Outstanding rabbinical provenance in the Kaplan Centre Collection, part 1: Ḳorban reshit (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1777)

This volume was formerly in the rare book collection of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Judaic Studies at the University of Cape Town and donated to the Penn Libraries in 2019.

There was a major figure in the world of rabbinic leaders of the Ashkenazic Jews – R. Aryeh-Leib Günzburg of Metz. He lived ca. 1694 – 1785. Although he lived on the eastern front of the fading Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for most of his years, the rabbinate he was known for was more famously that of Metz, which is close to the northern border of France near Germany. His novellae (novellae in the context of Talmudic and Halakhic writings are theoretical and practical dissertations on the minutiae of conceptual Talmudic writings, in contrast to Hidushe halakha or hidushe dinim, which are legal and practical sets of opinions and writings) – are considered to be among the highest achievements of Talmudic genius; fore-mostly with his publication of his responsa, Sha’agat Aryeh in Frankfurt an der Oder in 1755; Ṭure even, on tractates of the Talmud, Metz 1781. His other writings were published posthumously.

R. Aryeh-Leib Günzburg, from a drawing done of the sage on his deathbed; probably Metz, 1785; from, Netter, Nathan, Vingt siècles d’histoire dune communauté juive: (Metz et son grand passé), Paris, 1938. His yahrzeit (annual day of death) occurred on July 7 (15 Tamuz).

During the years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, it was common for distinguished rabbis to originate in Eastern Europe and move westward into Germany or to distinguished rabbinates in Bohemia or Moravia. R. Günzberg is one such example, serving the extremely important rabbinate in Metz; other examples are like that of R. Joseph Teomim originating in Lemberg, to Berlin, and afterward Frankfurt an der Oder; R. Jacob Reischer originating in Rzeszow, Poland, going to the rabbinates of Worms and Metz; R. Ezekiel Landau from Poland to Prague, and R. Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen, originally from today’s Lithuania, assuming the rabbinate of Altona, Germany.

Aside from the obvious economic considerations of this fact, there is also very important intellectual consequences that came from this. Talmudic and Halakhic novellae – which during the middle ages seldom moved at this volume, accuracy and adaptivity – spread with ease during the 18th century. One of the books in the Cape Town Holocaust Collection shows this point precisely.

Sefer Ḳorban reshit, Frankfurt an der Oder, 1777, published by the Widow of Dr. [Johann David] Grillo; volume from the South Africa Holocaust Collection, gift of the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town, 2019.

Turning to the volume at hand; Ḳorban reshit, by R. Judah-Loeb Margoliot (Zboriv, Ukraine, 1747 – Frankfurt A.d. Oder 1811) we find one such great work of Talmudic novellae, on the tractate Rosh ha-shanah, authored by an Ashkenazic rabbi from Eastern Europe who made his way west.  Early in his career, he headed yeshivot  in the towns in Poland where he lived and worked.  The manuscript writing in our volume of his novellae, published in Frankfurt an de Oder in 1777 show the detail of his studies in the halakha (Jewish law) and the spread of his teaching among yeshivah students.

R. Margolioth was a rabbi in a number of Polish towns, but he is best known for having served as a Resh Metivta (head of Yeshivah) in Kopyczyńce (קאפשיניץ, also called Kopychyntsi, located on the Ukrainian border near Poland in the Tarnopol area); this biographical fact is an important clue that informs our discovery. Although this was a small town, the practice of the yeshivot at the time was for students to travel to study with famous talmudists even if the yeshivah where the scholar taught lacked a formal educational system (in contrast to what was often found in a large city with curricula). The purpose of such travel was to learn and develop under the tutelage of an eminent scholar, and R. Margolioth was one such figure to whom students flocked.

Our volume in the Kislak Rare Book Collection is specially inscribed with manuscript notes covering both sides of the endpapers. The Hebrew scribal hand is Polish-Lithuanian in style, typical of an Talmud scholar also with eastern European influence. The page layout consists entirely of one continuous disquisition (i.e., the text is not formatted in paragraphs). It addresses a single topic in one lengthy note.

The line begins: מה שהקשה הגאון המחבר רשכב”ה בעל ש”א זצ”ל – ‘[the following is] that which the prolific author [of this volume] asks [from] the rabbi of all of the [Ashkenazic] diaspora, the author of Sh.[a’agat] A.[ryeh], of blessed memory”. The manuscript then proceeds to answer at length a complex question that was initially raised by R. Günzburg in his work Ture even.

We don’t know when exactly this note was written but sometime after its composition, we find this volume, originally printed in Frankfurt, shows signs of having traveled east to Poland and subsequently Russia. One such sign is a common stamp in Russian made by a censor working under the command of the Czar.

I found it moving to see in the writing of these notes someone studying R. Margolioth’s book during the author’s lifetime. Notice that the writer does not inscribe a memorial appellation (e.g., “of blessed memory”) after Margolioth’s name as was customary after the death of someone of his stature. Taking this into account and the fact that we know from other sources that Margolioth died in 1785, we may infer that this note was written between 1777, when the book was first published and 1785 when the author died.  Sometime in that eight-year time span we see someone, possibly a student of Margolioth who knew him first hand, debating fine points of law that were inserted into the novellae in the Sha’agat Aryeh, on what is today a classic citation and topic in the book.

After his death, the Sha’agat Aryeh gained the reputation of being the greatest expounder and thinker of the Talmud of his day, and possibly the greatest “head of yeshivah” of the past few (how many? since the time of the rishonim?) centuries; for example, the extended title statement for the Brno edition of the Sha’agat Aryeh (the first edition postdating his death) states that “he is named, among all, as Rabbi Löb, Rosh Yeshivah”. This honorific is recorded in many biographies of him. The notes in our volume attest to R. Margolioth having a significant place in the widespread study of the work of Sha’agat Aryeh.  Moreover, we elsewhere have documentary evidence of a living connection between the two scholars.  The Bibliography of the Hebrew Book records a rare variant printing on the verso of the title page of the first edition of the Sha’agat Aryeh (Frankfurt an der Oder, J.D. Grillo, 1755-6) which mentions a written correspondence between R. Gunzberg and R. Margolioth (BHB, no. 000116993)!

In sum, we see from our copy the author having moved from eastern Europe to the west; we also find him moving again via the agency of the halakhic work he published and the notes someone, perhaps a student of his, inscribed on it traveling from Germany back into Poland and/or Russia. We also find two parallel lives of two famous Resh Metivtot (heads of Yeshiva) who originated in the east of Europe, who moved to prominent rabbinates in western Europe, and who published their Talmudic novella in the west, and who later gained even greater prominence in the east.  Although the title and position of the western rabbinate was quite different than that of a Resh Metivta in eastern Europe, the eastern style of learning persisted, was published, and circulated in the west and found its way back east during this period of history.

Two Unrecorded Woodcuts from Urs Graf’s “F.M.S.” Cycle

Leaf c2r of the Lea Library's "Seelengärtlein" (Basel?: Pamphilus Gengenbach?, between 1515 and 1520?) with red and black inhabited woodcut initial H.

Leaf c2r of the Lea Library’s “Seelengärtlein” (Basel?: Pamphilus Gengenbach?, between 1515 and 1520?) with red and black inhabited woodcut initial H. Photograph by the author.

In the spring of 2019 the Penn Libraries acquired for the Henry Charles Lea Library a German Hortulus animae or Seelengärtlein (BX2085 .S44 1515), a type of lay prayer book that enjoyed a brief burst of popularity in western Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century.1 The first known Hortulus animae—Latin for “little garden of the soul”—was printed in 1498 at Strasbourg by Wilhelm Schaffner (Oldenbourg L1; ISTC ih00485000); three years later another Strasbourg printer, Johann Grüninger, issued the first German edition, whose subtitle explains, “This little book is an herb garden / Of the soul …” [Dyses büchlin ein wurtz gart ist / Der sel …] (Oldenbourg L4; VD 16 H 5076). Its small format (usually octavo) and use of illustrations as well as some of its textual content—”calendar, little office of the Virgin, seven penitential psalms, litany of the saints, suffrages … and office of the dead” [Kalender, Kleines Marienoffizium, sieben Busspsalmen, Allerheiligenlitanei, Suffragien … und Totenoffizium] (Ochsenbein 147-148)—attest to the genre’s roots in the book of hours, but as Anne Mette Hansen notes, “In the Hortulus animae, personal prayers occupy a central position. There are fewer prayers of the hours, but more Marian prayers, prayers at the cross of Jesus, supplications, confessional prayers, prayers for preparation before death and prayers on the deathbed, plus a calendar and numerous illustrated prayers to saints” [Im Hortulus animae nehmen die persönlichen Gebete ein zentrale Position ein. Es gibt hier weniger Stundengebete, dafür mehr Mariengebete, Gebete beim Kreuz Jesu, Bittgebete, Beichtgebete, Gebete zur Vorbereitung vor dem Tod und Gebete am Sterbebett, dazu ein Kalender und zahlreiche illustrierte Gebete zu Heiligen] (33, n. 12). The programmatic nature of the Hortulus animae both inspired and found uses for cycles of illustrations by some of the period’s master engravers, including Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein, and Urs Graf. The Lea Library’s Seelengärtlein contains seven woodcut illustrations from Graf’s “F.M.S.” cycle (so called from the initials which appear in them in addition to the artist’s mark), two of which are unrecorded and which I am pleased to introduce in this post.
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Holiday Cards … and starting the new year with love … and pets!

It seems that regardless of religion, age, or tech saavy-ness, the end of the year is the time to send thoughts to your family and friends.  Tons of archival collections have at least one or two holiday cards and it always delights me to see the bold colors and sparkly designs that were created to bring a little light into an otherwise chilly and dark season. Who knows how long this tradition will last in paper–online is just so easy!

Two of my favorite collections ever have shown me that corresponding with artists is something we should all try to do (I am imagining on online dating app that allows you to request a correspondent with artistic skills).  Sometimes those artistic correspondents send out beautifully crafted and movingly personal cards.  And SOMETIMES, those artistic correspondents do that along with their pets. 

Please let me introduce you to Carole Paquette, or rather, I suppose her cats!  Ms. Paquette was a correspondent of the incomparably lovely Atha Tehon.  As a I was organizing Tehon’s correspondence, I came across this lovely card of a kitty called Cookie.  I was utterly charmed, put it aside to photograph, and continued sorting … and then … I found a card with Cookie AND Littl’un.  I must confess that at this point, sorting ended and a full on search for more of these cards began!  In the end, I found 14 cards showing the lovely lives of Frankie, Cookie, Littl’un, and Kit-ton, dating from 1993 to 2010 (not all cards are dated). This treasure trove of hand made cards filled me with absolute delight and I showed them to every person who stopped by my desk.

Not long after that, I found a few cards similarly sent over the years … documenting another family and pets.  Richard and Martha’s cards always included Merritt and Cooper, and although I am not sure if Richard or Martha was the artist, these cards have plenty of humor and charm!  Atha Tehon (if you read my post on her, you will know how I feel about her!) made friends easily and kept them all her life–which is obvious by the long-standing relationships that are documented in her collection.

Just a few weeks ago, I was sorting through an addition to the Clement and Sophie Winston papers.  Sophie was an artist and she corresponded with loads of artists, including Louise Kellogg Hilbert. Sophie and Clem were savers — and there are dozens of of beautiful holiday cards they they lovingly kept–so again, when I found the card with a fuzzy pup, I smiled and put it aside to share with colleagues (we in Kislak do love our pets and animals).  And then … more!  I have only found five of these little darlings, but I am not done sorting through the wonders of this most recent addition of the Winston family papers. 

Sharing love and friendship at the end of the year doesn’t really need to be about religion or specific holidays, I have found.  Clem and Sophie were Russian Jewish immigrants, but they received (and saved) hundreds of Christmas cards.  In the end, it is really about letting people know that they are cared for and valued.  As we approach the new year, let this be the Special Collections Processing Center’s wish for you … may this coming year be filled with health, peace, community, economic recovery … and, of course, PETS! Happy New Year, readers!

“What a Morning!”: Illustrations of the Christmas Story in Black Spirituals by Ashley Bryan

Original artwork used for the cover of “What a Morning!: The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals,” illustrated by Ashley Bryan

In light of this holiday season, I wanted to share some of the wonderful original artwork from “What a Morning!: The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals,” a (Aladdin Paperbacks) illustrated by Ashley Bryan. The book consists of lyrics and piano accompaniment to black spirituals including “My Lord What A Morning,” “Mary Had A Baby,” “Go, Tell It On The Mountain,” “Sister Mary Had-A But One Baby,” and “Behold That Star!” The book, published in 1987, filled with brilliant, full-color illustrations by Ashley Bryan, received the ALA Notable Children’s Book, the Booklist Editors’ Choice, and the ALA Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book awards.

Original artwork used opposite the lyrics and musical accompaniment to the black spiritual, “Sister Mary Had-A But One Child”
Original artwork used for the title page of “What a Morning!: The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals”

Ashley Bryan (b. 1923), born and raised in New York City, is the descendant of West African enslaved people from Antigua. His father was a printer and provided Ashley with paper to illustrate his very first drawings, a skill that he developed into a lifelong passion and career in the arts. Known for his efforts as author and illustrator of children’s books, he authored, illustrated, published, and distributed his very first book at the tender age of 5 years old. He would go on to take part in contributing to at least 46 more published books, utilizing his many wonderful artistic skills, including drawings, watercolors, and woodblock prints.

“What a Morning!: The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals” is the product of a collaborative effort between John Langstaff (editor) and Ashley Bryan (illustrator), and John Andrew Ross (music arranger), a trio of talent that would reunite in 1991 to collaborate on another book, “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: Heroes of the Bible in African-American Spirituals.”

Recognizing the power of song as a central aspect of his life, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that several other publications of black spiritual bear the name of Ashley Bryan on their covers, including “Walk Together Children: Black American Spirituals” (Alazar Press, 1974), “I’m Going to Sing: Black American Spirituals Volume Two” (Alazar Press, 1982), “All Night, All Day: A Child’s First Book of African-American Spirituals” (Athaneum, 1991), and “Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals” (Athaneum, 2007), all authored and illustrated by Bryan.

Original artwork for “What a Morning!: The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals,” illustrated by Ashley Bryan, depicting Joseph, Jesus, Mary, and a lamb

In addition to “What a Morning!: The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals,” Ashley Bryan has illustrated two other Christmas-themed books: “Christmas Gif’: An Anthology of Christmas Poems, Songs and Stories Written by and About African-Americans” (William Morrow & Company, 1993) compiled by Charemae Rollins; and “Carol of the Brown King: Nativity Poems by Langston Hughes” (Athaneum, 1998).

To take a step back, I want to say what a joy it has been to be processing the Ashley Bryan papers, despite not being able to work with them as much as expected, due to our having to work remotely on account of the coronavirus pandemic. It is all of our hopes at the Special Collections Processing Center that we are able to join each other in the office in the new year, to interact with beloved materials such as these, and to make them available to the public as soon as possible. Whoever you are, wherever you are, we wish you from the bottom of our hearts a healthy and Happy Holidays and New Year!

A Coincidence of Mermaids: Two Bookplates of the Mason Family

The Kislak Center’s American Culture Class Collection holds fifty-four nineteenth-century editions of works by William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870), an author who embodies the contradictions of his era: the son of a bankrupt, he married a plantation heiress; a member of the Young America circle, he rejected Americanism in favor of sectionalism; a Unionist during the nullification crisis, he wholeheartedly espoused secession during the Civil War. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Simms divided his antebellum literary life between the South and the North and was second only to James Fenimore Cooper in popularity as a writer of romances filled with historical incident and regional color. The Wigwam and the Cabin (AC8 Si488 845w), a collection of short stories published in 1845 at the height of his contemporary renown, was favorably reviewed by Edgar Allan Poe, who opined that Simms exhibited “genius, and that of no common order” (273) and in particular lauded the story “Murder Will Out” as “an admirable tale, nobly conceived, and skilfully carried into execution—the best ghost-story ever written by an American” (275). Two nineteenth-century bookplates in the Kislak Center’s copy of The Wigwam and the Cabin‘s first edition testify to its contemporary American ownership by at least one member of the ambitious and newly-moneyed Mason family. The first (pictured at left below) displays the name and arms of T.B.M. Mason: on a gold background, a blue two-headed lion rears up on its hind legs with its forelegs extended; the crest is a mermaid combing her hair with her left hand while holding a mirror in her right. The second (pictured at right below) features only the mermaid crest and the surname Mason, but both have the same motto printed on a banderole: Listo (Spanish for “Ready”). This hint of the melting-pot heritage of T.B.M. Mason led me to explore the biography of this Northern reader of Simms’s Southern romances—and an impressive one it proved to be.

Left: Armorial bookplate of T.B.M. Mason: or, a lion rampant with two heads azure; crest: a mermaid proper, holding a mirror in her right hand and a comb in her left; motto: Listo. Right: Armorial bookplate of the Mason family: crest: a mermaid proper, holding a mirror in her right hand and a comb in her left; motto: Listo.

Left: Armorial bookplate of T.B.M. Mason: or, a lion rampant with two heads azure; crest: a mermaid proper, holding a mirror in her right hand and a comb in her left; motto: Listo. Right: Armorial bookplate of the Mason family: crest: a mermaid proper, holding a mirror in her right hand and a comb in her left; motto: Listo. Courtesy Provenance Online Project.

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Small Clues to a Big Story

I have been an archivist for a fairly long time, and one would think that I would have gotten past the concept that any collection is boring. However, I confess that when I opened the folder on which “Goodyear Dental Vulcanite Company” was written, I did not have high hopes for my enjoyment of the collection. I had the tiny collection foldered in a few minutes … and then I started my research and holy cow … may I just say that history is found everywhere and in this case, a “boring” little collection contains documentation related to a story as shocking as the news is today.

I am in no way the first to write about this shocking tale, so I will keep it short, but let me give you a tiny bit of background. Essentially, this collection consists of licenses and agreements signed by Philadelphia’s Elijah M. Neall & Son dental practice (made up of Elijah M. and his son Elijah Henry, both renowned for their work with artificial teeth) to use vulcanite rubber as the base of dentures. Boring, eh? Well, these documents may be a bit dry on their own, but when I discovered that they were examples of licenses and agreements that resulted in MURDER, I started to reconsider.

The Goodyear Dental Vulcanite Company owned the patent on this amazing new product that allowed for lighter, cheaper and more comfortable dentures (previously denture bases were made of wood or ivory) that apparently would allow people to smile, and eat, and talk while wearing their false teeth! As you can imagine, nearly every dentist wanted to use this miraculous product, but the GDVC charged every dentist $35 per year ($50 if they did not pay in a timely fashion) plus a royalty for every set of dentures. According to an inflation calculator, $35 in 1879 = $910 today. The company hired Josiah Bacon as their treasurer and he enforced the patent—and when I say he enforced, I mean he ENFORCED. The gent appears to have taken quite a bit pleasure in his job and apparently resorted to trickery to find those who did not pay.

One such individual whom Bacon seems to have taken pleasure in hounding was a dentist called Samuel P. Chalfont. Chalfont did not pay for the license and agreement and was forced out of his offices in Delaware and St. Louis. He moved on to San Francisco where he was located by Bacon who planned to out him—instead, Chalfont, as much to his surprise apparently as anyone else’s, shot Bacon and killed him. He claimed that he took a gun just to scare Bacon—and he turned himself in voluntarily.

Our little collection may not tell that story, but it certainly provides evidence in the telling of the story. This is an example of how researchers need to be detectives–clues to the story are all over the place and are possibly hidden in bigger (or smaller, in this case) collections across the country. I like to think that archivists make that detective work possible!

Lions on the Clock: Woodcut Devices of Nikolas Brylinger

Top left: Lydian one-third stater electrum coin (early 6th century BCE). Courtesy Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (CC BY-SA 3.0). Bottom left: Lions Club International emblem. Courtesy Lions Club International. Right: Printer's device of Kraft Müller from “Psalterium Davidis carmine redditum per Eobanum Hessum” (1546). Courtesy Provenance Online Project.

Top left: Lydian one-third stater electrum coin (early 6th century BCE). Courtesy Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (CC BY-SA 3.0). Bottom left: Lions Club International emblem. Courtesy Lions Club International. Right: Printer’s device of Kraft Müller from “Psalterium Davidis carmine redditum per Eobanum Hessum” (1546). Courtesy Provenance Online Project.

Lions have long been the device of choice for western royalty, from the lion-headed coins of the Kingdom of Lydia to the blazons of half the monarchies of Europe, including England, Norway, and Spain. More plebeian institutions haven’t shied from employing the King of Beasts, either: the Swiss canton of Thurgau retained the two lions of its erstwhile overlords, the Grafen von Kyburg, on its own nineteenth-century flag; a sign featuring a gold L on a blue roundel flanked by a pair of lion heads—”facing the past with pride and the future with confidence,” in the words of its designer—greets travelers to any town with a Lions Club; and, of course, hundreds of Hollywood films have been introduced by the roar of MGM’s Leo the Lion (later spoofed by MTM’s Mimsie the Kitten). Some early modern printers, too, featured lions in their marks: Jean Petit and Peter Quentel used them as heraldic supporters; Adam Petri and Valerio Bonelli mounted a putto and the goddess Athena, respectively, on lions in their devices; Johannes Prael represented the triumph of humility with the confrontation between a lion and a lamb, while Kraft Müller played on the meaning of his personal name with the image of a lion upholding a pillar. Nikolas Brylinger, not content with one or even two lions, gives us a group of three observing an hourglass, one of the most striking uses of the animal in a sixteenth-century printer’s device, as the instances held in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts demonstrate. 

Left: Printer's device of Bartholomeus Westheimer from "Aristotelis Insignis Philosophi Libelli Duo" (1536). Right: Printer's device of Nikolas Brylinger from "C. Julii Caesaris Commentarii" (1539).

Left: Printer’s device of Bartholomeus Westheimer from “Aristotelis Insignis Philosophi Libelli Duo” (1536). Courtesy Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Digital. Right: Printer’s device of Nikolas Brylinger from “C. Julii Caesaris Commentarii” (1539). Courtesy Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

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Ted Weems: You’re the Cream in My Coffee!

Between my love for archival collections and literature from the early 20th century, I feel like I am a true appreciator of the slang of days gone by (probably more so than the slang of today) and I have been known to tell people that they are the bee’s knees, the eel’s hips, or the cat’s pajamas. Imagine my delight when I discovered, in the Ted Weems collection, a new turn of phrase in the form of a song title: You’re the Cream in My Coffee. I have been trying to work this into conversation, but it is a bit more of a mouthful than “you are the bee’s knees.”

After my initial inspection of the collection, I resisted the urge to start shopping for fringed beaded dresses and dancing shoes, and instead typed Ted Weems into my Spotify app. And POOF, I was transported to the 1920s, and I processed the collection with a bit more bounce than normal!

Ted Weems (1901-1963) was a UPenn graduate and a bandleader of his own nationally renowned group, The Ted Weems Orchestra. His collection is full of amazing scores, photographs, scrapbooks, and recordings … which tell the story of a busy, productive, and successful musician from the 1920s through the 1950s. All the clippings and the press about Weems say that he had a delightful sense of humor, but that is not really something you can get from the collection–instead it shows an intensely professional man who took his work, and the livelihood of his band mates, very seriously.

Cory Knudson, one of our truly wonderful student workers, began working on this collection before the pandemic; and since we are not sure when students will be allowed to return to campus, I am finishing up all the collections that were started but not completed by our students. Cory had already foldered the sheet music and the parts and master scores–but as I looked through them I was delighted (and a little worried) about the physical state they were in … this is actually the case with the entire collection! But that is because this collection is full of working documents–not created for show or for vanity. The scores are folded in the most bizarre ways, they are cut into pieces, and they are taped and glued. My first instinct was to unfold, peel off tape and try to restore some semblance of originality to the papers–but my experience as an archivist made me stop–the condition of the scores tells us a lot about how this material was used–how the scores were set onto music stands, how they were probably stored.


The scrapbooks, too, are an absolute nightmare, preservation-wise, but are a treasure trove for researchers. There are two sets: a set of smaller scrapbooks that, to me, are more fun–full of correspondence, promotional materials, ephemera, etc. They are colorful and give the feel of the jazz band era and the glitter of the time. The second set of scrapbooks are enormous–unwieldy and awkward to handle, and filled with newspaper clippings. Although these are less fun to look at, they are the most comprehensive resource within the collection for the press and public face of the Ted Weems Orchestra.

As I processed, I thought a lot about the public face of this man and the Ted Weems Orchestra: Weems started his work during the Roaring Twenties … and the photographs and images seem indicative of this happy time. There is not much difference in the images during the 1930s when this country was ravaged by the Great Depression–but this, it seems, was intentional. Did the music of Weems and his Orchestra provide hope and a sense of fun to people without hope and fun? I hope so–the titles of songs are so delightfully nutty that it is hard to imagine them not bringing a little cheer into the lives of the American people. In the early 1940s, Weems and his Orchestra enlisted in the Merchant Marines, and Weems led the Merchant Marines Band–and again, it seems that the public face was bright and sunny in a time of fear and worry.

One way or another, the Ted Weems collection made me smile during a time of fear and worry. So, I say, Ted Weems, you are the cream in my coffee! Check this collection out … especially if you are filled with worry … I dare you NOT to smile over a song called, “If You Can Walk and Wiggle, You Can Wumba.” And should you like that sort of silliness … there are plenty more songs with nutty titles:  “Latrine Orderly’s Lament,” “My Buick, My Love, and I,” “Quack! Quack! Quack!” “Ten Thousand Cows,” “Wouldn’t You Really Rather Have a Buick?,” and “My Sugar is So Refined.”



In Honor of Veterans Day: World War II Materials from the Ashley Bryan papers

Private First Class Ashley Bryan: “This is me, Ashley / Looking like somebody or something else / Hello Everyone / Ashley”

In honor of the military personnel and veterans on this holiday, whether you call it Veterans, Armistice, or Remembrance Day, we at the SCPC are proud to share some images from the Ashley Bryan papers, the collection that I have the pleasure to be currently processing.

Best known for his efforts as a children’s book writer and illustrator, having won the Newbery Honor, the Golden Kite Award, the Carter G. Woodson Book Award, and numerous Coretta Scott King Awards and Honors, Ashley Bryan was also a veteran of World War II, having been stationed in Le Havre, France from 1943 to 1946.

“WWII Cards & Dice 8”

While attending the Cooper Union School of Art and Engineering in New York City, where he studied sculpture, calligraphy, design, book illustration, and painting, Ashley Bryan was drafted into the segregated 502nd Port Batallion of 270 Port Company for stevedore training in Boston, Massachusetts. After his training was completed in October 1943, Private First Class Ashley Bryan was deployed to Le Havre, France, nearby to Omaha Beach in Normandy, where he worked as a Winch Operator (Technician Fourth Grade) on D-Day, and until his honorable discharge on January 11, 1946. Upon his discharge, he received a European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal with a Bronze Arrowhead, a Good Conduct Medal, and a World War II Victory Medal.

“WWII Misc. Drawing 48”

Despite having to temporarily abandon his arts education for active military duty, Bryan managed to obtain arts supplies in order to continue his artistic practice, hiding those materials in his gas mask. Using mostly pen and paper, Bryan drew scenes of the port, fellow soldiers partaking in leisure activities and sleeping, and various vessels. Also included in his papers are sketchbooks that contain portraits of fellow soldiers and local residents alike with journal entries describing the personalities and plights of the individuals he depicted.

“WWII Port Battalion 29”

Not only did he create artworks during his time in the military, he also managed to mount two exhibits called, “Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings Since June 6, ’44 by T/4 Ashley Bryan” (at the 502 Port Battalion Lounge, 1st floor) and “Exhibition of Paintings & Drawings by T/4 Ashley Bryan” (at the 270 Port Company’s Mess Hall).

After his military career came to a close, Bryan returned to and completed his studies at Cooper Union, attended and graduated from Columbia University with a BS, and finally began his career in earnest as an artist and educator.

While the Ashley Bryan papers are still being processed and currently unavailable to researchers at this time, I will be writing blog posts on various aspects of the papers and sincerely look forward to sharing more wonderful images from the unique and inspiring person who is Ashley Bryan!

The Tail End of Archives Month Philly 2020

This Archives Month Philly certainly was not our normal, but we hope you enjoyed the critters from The Paper Menagerie: an Abecedarium Bestiary! We picked our favorites in 2015, but collections acquired and cataloged over the past five years have convinced SCPC’ers that there is a need for another animal-centric event sometime in the future.

We finish Archives Month Philly with a few examples (or teasers) of furry, feathery, or scaly friends who have arrived since 2015.

From the Ashley Bryan papers (processing in progress), there are so many amazing animals that we could not pick only one … instead, we give you four:

From the Clem Winston papers; our budget analyst, master doodler, bored meeting participant, and poet, provided hundreds of wonderful examples: this is one of my favorites simply because this birdie is so happy looking.

We are already planning for next year’s Archives Month Philly, which we hope, very much, will be in person. We missed interacting with our wonderful community this year.