogs running around the grounds. The engraving (by Thos. Oldham Barlow) shown above is based on a painting from Thomas Prichard Rossiter. It portrays the Washington family, with Lafayette, on the front porch of Mount Vernon. If you look closely on the left, two French hounds play in garden.

In another image, the lithograph (below)–published around 1875 by Fischer, Carpenter & Gusthal–depicts General Lafayette’s departure from Mount Vernon in 1784. In the foreground, on the piazza of Mount Vernon, George Washington and General Lafayette are shaking hands; one dog lies on the piazza, and another stands on the lawn looking back at the group.

Nineteenth-century prints, portraits, and engravings trace Americans’ evolving relationships with dogs. Each and every happy hound and playful pup is fun discovery, and to follow these dogs from one print to the next is to follow the course of American history. Take a moment to explore some of the images in the AAS collections in the gallery below.

Among my personal favorites are two lithographs created by artist Jean-Baptiste Adolphe LaFosse (1814-1879). A student of Paul Delaroche, LaFosse was a French painter and lithographer whose most famous American subjects included former president Andrew Jackson and American attorney and statesman Henry Clay. LaFosse also created lithographs based on Charles G. Crehen’s Young ’76 (1855) and William Sidney Mount’s The Bone Player (1856).

AAS holds a number of LaFosse’s lithographs, including The Young Teacher (c. 1858) and The First Pants (c.1860). Both works are modeled after original paintings by Lilly Martin Spencer. Spencer sold a number of her genre paintings to print publisher Wilhelm Schaus, who commissioned these hand-colored reproductions and about a dozen others between 1853 and 1860. The girl and her furry friend (on the left) are models of innocence and respect; meanwhile, the boy on the right teases his puppy companion with something in his pockets.

These images offer but a glimpse of the visual doggy gems stored in our collections. Each reminds us that our national history is a personal one.  By looking closely at some of these images portraying dogs, we are reminded of warmth and sweetness these animals bring into our lives.

We wish you a Happy National Dog Day!

PHBAC Virtual Book Talks Fall 2020 Schedule

In May 2020, the Program in the History of the Book in American Culture (PHBAC) launched its Virtual Book Talks series. This new academic program showcases authors of recently published scholarly monographs, digital-equivalents, and creative works broadly related to book history and print culture. Each installment includes a presentation from the author and a Q&A with the audience. This monthly program is held on the last Thursday of every month at 2PM. While it is free to attend, it does require registration prior to the event.

Today, we are delighted to not only invite our readers to our next talk on August 27 featuring Amy Hildreth Chen, but also to announce the upcoming Fall 2020 schedule. More details about the program may be found here:

If you’re interested in book history, you may also wish to sign up for our mailing list. Questions may be directed at Kevin Wisniewski, Director of Book History and Digital Initiatives, at

We look forward to seeing you at one of our next programs!

Placing Papers with Amy Hildreth Chen

Thursday, August 27, 2020 at 2:00 pm EDT
Approx. 45 minutes

Please join us on August 27 at 2PM, for next installment of PHBAC’s Virtual Book Talk series. Our guest will be Amy Hildreth Chen, author of Placing Papers: The American Literary Archives Market.

The sale of authors’ papers to archives has become big news, with collections from James Baldwin and Arthur Miller fetching record-breaking sums in recent years. Amy Hildreth Chen offers the history of how this multi-million dollar business developed from the mid-twentieth century onward and considers what impact authors, literary agents, curators, archivists, and others have had on this burgeoning economy.

The market for contemporary authors’ archives began when research libraries needed to cheaply provide primary sources for the swelling number of students and faculty following World War II. Demand soon grew, and while writers and their families found new opportunities to make money, so too did book dealers and literary agents with the foresight to pivot their businesses to serve living authors. Public interest surrounding celebrity writers had exploded by the late twentieth century, and as Placing Papers illustrates, even the best funded institutions were forced to contend with the facts that acquiring contemporary literary archives had become cost prohibitive and increasingly competitive.

Amy Hildreth Chen is an independent scholar from North Liberty, Iowa, and author of Placing Papers: The American Literary Archives Market (U Mass Press, 2020). She previously worked as an academic librarian at the University of Iowa and University of Alabama. Chen obtained her PhD in English from Emory University in 2013.

Order this book directly from the publisher at

Readers interested in attending Chen’s talk may register for the event by clicking on this link. All those who register for the talk will be automatically entered to win a free signed copy the book.


Our summer schedule included topics on black print culture and citizenship in the early republic, early American music, the history of paper, and literary archive. Our fall schedule is just as diverse and dynamic: books in the digital age, the rise of the critic, early Latino literature, and the genealogies of race.

If you’ve missed one of our programs, don’t worry.  We record all of our book talks and make them available to the public on the AAS YouTube channel.

For your convenience, our first three talks’ recordings are re-posted below.  Hope to see you at the next talk!!!

The Practice of Citizenship, Derrick R. Spires (Cornell University)

Cultivated by Hand, Glenda Goodman (University of Pennsylvania)

The Intimacy of Paper, Jonathan Senchyne (University of Wisconsin–Madison)



The Summer of Smearcase

As we wind down a summer with limited travel and with conferences postponed or transitioned online, I can’t help but reminisce about a summer in the far distant past (last year) when two bright young AAS staff members, who really enjoy food (and sweet treats), descended upon the city of Baltimore in search of local and historical consumable . . . and also the The Rare Books and Manuscripts (RBMS) conference.

Regional delicacies embody the allure of any limited time offer, and Ashley Cataldo, Curator of Manuscripts, and I we had done our homework before arriving to this conference.  About a week before the RBMS 2019 conference in Baltimore, Maryland, an Atlas Obscura article introduced us to the concept of smearcase, a sort of historic cheesecake with its roots in German communities in parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and – what do you know – Baltimore. The word itself is an American phonetic spelling of the German word “schmierkäse,” a spreadable cheese that was most frequently used to refer to what we consider cottage cheese.

In the dessert form, this once-popular dish was made by mixing the curdy cheese with cream and eggs to make a custard that sat atop a thick layer of crust. The whole thing was topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon and enjoyed.  Today, the legacy of smearcase seems to live-on primarily in family recipes and fond memories, but a quick internet search informed us that there was a neighborhood bakery selling smearcase about 3 miles from the conference hotel. The bakery had been in business for 91 years and was still using the same smearcase recipe from 1927. We had our destination and taste-test set but we lacked some solid historical context for our adventure . . . so we took to the papers.

The Clarion – April 21, 1886

Looking for mentions of smearcase proved more fruitful than we had imagined, especially given the variety of spellings. We opted for the phonetical “smearcase” and the more German “smierkase.” In addition to the numerous advertisements listing the price of smearcase (presumably just the cheese, save for the few instances that mention cake specifically) we were presented with a delightful assortment of stories, poems and even a medical remedy involving smearcase. It seemed to be quite prevalent in 19th century American culture, reaching well beyond the limits of the early German settlements. Some of our favorite newspaper clippings are reproduced in this post.

There may not be much modern scholarship or many recipes available on the internet, but smearcase is not completely forgotten. We heard a few familiar “Oh yeah, my grandmother made that” at the mention of its name, but we were just as often met with “smear-what?” It’s hard to imagine how or when a dish, once so prevalent that it made its way to New England and across much of the U.S., faded away – especially when it is so delicious.

Patriot – February 3, 1894

Perhaps our modern expectations and smearcase’s relative obscurity contributed to our gross underestimation of what a “piece” of smearcase constituted. We attempted to order three pieces and were shocked when we were informed that there were only two pieces left. There had been a half a sheet tray available when we walked in! Still not fully comprehending, we accepted our two pieces, commented on the weight of the parcels and set off for the park and a bench on which to indulge. Upon opening the bakery boxes, we found we had made a serious rookie mistake. Those two pieces had comprised the entirety of the half tray we had seen. Apparently, smearcase was traditionally served as a “slab,” which, we can only imagine, was intended to be shared by a whole family. Could it be that simply our eyes bigger were larger than our stomachs? Were historical appetites bigger than ours? In any (smear)case, we two dessert-seekers made only a dent in the delicious treat.

Over the last several months at home, people have been rediscovering the joys of baking – from banana breads to sourdoughs. Will smearcase find its unlikely resurgence as the next trendy pandemic bake? We are certainly looking forward to the days when we are once again able to gather in groups large enough to polish-off a full slab of smearcase and see our colleagues face-to-face as we continue our hunt for regional treats in conference cities across the country.

Artists in the AAS Archive: August 2020

This week we continue our Artists in the AAS Archive series.  This installment offers a spotlight on four past fellows: poet James Arthur; poet and nonfiction author Christopher Cokinos; Cartoonist R. Sikoryak; and artist Stephanie Wolff.

This series is part of our celebration of the 25th anniversary of Artist fellowships at the American Antiquarian Society.  More information about these programs may be found at the following:

James Arthur

James Arthur reads his poem “On a Portrait Bust in Worcester, Massachusetts,” written while he was a Jay and Deborah Last Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society in January 2018.

The poem was inspired by an anonymous marble portrait bust acquired on behalf on the Antiquarian Society in 1881.  “On a Portrait Bust in Worcester, Massachusetts” appears in Arthur’s second poetry collection, The Suicide’s Son, which was published by Véhicule Press in 2019.

James Arthur’s first book, Charms Against Lightning, was published in 2013. Arthur has received multiple fellowships including a Hodder Fellowship, a Stegner Fellowship, the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship, a Fulbright Scholarship to the Seamus Heaney Center in Northern Ireland, and a Visiting Fellowship at Exeter College, University of Oxford. He also teaches in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.

More information about James’  work and upcoming events may be found on his website:

Christopher Cokinos

When I was an undergraduate at Indiana University I was awed by the size and scope of the Main Library. I marveled at the huge foyer and the sprawling card-catalog. After I graduated, I had a couple of jobs in the library system and briefly considered a library science degree. Turns out, I loved libraries. Even after moving to Tucson, I returned to use the IU Library while I began to research the curious natural histories of extinct North American birds. That journey had started along the Kansas River when I saw what turned out to be a pair of black-hooded conures being chased by a hawk. They escaped the bird of prey just as they had escaped a cage somewhere—or perhaps they’d been deliberately released? In any case, as I learned about such exotic birds—they certainly don’t belong in Kansas—I discovered that a settler girl a century prior had stood more or less in that same spot and had seen native Carolina Parakeets, bright green and orange birds that had populated the eastern third of North America and were tough enough to endure snow storms. They were not, however, tough enough to endure human beings. They were extinct.

I was captivated by their story and, soon, those of other species, such as the Passenger Pigeon and the Ivory-billed woodpecker. Often returning to Indiana to visit family, I made trips to the IU library, borrowed a book cart and found reams of material on these creatures. But when I saw a notice in Poets & Writers for a creative fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society I knew I had to apply. I was stunned to be accepted. And delighted. There I would find gems.

Those summer weeks in Worcester were a mixture of discipline and awe. Each time I stepped in the reading room, I felt the gravity of the collections—all this history gathered, cataloged and shelved, the magic of knowledge kept. I worked harder than I had ever worked before, reading newspaper accounts of the flocks of Passenger Pigeons (millions and billions of birds darkening the sky for hours, even days) and lingering over the color illustrations in Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology. It was there he told of capturing an irate Ivory-bill and securing it in his hotel room, only later to find the bird had trashed the place. They are big woodpeckers, after all.

The greatest surprise should not have been a surprise. Many of these birds were consumed as part of the wild-game market, feeding not only local towns but distant, growing cities. The AAS librarians pointed me to the cookbook collection. It was there I found recipes for cooking Passenger Pigeons. It was there I learned that servants in Boston were tired of having to eat so much Heath Hen—the eastern subspecies of the Greater Prairie Chicken. The cookbooks made the lives of these vanished birds more real than anything else. They had been here, they had been taken for granted, they had been part of the domestic lives of countless of Native and European Americans. What I found at the AAS immeasurably enriched my book Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds. The AAS was so important to this project that, when the time came to do the book launch, it happened right there in the reading room where I had spent so many rewarding hours. I still have the mini-poster announcing the event.

But I just didn’t learn about extinct birds at the AAS. I learned to love archival work, recovering lost stories, forgotten voices. When I next wrote a book about meteorites and meteorite hunters, I delved not into a library but a couple of filing cabinets that then contained the papers of Harvey Nininger, a professor at a small college in Kansas who quit his job during the Depression in order to hunt meteorites. He changed the course of science. Working with disorganized files stuck in a tiny office was a far cry from the ritualistic work of encountering rare books, manuscripts and newspapers at the AAS. But the reverence I learned there carried over to my meteorite research and beyond.

Now writing a series of essays about the Moon, I have encountered the stories of female astronomers who worked against multiple obstacles as they attempted to chronicle possible, visible changes on the lunar surface, a highly controversial field even today. Sitting in the living room of one of the daughters of these astronomers, surrounded by papers, ephemera and photographs, I summoned the awe and discipline I felt at the AAS. This past year I even helped the University of Arizona Special Collections organize the papers of a pioneering lunar astronomer.

The fellowship at the AAS not only helped me write my book on extinct birds. It has paid forward as I continue dig into and savor the necessary art of historical nonfiction research: bringing to life on the page what is gone but must be remembered.

Christopher Cokinos is a Professor of English at the University of Arizona, where he teaches creative writing, science fiction literature and science-communication courses. He is the author of Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds and The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars, among other works. His co-edited anthology, with Julie Swarstad Johnson, Beyond Earth’s Edge: The Poetry of Spaceflight, is forthcoming in October from the University of Arizona Press. He was a Visiting Fellowship for Historical Research by Creative and Performing Writers and Artists at the American Antiquarian Society in 1998.

Robert Sikoryak

I received an Artist Fellowship from AAS in 2006, to research Moby Dick as well as other works by Herman Melville. I’m a cartoonist who adapts classic literature and other texts into comics and graphic novels, in the styles of famous cartoons. Many of my short stories were collected in the book Masterpiece Comics, and I’m working on a sequel that will contain more Melville adaptations, including an extended Moby Dick retelling.

One of the pieces­ inspired by my fellowship experience was this parody comic book ad for the “Pequod Whaling Ship.” In addition to Moby Dick, it is inspired by an actual 1960’s comic book ad for a Polaris submarine model. It was first published in my book, Masterpiece Comics (2009).

Another was an adaptation of Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener drawn in the style of Scott Adams’ daily comic strip Dilbert.  An excerpt is shown here.  It was first published in the newspaper The Cartoon Crier (2012).

While my comics are irreverent and combine elements of high and low culture, they are also scrupulously researched and very faithful to their source materials.

Much of my time during the fellowship was spent researching the diverse subjects described in Moby Dick, such as whaling, indigenous peoples, and life in New England. Illustrated books and prints that were created in the mid 19th century were the most useful for my purposes. I made many drawings based on the illustrated materials that were available, and I continued to sketch out ideas for my narrative.

Here are some early notes and sketches for my adaptation.

The majority of my time was spent examining these non-fiction materials.  But I was also very struck by the many adaptations of Moby Dick created in the last 100 years, some of which were represented in the AAS collection. One amusing example was the book Moby Dick: Photoplay Title: The Sea Beast (1925). It features photographs from the silent film The Sea Beast, a very loose retelling of Melville’s book that radically diverges from his plot.  The story was transformed into a romance with a happy ending. Although I don’t take many liberties when adapting the plot of a particular novel, it’s always very instructive or entertaining to see how others do it.

In addition to the rare books and prints that were available, it was very inspiring to see other printed ephemera in the collection. In particular, I loved finding the tiny, hand colored comic strip pamphlet, The Adventures of Mr. Tom Plump (circa 1855). Beyond the charming drawing and irreverent text, it was a rather heartwarming find.  Comic books have often been seen as a disposable, trivial medium, so it was reassuring to see this fragile booklet preserved with the same care as the rest of the materials at AAS.

Cartoonist R. Sikoryak’s latest book is Constitution Illustrated, a graphic novel adaptation drawn in the styles of over 100 American comics from the past 120 years.  His earlier works include Masterpiece Comics, Terms and Conditions, and The Unquotable Trump. His illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Nation, The Onion, and MAD. Sikoryak teaches at Parsons School of Design and The Center for Cartoon Studies. Since 1997, he’s presented his live comics performance series, Carousel, around the United States and Canada. He lives in New York City with his spouse, Kriota Willberg.

Sikoryak was awarded Robert and Charlotte Baron Fellowship from AAS in 2006.


Stephanie Wolff

In March of 2013 I arrived in Worcester ready to immerse myself in the world of an early 19th century woman. I was interested in the notations she kept about weather and agricultural life. Anna Blackwood Howell was a white woman of means who inherited a farm and fisheries in New Jersey on the banks of the Delaware River across from Philadelphia when her husband died in 1818. She was 50 years old. The AAS holds fifteen of her diaries written in almanacs between 1819 and her death in 1855. Howell used her almanacs to track the cyclical nature of the seasons and, as she writes, to “profit by the experience of the past year.” These almanacs would be my path to that farm on the river, to learn her story, and to explore the data she collected. Her words would lead my way.

My project Along the Banks of My River is a body of work that emerged from this research and includes artist books and textile pieces. Topics such as shad fishing, bees, and the river have been the focus of three artist books, with weather being a common theme through the project as a whole.

I find magic in working with primary source material in real life and not via a digital surrogate (though digital resources are very useful). It is a multi-sensory experience which contributes to the generation of ideas. You don’t know how the physical thing will touch you until you literally touch it. Reading Howell’s brief almanac entries activated her voice and invited me into her world and thoughts. Her handwriting, the worn paper, the mended bindings, the printed almanac articles—all these broadened my understanding.

The mended binding and addition of a loop at the top of Anna Blackwood Howell’s 1844 almanac. The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack, for the Year of our Lord 1844: … Arranged After the System of the German Calendars. … Carefully Calculated for the Horizon of Maryland, but Will Serve for the Adjacent Stat. Hagerstown, Md.: Printed and sold by John Gruber, South Potomac street. Where German almanacks are also to be had., 1843.

The interaction with physical objects allows for a combination of sensory experiences: touch (soft/hard, worn/unused), smell (sometimes!), sound (the rattle of paper or pages turning), movement-action (sequences/functionality), size and scale (how it feels in the hand/relationship to another thing), materials or composition (repairs/ingenuity/resource scarcity/wealth). The structure of an archival item (an historic book, a toy, or other object) may lead me to borrow that structure for an artwork, adding meaning through form.

Raw primary source materials prompt questions. The search for answers can lead to discoveries, but often nothing definitive. The questions themselves are sometimes the most interesting. The research evokes reactions about the broader story, which in turn lead to possibilities for specific pieces. Are these workable? Which ones hold my attention? Ultimately, I am editor and interpreter. Models, sketches, and more investigations narrow the ideas down until one stands out, and the process of production begins.

The space between what is known from source materials and the questions that arise from their inspection is a place where my imagination likes to wander. It is where words, images, and feelings combine to transport me to a river’s edge at fishing time, or into the heart of a grieving mother. I continue to explore this space and follow where my imagination leads me.

Stephanie Wolff works with paper, text, textile, and the book form. Her current project explores themes of weather, history, and rural life. She was the Fall 2015 Helen M. Salzberg Artist-in-Residence at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University. In 2013 she was awarded a Creative and Performing Artists and Writers Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society. Her artist books have won awards and been exhibited in the United States and Germany. They are held in numerous public and private collections.


Instagram: @stephaniewolffstudio


“We are American citizens”: Remembering the Anniversary of the Fourteenth Amendment

The Colored Conventions was a series of national, regional, and state meetings held irregularly during the decades preceding and following the American Civil War.  At the 1853 convention held in Rochester, New York, delegates insisted citizenship was their birthright:

“By birth, we are American citizens; by the meaning of the United States Constitution, we are American citizens; by the principles of the Declaration of Independence, we are American citizens; by the meaning of the United States Constitution, we are citizens.”

These lines were often echoed and reprinted in the black press.  Of course, the idea of the abolition of slavery and black citizenship was nothing new in 1853 and it would take another fifteen years and the American Civil War before African Americans were granted citizenship.

On July 28, 1868, the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, and today we celebrate its 152nd anniversary. The amendment repealed the Taney Court’s infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) decision and ensured that state laws could not deny due process or discriminate against particular groups of people.

Those interested in exploring AAS collection materials for related items might best begin with the Subject Search “United States Constitution 14th Amendment. But I might suggest we first take pause today before diving into catalog records or examining individual items.

Let us take a moment and read the words that were ratified today one hundred and fifty-two years ago. Let us reflect upon what they mean to us as individuals and as a nation and consider the struggles endured by black Americans then and now and recognize the achievements of those who came before us.

Amendment XIV

Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2.
Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.

Section 3.
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4.
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5.
The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

The Manuscript Poems of Phillis Wheatley at AAS

The curators at AAS connect audiences with objects, such as the manuscript poems of Phillis Wheatley. As some visitors to AAS know, the Society holds two original manuscript poems of Wheatley’s, “To the University of Cambridge” and “On the Death of the Revd. Dr. Sewall.” These items may be found in the AAS catalog here.

The AAS Manuscript Collections focus on four areas of collecting: papers of prominent New England families; paper and records of New England businesses, families, voluntary associations; New England diaries, and U.S. book trades history.  The Wheatley poems in our collections don’t fit easily into any of these categories. So how did they end up at AAS?

We are pleased to share a new video about the story of these poems, which you can watch below or on our YouTube channel!

Artists in the AAS Archive: New Series on the AAS Artist Fellowships

In April, we published an article in honor of National Poetry Month, entitled “Poets in the AAS Archive.” In this same thread, we are pleased to share our plans now to create a new series on Past is Present dedicated to our artist fellows.

This new series will spotlight the work of current and past fellows alike, highlighting their rich and diverse research projects and showcasing the wonderful work produced as a result of the fellowship they were awarded. When appropriate, artist contributions to “Artists in the AAS Archive” will not only be shared here but also on our YouTube channel and related social media.

The first artist fellows arrived at the American Antiquarian Society in the Fall 1995, and this year we will celebrate the program’s 25th anniversary. Creative and Performing Artist and Writers Fellows have included fiction writers, poets, playwrights, visual artists, sculptors, performance artists, and musicians, as well as non-fiction writers, documentary filmmakers, and journalists–anyone seeking to create original works based upon American history and present them to non-academic audiences and readers. We are proud of our fellows and the contributions they have made both to AAS and to their respective communities.  This fall, we plan to launch a new online exhibition and program dedicated to these fellows called Artists in the Archive: Twenty-five years of Artist Fellows at the American Antiquarian Society.

To help launch this new series and to set up the exhibition, today we are sharing the work of three artist fellows: Brece Honeycutt, David Mills, and Margaret Rozga.  In the videos that follow, the fellows share their work, their experiences at AAS, and their inspiration and methods.  We are delighted to share these wonderful artists’ work with you and hope you enjoy them!

Brece Honeycutt

In our first video, Brece Honeycutt discusses her experiences with the AAS collection and her process from research and note-taking to conception and development as she creates both sculpture and installation pieces. One of her interests lies with plants and how they been written about historically. Here, Honeycutt shares stories about some of the works she examined, as well as her ideas on and work with weeds and weavings. She also offers a glimpse inside her studio and fieldwork.

Brece Honeycutt, a 2019-2020 William Randolph Hearst Fellow for Creative and Performing Arts at the American Antiquarian Society, discusses the process of applying for a fellowship, researching at the American Antiquarian Society and making artwork in her studio. During her Fellowship, she examined over 140 books and collections, yet it was the unexpected viewing of Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio by Howard Jones and family that led to her current studio work based on materials used by birds when constructing their nests.

More information about Brece Honeycutt’s work maybe found on her website:

David Mills

The next video is an excerpt from a reading performed by poet David Mills. In this clip, David reads his original poem “The Cooper of Sandwich,” from his chapbook After Mistic, published by New Feral in 2020.

During his William Randolph Hearst Foundation fellowship in 2019, David researched slavery in antebellum New England—focusing on Massachusetts and on New York City, where the country’s oldest and largest slave cemetery is located. Here, he discusses his writing career and how the American Antiquarian Society introduced a more focused archival aspect to his writing. David previously received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts and Breadloaf. He also wrote the audio script for the Macarthur-Genius-award-winner Deborah Willis’ national museum tour and exhibition “Reflections in Black: 100 Years of Black Photography”, which was exhibited at the Whitney, Dallas, and Getty West Museums. He also worked on a play commissioned and produced by the Juilliard School of Drama and recorded two poems for ESPN.


Readers may watch David’s entire video, featuring an introduction and two additional poems by clicking here.

Margaret Rozga

Margaret Rozga reads “Jessie: The Bodisco Wedding, Georgetown 1840” from her book Pestiferous Questions: A Life in Poems resulting from her 2014 Robert and Charlotte Baron Fellowship here at AAS.

Jessie Benton Frémont (1824-1902), the book’s central figure, faces the troubling questions of race, gender, class, American expansion, American exceptionalism, and love as they shape not only her life but our history and national identity. Politically astute, disparaged as a woman who didn’t know her place, faithful to a difficult marriage, privileged, sometimes questioning privilege, a product her times, and forward-thinking, she emerges both as a public figure and private person in these poems. The book, Rozga’s fourth, was published by Lit Fest Press in 2017 and helped pave the way for her selection as 2019-2020 Wisconsin Poet Laureate.

More information about Margaret Rozga’s work maybe found on her website:

Centennial America: Celebrating the Fourth with the Great Buildings of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition

It will probably come as no surprise that the Fourth of July is one of our favorite holidays here at AAS! In recent years, AAS staff has written about a number of topics on the holiday. We’ve written about how AAS founder Isaiah Thomas celebrated in 1814 in the midst of the War of 1812; we’ve shared Ohio judge and congressman Elnathan Scofield’s eighteen toasts dedicated to the holiday; and we’ve examined how the Declaration of Independence was disseminated throughout the colonies.

July 1776 Broadside Printing of the Declaration of Independence by Ezekiel Russell of Salem, Massachusetts-Bay

This year, we wanted to go big! And it’s difficult to imagine a celebration bigger than the one honoring the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration. (1876 also marks the unofficial cut-off year for our collections, although many of you already know that we have items that go well beyond that!) America is a diverse place, and every town and city has its own rich history celebrating this holiday. As readers might guess, in 1876, Philadelphia was the site of one of the biggest celebrations in the country.

Since this post falls between the start of summer and the Fourth of July holiday weekend, we also wanted to start off our summer the right way, too!  While it’s too early to know what this season holds for us all, summers often bring in fairs, carnivals, and other community events. Is there an event bigger than the World’s Fair?

The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 was the first official World’s Fair to be held in the United States. Held in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, from May 10 to November 10, nearly 10 million visitors visited the Exposition! The opening ceremony was attended by President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia along with 186,272 people–110,000 entered with free passes.

Centennial America (below) is one of the lithographs commissioned for the exhibition. Created by Armstrong & Co. Lithographers from Boston, this design depicts a group of portraits and American history vignettes. George Washington is centered on the lithograph. The signers of the Declaration of Independence appear above him, and the 1876 Exhibition Main Building is pictured at center just below our first president. The revolutionary scenes depicted here include the the Boston Tea Party, the Battles of Bunker Hill and Lexington, and the surrender at Yorktown.

There was too much printed material produced for the event to adequately display here, but we wanted to share a few items from our collections that really showcase the size and space of the exhibition. We hope these images offer our readers a wide scope impression of the exhibition setting and serve as a kind of walking tour through 1876 summer celebrations.

The first image (below) depicts a panoramic bird’s eye view of the exhibition’s construction. Not only can you see the progress of the fair’s buildings, you can also see all of Philadelphia.  If you look carefully in the foreground, you’ll see men and women staring out from the observatory tower.  We hope you’re not afraid of heights! The subsequent image, designed by lithographer Louis Prang, sometimes called “the father of the American Christmas card,” shows how the entire expanse of the exhibition grounds looked once completed.

As you can see, the site was huge! More than 200 buildings were constructed for the Exposition. To make sure guests paid for admission, a fence was erected around the grounds; it spanned nearly three miles long. The map of the site was produced by Van Ingen & Snyder, publishers, of Philadelphia. It identifies all of the major buildings of the Exposition and also shows the bird’s eye view angle in the upper right-hand corner. Beautiful as the map may be, some might also notice that it lacks a legend that offers some sense of the scale.

There were five main buildings in the Exposition. They were the Main Exhibition Building, Agricultural Hall, Horticultural Hall, the Machinery Hall, and the Art Gallery. Can you find all of these buildings in the map?

This is where our tour really begins. The set of five lithographs that appear below were actually commissioned by the Centennial Board of Finance two years before the Centennial Exhibition even began. These exquisite prints were used for publicity and fundraising. Louis Aubrun was the artist who created the original lithographs of the buildings, and Philadelphia printer Thomas Hunter produced multiple prints that were sold separately as souvenirs for this future tourist attraction. To give you a sense of scale, each of the images below measures about 43 x 58 cm (or about 16 x 22 inches). These images were quite popular and were later used for other event memorabilia, including souvenir handkerchiefs and scarves!

Fourth of July that year must have been quite the spectacle!  In his description of the holiday festivities, J. S. Ingram, author of The Centennial Exposition, describes a crowd of 50,000 people gathering at Independence Square. Four thousand seats were arranged for invited guests, and an additional 10,000 people participated in a parade that morning. Of the parade, he writes,

The great military parade, the finest, ever seen in Philadelphia, came gloriously marching down Chestnut Street early in the morning, their colors glowing and their bright bayonets gleaming in the sunlight, while music from many a splendid band filled the air with its inspiriting strains.

Ingram’s full descriptions of the Exposition and the Fourth of the July celebration are available here. Despite these impressive numbers, July was actually one of the poorest attended months! That’s largely due to a heat wave that hit the city; for ten consecutive days, temperatures reached 100 °F. As the weather cooled in the fall, attendance numbers surged.  The average daily attendance in September rose to 94,000. October saw an average of 102,000 attendees each day, and November 115,000.

These landscapes offer us a glimpse inside one of the biggest summer celebrations of 1876, an event that arrived after another time of turmoil and unease in this country. While both our Fourth of July celebrations and summertime activities might look a little differently this year from prior year’s, the images here (and the Exposition itself) signify hope and optimism and remind us that looking for amusement and confidence about the future might be as easy as taking a walk and enjoying the natural and human-made landscapes . . . or opening a good book.

On behalf of everyone at AAS, please have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

For Further Reading:

Ingram, J. S. The Centennial Exposition. Philadelphia: Hubbard Bros., 1876.
McCabe, James D. The Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition. Philadelphia: National Publishing Company, 1876.
United States Centennial Commission. International Exhibition, 1876, Official Catalogue. Philadelphia: Published for the Centennial Catalogue Co. by J. R. Nagle, 1876.

Above Us Only Sky: A Close Look at Light and Space in the AAS Conservation Lab

Much of my bookbinding life has been spent in cramped, overheated, and windowless rooms hidden away in a basement. It generally comes with the territory. The old AAS conservation lab was certainly an improvement to such experiences, and I’ll always hold fond memories of my time there.  After all, it was home.  While so much time and energy was spent there, I shed no tears when the last cart of materials was wheeled out of the room, and the door shut.

When the architects asked us about our hopes and vision for the new lab space, my desires were simple: light, space, climate control, and updated equipment of course . . . and maybe a comfy ergonomic chair? Those architects delivered on every account! A perfect combination of functionality and aesthetic, the new conservation studio is a space designed for the modern age. Outfitted with five workstations, state-of-the-art specialized equipment, and a chemical treatments room, it is a streamlined and spacious facility that will accommodate more staff and interns than ever to help process, preserve, and make collection items safe and ready for use.

It was exciting to watch this complex project unfold, from the initial floor plans to its construction to finally moving in. Babette Gehnrich, our Chief Conservator, worked closely with Lis Cena of Sam Anderson Architects to create both a beautiful and functionally efficient space. (A closer look at this process is available here.) It was the perfect collaboration, merging art and science–much like conservation! When the time came, I staked out my new bench with pleasure – cozily nestled in the corner (with two windows), my own little penthouse suite. As you can see (below), the new conservation studio and lab are magnificent!

As part of the renovation, a new climate-control system was installed to ensure the preservation of the Society’s extraordinary collections, which date back to the seventeenth century. The expansion also created the opportunity to update new tools and to add new state of the art equipment. Now, we can now perform multiple functions (washing, drying, leather consolidation, making paste and solutions, cutting mats, custom designed enclosures, mold remediation, binding books . . . this list could go on forever) with safety, ease and efficiency.  As great as this equipment is, however, the lab’s most impressive elements are its space and its light. 

Our new conservation studio is filled with gorgeous light. A lofty cathedral skylight crowns the new space with extra height and natural northern light. We have an entire wall of windows next to our work stations, which we can modulate throughout the day as needed with light filtering shades and the latest in LED light technology overhead. I no longer require my humble task light to see what I’m doing. Having this generous and multi spectrum of light is ideal for the exacting conservation work we do, making subtle color matching and paper mending much easier. Its also a joy to be able to look up from my detail-oriented work and connect with what’s happening in the outside world, whether that’s storm clouds, the summer sun, or the first snowflakes of winter.

In addition to all that natural light, our new lab has space . . . a lot of space. Having enough room to spread out and work on large, multiple projects is the greatest luxury and one we will never take for granted. Upon moving in, the AAS exhibition Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere was one of the first projects worked on by Conservation Department. Using every available counter and tabletop, we frequently wondered how we’d ever managed in the small space we occupied before the renovation. I’m currently working on our atlas collection, and this new space certainly helps working with materials like these, which become surprisingly expansive when unfolded.

And, of course, I love to show off this new space!  When staff and visitors enter the studio, I always enjoy watching that first moment when they take in the room, looking skyward and all-around.  Their eyes light up, their shoulders go down, a smile arises.  They breathe just a little more deeply

A Trip Around the World with Nellie Bly

Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed me the opportunity to explore the AAS catalog in fun new ways. Inspired by my family’s board games, which have been stacked in the living room since our transition to remote work, one recent search led to our games collection. While many of the games piqued my interest, the Game of Round the World with Nellie Bly fascinated me more than the others. I recognized Bly’s name from history lessons long ago, but I could only recall a handful of details about her life as a journalist. The onset of cabin fever and my longing to travel beyond the front porch prompted me to learn more about the famous Nellie Bly, who inspired the game, and her adventures across the globe.

Nellie Bly was the pseudonym of Elizabeth Cochran (1864-1922), a newspaper journalist who became somewhat of a celebrity during the late nineteenth century after writing various investigative reports for the New York World. Her name became even more recognizable when she took her trip around the world in 1889.

Early in her career, people took note of Bly and her writing. Around the age of 16, Bly became upset after reading an article in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. The article claimed that women were only good for having children and taking care of the home. Bly showed her distaste for the article by writing an anonymous letter to the editor of the Dispatch. Much to Bly’s surprise, the editor published a notice that not only asked the anonymous writer to come forward, but also offered a job writing at the newspaper.

Cover image on the game board, McLoughlin Brothers, 1890.

Bly accepted the position and adopted the pseudonym suggested by her editor. But Bly quickly tired of her position after continually being asked to write about gardening, cleaning, and other domestic activities for the women’s pages. Unafraid of traveling to new places alone, Bly decided to leave Pittsburgh in 1886 for New York City in hopes of finding better writing opportunities. 

After months of unsuccessfully searching for work, Bly managed to talk her way into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. As a reporter, she often placed herself in risky situations to get a good story. For one assignment, Bly feigned insanity to get into the women’s asylum on Blackwell’s Island to reveal the abuse and neglect the patients experienced. Her reports brought the public’s attention to the mistreatment at the asylum and led to major reforms.

In 1889, Bly challenged herself to make a trip around the world in less than 80 days. She was determined to beat the time of Phileas Fogg, the main character in Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, Around the World in Eighty Days. When Bly first proposed the idea to her editor at the New York World, he doubted her. He believed a man would be a better fit for the trip since he would not require a chaperone and would not be prone to bring loads of luggage. With her determined spirit, Bly somehow convinced her editor that she was capable of completing this assignment and began preparing for the trip. From the start, she mocked her editor by packing everything she needed in just one bag! Bly and her single bag can be found on the front of Game of Round the World with Nellie Bly and in a preliminary print for the game.

Bly’s trip officially began on November 14 when she boarded the Augusta Victoria steamship in New Jersey and headed across the Atlantic Ocean towards Europe. Just as the board game suggests, bad weather made some of Bly’s trip across the sea a rough one, and she even became seasick.

A close-up of Jules Verne watching over Bly’s expedition in the upper-right hand side of the game.

One week later, Bly arrived in England and met a correspondent from the New York World. The man explained that Jules Verne, whose portrait is depicted on a corner of the game board, and his wife wanted Bly to visit them at their home in Amiens, France. Although this unexpected excursion added time to Bly’s journey, it was an offer she could not refuse.  The couple welcomed Bly into their home with open arms and were excited to hear about her travel plans. Verne even brought Bly into his study and showed her a map of Phileas Fogg’s route that he had marked out himself.

After a short but delightful visit, Bly continued on her journey. Large portions of the trip were spent on steamships and trains. While her schedule didn’t allow her to stay in one place for very long, at each stop Bly tried to take a walk and meet some of the local people. Bly’s voyage continued into Egypt, where she visited cities such as Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez. Whenever possible, she sent written reports of her observations back to the New York World by telegraph and by ship. During the interims between her stories, her editors published articles about the places she would be visiting next to keep readers interested. Stopovers included Yemen, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore.

A close up of vignettes representing Bly’s journey across the Mediterranean Sea, through Suez Canal, and eventually into port at Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, Bly discovered that she wasn’t the only woman racing around the world. Cosmopolitan magazine had recently sent out journalist Elizabeth Bisland on a similar trip with the hopes that she could beat Bly’s time. Bly wasn’t flustered by the competition and stayed focused on her own trip and goals. While Bisland made her way along a similar route, Bly continued forward to her next stop Yokohama, Japan, where she explored the city’s streets and enjoyed watching families fly kites outside their homes. Again, Bly couldn’t get too comfortable; she was about to enter the last leg of the expedition.

After nearly two weeks at sea, Bly arrived in San Francisco on January 21 (two days behind schedule) and raced back to New Jersey. On January 25, 1890, an enormous crowd of people welcomed Bly home from her trip around the world. She completed the journey in 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes, beating Bisland and Verne’s protagonist.

As much fun as it is to play (and to win) the game, I’m sure it’s nothing when compared to the excitement and pride that Bly must have felt that day. She had accomplished her goal and proved to the world that women could do much more than just household duties.

A close up of the center of the board game, depicting Nellie’s return home.

The McLoughlin Brothers publishing firm distributed Game of Round the World with Nellie Bly in 1890 during the height of Bly’s fame. According to the firm’s product catalogs from the period, basic versions of the game sold for 30 and 50 cents and an enlarged edition cost $1.00. Although the game was advertised alongside children’s books and toys, it was described as “pleasant amusement for old or young.” Two to four players used spinners to determine moves and tried to beat opponents by circumnavigating the board the fastest. As players moved small wooden pieces around the board, they got a sense of the places Bly went and the experiences she had during her trip. In addition to the McLoughlin Brothers copy, a paper cut-out version of the game appeared in a January 1890 issue of the New York World when Bly was still traveling. It is no wonder that the McLoughlin Brothers company sold this game based on Bly’s adventures. In an attempt to make money, advertisers attached Bly’s name to a number of items and went as far as naming a racehorse and train after her.

Bly was an inspiration back in 1890, and she continues to be one today. Over a century later, Bly’s ambitious trip reminds me that life can be as entertaining as a board game if you take risks and step outside of your comfort zone. Of course, I couldn’t venture very far at the time this was written, but I did have access to countless pieces of history through the AAS catalog. Little did I know that one click into the catalog would take me on a journey through Bly’s life and on a trip around the world with her.

Further Reading

Around the World in 72 Days: The Audacious Adventures of Nelly Bly. Christine Lesiak and Mel Bucklin. WGBH Boston Video, 2006.

Bly, Nellie, Elizabeth Bisland, and Matthew Goodman. The Race Around the World. Lakeside Press, 2015. Housed at the American Antiquarian Society.