Rudolf Serkin papers, 1908-2003

serkin-faceRudolf Serkin (1903-1991) was a classical pianist who is widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest musicians. His personal papers, with a few minor additions from his wife and biographers, have now joined the Kislak Center’s archives, preserving the life and work of this incredible musical force, as well as the many musicians he knew and worked with. Represented in 182 boxes are his personal correspondence, performance records, papers relating to the Curtis Institute of Music, the Marlboro Music School and Festival, and the Institute for Young Performing Musicians, as well as a range of personal items, photographs, and a few videos and recordings. A complete listing of the collection and a fuller biography of Serkin can be found in the finding aid.

Despite his high stature, Serkin is remembered for his humble nature, both as a person and as a performer. Though he performed frequently as a solo artist, he was not above more egalitarian collaboration in the form of chamber music, and in fact actively promoted a democratic spirit of music making as the artistic director for the Marlboro Music School and Festival. (For more information about Marlboro, please see Marissa’s blog post on the Marlboro Music School and Festival records, also housed at Penn.) The origins of this can be traced to the very beginning of Serkin’s career. Serkin was born in Eger, Bohemia (today Cheb, Czech Republic) to a Russian-Jewish family, and began playing piano at the age of four under the tutelage of Camilla Taussig. When he was nine years old his family sent him to Vienna to get a more rigorous musical training with Richard Robert, Joseph Marx, and Arnold Schoenberg. Serkin become an exceptionally accomplished pianist as a child, but (thanks to his father) avoided the typical trajectory of the “child prodigy” who endlessly tours the most impressive showpieces of the solo repertoire. Instead, he travelled to Berlin, where he formed a close relationship with the violinist Adolf Busch, launching his career as Busch’s accompanist and playing as a member of the Busch Chamber players.

The collaborative element of Serkin’s early career no doubt contributed to his well-roundedness as a musician, but it perhaps also feeds the common critiques of his technical ability. Serkin has long had a reputation among some for lacking “natural” talent even though his place among the titans of classical piano is undisputed. It is true that Serkin practiced tirelessly, spending every moment he could improving his physical control of the instrument, never feeling as if he had reached a position of total mastery. He also had a peculiar stage presence that made him appear nervous about being in front of the instrument and as if he were struggling a great deal while playing. Compare this to another of the great piano soloists, Arthur Rubinstein, who admits, “I was born very, very lazy and I don’t always practice very long,” and yet manages to pull off the most difficult pieces with apparent ease. Rubinstein’s obituary contains a section titled “Happiness in Performance,” while the equivalent section in Serkin’s describes his behavior in concert as that of “a lion tamer approaching a dangerous animal.” But as Stephen Lehmann and Marion Faber reveal in Rudolf Serkin: a life, these traits reflect not a lack of ability needing to be overcome, but an intense personality continually striving to improve no matter how great of a player he already was.

Getting a true glimpse of that personality can take some effort, even in his papers. (Fortunately much of the work in unearthing it has already be done by Lehmann and Faber in the abovementioned biography, and readers interested in a fuller picture of the man and his music are directed to that book.) Music was Serkin’s preferred means of communication and he was consequently a man of few words, especially in public situations. He rarely gave interviews and was often terse in his written correspondence, even with friends. In addition, comparatively few letters by Serkin exist in his papers, since, naturally, he sent these letters out to other people, and copies of these were only inconsistently kept. It is all the more exciting, therefore, to stumble upon even the tiniest piece of correspondence from Serkin that is more than just business logistics. Despite his reluctance to communicate in words, Serkin did make an effort to answer the requests he received, even when they came from strangers, whom he could easily have ignored as a high profile performing artist. A few of these survive in the collection and occasionally provide a rare insight into Serkin’s musical thinking.

In the letter below, for example, Serkin took the time to respond to pianist Janis Bass (a stranger to Serkin) who asked him about a difficult passage of a Beethoven cadenza:


Ms. Coll 813, Box 6, Folder 275

NEW YORK, January 25, 1967

Dear Mrs. Bass:

I received your letter and thank you very much for you kind words.

The trill at the end of the cadenza in the Beethoven Concerto in C minor is very difficult to execute, because it should not be interrupted by the upper and the lower voice. At bar 472, it is possible to stop after the first note and then continue the trill with E flat and C in the left hand and do the same again in bar 474, but the stop should be hardly noticeable to the ear.

I hope this will be of some use to you.

With kindest greetings,

It is wonderful to think that Serkin cared to offer advice to aspiring players he had never met, though his response is characteristically straight to the point, writing only what is strictly required of him. Serkin is especially known for his interpretations of Beethoven, and one imagines that he would have had much more to say about the problems associated with learning this piece and with playing Beethoven’s music in general had he been a more talkative person. As is, we must be satisfied with this single paragraph as a rare example of how Serkin approached technical problems.

The passage in question is from Beethoven’s own cadenza to his third piano concerto in C minor, op. 37 and looks like this:


Both hands are required to sustain long trills (a quick alternation between two adjacent notes) simultaneously while passing melodic fragments back and forth in the remaining fingers. Each melodic fragment on its own might take all five fingers to play, yet here two fingers on each hand are already tied up with the trill. Producing a smooth melodic phrase while never breaking the trill proves very tricky. What Serkin seems to be suggesting is that the double trills can sometimes be played in a single hand (leaving the other hand free to play the melody) even though they are notated on separate staves, which would typically indicate separate hands. The rests following each melodic fragment provide an opportunity to switch from using two hands to using a single hand momentarily. Penn’s music library has a copy of Serkin’s 1964 recording of the piece. Here is what the above excerpt sounds like in Serkin’s interpretation:

Whether or not one considers his technique to be “natural” or gained only by means of extreme labor, this clip ought to show that Serkin’s playing could ultimately be as brilliant as anyone’s–the difficult passage is executed beautifully without any audible hint of a technical workaround (if indeed he used the method he describes in the letter above for this recording).

Another example of Serkin responding to strangers, though not music related, reveals much more of his personality, and is quite simply a lot fun to read. Here he replies to a nine year old writing about his name “Rudolf” and how all of his peers at school make fun of it:


Ms. Coll. 813, Box 41, Folder 2255

Dear Mr. Serkin,

My name is Rudolf and I am 9. Sometimes I hate my name because kids at school joke about it. You are the only other Rudolf I ever heard of. My teacher told me about you. I hope that is OK. She played some of your records for our class. You are very good. Where did you get your name from? Will you be my friend? I sure need one.

Your friend,

Rudolf Lisac

P.S. What do your friends call you? Did you ever get so mad you wanted to punch somebody?


Ms. Coll. 813, Box 41, Folder 2255

My dear Rudolf Lisac,

Many thanks for your letter, which gave me great pleasure. Please forgive me for answering you so very late, but at the time you wrote the letter, I was abroad in Europe.

You shouldn’t hate your name because kids in your school joke about it. I don’t know how I got my name, and I wonder if you know about yours. Anyhow, neither you nor I were ever asked, and I think we should accept it with a smile. My friends call me Rudi.

I surely will be glad to be your friend. Please take good care of yourself and write me again if you feel like it. I shall always be glad to hear from my friend, Rudolf Lisac.

These are just a few examples from the 100 boxes of personal correspondence that have survived in these papers, not to mention the correspondence in the Curtis and Marlboro series. While Serkin may have kept his communications short, many of his correspondents were more loquacious and the collection serves to preserve these people as much as Serkin himself. Many of his correspondents are famous in their own right and include musicians such as Eugene Ormandy, Richard Goode, Murray Perahia, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Emmanuel Ax, and Sviatoslav Richter, among many others. Due to Serkin’s involvement with the Curtis Institute of Music and Marlboro Music School and Festival, his papers also bear witness to the workings of these important musical institutions. Together with the Marlboro Music School and Festival records, these represent a significant addition to the Kislak Center’s music related archives.

Processing the Immaterial, Touching the Real: Ghosthunting in the Marlboro Music School and Festival Records


Marlboro’s founders: Marcel Moyse, Louis Moyse, Rudolf Serkin, Blanche Moyse, Adolf Busch, Herman Busch

The Marlboro School of Music has been a driving force in chamber music in America for over half a century. Every summer it draws applicants from across the globe, vying for an opportunity to spend the next seven weeks playing alongside some of the world’s most talented artists in its idyllic setting in southern Vermont. Marlboro’s influence has intertwined itself into the early music careers of such artists as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Joshua Bell, and pianist Emanuel Ax. Under the artistic direction of pianist Mitsuko Uchida, also a former participant, the school emphasizes the intensive study of chamber music by bringing together senior artists and talented young musicians to play simply for the joy of playing. This offers a respite to professionals, both young and senior, from strenuous rehearsal and performance schedules. The school was officially founded in 1951 by violinist Adolf Busch, along with his son-in-law, pianist Rudolf Serkin, cellist Herman Busch, flutist Marcel Moyse, pianist and flutist Louis Moyse, and violinist and conductor Blanche Honegger Moyse. Its earliest years are when this philosophy of bringing together junior and senior artists in a relaxed atmosphere initially took root.

Adolf Busch relocated his family to Vermont after immigrating from Europe at the outbreak of The Second World War and the Moyse Trio had also fled Europe and came to Vermont after living in exile in Argentina. In 1950 the founder of Marlboro College, Walter Hendricks, approached them about conducting a summer music program for the nascent college. That first year had few participants and little planning, with a number of unimpressed participants, mostly string players, leaving shortly after their arrival, but a seed was planted nonetheless. The following year, the Marlboro School of Music became its own separate institution from the college and held its first official summer school and festival with over fifty participants.

In June of 1952, however, Busch suddenly passed away, leaving his son-in-law, Rudolf Serkin, in charge of running the school. Marlboro was Busch’s vision; a concept of which he had dreamed for many years and yet no sooner did the school get underway than he had already become a ghost of its origins. Serkin committed himself to preserving his father-in-law’s philosophy and Marlboro quickly became a monument to his memory. Now with Serkin gone for nearly twenty-five years, Marlboro has become a monument to him as well as Busch.

The Kislak Center acquired the Marlboro Music School and Festival Records in January 2013. Comprising 227 containers, the collection documents the entire history of the school and festival through administrative documents, printed ephemera, photographs, and audio-visual materials, from its origins in the early 1950s through the present day. With such a dizzying amount of material, the ghosts of Busch and Serkin can all too easily become buried under so much paper.

How do these ghosts emerge from the collection? If Marlboro was Busch’s vision even before it was Serkin’s, where are there glimpses of him that represent the preservation of his spirit? In her book The Allure of the Archives, Arlette Farge explains that “the archive lays things bare, and in a few crowded lines you can find not only the inaccessible but also the living” (8). What does this mean for an individual who was already an immaterial presence by the time most of the archive’s earliest documents were being produced? Serkin was the torchbearer of Marlboro’s mission, but he too is a ghost in the collection. Busch and Serkin are as immaterial as the music they produced; enduring in memory but lacking in physicality. The archive is where they can regain their voices through documents that speak to their enduring influence on Marlboro.

In its earliest years and in accordance with Busch’s original plans, the school still welcomed applications from amateur musicians and there is correspondence in the collection that reflects this dynamic. Often parents of very young amateur musicians would write to inquire about attending the school or arranging private lessons on behalf of their son or daughter. In the 1960s Serkin formed an auditors program that covered tuition costs for several underprivileged youths to attend the school each year and he often paid the expenses out of his own pocket. The letters exchanged regarding the auditors program expressed Serkin’s earnest desire to keep the program running despite the financial difficulties. In fact, much of the early applicant correspondence contains pleading requests for financial assistance and inquiries about scholarships from young musicians who want to attend, but simply can’t afford it. Application forms asked for the occupations of their parents and all too often the applicants came from humble beginnings, with their mother described as a “housewife” and their father as a laborer of one kind or another. Household incomes were listed and it often became immediately clear why applicants simply weren’t able to pull together an extra $50 to cover the remaining cost of tuition themselves.

Busch and Serkin themselves were both uncomfortably well-acquainted with poverty. Busch’s father was a cabinet-maker and luthier who had broken out of his peasant caste out of sheer tenacity and impulsiveness; he’d run away to Hamburg as a teenager to study the violin. Busch’s biographer Tully Potter describes the household as a poor one, noting that “Adolf never had a winter coat as a child” (39). Serkin too endured poverty during his childhood, particularly during his family’s time living in Vienna in the years leading up to his meeting with Adolf Busch. Upon agreeing to take him under his wing, Busch instructed his maid that when the young Serkin arrived at his house in Berlin the first thing she was to do was to point him in the direction of the bathtub (287). It is no wonder that Serkin so frequently paid out of his own pocket to cover the cost of running the school in those first years and why one of the cornerstones of the school was that financial status should not be a factor in determining participation in the school.

Another hallmark of Marlboro’s approach to musicianship that hearkens back to its original philosophy is its elaborate system of determining the season’s repertoire. At the beginning of each season, participants excitedly filled out forms in which they requested the works they would most like to study that summer. This morphed into weekly and daily rehearsal schedules and detailed tabulations of which works were studied and which artists had played together. The collection contains many years of these request forms and incredibly detailed schedules, underscoring the attitude of equality that is integral to Marlboro. Junior artists have just as much say as senior artists and no one voice is louder than the other. Serkin often referred to Marlboro as a “republic of equals” and this democratic system of planning the season’s course of study epitomizes that sentiment.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of this collection has been the legacy of Serkin’s and Busch’s wry sense of humor. Both known for their tendency to delight in practical jokes, this is a phenomenon that has pervaded Marlboro’s culture for many decades, with the most well-known tradition being the napkin ball fights that punctuated the end of evening meals in the dining hall at Marlboro, with Serkin typically being the instigator, throwing the first napkin ball with great ceremony. Busch too had a wickedly playful side– Potter retells an occasion when Busch, “thought it hilarious that while playing Bach’s A minor solo Sonata, he moved into the G minor one by mistake [and] found his way back again without anyone in the audience apparently noticing” (585). On another occasion, Busch noticed a young student carefully watching the movements of his left hand as he played and so Busch contorted his left hand into the most bizarre fingerings he could manage without ever once compromising the quality of his music (585).

That distinctive humor has woven itself into the archive’s records in examples such as an odd piece of handwritten music wittily titled “Baacarole”– a ditty honoring the campus’s resident flock of sheep– playfully composed by the school’s administrator with accompanying lyrics by their formidable wordsmith of a librarian. The many recollections of past participants also contain gems of Marlboro humor, many of the standard practical joke variety: filling out a signup sheet for an upcoming performance with fake names, only to learn that it was sent off to the printers; wheeling a fellow participant’s car inside a campus building under cover of night; or even the tongue-in-cheek voice of the “Welcome to Marlboro” information packet, with contributions attributed to figures such as the Ayatollah Khomeini and Luke Skywalker. All of these pranks echo the often playful spirits of Busch and Serkin.


The distinctive brand of Marlboro humor makes itself known to new participants upon receiving their “Welcome to Marlboro” information packets at the start of the 1984 festival season.

The beauty of this collection can be found in some of its most unassuming papers, whether it is the earliest letters from earnest young applicants, typed on highly acidic and brittle paper, or the thickly curled sheafs of scheduling files, painstakingly assembled to ensure that all participants have a say and that Marlboro therefore remains a republic of equals. “Archival discoveries are a manna that fully justify their name: sources, as refreshing as wellsprings” (Farge, 8). These gems of the archives are what link us to the immaterial aspects of a collection. Beyond the papers and even beyond the music are the philosophies and attitudes that constitute the spirit of Marlboro. It remains a monument to the artistic dreams of both Busch and Serkin through its collaborative, collegial environment and its commitment to making music for the sheer joy of it.

Works Consulted

Busch, Adolf. Adolf Busch: Letters, Pictures, Memories.  Walpole, N.H. : Arts & Letters Press, 1991. Print.

Farge, Arlette. The Allure of the Archives. New Haven : Yale University Press, 2013. Print.

Lehmann, Stephen and Marion Faber. Rudolf Serkin: A Life. New York : Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.

Potter, Tully. Adolf Busch: The Life of an Honest Musician. [London] : Toccata, 2010. Print.

The Literary Censorship Files of the E. Sculley Bradley papers

Professor Back 'Lonigan' Books

Professor Sculley Bradley was the star witness for several important literary censorship trials in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

The E. Sculley Bradley papers are now processed and available for research. Sculley Bradley was a University of Pennsylvania English professor from 1926-1967 and vice provost of undergraduate education from 1956-1963. His papers include his personal and professional correspondence, 1923-1962, material from several literary censorship cases he testified for, corrected drafts of his manuscript for the Variorum edition of Leaves of Grass, ephemera and graphics associated with Walt Whitman, and a small amount of materials on other authors. His censorship files are some of the more interesting materials in the collection.

Material for Testimony

Bradley’s preparation was meticulous as shown by the first page of a nine page outline for one book defended in Youngstown, Ohio in 1953.

From 1948 through 1966 Sculley Bradley was involved in a series of literary censorship trials, acting as a witness on the side of the authors, publishers, and/or booksellers. His first case involved the seizure of over 2,000 books confiscated from 50 different bookstores, department stores, and newsstands in Philadelphia, PA in 1948. Among the books seized were James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan and A World I Never Made; Sanctuary and The Wild Palms by William Faulkner; God’s Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell; Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr.; and Harold Robbins’ Never Love a Stranger. The book raids were undertaken by the Philadelphia police vice squad upon complaints of “ministers, school authorities, and others.”

Expense Account, Sculley Bradley

Bradley’s record keeping of expenses associated with his testimony was also meticulous!

Bradley was recruited to serve as an expert witness in this case and in several subsequent ones. In the files for these censorship cases, Bradley has collected correspondence concerning his testimony, newspaper and magazine clippings, receipts for his consultative charges, and in some cases copies of legal briefs. In preparation for giving his testimony, Bradley worked diligently. If he did not already have a copy of the book in question, the publishers would send him one. He read it (usually not for the first time) and wrote up detailed notes on the characters, plot, purpose, and context of each book so that he would be prepared to discuss it, and defend it, in court.

Direct Examination of Dr. Sculley Bradley

Testimony of Bradley defending Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” in a Philadelphia courtroom in 1962.

The Philadelphia seizures actually led to more than one courtroom. A Pennsylvania State suit against five of the booksellers went to the Court of Quarter Sessions, Philadelphia, while a Federal case in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was lodged by publisher Vanguard Press and author James T. Farrell against the Philadelphia police. Sculley Bradley testified in both trials. It isn’t completely clear how the Federal case turned out, but the State case was a victory for the booksellers. Judge Curtis Bok found that the books were not obscene and dismissed the charges against the booksellers. He wrote a thorough opinion on the matter, finalizing with “I hold that the books before me are not sexually impure and pornographic, and are therefore not obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent, or disgusting.” Judge Bok’s opinion was such a hit with booksellers, that the publisher Knopf had it typeset on fine paper in a clothbound limited edition of 500 copies printed by Grabhorn Press in San Francisco!

Commonwealth v. Gordon, et al.

Judge Curtis Bok’s decision striking the Pennsylvania statute under which five booksellers were charged with peddling obscene material, 1948.

In addition to the Philadelphia cases, other censorship cases arose in Fall River, MA (focusing on the book Duke, by Hal Ellison), Detroit, MI (The Devil Rides Out, by John H. Griffin), Youngstown, OH (Down All Your Streets, by Leonard Bishop), and additional cases brought in Philadelphia, PA as well as several other cities (for The Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller). Bradley also signed on to an amicus curiae brief prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in defense of Ralph Ginzburg, who published the erotic journal Eros and other works which were confiscated in the mail in 1962. Some of the cases Bradley was involved in made their way to the United States Supreme Court.

The Two Patāñjalis: Challenges of Cataloguing Penn’s Sāṃkhya Teaching


Ms. Coll. 390, Item 249 (f. 1v-2r)

Recently I received an email from Prof. Dominik Wujastyk (University of Vienna), regarding Penn’s copy of the Sāṃkhyapravacana (Sāṃkhya Teaching), Ms. Coll. 390, Item 249 (ca. 1700-1850). The Sāṃkhyapravacana is an early Hindu philosophical work that re-envisions and combines the Sāṃkhya and Yoga philosophical systems, attributed to Patāñjali (ca. 4th-5th century CE) as part of his Yogasūtra (a.k.a. Pātañjalayogaśāstra), a work well known to students and scholars of the history and philosophy of yoga. Prof. Wujastyk pointed out, however, that Penn’s catalogue record for this item mistakenly linked it to another work by a different author also named Patāñjali—that is, the Mahābhāṣya or Great Commentary, a commentary on Pāṇini’s Sanskrit grammatical system from the second century BCE. I was intrigued about how what seems like such an obvious error could have arisen and so began an investigation. . . . . Continue reading

The Rogue Volume

A nine-volume diary, started by a fifteen-year old boy was one of my assignments to research and catalog.  I began to read the idyllic day-to-day life of Jacob Edward Schmidt (1891-1986) known as Edward living in Lebanon, Pennsylvania with his parents and brother above the family jewelry shop J. C. Schmidt, Jeweler and Optician.  (For more information on the J. Edward Schmidt diaries, see the finding aid). I expected to skim through the pages and read what would be a daily report of weather, school, siblings, and parents.  If I was lucky, maybe I would encounter some teenage angst.  I learned quickly Edward was serious about his diary.  He began writing it on his fifteenth birthday 18 March 1906, and included a “Preface” at the end of the first volume about the responsibility of keeping a diary.  Edward wrote: “Maybe the rear end of a book is not the proper place for a preface, but in this case it can’t be helped . . . The keeping of a journal or diary is not the easiest thing in the world, for it is often very troublesome to attend to it correctly . . .”

Edward was faithful in his daily entries.  He recorded everything about his day.  His interactions with his parents and brother, the daily chore of waking early to open the jewelry shop his father ran and one day he would inherit.  He wrote of attending school and going to church on Sundays.  Edward loved photography and wrote of taking and printing photographs.  He also talked of the weather and activities of the seasons, spending summers at Mt. Gretna and Exmoor, Pennsylvania.  The one thread throughout diaries that compelled me to read more was his Mary.

Continue reading

Discovering Dietrich

Before Holly and Regan gave me my newest project at the SCPC, I had never been to Dietrich before. The first time I walked in (pushing the door open with the strength of Thor) I was with Holly, Regan, and Lauren, and we did a quick tour of the place for my sake. I was overwhelmed with just how many collections were back there. I’m still overwhelmed by how many collections are back there. It’s honestly like walking through history, and my hands were itching to read nearly every little thing that was back there.

As we, like almost every other repository in the country, struggle with space issues, my newest little (okay, a bit bigger than little) project is to go back through our archived collections and condense them on the shelves in order to make room for even more history! Basically it’s every re-organizer’s dream, and I’m loving it. Not to mention that I get to see collections that I might not usually encounter every day.

The problem with Dietrich arose on my first day up there. Alone. At nine in the morning. When the reading room hadn’t opened yet. And no one had turned the lights on.

Dietrich is scary when you’re alone.

Or maybe that’s just me. But Dietrich does feel a little bit like a horror film set when all you can hear is the whirr of the climate control system and the squeaking of the service elevator going up and down. One day, close to Halloween, the place had an incredibly appropriate flickering light, as if I hadn’t already been on edge. And then there was the crippling fear that the compact shelving was going to start collapsing in on me on its own while I was in between stacks. I couldn’t listen to music for a while when I started my time up there for fear that someone wouldn’t know I was there and accidentally crush me as if it were a little historical panini press. Needless to say, I had a lot to overcome.

Once I got into the swing of things, I realized how fantastic Dietrich actually is. Like I said before, there is so much stuff back there! It’s amazing, really, just how much history is stored there, and in every form imaginable, too! Prints, manuscripts, rare books, audios, musical instruments, sculpting kits (I’ve handled that one myself and yes, it is as cool as it sounds!) you name it, Dietrich has it.

It really is wonderful getting to work up there and just to be in the presence of all that history. My little make-shift office is basically my stock pile of different sized boxes and folders and acid-free paper that I had brought there myself  (juggling five boxes, panting for a little bit, saying ‘hi’ to Tom who sees me walk through the doors about twelve times a day, swiping my card like a secret agent, pushing the door open like I am Aragorn bursting into the Great Hall of Meduseld (O, would that Dietrich had double doors!), and trying not to drop the five doc boxes everywhere) but it’s my little make-shift office surrounded by loads and loads of cool things. It makes my job even better than it already was.

You never quite get over the sheer amount of history that constantly surrounds you up there. Setting aside the whimsy and the humor of this particular blog post, working in the SCPC has been a wonderful experience. There is so much to be said about working as a processor and how it is much more than many may think. We really care about the collections here, take the time to sit with them and put them into a nice, neat little order. It’s refreshing to know so many people who just ‘get’ the importance of history and the need for places like Dietrich – the need for a room where history can be organized on shelves but not ever really forgotten about. There are many components that make the SCPC, the Reading Room, and Dietrich just click, and I feel lucky that as a student worker I get to see every part of the process.

Of course, occasionally when someone walks into the aisle that I’m shifting boxes around in while listening to music, as if they’re a reading room ninja, I might yelp in surprise. And sure, I drop an empty shelf here or there, creating the loudest noise to ever grace the Dietrich stacks with its clamorous clatter. And alright, fine, I still wear dresses to work and find myself perched on a stool, still embarrassingly short like the Hobbit that I am, banging on a shelf and cursing its metal existence. But, honestly, Dietrich isn’t as horror-film-esque as I first thought, and my newest project is incredibly fun as well as entirely satisfying (few things are better than seeing three entire units of shelving freed up). Even though I’ve gotten some battle wounds – folders and metal shelves are out to get you, you see – I’m glad that I was given the privilege to discover Dietrich and be the pioneer of the newest renovation project at the Special Collections Processing Center.

Tea. Earl Grey. Cream Puffs.

I have a lot of tea. Like…a lot a lot. No, seriously, I won a twenty pound box of assorted loose teas a couple of years ago. It’s really a lot. So imagine my elation when I stumbled across the Bigelow Tea Recipes book in Victus Populi.

2015-01-16 15-43 page #0

Finally, I thought, a way to use up some of that tea without having to drink all of it! I mean, as much as I love my tea (earl grey hot, please), twenty pounds at 1.5 teaspoons per cup is too much to drink, especially when you work in a food-and-drink-free zone like the SCPC (because if we were allowed to have drinks at our desk, someone (almost definitely me) would wind up spilling their drink and ruining priceless manuscripts).

Twenty pounds of tea might even be too much for my dear Captain Picard

Twenty pounds of tea might even be too much for my dear Captain Picard

When Victus Populi furnished a recipe for Earl Grey Cream Puffs, I knew what I had to do. So I did it. And it was delicious.

side 1

Make them! Make them now!

The recipe is actually deceptively simple, thanks to the magic of Jell-O pudding. Seriously, don’t knock it before you try it! The whole thing came together in about fifteen minutes of prep time and baked up really quickly. I used a slightly shorter cooking time because I decided to make mini cream puffs since, you know, it’s the new year, so I’m being healthy. Eating three mini cream puffs is definitely better than eating one regular sized cream puff…right?


SEE! There’s a strawberry! It’s healthy!!!

The only other modification I made is the addition of one teaspoon of my mom’s homemade vanilla extract to the filling. I’m sure it would be delicious without it, but if I make these again (which I most certainly will will), I will definitely add the vanilla again. I might also steep the tea a bit longer or use a larger ratio of tea leaves to water, since the tea flavor was not as pronounced as I had hoped it would be. That said, the recipe as-is is an excellent dessert for tea lovers and non-fans alike. I also imagine that they would taste incredible with coffee substituted for the tea, maybe with a bit of orange zest in the batter or chocolate pudding instead of vanilla in the filling.

I’ve posted a scan of the recipe, but please feel free to try as many versions as you can dream up. I’d love to hear from anyone who makes these or tries a variation on them. Let me know how yours turned out!

2015-01-16 15-43 page #1

with tea

And, of course, enjoy with a cup of tea!

Andreas Brown and the World of Postcards

One of the most fascinating things about processing an archive is discovering the hidden worlds within it. The project on which I’m currently working, the Gotham Book Mart archive, is particularly interesting this regard. The iconic New York bookstore was central in the development of Modernism and American small-press poetry throughout the 20th century, and the archive is certainly of interest for anyone exploring these worlds, but there are other – perhaps odder – universes contained within it as well: for example, a large and impressive collection of postcards.

Andreas Brown, the owner of the Book Mart from 1967 until its closing, was one of the most well-known postcard collectors (the technical term is “deltiologist”) in America. Like many of the most serious deltiologists, his collection focused on “real photo” postcards: a short-lived style that appeared in the early twentieth century, in which the front of the card was a piece of undeveloped photo paper, allowing for a customizable – and sometimes one-of-a-kind – image. photo 1-1

But Brown’s collection contains many other kinds of cards, as well: panoramic cards, cards that also served as paper fans, and (my personal favorite!) a series of promotional cards for a Russian production of one of Chekhov’s lesser known plays, “Ivanov.”

Taken on their own, these cards are impressive enough, but what makes them especially fascinating is the context which surrounds them. See, Andreas Brown wasn’t simply a collector; as one of the most famous collectors in America, he was also a member of a national deltiological community which, in the pre-internet world, meant he received a great number of newsletters from postcard clubs across the country: the Maple City Postcard Club; the Pacific Northwest Postcard Bulletin; and, of course, the organization which Brown himself helped found, the Metropolitan Poscard Collector.

And, of course, Brown developed a relationship with individual collectors, too, many of whom sent him personalized cards during National Postcard Week. Besides being notable for their range of design style (and, frankly, skill), the cards are interesting for the window they give into the lives of their creators. Who can resist young Barbara Ellen, with her space-related collection? Here’s hoping that she completed sixth grade successfully!
photo 5

This is what I meant by hidden worlds. It’s remarkable to think about (or, if you have the historical perspective, to remember) just how many of these small mail-order organizations there were in America – almost all of which have been rendered irrelevant by the web – and how many people’s lives were influenced by the networks they helped support. As J.P. Hartley famously put it in his novel The Go-Between, “the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Sometimes, in the act of processing, it can be helpful to stop and consider the customs of the countries one is continually discovering, and their relation to our own.

Staying healthy, 1920s style

The new year has come and gone and the holiday frenzy has finally ended. As we spend the next two months writing the wrong year on everything, we feel the chill of winter creeping its way around us as well. It’s important to stay healthy during these cold months when the first signs of winter colds develop, even if it does sound ideal to curl up on the couch in sweatpants, mug of green tea clutched in a vise grip, quilt wrapped tightly around your shoulders as you binge watch every season of Friends that Netflix so graciously gifted us this past holiday season. All that and more could be yours but without the disadvantages of sniffling and coughing.

As I prepared for the winter months and stock piled supplies like an apocalypse prepper, I thought of a pamphlet I saw in a collection I had recently worked on. The young man was named David B. Walker and I had the privilege to catalog his school notebooks. He attended several public schools in the West Philadelphia area. It was incredibly fascinating to see how education has changed since the 1920s and early 30s when Mr. Walker was in school. One of the things I came across from his school days was a ninth grade health project he made. image(5)The pamphlet really exemplifies how differently health was viewed in the 1920s as opposed to now. And rightfully so, since, you know, this was a prominent problem then:imageIt’s featured on the very first page of the pamphlet. We have a lot to be thankful for here in 2015. But, if you, like me, are worried about the inevitable epidemic of sickness that always comes around this time of year, perhaps a few tips from Mr. Walker’s pamphlet could be of service to you.

1.) Wash food that needs to be washed, including lettuce that you’re going to put slices of pears on. And always put your food into clean bowls, especially if you’re serving your brunch guests shiny peach slices in a huge bowl. It certainly pays to insist.image(3)2.) Air your bed clothes out every day. Wave those PJs in the air like you just don’t care (to be sick, that is). image(4)3.) If the outside of your house looks clean then germs won’t mess with you. And your neighbors will think you have your life together and your health on lock. Don’t mind the giant maids sweeping the sidewalk in the background – it was alllll you who cleaned that lawn! Go you!image(1)4.) And finally, invest in a Cleanerette. You can even “cleanerette” your clothes! It can help you out if you don’t want to wave those bedclothes around every morning. Clean those rooms once a week with your electrical appliances and let the healthy vibes flow on through.image(2)These are just a few of the tips that can be found in this pamphlet and only a glimpse at the collection itself. All joking aside, it’s always wonderful to be able to take a trip through time here at the Special Collections processing Center. Every day I get to see how people in the past thought, how they wrote, what they thought was important. The advertising was different, the colors, the art. It’s amazing to see the types of media people were exposed to and to think about how those forms shaped how they thought. So the next time I see advertisements for how to stay healthy, I’m probably going to think of this little pamphlet and how different everything is but also how it’s sort of the same. I mean, it is our own responsibility to stay healthy and we should all do our part to lead happy lives. Perhaps this will be the season and the year where we all get sick less. And if not, well, there’s always that Friends marathon…


New Year’s Resolutions

Happy (slightly-belated) new year, reader-friends! I hope you’ve all had lovely holidays and are as excited to get back to work as I am (seriously, I love my job!!!). With the new year, of course, comes the New Year’s resolution. Research at the University of Scranton shows that the number one resolution that Americans made in 2014 is to lose weight and that 38% of Americans made some kind of weight-related resolution. The same study also shows that only about 8% of Americans succeed at keeping their resolution for the entire year. That is not a pretty statistic.

But never fear, Victus Populi is here to help! Yes, reader-friends, that’s right. The print collection that brought you not one, but TWO full boxes of jiggly, gelatin-based desserts has an entire box marked “Healthy Cooking,” and its contents are magnificent. The items inside range from the gentle…

sunny side of life

Copyright 1934 by Kellogg Company

…to the less-than-believable…

weight watchers

Copyright 1961 by Hunt Foods and Industries, Inc.

…to the blunt…


Metropolitan Life Insurance Company

…to the…resigned?

so you have to lose weight

Am I the only one who thinks this title could make a great start to a Broadway production number?; Metropolitan Life Insurance Company

But perhaps you have also resolved to get more in touch with your cultural heritage. Well, Victus Populi has your back there, too. You can taste your ancestral cookery and lose weight at the same time. Prepare to enter “The Fascinating World of Gourmet Eating (With Calorie Control),” which sounds much more exciting if you ignore the part in parentheses.

fascinating world 1

Copyright 1967 by the Wm. S. Merrell Company

This 1967 pamphlet includes recipes from various international cuisines. In an attempt to get in touch with my cultural heritage, I flipped to the section on Jewish recipes, and there I found this:

fascinating world 2

This doesn’t not sound like my Jewish grandma, except she was usually trying to fatten me up rather than slim me down.

So if you can’t diet without giving up your bagel with a schmear and some lox, then mazel tov! You’re good to go.

And once you’re on track with your resolution, be sure to remember that Victus Populi has fifty other boxes, including eight filled with dessert recipes, so you can reward yourself with a treat!

Or, you could just adopt this guy’s strategy:

Victus Populi page #17

Copyright 1964 by Cameron & Co