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
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:
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:
Most people have hidden a little cash in a book at one time or another, and librarians are never surprised to encounter examples of things tucked into books about them, like dried plants pressed in herbals. That said, I wasn’t expecting to find medieval coins laid into an eighteenth-century numismatic handbook, but that’s exactly what happened when I paged through the Kislak Center’s copy of the second volume of Mikuláš Voigt’s Beschreibung der bisher bekannten Böhmischen Münzen nach chronologischer Ordnung (Prague: Gerlische Buchhandlung, 1771-1787). The Piarist Voigt (1733-1787) was a pioneering Czech numismatist who studied the Podmokelský poklad—a hoard of Celtic rainbow cups buried in a bronze cauldron and unearthed by a farmer at Podmokly in western Bohemia in 1771—as well as writing this inventory of then-known Bohemian specie. A previous (unidentified, alas, but possibly 20th-century) owner of our copy of volume 2 laid in four small envelopes containing two thirteenth-, one fourteenth-, and two fifteenth-century coins next to the engraved illustrations depicting them.
Adam and Eve are having a bad day: they disobeyed God, got caught, and are being run out of Eden by an angel with a flaming sword. Undoubtedly they’re in no mood to appreciate the invention of death metal, pace the skeletal guitarist shredding the soundtrack to their misery. Judging by his grin, though, he doesn’t care, certain that eventually they’ll notice his riff’s got a good beat and they can dance to it—that, in fact, they must dance to it …
This woodcut from Hans Holbein‘s Dance of Death and Icones Historiarum Veteris Testamenti (both produced ca. 1523-1526) also illustrates the third chapter of Genesis in an edition of the Vulgate (Paris: Guillard and Desboys, 1552) annotated by the French theologian Jean Benoît (1484?-1573), a copy of which was recently acquired by the Penn Libraries as part of the Peter Way Collection of Early Modern Texts. Continue reading
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