“Go Home, Mister Printer. You’re Drunk.” (Or, Don’t Flip Your Sheet!)

As anyone who’s edited a paper, article, or blog post knows, it’s impossible to avoid errors.  The Fehlerteufel delights in seeding prose with typos, while other gremlins cheerfully wreak havoc on images and layout.  The hand press period is no exception. Take, for example, the curious case of quire (2D), a gathering of eight leaves in the second volume of Charles Cotton’s English translation of Michel de Montaigne’s Essais (London: Printed for T. Bassett, M. Gilliflower and W. Hensman, 1686) held in Penn’s Geoffrey Day Collection of Laurence Sterne.  Its pagination has clearly fallen victim to the Fehlerteufel, thus:

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

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 marksletter- or symbol-number combinations on the rectos (front pages) of leaves which indicate how to fold the sheet and arrange the quiresor catchwordsthe first word or syllable of the next page printed as the last line of the current oneerrors 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)

Signature marks of quire (2D) in the order in which they appear: (Dd), (Dd 4), (Dd3), (Dd2)

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The 1541 Meturgeman: Early printed Ashkenazic books and provenance

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 title of the 1541 Meturgeman, from Sotheby’s catalog photo.

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.

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Sherman Frankel’s Stand against the End of the World (and Dirty Streets)

Sherman Frankel (center, 1923-2019) with Andrei Sakharov (left, 1921-1989) and Yelena Bonner (right, 1923-2011) likely circa May 1987. Sakharov was a Soviet physicist who designed the USSR’s first nuclear weapons. He later became a political dissident and reform activist, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. Bonner was a lifelong human rights activist.

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.

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The Maḥzor of Uri Faivish (Phoebus) ben Aaron Ha-Levi Witzenhausen (Amsterdam, 1670)

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.

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The Bumpy Story of the Phrenological Fowlers

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.

At least, that’s what my phrenological chart says, which I put together at my desk in the Kislak Special Collections Processing Center with the help of my handy Fowler and Wells Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1850; Box 1 Folder 4, Fowler and Wells phrenological character readings, ephemera, and printed material, 1840-1910, Ms. Coll. 1418 Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania.)

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“From Antarctica to Zimbabwe” — available online!

In case you missed SCPC’s annual Archives Month Philly event, do not fear!  You can still travel around the globe with the online version of “From Antarctica to Zimbabwe: Around the World with Archives, Books and Codices!”  Kislak catalogers will be your guides!

Each year, October is Archives Month Philly during which institutions around the region celebrate all things “special” collections!  The Special Collections Processing Center at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts puts on a cataloger-curated show for one evening with just a few of our favorite things!

This year, “From Antarctica to Zimbabwe: Around the Word with Archives, Books and Codices,” took place on October 23, 2019 from 5 to 6:30, in the Class of 78 Orrery Pavilion, on the sixth floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library.

From Philadelphia To Madeira: The Early U.S. and the Transatlantic Wine Trade

“Think of this wine for instance,” said old Sol, “which has been to the East Indies and back, I’m not able to say how often, and has been once round the world. Think of the pitch-dark nights, the roaring winds, and rolling seas—”

“The thunder, lightning, rain, hail, storm of all kinds,” said the boy.

“To be sure,” said Solomon “—that this wine has passed through. Think what a straining and creaking of timbers and masts: what a whistling and howling of the gale through ropes and rigging—”

“What a clambering aloft of men, vying with each other who shall lie out first upon the yards to furl the icy sails, while the ship rolls and pitches, like mad!” cried his nephew.

“Exactly so,’ said Solomon “—has gone on, over the old cask that held this wine.”

The wine that Solomon Gills and Walter Gay share at the beginning of Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son (1848) is, of course, Madeira. The most popular drink in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Madeira wine was traded at a premium all over the world. So for the salty old sailor Sol and his young, wanderlust-stricken nephew Wally, a taste of Madeira was a taste of the wide world—its distant shores, churning oceans, and all its myriad opportunities for adventure. Among many things, Dombey and Son is about international trade and the expanding horizons of the nineteenth-century world; it is scarcely surprising, therefore, that the symbolic potency of Madeira wine should shine through so clearly in the novel.

Now available to researchers, the Newton, Gordon, Johnston, Murdoch, and Scott of Madeira, Portugal letters (Ms. Coll. 1417) offer firsthand insight into the Madeira trade at its height. In these letters, we read American businessmen writing to the Madeira, Portugal-based wine trading firm of Newton, Gordon, and Johnston (and its various successors) to establish trade relations, haggle over the terms of particular deals, share stock prices, and discuss the vicissitudes of transatlantic shipping. A window into the world of late-eighteenth to early-nineteenth-century international trade, the collection maps the peaks and valleys of the early American market and bears witness to the rise of the period’s most fashionable drink.

During the heady years immediately following the Revolution the United States was a precarious trading partner at best. But by the 1790s the young nation had started to become the world’s most avid consumer of Madeira wine. Twenty-four of the letters in this collection come from traders in Philadelphia alone, and the amounts discussed lend credence to the suspicion that Philly has always been a hard-drinking city—and that it was no stranger to the Madeira craze that swept the country. At one point, in fact, Madeira of particularly high caliber was referred to as “New York quality,” as seen in this letter of June 24, 1796 from Richard Waln of Philadelphia:

Francis Newton and Alexander Johnston, who formed their import-export consortium under the name of Newton and Johnston in 1748, were themselves no strangers to political upheaval. Both had to flee their native Scotland after fighting for Charles Stuart—known as the “Young Pretender” to his enemies and “Bonnie Prince Charlie” to his supporters—whose claim to the throne of the United Kingdom ended with his army’s defeat at Culloden in 1746. While Johnston oversaw business in London, Newton moved to the Portuguese-controlled Madeira islands in 1748 to gain his company a foothold in what was fast becoming the most lucrative business of the time: selling the fortified wine unique to the tiny archipelago. Soon, trading that wine would entirely take over the business lives of Newton and Johnston. In 1758 Francis Newton’s brother Thomas and Johnston’s nephew Thomas Gordon joined the firm, creating the consortium of Newton, Gordon, and Johnston, and the group would thereafter become a dominant force in the transatlantic Madeira wine trade. Incidentally, this company still exists to this day under the name of Cossart Gordon, the “oldest shippers of Madeira wine,” according to their website. Their claim to having been founded in 1745, however, is disputed in David Hancock’s Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste (2009), in which both the company’s founding and Newton’s arrival in Madeira are traced to 1748.

One of the most interesting parts of the thirty-six letters in this collection is how many include rudimentary tables of stock prices for staples such as flour, corn, pork, butter, tallow, rice, and beef:

Even if these goods are not being discussed for trade in the letters themselves, it is clear that keeping one’s business partners up-to-date on the state of trade in general was a big part of the social network undergirding the nascent international capitalist market. Weather, bad harvests, and difficulties chartering ships also arise as common themes in the letters, and accordingly affect the terms and timetables of the deals under discussion. John Vaughan of Philadelphia writes to Newton et. al. in 1790 of his hope that “we shall never again experience the fluctuations which the last Season has witnessed, which have baffled all calculations and led to severe disappointments.” Vaughan knew that less flour to trade meant less wine for him and his customers, and he begged the Madeira moguls to allow him to wait for prices to fall before making a deal.

Curiously, wine as such is seldom discussed in these letters, except purely as an article of trade. In fact, the only time anyone mentions actually tasting the wine occurs in Edward Penington’s letter dated June 26, 1835 from Philadelphia, where the merchant remarks that one of his clients, a “gentleman” with a “reputation for fine taste,” recently complained to him that the Madeira received from Newton and company “was not what he expected.” The customer demanded another cask, “the selection of which,” Penington somewhat exasperatedly notes, “we beg your particular attention.” Even the most distinguished purveyors of Madeira couldn’t get a break from the local wine snob, it seems.

After Walter Gay returns to London as a sea-worn sailor not unlike the old Solomon Gills at the end of Dickens’s Dombey and Son, the young man and his uncle share a glass of old Madeira and toast to hearth and home. The wine still reminds them of faraway horizons, but the intimacy of a drink after a long journey makes them realize just how much of the world can fit in a bottle shared between friends. For some in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, a bottle of Madeira indeed represented the whole world—livelihoods and even whole economies depended on it, after all. Reading the Newton, Gordon, Johnston, Murdoch, and Scott letters, 1790-1835 gives us a sense of truly how much went into and came out of the trade of Madeira.

A Curious Story of Two Banned Soviet Jewish Poems

Benjamin Waife, better-known under his pen name B.Z. (Ben Zion) Goldberg, was an American Yiddish journalist, writer, historian, and son-in-law of Sholom Aleichem, who made a significant contribution to recording and interpreting the history of Soviet Jews. In one of his notes about his visit to the Soviet Union, Goldberg writes about his frequent encounter to two poems: one posing “the Jewish question” and the other giving the answer to it. Soviet Jews recited these banned poems from memory and secretly passed them on from one person to another. He heard them from a physician in Leningrad, a teacher in Odessa, and a writer in Tashkent. Goldberg concludes that these poems “became folk literature expressing the assimilated new generation of Soviet Jews” (B.Z. Goldberg papers, [in process Box 70, Folder 2]). Goldberg wrote them down in Russian and then typed up the translations in English.

The first part of the poem that numerous Soviet Jews were reciting–Goldberg wrote it all down in Russian (B.Z. Goldberg’s papers, [in process Box 70, Folder 2]).
 Excerpts from B.Z. Goldberg’s translation of Margarita Aliger’s “Your Victory” and Michael Rashkovan’s “Answer to Margarita.” Goldberg did not know who wrote the poems–all he knew was that Soviet Jews secretly recited these poems, and so he recorded them and increased awareness about them in the West (B.Z. Goldberg’s papers, [in process Box 70, Folder 2]). 

Turns out, those poems had been published; but were later banned and their reciting forbidden. The original poem or the question was created by Margarita Aliger, a well-known Soviet Jewish poet and the author of “Your Victory.” The aforementioned poem’s part called “We are Jews” was published in the magazine Znamya (Flame) in 1946. The following year, Michael Rashkovan, veteran of the Second World War, was inspired by it and wrote an answer to Aliger. After the banning, however, B.Z. Goldberg documented the Soviet Jews’ resistance across the Soviet Union, and kept these poems about being Jewish in the USSR alive. Throughout his career, Goldberg was dedicated to using his access to freedom of speech and expression to help his Soviet Jewish counterparts.

Letter from Lazis Fanya Lvovna, Kiev region, in which she writes about having heard of Goldberg helping Jews in need. She asks Goldberg to pass along her address to her brother in Brooklyn, 1962 (B.Z. Goldberg papers, [in process Box 75, Folder 1]) .


The Final Part of a Mamlūk Qurʾān Copy

A serendipitous discovery happened as part of the Manuscripts of the Muslim World project a few weeks ago. Mitch Fraas, the project lead at Penn, came by and dropped off a copy of the Journal of Islamic Manuscripts to me. A break sounded nice, so I turned away from NEP 80, normally housed in the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, to have a look at the issue. When I got to the image on page 107, I thought “oh hey, I was just looking at that.” But wait, I couldn’t have been looking at the same thing, since the article I was reading is about a manuscript in the Louvre, in Paris (MAO 2281) and I had been looking at NEP 80 here in Philadelphia. NEP 80 is the last volume of a 30-volume copy of the Qurʾān, and it turns out that the Louvre has volume 10 from the same set. The Royal Library in Brussels has volume 15, and seven more volumes are held in Cairo in the Dār al-Kutub (Juvin, 2019, 117). If you do the math, you will notice that 20 volumes are still unaccounted for, so keep your eyes peeled.

The dual-page illuminated first opening of the copy at the Penn Museum, pictured above, and decorated with green and blue lotus flowers is nearly identical to the volume held at the Louvre. You can read Carine Juvin’s article to find out in full why these copies of each section of the Qurʾān are noteworthy for art historical and provenance reasons, but let’s take a closer look now at our own copy from this lovely set.

Penn Museum NEP 80, f. 1r, frontispiece with title of section, al-Juzʼ al-thalāthūn (the 3oth part).

The museum’s copy is volume 30, so the last in the set. The Qurʾān is sometimes copied in 30 volumes instead of as one volume because the Qurʾān is divided into 30 equal parts. The parts can be copied separately, if one wants. This set is fairly large in size, each volume measuring between 41-43 cm by 30-33 cm, which means it was likely for public use in the madrasah (school) where it was produced, rather than as copy for someone’s personal use.

This copy of the Qurʾān is an interesting specimen because of its layout, which Juvin argues is an early example of a style that is just beginning to catch on in the 14th century in the Mamlūk region of Egypt and Syria and was imported from Ilkhanid Iran (123). The layout of alternating text size, as seen below with a line of large muḥaqqaq script, followed by four lines of smaller naskh script, a typical bookhand, is designed to liven up the page. On the pages pictured below, we can see the gold lines of thuluth script, another large form of headline script, which, in this case, is used for the sūrah (chapter) headings. The medallions in the margins are marking verse count; the pointed medallions mark every fifth verse, and the circular ones mark every tenth verse. If you look closely, you can see the words five (خمسة) and ten (عشرة) written in the center of the medallion.

Penn Museum NEP 80, f. 12r detail of trimmed words along the fore-edge.

The Penn Museum copy measures slightly smaller than the Louvre copy. That is probably because the Penn Museum copy had its pages trimmed at some point. This seems likely because notations in the margins about text divisions and prostrations are often cut off. We can still read “niṣf ḥizb” in the image at right, meaning half of a ḥizb (a type of subdivision of the Qurʾān), but the words were probably not designed to run off the page like that which means that the leaf edges have likely been trimmed. It is not unusual to find trimmed edges in manuscripts that have been rebound, but this copy has its original boards, though they are now detached. The copy in Brussels (Ms 19991; Juvin, 121, figures 9 and 10 ) also still has its covers, and they are quite similar to the Penn Museum copy. Both show the block stamp design on the inside cover and the gold tooled, intricate, geometric patterned medallion, pictured below, on the outside cover. Likewise, the tooling on the envelope flap that folds over the fore-edge is similar.

Another characteristic of this copied set of Qurʾān volumes is the omissions, corrections and the like that appear throughout its pages. In her article, Juvin mentions that this could mean that this set was made as part of a routine copying for use in the school, rather than as a special order (116). In the Penn Museum copy, we have two nice examples of this type of making-do when something has gone not quite right. Below left, an image of verses squeezed in when they were accidentally left out of the copy. The copyist’s eye probably jumped over one line since two verses in this sūrah (al-Layl) begin in a similar way. Below right, a medallion marking five verses has been modified to fit around the lines of text that extend into the margins.

The image on the right, above, where the medallion fits around the text, also shows us that copying a Qurʾān such as this was not the work of just one person. Someone laid out the text and wrote it, and then other people, each of whom had their own skill set, went through and finished it in terms of decoration. That means that someone would add the rosettes at the end of the verses, someone else would add red and blue decorations, and someone else would add gold. This production by several hands means that sometimes you will find gaps in the copy where a decoration has been left out, or where the rubricator (the person who writes the red, gold, or other colors of text) neglected to write in headings, titles, or other special features.

Like all other volumes that make up this set, the Penn Museum volume has a colophon that tells when and where this copy of the Qurʾān was produced. Unfortunately, all known volumes in the set list the same exact date as the date of completion, even though they could not all have been completed on the same day (Juvin, 117). Although we know where the copy was produced, by whom, and on what day the entire set was finished, we do not know how long it took the scribe, Aḥmad ibn ʻAlī al-Iṣfahānī, to complete the work.

This colophon, pictured above, and set off in wide gold rules with chain design and gold marginal vignette with blue finials, says that the copy was made by Aḥmad ibn ʻAlī al-Iṣfahānī in the madrasah founded by al-Malik al-Ẓāhir Abū Saʿīd on the 10th day of the month of Dhū al-Hijjah in the year 789 A.H. (that is 22 December, 1387). The ruler referred to in this colophon is the Sultan Barqūq who reigned from Cairo from 1382–1389 and from 1390–1399. He founded a number of public works and this madrasah was one of his institutions.

One more notable feature of this copy are the inscriptions found in the same hand and relating to the same topic at both the beginning and end of the codex. The note at the end is dated 1246 A.H. (1830 or 1831 CE), and is written in an Arabic with a number of spelling errors (f. 44v). It is unclear what the significance of the notes might have been to the person who wrote them or what relation they have to the manuscript itself. Three graduate students at Penn are currently investigating this manuscript further, and hopefully will make more discoveries about its acquisition, previous owners, and mysterious notes. Stay tuned. While you are waiting, please peruse the completely digitized version of NEP80 here.

Penn Museum, NEP 80, f. 44r. The note in Arabic with spelling errors, the full meaning of which is still to be clarified.


Learning the Alphabet Starting with L, E, N, I, N

In the early Soviet Union, education played a particularly important role in ensuring that the ideology reached every citizen, most effectively, from a very early age. The Soviet student schoolwork collection contains a rare set of remarkable drawings and notes. There are dozens such drawings which give us a unique glimpse into the minds and imaginations of six-year-old children in the Soviet Ukraine, 1929. They drew Lenin just as they drew shapes and animals and practiced writing those words next to them (“horse,” “house,” etc.)

The child practices writing “horse” and “Lenin” in Ukrainian. Folder #2 Ukrainian Kindergartener’s (5-8 yo) drawings, Series I. Kindergarten and School Children’s Drawings and Copybooks.

As they learned how to read and write, they already knew about the Revolution, as Misha’s drawing below shows.

Misha, “Revolution,” Folder #2 Ukrainian Kindergartener’s (5-8 yo) drawings, Series I. Kindergarten and School Children’s Drawings and Copybooks.

Besides children’s notebooks, we also get to see a few remarkable instances of how the Soviet Union redefined motherhood, by insisting that a good mother was an educated mother, and mandating that women attend school. A lot of the stories in these notebooks, likely dictated by the teacher, use shame to encourage learning. One of the stories describes a disappointed little boy who asked his mother a question, which due to her illiteracy she could not answer. This generation of Soviet women had it hardest as they needed to take care of home, work, and study.

Lesson, March 4, 1930. I was a dark illiterate person. Under the Soviet state, I am now learning grammar. I learned how to read, write, and count a little bit. Now I need to work and study.” A Mother, Folder #9 “Three Notebooks on Women’s Education, Collectivization, Red Army, 1930,” Series I. Kindergarten and School Children’s Drawings and Copybooks.

A lot of historical evidence on the Soviet Union tends to be government-issued bureaucratic and censored material, which is why this collection of primary source material is so valuable. Moreover, there are typically fewer available sources created by children, in general. Thomas Woody, Penn Professor of Education, likely was the one who collected this material during his visit to the USSR in the 1920s and brought it with him to Philadelphia. His efforts created a wonderful time capsule that allows us to learn about the primary and middle-school education in the early Soviet Union from the students directly.