Let them Eat Horrified Gingerbread Boy Cake!

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you my latest collection: Victus Populi, a rather large collection of cookery pamphlets from throughout the 20th Century donated by Chef Fritz Blank.

It. Is. Fabulous.

I’ve only just started working with Victus Populi, and I am already completely enthralled. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that the first box Regan handed me was titled “Cakes.” Some of the cakes are deliciously tempting (I’m looking at you, Orange Rum Yum Cake), but my personal favorites are the ones that look absolutely ridiculous, the very best of which, in my opinion, is this layer cake featuring a small troupe of absolutely horrified gingerbread boys.

Recipe and image from Betty Crocker's Cakes Kids Love, 1969

Recipe and image from Betty Crocker’s Cakes Kids Love, 1969

Like I said, it’s fabulous. Doesn’t that gingerbread boy look like he’s just seen something AWFUL? This would be a perfect cake for a holiday party gone terribly awry or a Christmas-themed horror movie party (yes, they exist) because it is the stuff of wintertime nightmares.

What I’m really saying is: please, somebody make this cake and post pictures of it in the comments.

Cigarette and Trade Cards: For Non-Smokers, too!

A recent collection of mine, Dr. Daniel and Eleanor Albert collection of cigarette and trade cards, here at the Special Collections Processing Center contained a little over 1,400 cigarette and trade cards. When these six binders were wheeled down to my desk and I saw the sheer number of cards carefully sealed inside their little plastic squares, I grimaced. I had no idea what cigarette cards were; I was born in the 90’s and my childhood consisted of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards – and I’ve never been a smoker – so why would I be interested? Why should anyone be interested? You couldn’t do anything with them (like duel or play a rousing game of Rummy), so who cares? I found out exactly why as soon as I cataloged the very first card.

Cigarette and trade cards are really cool (and totally for non-smokers, too!).

Originally, cigarette cards were simply cardboard stiffeners that cigarette companies would use inside their cartons to help hold their shape. Trade cards were also receipt-like slips at their beginning, only needed to show purchase history. Then, both of these card types evolved into something much bigger: collectible items. Companies would manufacture sets of these little stiff squares and use them for advertising, urging the public to collect the entire set. These sets also had various subjects. Famous characters from literature, cries heard in the streets of London, and optical illusions were among the most popular. Artists could be employed to make a set for a company, using their creativity to produce beautifully drawn scenes with bright colors and quirky characters. These cards became so much more than cardboard inserts.

Cigarette and trade cards are actually highly collected ephemera, widely known and traded around the world in the inner circle of collectors. This collection itself has cards of several different languages, including French, German, and Chinese. These cards reflect each culture in the way they are drawn, the subjects they depict, and the companies that sponsor them. Looking through the some 1,400 cards was incredibly enjoyable and I hadn’t even realized just how many there were until I went to proof my work, I enjoyed them that much. The artwork on some are so beautiful for being printed on little cards, some smaller than a standard index card. Several of these cards definitely put my 90’s game cards to shame (as if they’re winning any awards for art, anyway). I certainly encourage those who did not know about cigarette and trade cards to look a few up, maybe even start a collection of their own, because they’re definitely not just for smokers or people from the late 1800s, and, you know, some of them wouldn’t look bad framed and on a wall…

The Charles Mulford Robinson papers

The Charles Mulford Robinson papers composed a landmark collection for me in many ways.  It was the most extensive collection I’d worked on in terms of variety of materials, it was the most initially disorganized, and it was my last.  I completed it on Monday, July 28, 2014, my last day working here at the Van Pelt Library.  Bittersweet as it is to leave, I am very pleased with the challenge and topic the Robinson papers presented me.

Charles Mulford Robinson (1869-1917) is an interesting example of a lauded celebrity from his own time who has since virtually disappeared from popular and even historical recollection.  During his life, Robinson was celebrated as the first American city planner and an early advocate of the “City Beautiful” movement.  After about a decade as a newspaper editor based out of Rochester, New York, Robinson developed a reputation for thoughtful ideas and judgments on city appearance and improvement.  Soon he was being invited by various cities and town in the capacity of “civic adviser” to tour them and offer suggestions on their improvement and beautification in line with the “City Beautiful” principles developed initially by Daniel Burnham in Chicago.  He produced reports and newspaper articles containing his advice for communities as different in size as in geographic location from Freeport, Illinois and Hannibal, Missouri to Syracuse, New York, Denver, Colorado and Honolulu, Hawaii.  The esteem he received from this earned him a professorship of urban planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a post in fact created especially for him, and the second of its kind in the country, the first being located and filled at Harvard.  He died suddenly at Albany at the young age of 48 from pneumonia in 1917.  Now, 97 years after his celebrated life, our nation’s first native-born city planner who was recognized as such is probably a new name to most of you, and his Wikipedia article is only three short paragraphs in length.  I find that to be a good warning for those who worship and seek celebrity: even if it is obtained based on the merits of your accomplishments, there is no guarantee that any number of people will remember you after your death.  To adapt some recent terminology, in the long-haul, those who join the ranks of Cicero and St. Paul are the 1%.

As an aspiring classical archaeologist interested in comparative urbanism across the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, I was very pleased to work with the papers of a city planner.  However, as I worked through the quasi-organized documents, I realized the collection would more reflect Robinson himself than his city planning activities.  The collection contains a few of his civic advising reports, but for the most part contains newspaper articles about him, personal papers, and personal items.  As such I got to know Robinson the man more than Robinson the city planner.  No matter, for Robinson was an interesting, agreeable individual who approached the Platonic ideal of a late 19th/early 20th-century gentleman.  His papers show him to be a conscientious, learned individual involved in his community.  The set of papers I eventually organized as the collection’s first series consists of a number of newspaper clippings and letters Robinson collected related to the 1912 controversy in Rochester over the planned construction of tenements under the auspices of George Eastman, the philanthropic founder of Kodak.  Eastman’s move was heavily opposed by elements of the Rochester community, including Robinson, who solidly believed Rochester should remain a city of single-family homes. In addition, he objected to safety hazards inherent in the tenements’ design, such as no fire escapes, no fireproof (i.e., brick-encased) interior stairways, and a complex which would have made heavy use of wood as a construction material.  In the end, Eastman lost and the tenements were not built.  Through this, Robinson showed himself to be possessed of the predominate sensibilities of his time, namely that the comparatively underprivileged of society should be taken care of and that civic virtue and integrity should be preserved and encouraged via a beautiful city.  Indeed, his correspondence and other papers show him to run in the Progressive circles of the time.  We have preserved letters from such Progressive personalities as the economist Richard T. Ely, Unitarian minister and abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and outspoken labor leader Samuel Gompers.  One of the newspaper clippings from 1916 contains a photograph of pacifists attending an annual conference the year before the United States entered World War I, in which Robinson can be seen standing in the second row.  For some reason also preserved in the collection was a number of excised autographs of Susan B. Anthony, apparently clipped out from letters.  Now personally I’d prefer the letters had been preserved in their entirety, because I’d like to know what Susan B. Anthony was saying in them, but here we have another example of what different time periods and individuals find valuable.

Even more than the correspondence (which was littered with club acceptance cards and other ephemera which only let us track Robinson’s social involvements), I enjoyed the poems, prose, and hymns Robinson authored in his spare time.  We have a number of them in various states of progress, from fully published ones to manuscripts on scrap paper with strike-throughs and corrections.  Proving Robinson had a gentlemanly sardonic humor, one poem is in fact the text of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” with humorous lyrics about the stock market and other present-day institutions.  The most memorable piece of Robinson’s prose for me was his piece entitled “Westward Ho!” about his trip to California on the Transcontinental railroad, advising Denver and Salt Lake City on the way, and which reflects upon the trip through the Great Plains and the Rockies.  In it, he used most every fancy turn of phrase I could imagine for a period gentleman to describe the purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain.  In addition to the stories and hymns (which unfortunately were not have set to music, so as far as far as I know none have yet been sung in the pews), I rather enjoyed the librettos from two plays Robinson co-authored, “Ye Gods and Goddesses” (an 1889 mythical romp with the Greco-Roman pantheon with 19th century accoutrements, such as Jupiter using opera glasses to observe the chorus), and “Dream Camp,” (an 1890 production in which a bust of Plato watches the antics of then-present day college students).  We also have an interesting “Reference” book of Robinson’s, containing lists of books he means to read on any number of topics from Roman law to archaeology, economics, and the philosophy of Seneca, his notes on those topics, and an impeccably organized index at the front guiding the reader to any topic.  That Robinson was so multi-talented (or at least dilettantish enough) to compose his own verses and chapters and keep up his learning in addition to his day-job as a newspaperman and eventually civic adviser and professor of city planning, thoroughly impresses me and convinces me of the possibility of living a lettered and learned in addition to a professional life.  I don’t think I’d be writing poetry or plays, but just the fact that I have this example of a man who lived out his interests in tandem with his career is inspiring in and of itself.

In addition to the correspondence, conflicts, creative writing, the collection contains a number of books, scrapbooks, and articles which provide a testament to Robinson’s life.  The scrapbooks contain snippings from the Arts & Books column of the New York Times, several volumes of clippings from the “Chat and Clippings” columns of an unidentified newspaper (possibly the Rochester Post-Express or the Rochester Courier), a boyhood scrapbooks containing clippings on any number of topics of interest from faith to a limerick meant to help children memorize the order of the English monarchs back to William the Conqueror, and any and all articles that mentioned his wedding to Eliza Ten Eyck Pruyn of Albany.  Indeed, the number of clippings Robinson collected about his wedding is only rivaled by the number of clippings a hired service(!) collected for his estate on the matter of his death, which is by far the most common topic in all the collection’s loose newspaper clippings.  Others include Robinson’s advising visits to Denver and Honolulu, reviews on some of Robinson’s published works, and, following his death, the successful efforts to establish a memorial to him in Rochester (including a renamed street in Highland Park, Robinson Drive, which maintains that name to this day).  Several books are also native to the collection which, again, do more to shed light on Robinson’s personal than professional life.  There are a couple professional books, a city planning progress report from 1917 and a book on horticultural landscaping.  The rest are a mix with sentimental value.  We have two darling, small devotional books, containing a daily Scripture reading and portion of a hymn, owned respectively by Robinson (a lifelong Presbyterian) and his wife Eliza.  Both books had been given to them as children, as Robinson notes in the front flap of his on the date he “entered” the church, and as Eliza proved with her innocent doodles and inscription of “Satan trembles when he sees a poor sinner on his knees.” There is a children’s novel called “Doctor Papa,” which after a month in Italy on a dig earlier this summer and hearing much about “Papa Francesco” while there, immediately made me imagine the novel was about a Pope-cum-Doctor of the Church, though somehow I doubt a book in the “Flaxie Frizzle” (actual name!) series was about St. Gregory the Great.  As Robinson’s description in the beginning attests, “Doctor Papa” was given to him as a school reward for “Good Deportment.”  We also have a book of “birthday gems” that belonged to Eliza, with a proverb and Bible verse for each day and an adjacent column for entering friend’s names (so as to bless them with the advice of their birthday) and a small book of good-night thoughts for children by the Anglican hymnist and poet Frances Ridley Havergal.  Wonderfully, the Van Pelt Library has Havergal’s companion volume to this, a book of good-morning thoughts for little ones to reflect upon when rising for the day.  Supposing Franklin is accurate, we did not previously have the evening volume, and now we do!  Nice saving throw from the past there, Mr. Robinson!  Thank you.  We also have a copy of Robinson’s own rip-roaring fun small book “The Third Ward Catechism,” a humorous look at Rochester’s Third Ward, and a pamphlet written by Frederick Law Olmsted (a friend of Robinson’s) called “The Smoke Nuisance,” which is basically New York having fun at Chicago’s expense for not having a smoke ordinance.  Chicago was a legendarily filthy and sooty city at the turn of the century due to heavy industry and lack of a civic smoke ordinance.  My maternal grandmother, who grew up in Chicago, recalled simply going outside for a day and returning home filthy just for being outside, the soot in the air was so heavy.  Perhaps the best part about the pamphlet was its cartoons, including ones making fun of “Cinderitis (a Chicago disease)” (caption of a drawing of a gentleman having an entire cinder of coal removed from his eye) and another poking fun at Daniel Burnham, who in the cartoon is presenting his “City Beautiful” plan for Chicago to local dignitaries.  The plan, due to the smoke-pumping factories outside the window, is covered up completely with soot in the seconds it takes Burnham to go to the door and welcome the gentlemen in, much to their and Burnham’s consternation!

As you can tell, we have in the Charles Mulford Robinson papers a most engaging collection shining a light into the life and character of our nation’s first city planner to be hailed as such.  While the comparative lack of professional materials is a tad disappointing (those can be found at Harvard, as an extensive correspondence in the collection between Mrs. Robinson and the Widener Library attests), the collection more than makes up for that in personal attestations and quirks.  Indeed, this collection ended up with the largest “Miscellaneous” section of any I’d had the pleasure of working on, containing items ranging from Robinson’s personal stamp and papers related to a club (“The Humdrum Club”!) headed by Robinson, to the (without any explanation I could divine) schematics of the steamer Kaiserin Auguste Victoria and the dried and pressed remains of different plants!  Yes, we are in possession of an interesting hodgepodge here, thanks to which Holly, with good reason, has laughingly proclaimed Robinson “whack-a-doodle,” which in some regards may not be off the mark!  I personally think of him as an eccentric, accomplished gentleman and was very pleased to make his acquaintance across time by way of this, my final collection at the Van Pelt Library.  Farewell to all, and Godspeed!

Finding Old Friends in Less-Old Places

I love MSG. I love monosodium glutamate, and I am not ashamed! Thus, naturally, I was quite pleased when I was handed the Melvin Benarde papers. This collection contains manuscripts for the title The Chemicals in our Food by Melvin A. Benarde, an author and professor of Environmental Studies at Temple, Drexel, and Hahnemann Medical School, all right here in Philadelphia. “Oh yes,” I thought. This was going to be lots of fun. “Bring on the doomsday warnings! Tell us about how food additives are going to make us grow extra limbs and hideously disfigured faces!”

However, I did not find any such warnings. Instead I found a surprisingly sympathetic attitude toward chemicals in food, and the Classicist in me found a few old friends. Herodotus, Benarde says, described an Egyptian practice of preserving fish by salting. This, in my book, is a huge point in favor of salted fish. If it’s good enough for Herodotus, it’s good enough for me!

Benarde also uses a Classical example to point out the fact that “natural” chemicals can be just as harmful as artificial ones: “When…the ‘elders’ decided that Socrates was too disturbing an influence on the Athenian community, he was handed an extract of Conium maculatum—the hemlock plant—with which to dispatch himself to a more propitious environment.” Ah, yes, that little incident. Let’s just call that strike one against natural chemical “comestibles” and say it cancels out with the one above…

Oddly humorous references to the death of Socrates aside, this collection was a lot of fun to work with. Seeing Benarde’s ideas on chemical food additives from a time before some of them had a chance to be normalized or vilified, as they are now, provided unique insights into how our own ideas, and doomsday fears, about chemical additives developed.

Philadelphia connections in the Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos

Dimitri Mitropoulos in Philadelphia (c. 1945). Photo by Adrian Siegel. Courtesy James Dixon. Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos.

Dimitri Mitropoulos in Philadelphia (c. 1945). Photo by Adrian Siegel. Courtesy James Dixon. Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos.

The Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos is now processed and open for research. Oliver Daniel was a composer, music producer, and musicologist, who wrote a biography of conductor Leopold Stokowski in 1982 and was working on a biography of conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos at the time of Daniel’s death in 1990. Daniel had conducted more than 180 interviews with over 120 individuals from 1982 to 1989 while researching the biography. Daniel’s longtime partner and executor of his estate Donald Ott sought an author to complete the biography and made Daniel’s oral history transcripts and notes available to author William R. Trotter, who completed the book, Priest of Music: The Life of Dimitri Mitropoulos, published by Amadeus Press in 1995. Ott donated the collection to Penn in 2006.

The oral history interviews and research materials cover all aspects of Mitropoulos’s life and career, including his early life in Greece and his conducting positions in America as principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, music director of the New York Philharmonic, and principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Daniel interviewed musicians who played and sang for Mitropoulos, conductors who were mentored by him, and composers whose works Mitropoulos premiered and championed domestically and abroad.

Jeanette MacDonald with Dimitri Mitropoulos and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Robin Hood Dell (July 20, 1945). Courtesy James Dixon. Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos.

Jeanette MacDonald with Dimitri Mitropoulos and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Robin Hood Dell (July 20, 1945). Courtesy James Dixon. Oliver Daniel research collection on Dimitri Mitropoulos.

Additionally, from 1944-1948, Mitropoulos served as principal conductor of the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra, which was the name applied to the Philadelphia Orchestra during its summer months performing at the outdoor amphitheater in Fairmount Park. For a time, Mitropoulos’s Dell concerts were wildly popular. Trotter indicates that crowds reached up to 7,000 per concert in Mitropoulos’s first season there and up to 14,000 in the 1947 season. In 1948, however, the Republican convention was held in Philadelphia, and attendance took a significant hit. Philadelphians were either at the convention or watching it at home—it was the first political convention to be broadcast on television. In the middle of that season the Dell concerts were abandoned altogether. Continue reading

William Nickerson Bates manuscripts on Euripides and Sophocles, or “where I fall in love with academia all over again”

I put aside my last collection, a former Penn professor’s manuscripts for books on Euripides and Sophocles, about two hours ago to head to some meetings with two of my most trusted professors. Our conversations centered upon my decision to go for a PhD in Ancient History, the process of applying to do so (for the second time around, but that’s another story), and my anxieties about the whole mess. A particularly long and winding portion of one conversation about my academic history ended with the question: “Are you saying all of this because you want to figure out how to put it in your personal statement, or is this you telling me that you’re having anxieties about whether or not you want to do this?”

My answer was so sudden and succinct that I could have sworn it jumped straight out of my heart or my gut, or whatever idiom suits it best in English (but I’m going to go with my φρήν, because, as per usual, the Greeks did it better). “No.” I said, “This is what I want to do. I want to do this because it is hard, because it is the only thing that has ever challenged me so much and so satisfyingly, and because it is the only thing in the world where I feel I could wake up every morning for a very, very long time still wanting to do it.”

And I came back to my collection with a wholly different mindset. The box I opened when I returned to my desk was not, as it had been previously, a box filled with my aspirations, the things I one day hoped to do in the optative; it was a box filled with my future indicative, despite the fact that its contents most certainly reflect something closer to the imperfect. It was no longer a pile of outdated theories that I could refute if, for one reason or another, my work led me to Classical reception from the late 1920s to the early 1940s; it was, however antiquated or disproven, a physical manifestation of the discourse that I pursue. This professor woke up every morning and did this thing that I am doing, and he did it from at least 1886 to 1940.

This, I realize, is an awful lot of depth for a collection that takes up 0.4 linear feet and fits neatly into one box, with not a single sheet protruding out of line. I think a lot of people probably find this kind of collection rather boring, page upon typewritten page of what would eventually become a book you can now purchase on the internet for three dollars, but I found it totally engrossing. Now, of course, this wasn’t totally unrelated to the fact that I’m a Classicist or that I happened to write my senior thesis on Euripides, but that certainly wasn’t everything. Earlier this year I worked on the Melvin Benarde papers, which dealt with health and the environment, neither of which falls anywhere near my area of expertise, and I loved the experience every bit as much as I did this one, so I figured there must be something more. It was the conversation with my professor that made me realize what it was: I am utterly fascinated by the history and process of academia.

Before the fortuitous confluence of all these ideas, I wasn’t totally sure how much of a purpose it really served to process collections like this one; I mean, if the published version of the book is out there, and if the author isn’t a famous historical figure, why would anyone schlep all the way to Philadelphia to come look at a typewritten copy with the occasional correction or note? The thing is: there’s really not much value if you’re only interested in reading the text, but if you’re interested in the process, these manuscripts are fascinating. The published books don’t show you where the author got tired and his handwritten notes began to look like squiggles, where he literally cut up his work and pasted it back together, or where he would have had to switch typewriters to change languages (which makes me feel awfully silly about whining over the two clicks it takes to switch back and forth from polytonic Greek). I’m sure I’m not the only nerd/scholar who feels this way, so here are some highlights from the collection. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

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Civil War in the Robert Milton Speer papers

My first collection here at the Special Collections Processing Center was letters to and from a man named Robert Milton Speer. Before bonding with Mr. Speer through his collection of around three hundred letters, I knew absolutely nothing of this United States Senator from the mid 1800s, nor that he even existed at all. Now, finished with boxing up his little slice of history, it’s hard to let him go. The youngest of six children, Speer had (according to his biography in the Biographical Encyclopaedia of Pennsylvania of the Nineteenth Century)  excelled through school and had become a successful and prominent lawyer before embarking on his journey towards becoming a U.S. Senator in the Forty-Second and Forty-Third Congresses. Along the way he met some incredibly quirky characters who wrote to him in handwriting that had me feeling like I was translating for my Ancient Greek course, and who asked him, sometimes, for the strangest of favors. A man advocating for a murder sentence to be lessened because the convicted man wasn’t usually horrible is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Celebrating World Day for Audio Visual Heritage with Hollywood Songs

monday-mourning-on-saturday-night_coverMonday, October 27 is World Day for Audio Visual Heritage, a day promoted by UNESCO and the Co-ordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA), for raising awareness of the preservation issues of the vast and valuable audio-visual materials in our archives. For several reasons, audio-visual information is especially vulnerable to loss: much of it is rare or unique, irreplaceable if lost; it is kept on a dizzying array of media types, many of which have become obsolete; many of these media types are extremely fragile and are prone to degradation over time; and to even know what is on a given recording may require that it be played — an act that could easily spell the end of that particular recording’s life.

The collections of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at Penn contain some wonderful audio-visual material. Some of it has been expertly preserved, reformatted in high quality digital form, with originals receiving appropriate housing and an environment that will sustain them as long as possible. But the cost of this treatment is high and the amount of material needing attention is ever growing.

a-square-in-the-social-circle-from-the-paramount-picture-the-stork-club_cover Continue reading

Save the date for “Cataloging Conflict” on October 16

archives_monthPlease join the rare book and manuscript catalogers of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts for “Cataloging Conflict,” one of a series of Archives Month Philly events celebrating archives and special collections in Philadelphia cultural institutions. “Cataloging Conflict” will be held on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 5:30 pm in the Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion of the Kislak Center.

 

Inspired by the centenary of the start of World War I, Penn’s archivists and rare book catalogers have combed the Kislak Center special collections for a wide variety of materials documenting war and conflict through the ages. Their favorite finds, which will be on display for this special event, include war propaganda printed on toilet paper, engravings of the Trojan War sold by subscription to fund the 1660 printing of Homer’s Iliad, a spectacular manuscript roll depicting major figures in England’s Wars of the Roses, indulgences sold to raise money for papal armies, 16th-century woodcuts of bizarre inventions for siege-craft and underwater warfare, escape maps and blood chits, soldiers’ songs performed by Marian Anderson, hand-colored illustrations of war elephants, letters to and from soldiers in World Wars I and II, the diary of an American Civil War draft dodger and … Penn’s famous Rocket Cats!

 

The Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion is located in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts on the 6th floor of the University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library (3420 Walnut St, Philadelphia Pa. 19104). The event is free and open to the public. Please bring a photo ID to enter the building. Registration for this talk is appreciated but not required. Please RSVP here or contact us at rbml@pobox.upenn.edu or 215.898.7088.

Nice to meet you. Let’s talk about hats.

Hello, Academic Blogosphere! It’s lovely to meet you. Today I’ll be sharing with you the third collection I’ve worked on since I started here in Special Collections Processing, but first, let me introduce myself. I’m a second-year Post-Baccalaureate student in Classical Studies at Penn. I also did my undergrad at Penn, so I’ve been around for quite some time. My background is in ancient history and civilization, and most of my work focuses on social history in Classical Greece. When I’m not studying dead languages and dead people, I spend most of my time thinking about food. I also write a blog for a local purveyor of cured meats (i.e., BACON! and other stuff), so if I slip in a porcine pun here or there, please forgive me.

Anyhow, on to the collection! Yesterday, Holly handed me a pair of boxes filled with the Bartholomew family’s theatrical scrapbooks. Unfortunately, a large portion of the collection was unlabeled, so it’s hard to say exactly who’s who. A rather thorough combing of the internet turned up virtually no information on the Bartholomew family and not a single picture, so it is impossible to verify the identities of some of the depicted. This leads me to believe that the Bartholomew family acting careers weren’t particularly illustrious.

Despite this letdown, the collection makes up for its labeling deficiencies with a thoroughly satisfying quantity of rather “theatrical” hats. While the scrapbooks are loaded with all sorts of fodder for research, it is the silly headgear that intrigues me most.

I think every Classicist can tell you that hats are one of the most exciting things about history. My personal favorite is the Phrygian cap, generally worn by non-Greeks as far back, allegedly, as the Trojan War. It looks like this:

See? How could Classicists not love hats! So just imagine my excitement when I stumbled across these babies in the Bartholomew family collection:

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As I’m sure you can tell, this collection was a ton of fun to work with. I found it especially interesting to see that the Bartholomew family, since they lived in Philadelphia, left tangible records of their interactions with city landmarks that still exist today. The family scrapbooks include funeral bills from the Olive H. Bair Funeral Home on Chestnut Street near Rittenhouse Square, which I pass on my way to the pharmacy, and playbills from the Walnut Street Theater, where Philadelphians and tourists alike still go to see shows. As a social historian, I’m fascinated by what quotidian things these not-so-prominent actors thought necessary to immortalize in their scrapbooks, and I’m totally blown-away by the fact that those things are still a part of my daily life.

On that note, I think it’s time for me to get started on my next collection, but before I go, let me leave you with this last little bonus image from the collection: a rather seriously-mustachioed gentleman who, much to my dismay, remains unidentified.

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