Double Introduction and Visual Research

As discerning blog readers may have noticed, this post was written by a brand-new staff member. Hello! My name is Angela DiVeglia, and I’m PPL’s new Curatorial Assistant.

Now that the personal introduction’s out of the way, let me introduce an awesome new weekly happening in Special Collections: Art//Archives Visual Research Hours.

These open hours will take place Tuesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., beginning this coming Tuesday, April 28th, 2015.

Art//Archives is a time for artists, creative workers, designers, illustrators, printers, curious bibliophiles, and anyone else interested in doing visual research in our vast collections of illustrated books, manuscripts, and periodicals. These weekly hours allow time for creative exploration and special collections browsing time.

Here’s a cool postcard advertising our open research hours:

I can sense your burning question, blog readers: “Why?”

First, our collection is a fantastic and free resource for local artists and designers. We’re fortunate to be located across the street from AS220, and within vigorous spitting distance of other great arts organizations, galleries, printshops, and graphic design firms, not to mention the Rhode Island School of Design. Being situated in a city that bills itself as The Creative Capital naturally means working closely with the arts community.

Second, we know that methods of visual research often differ significantly from methods of informational research. People often come to Special Collections hoping to unearth a highly specific piece of information—say, a letter mentioning a long-ago ancestor, or a sample lunch menu from a whaling ship—while visual researchers often want to browse a broad sampling of materials in search of the surprising, the inspirational, the beautiful, or the fascinatingly strange. Serendipitous encounters generally don’t happen in collections with closed, non-browsable stacks, but we want to make that kind of discovery-based experience possible.

Third, we want to create a comfortable setting for people who may not have done much, if any, archival or historical research before. Visiting Special Collections shouldn’t feel daunting; we want to foster a time and space when one can drop in, sans appointment, to explore some of our materials. Think of it as a once-weekly, enormously extensive visual encyclopedia.

To sweeten the deal, each week we’ll pull a selection of interesting illustrated books pertaining to a loose theme. We’re also happy to pull other books related to people’s specific interests.

Now I sense your next burning question: “How can I attend the Art//Archives Visual Research Hours?”

All you have to do is come to Special Collections on a Tuesday between 10:30 and 1:00. You don’t need a scholarly recommendation; you don’t need proof of citizenship, membership, or any other type of –ship. All you need is yourself, clean hands, an ID (to register on your first visit), and a sketchbook/ camera/ laptop if you want to take notes or photos. Then you’re free to hang out in our reading room with amazing old books (and amazing fellow artists).

Hope to see you on Tuesday! This week’s theme will be ANIMALS.

animal_books

 

Congratulations to Sandra Carrera and our other Updike Prize finalists

It’s a pleasure to announce that Sandra Carrera is the first ever winner of the Updike Prize for Student Type Design!

Updike Prize Trophy

You may have noticed that the trophy is also a fully-functional composing stick. We had a great evening with a lecture from Tobias Frere-Jones last Thursday, but if you missed it you can still visit the level 3 gallery cases to take a look at the type specimens of our four finalists:

Sandra Carrera, Picara (First Prize)
Chae Hun Kim, Hodoo
Prin Limphongpand, Rizvele (Runner-Up)
Yeon Hak Ryoo, Tranche

The specimens will be on display, with items from the Updike Collection that influenced the type design, until March 19th. Kudos to all four finalists who did a great job!

Picara, the winning typeface, was influenced by a type specimen published sometime in the 1770s by Antonio Espinosa, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve made the book available in its entirety online:

espinosa

 

If you’re a student interested in type design, don’t forget that the 2016 competition starts now! Stop in to work with the collection or just learn more about it and the rules for the prize.

And if you want to be notified about next year’s Updike Prize ceremony, stay tuned to this blog, or send us your email address to be added to our mailing list.

Tobias Frere-Jones & the Updike Award

We’re now just under two weeks away from our big type event of the year, when Tobias Frere-Jones will be our guest speaker at an event to award our first ever Updike Prize for Student Type Design.

Frere-Jones poster

It should be a fantastic night, so put it on your calendar now: Thursday, February 19th at 6pm. You can get a sense of Tobias Frere-Jones’s engaging take on typographic history by visiting his terrific blog.

At 5:30 we’ll be offering a short tour of our latest exhibition, “Inhabited Alphabets,” which highlights some typographic oddities from our Updike Collection as well as our other collections including children’s books, Civil War items and more. The Washington Street entrance will be open starting at 5:15. The event is free and open to the public, but you’re welcome to RSVP on the Library’s website.

And that’s not all! If you’re a proper typographic enthusiast, you need a great typographic t-shirt, and we’ve got one for you:

Tee shirt

Visit our Teespring campaign and order a t-shirt now. We’ve taken one of our favorite images from the current exhibition (from an 1838 Austin Letter Foundry specimen book) and turned it into a t-shirt that proclaims your typographic allegiance. Not only do you get a great shirt, but you also support Special Collections. The campaign runs through February 25th, so don’t delay. After that, they’re gone.

Thanks to Michael McDermott for once again designing the event poster featured at the top of this post. And thanks also to our event sponsor, Paperworks!

Paperworks Logo

SaltWaterColors

A newly-opened exhibition in our Providence Journal Rhode Island Room draws on our Nicholson Whaling Collection to highlight artistic creations by whalemen during the age of offshore whaling. You can view the exhibition now through the month of December. But in case you can’t make it to the exhibition, here are a selection of images (including quite a few not on display):

 

First Draft of History? Or Maybe the Second?

I recently decided to take a look at one of the Benedict Arnold letters in our Updike Autograph Collection, and came across a curious situation. Here’s an image of the letter:

2014-10-07 13.41.33

and the verso:

2014-10-07 13.41.51

The letter is dated May 19th, 1775, just a month after the battles of Lexington and Concord, and it describes Benedict Arnold’s successful raid on Fort St. Jean in Quebec, where Arnold had captured a ship and the small group of soldiers at the fort. Here’s Arnold’s account from the letter:

Manned out two small batteaux with 35 men and at 6 the next morning arrived there and surprised a sergeant and his party of 12 men and took the King’s sloop of about 70 tons and 2 brass six-pounders and 7 men without any loss on either side. The captain was hourly expected from Montreal with a large detachment of men, some guns and carriages for the sloop, as was a captain and 40 men from Chambly at 12 miles distance from St. Johns, so that providence seems to have smiled on us in arriving so fortunate an hour. For had we been 6 hours later in all probability we should have miscarried in our design.

The letter is also notable for a passage in which Arnold describes an encounter with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys:

 I must here observe that in my return some distance this side [of] St. John I met Col. Allen with 90 or 100 of his men in a starving condition. I supplied him with provisions. He informed me of his intentions of proceeding on to St. Johns and keeping possession there. It appeared to me a wild, expensive, impracticable scheme…

What makes the letter particularly interesting, though, is that it doesn’t seem to be the only version that Arnold wrote. An alternate version (addressed to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety) is available in a compilation of Revolutionary War documents published in the 1830s-40s (text | page image). The letters are both dated May 19th, 1775, and are basically the same in content, but there are routinely differences in language, and occasionally major differences in content. Our draft of the letter, for instance, doesn’t include the following passage, which appears in the other version:

I wrote you, gentlemen, in my former letters, that I should be extremely glad to be superseded in my command here, as I find it next to impossible to repair the old fort at Ticonderoga, and am not qualified to direct in building a new one. I am really of opinion it will be necessary to employ one thousand or fifteen hundred men here this summer, in which I have the pleasure of being joined in sentiment by Mr. Romans, who is esteemed an able engineer….

… I beg leave to observe I have had intimations given me, that some persons had determined to apply to you and the Provincial Congress, to injure me in your esteem, by misrepresenting matters of fact. I know of no other motive they can have, only my refusing them commissions, for the very simple reason that I did not think them qualified. However, gentlemen, I have the satisfaction of imagining I am employed by gentlemen of so much candour, that my conduct will not be condemned until I have the opportunity of being heard.

It’s illuminating to note that these lines — which move beyond the immediate reporting of forts taken and cannons captured — were ones that Arnold seemed to hesitate to send.

So why two copies, and why would they be different?* Unfortunately, our letter isn’t addressed, so we can only guess that it was intended for the same recipients (the MA Committee of Safety). But one bit of evidence appears in the last lines. Our copy concludes with this note:

For particulars [I] must refer you to Capt. Oswald, who has been very active and serviceable and is a prudent, good officer.

Indicating, it seems, that Oswald was delivering our copy of the letter. The other letter ends this way:

I must refer you for particulars to the bearer, Captain Jonathan Brown, who has been very active and serviceable, and is a prudent, good officer…

Scholars of the American Revolution (who are hopefully more knowledgeable of the conventions of military correspondence of the time) are encouraged to comment on whether Arnold was more likely to be sending two copies of a letter like this with different couriers, to ensure that it arrived safely, or sending a similar letter to two different sets of recipients.

In either case, it’s a reminder that even what seems like a clear piece of historical evidence might be only part of the story.

Here’s a transcription (spelling adjusted) of our copy of the letter:

Crown Point 19th May 1775

Gentlemen-

I wrote you the 14th instant by Mr. Romans, which I make no doubt you have received. The afternoon of the same day I left Ticonderoga with Capt. Brown and Arnold and fifty men in a small schooner. Arrived at Skenesborough and proceeded for St. Johns. The weather calm. 17th at 6 PM being within 30 miles of St. Johns. Manned out two small batteaux with 35 men and at 6 the next morning arrived there and surprised a sergeant and his party of 12 men and took the King’s sloop of about 70 tons and 2 brass six-pounders and 7 men without any loss on either side. The captain was hourly expected from Montreal with a large detachment of men, some guns and carriages for the sloop, as was a captain and 40 men from Chambly at 12 miles distance from St. Johns, so that providence seems to have smiled on us in arriving so fortunate an hour. For had we been 6 hours later in all probability we should have miscarried in our design. The wind proving favourable in two hours after our arrival we got on most all the stores, provisions and weighed anchor for this place with the sloop and 5 large batteaux, which we seized, having destroyed 5 others, and arrived here at 10 this morning, not leaving any one craft of any kind behind that the enemy can cross the lake in if they have any such intentions. I must here observe that in my return some distance this side [of] St. John I met Col. Allen with 90 or 100 of his men in a starving condition. I supplied him with provisions. He informed me of his intentions of proceeding on to St. Johns and keeping possession there. It appeared to me a wild, expensive, impracticable scheme and provided it could be carried into execution of no consequence so long as we are masters of the lake, [and] of that I make no doubt we should be as I am determined to arm the sloop and schooner immediately. For particulars [I] must refer you to Capt. Oswald, who has been very active and serviceable and is a prudent, good officer.

Bened: Arnold

Verso:

P.S. to the foregoing letter

By a return sent to Gen. Gage last week I find there are in the 7th and 26th regiments now in Canada 717 men including 170 we have taken prisoner. Enclosed is a list of cannon here at Ticonderoga:

[list follows]


* It’s also possible, of course, that one or the other letters wasn’t actually composed by Arnold at all, or at least not on May 15th, 1775. Arnold seems to have signed his name in a number of ways, as evidenced by comparing this signature with this one, both dating from 1775. The latter version uses a two-story form of the “A” in “Arnold,” and seems similar in other ways. I haven’t seen a copy of the other letter, which may be part of the Library of Congress’s Peter Force Library, donated by the author of compilation in which that copy appears.

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.