0.0001% Around the World

Last week’s post discussed the completion of a project to house items from our Wetmore Collection of Children’s Books in archival storage boxes. That project entailed measuring the height width and depth of 540 books in the collection and recording their call numbers. That means that we now have a spreadsheet full of measurements, and so it seemed like an opportunity to present that data with a selection of entirely unrepresentative, un-scientific, and unreliable statistics (done sloppily, for good measure). Think of this as a post authored by an evil Nate Silver.

WARNING: Really, this data is not to be trusted and shouldn’t be used for anything meaningful!

We’ll start off slow:

Based on our sample of 540 children’s books, the average height is 7.6 inches.

The average width is 6 inches.

And the average depth is 0.7 inches.

The ideal height-to-width ratio for a children’s book (in case you’re in the process of designing one) is 0.85 . So if your children’s book is 10 inches tall, you’ll want to make sure it’s exactly 8.5 inches wide.

The total width on the shelves of the newly-boxed books is 1,556 inches. But that number isn’t very easy to visualize, so we’ll use a more standard measurement: If every book were shelved together in a single line it would stretch 0.43 football fields! According to the data gurus at the New York Times, the average NFL field goal is from 35.9 yards out, which means that at 43 yards, children’s books are better than the average NFL kicker.

If you laid every one of the books flat head-to-tail, they would go 0.0001% of the way around the world.

Averaging together the call numbers for all of the books in the spreadsheet, the resulting call number is 529.5. That’s the Dewey number for the “Chronology>Calendar Reform“. Who would have guessed that the Gregorian calendar would be such a popular topic for children’s books?

Words and numbers are alright, but what we really need is some data visualization, so here’s a scatter plot of width (x-axis) and height:

scatter chart

Just ignore the values which seem to indicate that we have books with heights and widths of zero.



Rabbits in Boxes

As physical objects, children’s books are notoriously at-risk. Books and ephemera that were originally published for children usually ended up in the possession of… children, not surprisingly. And whatever their other merits, children aren’t typically known for their careful attention to the health and well-being of their toys and books.

That’s why a collection like our Edith Wetmore Collection of Children’s Books is so special. It’s comprised of about 2,000 books made for children, and many of them are still in incredible shape.

Imagine how easily this miniature French set of natural history books and its delicate, decorative could have been damaged in the nearly 200 years since its publication:

petite galerieOr how an avid young reader could have torn the dust jacket of Charlotte’s web:

Charlotte's Web

Or how about the fragile overlays attached to the pages of this guide for young women’s conduct:

The Toilet

Some items weren’t even designed to remain intact, like this assemble-it-yourself toy book of the Puss In Boots story (you can make your own version of one here):

Puss in boots


And in some cases, survival of a book is legendary. Beatrix Potter couldn’t get anyone interested in her story of a rambunctious rodent, so she published 250 copies of Peter Rabbit at her own expense and gave many away. We can be sure that original number of 250 was whittled down by children who loved their books to pieces, which is what makes a copy like this one such a treasure:

Peter Rabbit

With fragile books like this in such excellent condition, we wanted to make sure that they stayed as undamaged as possible, and that’s where the National Endowment for the Humanities* comes in. Thanks to a preservation grant program, we were able to purchase over 500 custom archival boxes for the most needy books in the collection. Individual boxes are great because they isolate books from most of the things that cause damage.

So now Peter Rabbit is safely ensconced and ready for another century of use by anyone (including children) who wants to see his first appearance in the world.

Rabbit in box


Next time: Numbers, numbers and more numbers.

*Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Wonderpictures, Russian Checkers, Toy Printing, Irish Certificate

Just a quick post with updates on some of the latest additions to Special Collections.

Thanks to donor David Nudelman, we’re now home to 356 Russian books on checkers. They join our already rich Haynes collection on checkers, and they should be of interest to anyone with an interest in Soviet book design. Here are two examples:


Another donor has given us a collection of toy printing/sign-making sets. They’ll join our Updike Collection on the history of printing.


We purchased a rare certificate of membership in the Repeal Association of Ireland:


And a very fun item that you’ll have to visit to get a proper sense of. “Stulz Wonderpictures” is a small advertising booklet that doubles as a visual toy. The images inside are printed in two colors and in such a way that the first image presents a scene and text (“Where are the fish?” for instance, with a picture of a fisherman). When the included red plastic sheet is placed over the image the original scene disappears and a new one takes its place (in the example above, fish swimming in a stream). Not only is it a whimsical complement to our children’s collections, it’s a fascinating piece of printing ephemera. And best of all, this amusing toy, seemingly aimed at children, advertises whiskey made by the Stulz Brothers company in Kansas City, Missouri.


Whale Guitar Installed

If you missed the Whale Guitar unveiling and exhibition opening a week ago, you missed a great show.

After Jen Long and Rachel Rosenkrantz eloquently explained the motivation and process that led to the guitar, they officially unveiled it…

Whale Guitar Unveiling

And then lots of people packed the balcony outside Special Collections…



… to hear performances by Area C (aka Erik Carlson), Reza Clifton, and Shannon Le Corre & Chris Carrera (of Bloodpheasant):



The performers signed the back of the guitar…

Guitar Signing

… and then it went in to the exhibition case…

Guitar in Case

… where you can see it until June 5th, as part of an exhibition on the guitar’s creation.

Whale Guitar Exhibition

The exhibition is in the Level 3 hallway beside Special Collections. And stay tuned for more information about the June 5th closing celebration, which will feature more music.

Typographical Ransom Notes #1: Fine Port and Ham

For a while now I’ve been planning on making a repository to store interesting pages from type specimen books that I come across during the day. And, more importantly, I wanted a place for visitors who use the Updike Collection to share their own images (we welcome researchers taking pictures of the materials they’re using when they visit). That site is now up and running: typesampling-logo1There are only a few images available at present, but expect many more in the future. And to celebrate, here’s the first post in an occasional series of ransom-note-style collages taken from images on the site: FinePortAndHam