Come see the wondrous plank! Sixteen feet across if it’s an inch! From the most ancient depths of the old-growth redwood forests of Humboldt County, the tree from which it was hewn overlooked the Pacific Ocean for centuries before Europeans ever arrived on this country’s eastern shore. And now it’s here, through the might and main of modern industry, polished to a high sheen with our celebrated and unparalleled Berry Brother’s Hard Oil Finish! “It is highly improbable,” says this informational handbill, “if a tree will ever be found that will yield a larger plank; so that the mammoth piece of timber here may certainly be termed the ‘sight of a lifetime.’” So come see the plank! And buy Berry Brothers Hard Oil Finish!
Researchers in the collections at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts will find lots of romance and lots of love (and not just on Valentine’s Day) … however, the most delightful discoveries come from unexpected locations!
Just the other day, while removing items laid into a Biddle family Bible (Ms. Coll. 1351, box 21, folder 8), I found this little treasure:
From a Biddle family Bible
This fragment of a letter has no beginning and no end … we don’t know who sent it or who received it, or why it was tucked into a Bible of all books. But we do know that Polly, whoever she was, was dealing havoc among those quiet Quaker lads! Were the Quaker lads Penn students? Or were they actually Philadelphia Quaker gents? Sadly, I don’t think we will know … but beware, all you quiet Quaker lads, there is probably a Polly out there lurking about, ready to deal havoc!
It was Sunday, September 17 1944, and the Battle of Arnheim had begun. The British Second Tactical Air Force along with the American 8th and 9th Air Forces initiated intense bombing and strafing raids on Nazi garrisons, barracks, and anti-aircraft guns in and around the capital of the province of Gelderland and several other Dutch cities. Operation Market Garden, as it was called, intended to keep pushing the Wehrmacht retreat that began on the beaches of Normandy by securing Allied control over several strategic bridges across the Rhine.
After routing the Germans at Antwerp just days before, the Allies expected little resistance or even outright surrender. Some Allied soldiers had even packed leisure equipment in their kits before heading off to battle; they certainly didn’t expect to be met on the banks of the Rhine by two elite Panzer divisions and newly regrouped battalions ready to defend their position. A heavy firefight ensued, and for the next nine days the streets of Arnheim were a war zone.
While cataloging Print Collection 47 Michael Zinman collection of World’s Fairs and Expositions material, I came across a significant amount of stuff — I don’t really have another word for it — that I didn’t expect. Any time I process a collection, of course, I inevitably run up against things that don’t seem to “fit,” that are surprising, or confusing, or just plain weird. But Print Coll 47 was eight boxes of nonstop weirdness, and I want to share as much of it as I can.
That there is so much of this material is a testament to the popularity — indeed the craze — of world’s fairs during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beginning with London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, the modern world’s fair/exposition showcased new technologies and industrial progress in general. Many world’s fairs/expositions also centered around specifically nationalistic and at times generally western-imperial themes. (In a follow-up post, I will go into detail about the confluence of industrialism and imperialism in world’s fair advertisements.)
Souvenir chromolithograph, exposition of the Holy Coat of Trier (1891)
A splash of color against a black and white background is always visually arresting, whether it’s the world of Oz outside a Kansas farmhouse door or a nineteenth-century chromolithograph tucked inside a sixteenth-century Bible. This brilliant commemorative print issued during the 1891 exposition of the Heilige Rock (Holy Coat) of Trier fairly leaped out at me from between the leaves of a 1573 French edition of the Vulgate presented to the Penn Libraries as part of the Peter Way Collection of Early Modern Texts. The Heilige Rock, which has been identified with the seamless robe (Greek χιτών) of Jesus Christ described in the gospel of John (19:23), is one of the Christian relics reportedly discovered by Saint Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, during her pilgrimage to Palestine in 326-328. Medieval Trier, following a tradition first recorded in the ninth century, claimed Saint Helena as one of its own—indigena civitatis Trevericae, in the words of the twelfth-century Inventio S. Mathiae (quoted in Pohlsander 120)—and the seamless robe of Christ as her gift.¹
Page numbers of quire (2D) in the order in which they appear: 385, 404, [405 has been cropped out], 388, 389, 402, 403, 392, 393, 412, 431, 396, 397, 408, 409, 400
The experienced reader of early printed texts, seeing this mish-mash, might simply sigh and move on. Since pagination is less important to the correct ordering of a hand press book than signature marks—letter- or symbol-number combinations on the rectos (front pages) of leaves which indicate how to fold the sheet and arrange the quires—or catchwords—the first word or syllable of the next page printed as the last line of the current one—errors in pagination proliferate. So it’s more troubling to note that quire (2D)’s signature marks are also disordered:
Signature marks of quire (2D) in the order in which they appear: (Dd), (Dd 4), (Dd3), (Dd2)
The 1541 Meturgeman is a fascinating volume that I recently had the privilege of cataloging for the Rare Book Collection. It was exhibited on October 23rd for the Archives Month Philly event: “From Antartica to Zimbabwe: Around the World with Archives, Books and Codices;” see the full announcement here.
The Meturgeman is an important work and there is a lot to say about it; the 1541 edition (the editio princeps, or first edition) is one of two volumes of lexicography printed in Isny im Allgäu by Paul Fagius and written by Elijah Levita.
Levita was a scholar and a teacher of Hebrew grammar, proofreader, a prolific lexicographer, and writer; he was a literary figure who even wrote the first Yiddish novel (the bovo bukh) and among the periods of travel throughout his life, he settled in Isny im Allgäu, Germany.
For nearly thirty years, Sherman Frankel’s professional life revolved around what could happen in thirty minutes. Specifically, his life revolved around what could happen in the period between the moment an intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a nuclear warhead is launched and the moment it reaches a target up to ten thousand kilometers away. Astoundingly, horrifyingly, this period would last about thirty minutes. Maybe less.
I recently cataloged a volume of the Maḥzor printed by the press of Uri Phoebus ha-levi in Amsterdam 1670. The outstanding features of the volume are highlighted below with photos of the details and typography.
History of Amsterdam Printing, and of the work
Amsterdam was a major center of 17th Hebrew printing. There were a multitude of editions and editiones principes from Amsterdam; for example, Yeshayahu Vinograd’s Otsar ha-sefer ha-ʻivri (1993 printed edition), Amsterdam is listed as the most numerous (using numbers of titles) by far at 2860. This far surpasses other major printing centers such as Prague, Vilna, Venice, Livorno, and Frankfurt am Main.
To be able to stand out as a special item printed in Amsterdam is understandably difficult because of the vast amount of printing that was done there. However, there are still items from Amsterdam which do stand out, and this volume is certainly one of those.
Evidently, I am an open and amative person, quick to laugh and always ready to be the center of attention. Though I have a tendency toward pinching pennies, I will always go out of my way to help a friend. I would make for a good salesman or restaurateur; I would struggle in professions that require much solitude.