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:

checkers

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

fulton

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

irish

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.

stulz

Natural Language

A few weeks ago Occasional Nuggets subscribers got a bonus issue highlighting a little gem I had noticed for the first time and wanted to immediately send out:

Landscape Alphabet

It’s a small leather telescoping box containing twenty-six little sketches, each one representing a letter of the alphabet as a natural feature in the landscape. Here’s the card for “K”:

K

Rather than do any research to figure out what this thing actually is, I decided just to scan the cards and send them out to the Occasional Nuggets readers, who, it turns out, are pretty smart folks. Within a few days I had a couple responses pointing to an 1830 publication called The Landscape Alphabet, which was produced in two lithographed versions by G. Engelmann, Graf, Coindet & Co. in 1830. One version was done in standard codex form, but the other was done on individual cards (the same size as ours) with embossed borders stamped with the paper maker’s name, “Dobbs” (just like ours). The card version was, in turn, based on a series of pen-sketches done by an artist indicated only by the initials “EK”. (The original cards are now in the collections of the Pierpont Morgan Library.)

Here’s an image from an article by Michael Twyman that appeared in the journal Typography Papers (you can even buy your own copy), where the original pen and ink drawing (top) is compared to the lithographed version published on the cards:

TwymanIt’s immediately apparent that what we have is related, but it’s equally apparent that our version is not in fact the lithographed 1830 publication. Take the scene at the bottom left, for instance:

Litho version:litho-detail

Our version: pencil-detail

They’re close, but not quite the same (note that bundle on the right is sideways to the viewer in our copy and end-on in the lithographed version).

So what’s going on? In his article Twyman quotes a contemporary reviewer of Engelmann’s Landscape Alphabet who declares that “The value of this little work will probably be found to consist in the stimulus it will afford to the very young students of drawing, form exact copies of the scenes here affixed to them….”

Our copy seems to be an example of just that kind of copying: pencil sketches that do their best to mimic the original (25 years after the publication of the original, if the date of 1855 on the box is an indicator of when they were produced).

But that answer just prompts more questions. The cards our anonymous artist used aren’t just similar to the originals, they’re the same size, made by the same company and featuring the same embossing. The 1830 lithograph set was sold in a publisher’s box that seems to be the same size and format (sliding open in the middle) but featured a label that functioned like a title page. Were blank cards and boxes sold for this express purpose? Or was it a standard format before it was used by Engelmann in 1830? If you’ve got the answers, let me know.

Bodoni One More Time

We’re just a few days from our Thursday lecture and opening of the Bodoni exhibition, so I wanted to offer one more blog post. First, because I wanted to share the great poster that graphic designer Michael McDermott designed for the event. Here it is:

MatthewCarter_Poster

One of the great things about it is that it’s designed so that each panel can be printed on a sheet of 11″x17″ paper, creating a giant version of the poster. Here’s an example in the wild:

Poster on wall

Second, I wanted to share one image of something you can’t see in the exhibition:

Title page of Amoretti specimen

This is the title page of a type specimen (with a great border) by the Amoretti brothers of Parma. It’s often the case with exhibitions of books that there are a lot of openings from individual volumes that you’d love to show, but in the end you usually can only pick one. In this instance the title page lost out to another opening. But that’s just a reminder that if you see something that interests you in an exhibition you can always come back and work with the whole book, cover to cover, on your own.

The Alphabet from A to A

We’re less than a week from our big Bodoni celebration (you’re invited), so here’s an example of the kind of thing you can look for if you visit the exhibition.

One of Bodoni’s predecessors (and the man whose types he first used when he set up the press in Parma) was Pierre Simon Fournier, the great French typographer best known, perhaps, for his origination of the point system that became the basis for the system we use today. In 1766 he published the Manuel Typographique, and below on the left is a scan of the letter A from that book, which is on display in the exhibition.

FournierVsBodoni-sidebyside

On the right is an A from Giambattista Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico, posthumously published in 1818. There is a long list of reasons not to make too much of the comparison (each A is just one example of just one letter, at a large size, etc.). But it’s still kind of fun to view a 50-year evolution of a letter in detail.

And just in case you want to see it in motion:

FournierVsBodoni

Hopefully you’ll be able to join us on the 27th for this typographic celebration, with a lecture by Matthew Carter at 6:00 pm. The Washington Street entrance will be open at 5:00, and I’ll be offering a short guided tour of the exhibition at 5:30. The exhibition will be up (in the Providence Journal Rhode Island Room) through April 19th.

More information is available on the Library website.

Planning Your February Calendar

If you’re in Providence (or anywhere else nearby), here are a pair of February events at the Library that you shouldn’t miss.

One week from today we’ll have the opening of an exhibition by two artists, Agata Michalowska and Andrew Oesch, who have been working with PPL Special Collections materials (particularly the Wetmore Collection) to create new art. The exhibition (on display in the Level 3 hallway outside Special Collections) will give offer a chance to see historical materials and their transformation into contemporary art. On February 3rd at 6:00 pm, Andrew and Agata will discuss the process in a lecture in the 3rd Floor Meeting Room. More information and online signup here.
primer

 

And if you’re planning even farther out in the month,  save space for our February 27th event. We’ll be opening a new exhibition on the printer and typographer Giambattista Bodoni, who dieed 200 years ago, in the Providence Journal Rhode Island Room. Our opening event will feature a lecture by prestigious type designer Matthew Carter, who will discuss the role of historical research in type design. It’s a fitting topic for a night on which we’ll also be launching the Updike Prize for Student Type Design, a competition to reward undergraduate and graduate students who use the Updike Collection and then go on to design their own typefaces inspired by their research. More information about the event and online signup form here.

Free Printing Press! (Some manufacture and assembly required)

Have you ever found yourself wishing for a printing press built to authentic nineteenth-century standards? Of course you have. And fortunately T.C. Hansard has anatomized the press and provided a detailed description of its parts, in his 1825 Typographia: An Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing.

If you decide not to go all-out and build a press from the instructions, the wood engravings could be printed, cut out and used to build your own paper model of a press. Better yet, download a 3D modeling program, spend a few weekends and evenings creating models of each part, and then send them to a 3D printer. (Please send photos if you choose this route.)

In either case, here are the images:

More History on the Internet

if there’s one thing more frustrating than interesting manuscripts hiding away with no way for researchers to find them, it’s when those manuscripts are also being stored in acidic folders and boxes, slowly self-destructing.

That was the case with the Arnold Autograph Collection until Stephanie Knott, a library student at the University of Rhode Island, arrived at the beginning of this semester and set to work on the collection. The Arnold Autograph Collection is a miscellaneous group of about 150 manuscript items (not to be confused with this nasty kind of autograph collection). They focus mostly on Rhode Island history, going back all the way to the 1600s and including items relating to the American Revolution, a bill of sale for a slave, and the deed to a pew.

In addition to moving items to new acid-free folders and boxes and creating an online collection guide, Stephanie has scanned the entire collection, and created an online exhibition focusing on a dozen items. The collection as a whole should be online in 2014.

Cutting up Documents for Fun and Profit

If anyone makes a special collections horror movie, this would undoubtedly be one of the scariest villains:

autograph scraps

 

These are just a few of the hundreds (HUNDREDS!) of autographs in our Miscellaneous Manuscript Collection. Many were collected by a single, dedicated individual whose interest in history went as far as the signatures on the documents but not so far as the documents themselves. In some cases the autograph collector apparently sent a blank card requesting a signature, as in this example signed by Mark Twain:

Twain SignatureBut in many cases signatures were brutally cut from their proper places:

Tillinghast letter 2013-11-20 07.46.37

 

It would be nice to know what Daniel Tillinghast was writing in 1785 (“… will not answer … till she is over…” is an intriguing bit to have), but that isn’t likely to happen thanks to our autograph collector.

I recently came across an example of the autograph industry from the other side of the mirror: Laid into one of our copies of Thomas Clarkson’s History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade (1808 ed.) is a letter from Clarkson to the book’s owner at that time, a man named Edward Raleigh Moran. The copy is inscribed by Clarkson, and Moran is requesting information about the recipient to whom Clarkson presented the book:

Clarkson Letter

 

In a postscript Clarkson writes “I have below sent you two autographs, which you may cut off and give to any of your friends should any be desirous of having them.” Mr. Moran’s friends apparently were not desirous of having them (or perhaps Moran wasn’t desirous of cutting up his letter and giving them away), because they’re still visible at the bottom of the page. (The verso of the page is blank, so if Moran had in fact cut out the signatures at least we wouldn’t have lost any original writing.)

 

History Has a Scent

Working in a special collections library I’ve often thought to myself, “If I just took a random book off the shelf, I’m sure it would be fascinating somehow.” Here’s a quick post to demonstrate that.

On Tuesday, while preparing for one of our twice-monthly Library architectural tours, I decided to put one of our whaling logbooks on display, so I turned to a shelf and pulled down a logbook I’d never opened before, the journal of the ship Marcus, which set out in 1844. By the time I got to the first page the volume was already proving interesting:

Marcus journal, p. 1

Look closely and you’ll see the page is encoded in some kind of substitution cypher. (According to a cataloging note, it’s a “serenade.” Anyone looking for a challenge is welcome to submit their own decryption in the comments.)

Next, after a few pages of fairly standard logbook entries (wind, weather, etc.), the volume turns into a storehouse for pressed flowers and other plants:

flower1

Some, like this lady slipper, include the plant’s root structure:
lady slipper

By my count there are 42 specimens, not counting the flying fish wings:

flying fish wingsAnd it’s all rounded out with a bit of poetry:

poetry

 

But my favorite part is that the author of this journal apparently included spices. Spices that still retain their scent after 170 years. (I think it might be oregano, but I haven’t gone through them all to find out what the spice is yet.)

Just another reminder that rare materials require the use of all five senses. (Well, maybe not taste. I wouldn’t recommend actually eating 170-year-old plants found in books.)

Latest Additions: How to Run a Print Shop, Brush Your Teeth, Save Money, Etc.

It’s been a while since the latest post about new additions to Special Collections, so here are notes on items that have come in during the last month or two.

Cart of new books

 

If forced to choose my single favorite category of books, I’d probably go with what you might call practical books: books that have a job to do in the world and get that job done. They’re not always pretty — sometimes they feature page after page of numbers and lists. Often they show signs of being roughed up, marked up and stored in less-than-ideal locations. 

One such class of items in our Updike Collection is books on print shop management, and the first two shelves of books in the image above are new additions in that category. The first shelf are transfers from our general, circulating collection. One of our sharp-eyed librarians noticed them in the stacks and asked if I was interested. I certainly was.

There were some type specimen books…type specimen

… and manuals on useful topics, like how to keep your Linotype machine running smoothly:

Linotype manual

 

The second row of books are new purchases along similar lines, particularly handbooks for pricing a print job…

Price Book, cover

Price book, text

 

… and being a good printer/salesman:2013-08-23 11.07.19Row three offers a couple more purchases, from recently-published books for the Updike Collection…

printing history books… to an interesting children’s book/toothpaste advertisement…

Tinies who live in a tube… to a collection of items on roller skating …

roller skating… and a sammelband bringing together six very scarce short works published in Ireland in the nineteenth century. They’re mostly religious in nature, but included among them is an 1817 report published by the Belfast Saving Bank, which includes stories of exemplary savers who took advantage of the banks services:

2013-08-23 11.11.282013-08-23 11.12.21