Catalogers are no less tempted than anyone else to put off ’til tomorrow what they’d rather not do today. (Sorry, Ben!) But fortunately we have curators to poke through the resulting backlog of curious items, which is how a seventeenth-century German folded quarto sheet purchased for the Penn Libraries in 1959 landed on my desk in 2018. (Thanks, Mitch!) A search on the title—Des Edlen, Ehrnuesten vnd Mannhafften Heinrich Quaden von vnnd zu Eisengartten, Obersten, Gründlicher aussführliche vnd warhaffte Verantwortung vnd Bericht, auff etzliche vnterschiedliche Articul—in the VD17 database of seventeenth-century German imprints quickly brought up an entry and a link to a digitized version of the copy held at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany. And that’s when I realized I was looking at something more interesting than the disjecta membra of a late Renaissance pamphlet: a copy-edited proof of four pages of a late Renaissance pamphlet, printed on a scrap sheet from an entirely different work.
As the current exhibit OK, I’ll Do It Myself: Narratives of Intrepid Women in the American Wilderness at the Kislak Center attests, the Penn Libraries’ Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness is a wide-ranging one. Aphra Behn and Willa Cather sit cheek-by-jowl with Betsy Bell and Mary Harwell Catherwood; anthologies of Native American folklore occupy the same shelf as a novel about Japanese mail-order brides. The collection is also rich in juvenile literature, from classics like Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s Yearling and L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables to picture books, readers, and series both familiar (The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew) and largely forgotten (The Motor Maids, Three Vassar Girls). Even when the stories are formulaic, the authors’ lives seldom are, as a glance at the careers of Mildred Wirt Benson or Elizabeth Williams Champney demonstrates. Such is no less true of Marjorie Vetter (1898-1977): author, editor, reviewer, and—as a result of sexist twentieth-century immigration and nationality laws—an American citizen twice over, both native-born and naturalized.
This extremely Gothic bookplate appears on the front pastedown of Armine von Tempski’s 1929 novel Fire in the Caroline F. Schimmel Collection of Women in the American Wilderness. It was designed in 1933 by the American medical illustrator, Atlantean scholar, and First Fandom member Henry M. Eichner (1909-1971), whose career is as fascinating as his ex-libris. Continue reading
On the weekend of August 11-12, 1945, mere days after the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States released the first thousand copies of A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes.* Written by Princeton University physicist and Manhattan Project contributor Henry DeWolf Smyth, it had been commissioned in the spring of 1944 by General Leslie R. Groves, head of the Project, and its purpose was twofold: first, to inform “men of science in this country” about nuclear military technology in order that they might “help their fellow citizens in reaching wise decisions” in the future (Smyth, Atomic Energy 226); second, “to say as much as possible [about the Manhattan Project] in an official statement carefully prepared and reviewed and then to instruct people on the project to say nothing more even after they had left the project” (Smyth, “Smyth Report” 180-181).
On September 15, a small but canny group of booksellers began offering for sale the Princeton University Press edition of the report, now titled Atomic Energy for Military Purposes: The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb Under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945. The book became an unlikely bestseller: according to Princeton University Press director Datus P. Smith, from 1945 to 1973 the Smyth report (as it came to be known) sold over 125,000 copies domestically, and though “neither Harry Smyth nor the Press had any systematic way of keeping track of translated editions … we had some kind of evidence of translations into about 40 languages” (Smith 199).
In 1911 Una Nixson Hopkins published her only novel, A Winter Romance in Poppy Land (Boston: Richard G. Badger). Remembered now largely as an architect and interior designer, as well as a Hollywood art director, she was also a frequent contributer of articles and short stories to magazines like the Ladies’ Home Journal. The plot of A Winter Romance in Poppy Land is very much in the vein of such magazine fiction: George Oliver and June Winthrop, both visiting Pasadena, fall in love, but June rejects him when an overheard conversation suggests his complicity in a jewel theft from their hotel. Once June learns that Oliver is an aspiring playwright and the conversation concerned a plot twist in his latest work (the actual theft was a mere coincidence), she yields to his advances and the two announce their engagement. “An interesting love story with rather an unusual plot of misunderstandings,” concludes a contemporary reviewer in Out West, commending the book’s affectionately “vivid and true” depictions of its California settings (James 59).
The characters are all stock figures (distressingly so in the case of the African-American gardener, Japanese servants, and Hispanic locals), but when it came to choosing models for the photographic illustrations of her tale, Hopkins eschewed stock in favor of her Pasadena neighbors. Uncredited in the book itself, their identities are revealed in an eight-page manuscript tucked into the copy recently donated to the Penn Libraries by Caroline F. Schimmel as part of the Collection of Women in the American Wilderness.
Among the volumes presented to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries by Caroline F. Schimmel as part of her Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness is an inscribed copy of That Dakota Girl by Stella Gilman, a Western romance published in 1892 to tepid reviews: “The pony that always figures in stories of Western life is introduced in the initial chapter, and has its share to do with the love-making and various subordinate incidents. But the reader looks in vain for the genuine local coloring that is to be expected from the title” (Public Opinion 13 (1892): 487). Gilman, a resident of Hudson, South Dakota, is a shadowy figure; in the biographical note to her only other book, A Gumbo Lily and Other Tales, she writes that she was born in Philadelphia and emigrated with her family to the West as a child in 1878. The Schimmel Fiction Collection copy of The Dakota Girl has a 19th-century gift inscription (“To Uncle Herbert, with The love of The Author. July 15. 1892.”) on the front free endpaper and a partially effaced autograph in a childish hand (“Mabel Lucy Pegott [sic]. 329 Chestnut, Philadelphia, Penna.”) in pencil on the verso of the back free endpaper.
A little investigation discovers that Mabel Lucy Pigott, born in 1881, was the daughter of H. Herbert Pigott of 329 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Perhaps, I thought, an inquiry into Mr. Pigott’s family might shed some light on Stella Gilman’s antecedents. Sadly, it did not¹ — but it did uncover a tale of betrayal and bigamy in the Pigott family that culminated in a dog-sled chase through the lumber camps of British Columbia, a true-life romance as fascinating as any early twentieth-century fiction. Continue reading
As a rare books cataloger, I have learned to trust my predecessors. (Or, as one of my instructors in the art of bibliography put it, to cheat.) The notes they have left about an item are usually correct; the habit of checking for such indications has spared me many times from reinventing the wheel. But every now and then I do have to play wheelwright: updating old conclusions with new research, remedying oversights, correcting errors.
And occasionally — very, very occasionally — I find something everyone else has missed.
According to its shelf-list card, Folio GC5 H7480R 522d in the Penn Libraries German Culture Class Collection contains two items:
An edict describing measures, financial and other, to meet the threat of the Turks, given at Coblenz in 1522(?) … With this is a 14-line broadside … designed to accompany this or a similar proclamation, and announcing a meeting of the Reichstag in 1523.
The University of Pennsylvania purchased these items in 1955 from a Dutch antiquarian bookseller, A.L. van Gendt. Their accession record notes that they were acquired with a set of sixteenth-century broadsides, primarily decrees of the Holy Roman Empire. The shelf-list card quotes the accession record’s description of the 1522 edict verbatim, suggesting that the identification came from van Gendt. He, in turn, may have been following a German note penciled at the foot of the document’s first page:
Beschlüsse … der Reichsstände zu Coblenz zur Abwendung der Türken- u. Franzosengefahr! Ca. 1522 [i.e. Decisions … of the estates at Koblenz for averting the threat of the Turks and the French! Ca. 1522]
Since this item is otherwise undated, it seems likely that the impetus to assign it to the early sixteenth century comes from its association with the 14-line broadside publicizing the diet at Nuremberg in 1523.
Unfortunately for van Gendt’s bottom line, however, the two are unrelated.
Once, while I was teaching at a summer program for gifted high school students, I was called with some other faculty members into the office of the director, a biology professor, to listen to a series of increasingly importunate messages from a local morning radio show. Someone had found a two-headed toad in his yard and the hosts wanted to interview a biologist about it. But since their approach was less Nature than Weekly World News (“C’mon, doc, this is weeeeird stuff! What’s next? Two-headed snakes? Two-headed turtles? Two-headed babies?”), the director declined to comment on a potential polycephalic apocalypse.
I was reminded of this incident while cataloging our copy of an incunable edition of Apuleius’s Metamorphoses printed in Bologna by Benedetto Faelli on August 1, 1500 (Goff A-938). On a blank leaf at the end of the volume are two handwritten notes in Latin, one dated November 13, 1513, and the other March 2, 1515, describing the appearance of a pair of conjoined twins in Rome and Geneva. The first note, in a very clear humanist hand, tells us that:
there was brought from Spain to Rome a twelve-year-old French boy bearing in his chest a monster in the form of a perfect little boy, headless but with very thin arms without hands, his head hidden within the boy’s chest and hanging down by a small neck from the chest of the same, with separate bodies, their bellies cleaving together but the feet scarcely touching the boy’s knees. And, strange to say, the boy eliminates together with the monster and urinates, and food provides each of them with nourishment. And if something touched the monster, the boy immediately felt it. (… puer natione Gallus annoru[m] xij Monstrum in pectore gerens ad forma[m] perfecti pueruli acephali brachijs tamen gracillimis sine manibus ostendentis caput suum intra pectus pueri condidisse et per paruum collum a pectore ip[s]ius dependere diuisis corporibus, ventribus inter se coherentibus genua pueri uix pedibus attingentis. Quodq[ue] mirum dictu est puer una cum monstro egerit, mingitq[ue], tamq[ue] cibo unius utriq[ue] alimenta prestentur. Et si quid monstrum tetigerit, puer statim sentit.)
The author insists that this is no popular tale (vulgaris fabula) but that many trustworthy men in Rome as well as France and Spain can attest to its veracity.