About Nikki Love

A student in the University of Pennsylvania's Post-Baccalaureate Program in Classical studies interested in ancient religion and the intersection of Hellenistic and Egyptian culture, specifically during times of political crisis and conflict. Also hopelessly in love with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, with superheroes, and with anything having to do with animals.

Discovering Dietrich

Before Holly and Regan gave me my newest project at the SCPC, I had never been to Dietrich before. The first time I walked in (pushing the door open with the strength of Thor) I was with Holly, Regan, and Lauren, and we did a quick tour of the place for my sake. I was overwhelmed with just how many collections were back there. I’m still overwhelmed by how many collections are back there. It’s honestly like walking through history, and my hands were itching to read nearly every little thing that was back there.

As we, like almost every other repository in the country, struggle with space issues, my newest little (okay, a bit bigger than little) project is to go back through our archived collections and condense them on the shelves in order to make room for even more history! Basically it’s every re-organizer’s dream, and I’m loving it. Not to mention that I get to see collections that I might not usually encounter every day.

The problem with Dietrich arose on my first day up there. Alone. At nine in the morning. When the reading room hadn’t opened yet. And no one had turned the lights on.

Dietrich is scary when you’re alone.

Or maybe that’s just me. But Dietrich does feel a little bit like a horror film set when all you can hear is the whirr of the climate control system and the squeaking of the service elevator going up and down. One day, close to Halloween, the place had an incredibly appropriate flickering light, as if I hadn’t already been on edge. And then there was the crippling fear that the compact shelving was going to start collapsing in on me on its own while I was in between stacks. I couldn’t listen to music for a while when I started my time up there for fear that someone wouldn’t know I was there and accidentally crush me as if it were a little historical panini press. Needless to say, I had a lot to overcome.

Once I got into the swing of things, I realized how fantastic Dietrich actually is. Like I said before, there is so much stuff back there! It’s amazing, really, just how much history is stored there, and in every form imaginable, too! Prints, manuscripts, rare books, audios, musical instruments, sculpting kits (I’ve handled that one myself and yes, it is as cool as it sounds!) you name it, Dietrich has it.

It really is wonderful getting to work up there and just to be in the presence of all that history. My little make-shift office is basically my stock pile of different sized boxes and folders and acid-free paper that I had brought there myself  (juggling five boxes, panting for a little bit, saying ‘hi’ to Tom who sees me walk through the doors about twelve times a day, swiping my card like a secret agent, pushing the door open like I am Aragorn bursting into the Great Hall of Meduseld (O, would that Dietrich had double doors!), and trying not to drop the five doc boxes everywhere) but it’s my little make-shift office surrounded by loads and loads of cool things. It makes my job even better than it already was.

You never quite get over the sheer amount of history that constantly surrounds you up there. Setting aside the whimsy and the humor of this particular blog post, working in the SCPC has been a wonderful experience. There is so much to be said about working as a processor and how it is much more than many may think. We really care about the collections here, take the time to sit with them and put them into a nice, neat little order. It’s refreshing to know so many people who just ‘get’ the importance of history and the need for places like Dietrich – the need for a room where history can be organized on shelves but not ever really forgotten about. There are many components that make the SCPC, the Reading Room, and Dietrich just click, and I feel lucky that as a student worker I get to see every part of the process.

Of course, occasionally when someone walks into the aisle that I’m shifting boxes around in while listening to music, as if they’re a reading room ninja, I might yelp in surprise. And sure, I drop an empty shelf here or there, creating the loudest noise to ever grace the Dietrich stacks with its clamorous clatter. And alright, fine, I still wear dresses to work and find myself perched on a stool, still embarrassingly short like the Hobbit that I am, banging on a shelf and cursing its metal existence. But, honestly, Dietrich isn’t as horror-film-esque as I first thought, and my newest project is incredibly fun as well as entirely satisfying (few things are better than seeing three entire units of shelving freed up). Even though I’ve gotten some battle wounds – folders and metal shelves are out to get you, you see – I’m glad that I was given the privilege to discover Dietrich and be the pioneer of the newest renovation project at the Special Collections Processing Center.

Staying healthy, 1920s style

The new year has come and gone and the holiday frenzy has finally ended. As we spend the next two months writing the wrong year on everything, we feel the chill of winter creeping its way around us as well. It’s important to stay healthy during these cold months when the first signs of winter colds develop, even if it does sound ideal to curl up on the couch in sweatpants, mug of green tea clutched in a vise grip, quilt wrapped tightly around your shoulders as you binge watch every season of Friends that Netflix so graciously gifted us this past holiday season. All that and more could be yours but without the disadvantages of sniffling and coughing.

As I prepared for the winter months and stock piled supplies like an apocalypse prepper, I thought of a pamphlet I saw in a collection I had recently worked on. The young man was named David B. Walker and I had the privilege to catalog his school notebooks. He attended several public schools in the West Philadelphia area. It was incredibly fascinating to see how education has changed since the 1920s and early 30s when Mr. Walker was in school. One of the things I came across from his school days was a ninth grade health project he made. image(5)The pamphlet really exemplifies how differently health was viewed in the 1920s as opposed to now. And rightfully so, since, you know, this was a prominent problem then:imageIt’s featured on the very first page of the pamphlet. We have a lot to be thankful for here in 2015. But, if you, like me, are worried about the inevitable epidemic of sickness that always comes around this time of year, perhaps a few tips from Mr. Walker’s pamphlet could be of service to you.

1.) Wash food that needs to be washed, including lettuce that you’re going to put slices of pears on. And always put your food into clean bowls, especially if you’re serving your brunch guests shiny peach slices in a huge bowl. It certainly pays to insist.image(3)2.) Air your bed clothes out every day. Wave those PJs in the air like you just don’t care (to be sick, that is). image(4)3.) If the outside of your house looks clean then germs won’t mess with you. And your neighbors will think you have your life together and your health on lock. Don’t mind the giant maids sweeping the sidewalk in the background – it was alllll you who cleaned that lawn! Go you!image(1)4.) And finally, invest in a Cleanerette. You can even “cleanerette” your clothes! It can help you out if you don’t want to wave those bedclothes around every morning. Clean those rooms once a week with your electrical appliances and let the healthy vibes flow on through.image(2)These are just a few of the tips that can be found in this pamphlet and only a glimpse at the collection itself. All joking aside, it’s always wonderful to be able to take a trip through time here at the Special Collections processing Center. Every day I get to see how people in the past thought, how they wrote, what they thought was important. The advertising was different, the colors, the art. It’s amazing to see the types of media people were exposed to and to think about how those forms shaped how they thought. So the next time I see advertisements for how to stay healthy, I’m probably going to think of this little pamphlet and how different everything is but also how it’s sort of the same. I mean, it is our own responsibility to stay healthy and we should all do our part to lead happy lives. Perhaps this will be the season and the year where we all get sick less. And if not, well, there’s always that Friends marathon…


Cigarette and Trade Cards: For Non-Smokers, too!

A recent collection of mine, Dr. Daniel and Eleanor Albert collection of cigarette and trade cards, here at the Special Collections Processing Center contained a little over 1,400 cigarette and trade cards. When these six binders were wheeled down to my desk and I saw the sheer number of cards carefully sealed inside their little plastic squares, I grimaced. I had no idea what cigarette cards were; I was born in the 90’s and my childhood consisted of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards – and I’ve never been a smoker – so why would I be interested? Why should anyone be interested? You couldn’t do anything with them (like duel or play a rousing game of Rummy), so who cares? I found out exactly why as soon as I cataloged the very first card.

Cigarette and trade cards are really cool (and totally for non-smokers, too!).

Originally, cigarette cards were simply cardboard stiffeners that cigarette companies would use inside their cartons to help hold their shape. Trade cards were also receipt-like slips at their beginning, only needed to show purchase history. Then, both of these card types evolved into something much bigger: collectible items. Companies would manufacture sets of these little stiff squares and use them for advertising, urging the public to collect the entire set. These sets also had various subjects. Famous characters from literature, cries heard in the streets of London, and optical illusions were among the most popular. Artists could be employed to make a set for a company, using their creativity to produce beautifully drawn scenes with bright colors and quirky characters. These cards became so much more than cardboard inserts.

Cigarette and trade cards are actually highly collected ephemera, widely known and traded around the world in the inner circle of collectors. This collection itself has cards of several different languages, including French, German, and Chinese. These cards reflect each culture in the way they are drawn, the subjects they depict, and the companies that sponsor them. Looking through the some 1,400 cards was incredibly enjoyable and I hadn’t even realized just how many there were until I went to proof my work, I enjoyed them that much. The artwork on some are so beautiful for being printed on little cards, some smaller than a standard index card. Several of these cards definitely put my 90’s game cards to shame (as if they’re winning any awards for art, anyway). I certainly encourage those who did not know about cigarette and trade cards to look a few up, maybe even start a collection of their own, because they’re definitely not just for smokers or people from the late 1800s, and, you know, some of them wouldn’t look bad framed and on a wall…

Civil War in the Robert Milton Speer papers

My first collection here at the Special Collections Processing Center was letters to and from a man named Robert Milton Speer. Before bonding with Mr. Speer through his collection of around three hundred letters, I knew absolutely nothing of this United States Senator from the mid 1800s, nor that he even existed at all. Now, finished with boxing up his little slice of history, it’s hard to let him go. The youngest of six children, Speer had (according to his biography in the Biographical Encyclopaedia of Pennsylvania of the Nineteenth Century)  excelled through school and had become a successful and prominent lawyer before embarking on his journey towards becoming a U.S. Senator in the Forty-Second and Forty-Third Congresses. Along the way he met some incredibly quirky characters who wrote to him in handwriting that had me feeling like I was translating for my Ancient Greek course, and who asked him, sometimes, for the strangest of favors. A man advocating for a murder sentence to be lessened because the convicted man wasn’t usually horrible is just the tip of the iceberg.

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