Unexpected Music: Binding Waste of Folio GrC Ar466 Ef54 1537

Front pastedown of the Kislak Center's copy of "Problematum Aristotelis Sectiones Duaequadraginta : Problematum Alexandri Aphrodisiei Libri Duo" (1537) with manuscript Italian lute tablature (ca. 1600?).

Front pastedown of the Kislak Center’s copy of “Problematum Aristotelis Sectiones Duaequadraginta : Problematum Alexandri Aphrodisiei Libri Duo” (1537) with manuscript Italian lute tablature (ca. 1600?). Courtesy Provenance Online Project.

The use of manuscript waste in bindings has been a delight to me ever since I first encountered it. As a print cataloger, my professional commerce with manuscripts is largely limited to these fragments, but fortunately the Kislak Center’s Incunable Collection and Culture Class Collection have put more than a few instances of such waste in my way. Seven times out of ten or so, it comes from liturgical books; twice out of ten from theological or canon law texts; and very occasionally from something else: a Greek grammar, a Latin medical text, a German legal document. One of my favorites, however, is the leaf of lute tablature pictured above, which has been incorporated into the binding of a sixteenth-century science book—a favorite not least because after it was identified for me by Dr. Arthur J. Ness, I was able to record the music it transcribes for this blog post. Continue reading

Let’s Dish … on Penn’s LGBT Center!

Your_attentionThe Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Center at the University of Pennsylvania is the 2nd oldest LGBTQ+ center in the United States … Gays at Penn formed in the 1970s and not too long after, became Lesbians and Gays at Penn (LGAP).  In 1982, following some really awful homophobic events on campus, the University hired Bob Schoenberg, a Philadelphia social worker (and Penn grad) to serve as an advisor to the LGBTQ+ community.  If I have learned anything from processing the 22 boxes of LGBT Center records, it is that Bob Schoenberg shaped and sustained the LGBTQ+ community on campus (and dare I say, a much larger community) for more than 35 years until his retirement in 2017.  I am not saying he did it alone, as I hope, very much that this blog post will show; but he was a driving force behind a supportive and judgment free Center, for which Penn can be very proud.

A-Z_1Today, I am going to talk about just a tiny portion of this incredibly important collection–in fact I am going to talk about only 4 folders worth of material … the office logs that Lesbians and Gays at Penn (LGAP) kept as they staffed the phones of the office and provided support to the campus community. Their log, entitled “Journal of Oddity, Frivolity, and Strange–But–True Facts OR The Dish Log,” is a delightful combination of reporting, discussion, and gossip. Whoever started the first Dish Log, seemed to anticipate the range of topics that might arise, stating, “Please record any business calls or visitors and/or events of import to LGAP. Please feel free to enlighten us all, but please, don’t get carried away.” Over the years, the type of reporting varied, just as the writers’ (some of whom did get carried away) personalities and sass varied.  But I can tell you a few things … the original office was messy!  And it frequently smelled terrible!  And everyone was really excited when someone collected the trash! Someone always took the key home and others could not get into the office without help!  And there was a piano outside the the office, and there were many occasions when “a mercilessly dreadful piano player be[gan] a concert!” And more seriously, there were a lot of phone calls and comments which were ignorant or hurtful.  The staff seemed to take these in stride (which is perhaps the saddest statement of all) and handled them with grace.

Today, in my admittedly liberal and academic bubble, the LGBTQ+ community is simply part of  my world; but I am not naive enough to think that that is the case everywhere and this collection shows that even liberal and academic bubbles are not always particularly accepting.  The number of acronyms in this collection is a bit overwhelming, and in part that is because the acronyms evolved over time as conceptions about the community developed and evolved. Gays at Penns became Lesbians and Gays at Penn; the LGB Center became the LGBT Center, etc.  In September of 1985, for example, LGAP loggers discussed the addition of “Lesbian” to flyers that were just printed. Is “lesbian” a noun or an adjective?  When the conversation in the Dish Log began, it was about the awkwardness of the language.  It ended, however, with a much more philosophical discussion where a logger states, “To many, many people, ‘gay’ means only ‘gay men.’ It’s the ways lesbians are assumed not to exist.”

In 1986, one student (whose writing is incredibly easy to read; and yet their signature is illegible), finished the year with an A-Z list of what LGAP meant to them.  Perhaps more than any other document in the collection, this entry allows 21st century readers to step into the shoes of an LGAP-er in the turbulent years of the 1980s. In an article in Penn Gazette, a student described Penn in the 1980s as “a very, very hard place to be gay … a place many of us felt physically and emotionally unsafe” (Penn Gazette).  LGAP was a place (a physical place [the smelly, messy, dreadful piano concert-y office] and a community) where students could be safe.  And I am not saying that this was a perfect organization–there was some fairly snarky gossip, the group frequently talks about the bureaucracy of too many meetings, etc., but all in all, the A-Z student perhaps sums it up best with, “Y and Z are to be left blank–we have much to accomplish before the end.  For all our work, we are incomplete.”

Wanted! The Illicit Diamond Dealer, Isaac Joel.

I find this “wanted” broadside from the Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica, very interesting. The broadside provides information about an illicit diamond dealer named Isaac Joel and was put forth by John Fry, the Chief of the Detective Department of Griqualand West, Kimberley, South Africa on March 10, 1884. Along with his photograph, the broadside provides quite a detailed description of Joel’s physical appearance, including the facts that he walked with one hand in his trouser pocket, appeared to have a stiff leg, and that he was an English Jew. The specifics of his intended route of escape from Australia to New York via South Africa and San Francisco are also included in the description. To me, that begs the question of whether someone close to Joel informed on him to the authorities.

The broadside also requests that anyone who sees him land in San Francisco contact the San Francisco police force, suggesting that there was some kind of agreement between the authorities in both countries to work on this case together. Unfortunately, I have not found further records regarding Isaac Joel’s case or if he managed to evade capture. However, this little glimpse into the life of an illicit diamond dealer, and the many questions it leaves unanswered, is intriguing and provides hints at the relationship and cooperation between international law enforcement entities in the late 19th century.

More information on the Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica can be found here: https://kaplan.exhibits.library.upenn.edu/

The Wayfarer’s Prayer in manuscript: Karp BVIII.7

The Abraham J. and Deborah Karp Collection of Judaica at the Penn Libraries is in part a collection of manuscripts and pamphlets collected by the late Rabbi Dr. Abraham Jacob Karp (1921-2003).

Upon cataloging multiple items of manuscript ephemera from the collection, one item caught my eye – something very uncommon. What I mean by this is that there is no real comparable equivalent to this manuscript that I have seen in other collections or in Judaica auctions.

Opiz, Georg Emanuel (1775-1841), “‘Die Polacken auf der Leipziger Messe” (Polish-Jewish merchants arriving at the Leipzig Fair; Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig inv. no. O 12). For illustrative purposes.

I will briefly introduce the Wayfarer’s Prayer. This prayer is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (which quotes it from an earlier source) instructing that one should silently recite a prayer upon leaving a city border while traveling. The text of the prayer translated into English is as follows (translation by Sefaria.org; brackets are mine, as only the Ashkenazic custom recites the final blessing):

May it be Your will, Eternal One, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, support our footsteps towards peace, guide us toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination, for life, joy, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush, bandits and wild animals along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to Earth. May You send blessing in our every handiwork, and grant us peace, kindness, and mercy in your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our supplication, because You are the God who hears prayer and supplications. [Blessed are You, Eternal One, who hears prayer.]

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Lions on the Clock II: Six Owners, Five Marks of Provenance, One Book (and Two Lawsuits)

Printer's device of Nikolas Brylinger (“Basler Büchermarken” no. 171 (IV)) from title leaf of Agostino Steuco's "De Perenni Philosophia Libri X" (1542)

Printer’s device of Nikolas Brylinger (“Basler Büchermarken” no. 171 (IV)) from title leaf of Agostino Steuco’s “De Perenni Philosophia Libri X” (1542). Courtesy Provenance Online Project.

Lions are primarily pursuit predators, although “ambush behaviour has been observed … mainly during daylight when stalking prey is more difficult” (“Predatory Behaviour”). I presume this accounts for the way three more books from the press of sixteenth-century Swiss printer Nikolas Brylinger—he of the clock-watching lions—leapt out at me from the Kislak Center’s holdings after I had finished my post on his career. Two of his textbooks were hiding under Dewey Decimal call numbers: a 1553 edition of Thomas Linacre’s De Emendata Structura Latini Sermonis Libri VI (475.3 L63a) and a 1545 edition of Theodōros Gazēs’s introductory Greek grammar (485 G259), the latter presented to the Penn Libraries by University alumnus, faculty member, and prolific donor Dr. Charles Walts Burr (1861-1944).¹ The third volume lurking in the stacks is a 1542 edition of humanist Agostino Steuco‘s De Perenni Philosophia Libri X (B785.S8 A3 1542), an attempt to reconcile classical philosophy with Christian doctrine and one of three titles Brylinger printed with Sebastian Franck. This book contains two different versions of Brylinger’s device, one on the title leaf (shown above) and one on the verso of the last printed leaf; they are also the earliest examples of his lion logo in the Kislak Center’s holdings, predating the one in Brylinger’s Xenophontis Philosophi ac Historici Excellentissimi Opera (1545) I identified in my previous post. Adding to its interest, the Kislak Center’s copy of De Perenni Philosophia came to Penn by a decidedly circuitous route: it contains marks of provenance identifying six former owners across three centuries, all of them traceable.

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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.

This appears to have been written from an oral retelling (possibly a witness retelling). The script is careful and precise.

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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