Bad Children(‘s Books) of History #25: Folly of the Beasts of the Earth

Special Collections has recently acquired an eye-popping addition to our Whaling Collection: Das Jagen, Fangen, Zähmen und Abrichten der Thiere, a 19th century German children’s  book about hunting animals. (The title translates as “The Hunting, Catching, Taming and Dressing of Animals”.)


The book’s frontispiece shows a spectacular, full-color whale-hunting scene, complete with befuddled walrus, spectator seagulls, and a very morose whale with a baleen mustache.



(Let’s pretend those dual arches are an exaggerated version of the southern right whale’s “characteristic double spout“, and/or that the sad whale is blocking our view of a smaller, simultaneously-spouting cetacean.)

This generally text-heavy book contains five plates, each of which bears nine tiny engravings. (I don’t recommend scrolling through the following section of engravings if you are 1) a small child, despite the fact that this is a children’s book, or 2) of a delicate constitution.)


The engravings, as you’ve likely gathered from the above, exhibit all manner of grisly ways in which humans kill other animals (some of which I consider anthropologically suspect, but I’m not a hunting expert).

For instance, there’s the old “bear impaled on a spiky board” trick:


There’s also the “scaring seals with weird faces over a grassy cliff onto curved spikes”  approach:


And, lest we forget, the “whipping birds while mounted upon a galloping horse” technique:


The digitized book can be viewed in its entirety online, either here or here. If you do look over the digital version (or come to Special Collections to view our copy in person), I challenge you to find the engraving of the sneaky person hunting reindeer while dressed in a reindeer suit. Really.

Last Chance: Scott Kelley exhibit

If you haven’t made it to the Providence Public Library to see Scott Kelley‘s nautical paintings inspired by our Nicholson Whaling Collection, I recommend you hightail it over here! The paintings are truly stunning, and we’re taking down the exhibit this Friday morning, February 12th.


Scott’s paintings are on display on the 3rd floor of the library, in the cases outside of Special Collections, and can be viewed during the library’s open hours today and tomorrow.

New Exhibition: Paintings by Scott Kelley

PPL is thrilled to present a series of gorgeous nautical paintings by Maine artist Scott Kelley, inspired by Kelley’s research in our extensive collection of whaling logbooks.

Kelley_Book of Whales_large jpg with color bar

Scott Kelley is an artist who lives on Peaks Island, Maine with his wife Gail, son Abbott, dog Francis, and an imaginary pig named Lunchbox. He received a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art in 1986 and has studied at The Slade School of Art, London and The Glassel School of Art, Houston. He is represented by Dowling Walsh Gallery, Rockland, ME and W.M. Brady & Co, NY.


The paintings will be on display on the 3rd floor of the library from December 21, 2015 until February 12, 2016. The exhibit can be viewed during the library’s regular open hours.



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):


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.

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:


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:



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.)

Portrait Double Feature

Since the weekly portrait series has been quiet recently, we’re offering two portraits today, both nautically themed.

1: “Lord Bateman”

Lord BatemanThis drawing appears in the logbook of the whaling ship Martha, during an 1838-41 voyage.

2: The mailman



Alright, maybe not the actual mailman. But this letter-deliverer was intended to proudly decorate the bow of a 19th-century ship. The image comes from an amazing item in our Brownell Collection, the pattern book of a figurehead carver named R. Lee. You can read more about Lee in volume 2, issue 3 of Occasional Nuggets, but if you’d like to view the pattern book in it’s entirety, it’s now available online.