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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“Whole Hearted Cooperation and Unstinting Hard Work”: Autographed and Gift Copies of the Smyth Report

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).

Title leaf of the Smyth Report (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945)

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).

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“A Glimpse of the Garden at Sunshine Cottage”: Una Nixson Hopkins’ Model Neighbors

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).


Frontispiece (featuring Julia S. Holmes and “our gardener John”) and title page of A Winter Romance in Poppy Land, previously owned by the Dewey family of Pasadena, Calif.

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.

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“I Do Not Propose To Sit Idly Down And Be Made To Suffer”: The Curious Case of the Two Mrs. Pigotts

AmonPigottDakotaGirlCoverg 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.

PigottAutographsStella Gilman’s inscription to “Uncle Herbert” (above)
and Mabel Lucy Pigott’s autograph (below)

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

A Monster’s Mediterranean Tour

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.

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La moral filosophia del Doni, tratta da gli antichi scrittori.

La moral filosophia del Doni, tratta da gli antichi scrittori, by Giovanni, da Capua, 13th cent.

Two inscriptions: the library of the Convento di San Francesco di Ceneda; Bartolomeo Zorzi d’Ampezzo

“Spectat ad Biblio[thecam] S. Francisci P.F. Reformat[orum]? Cenet[ae]”
Ms. ownership inscription of the library of Convento di San Francesco di Ceneda of the Reformed Franciscans.
Second inscription: “Donum D. Bartholom[a]ei Zorzi de Ampitio”
Probably Bartolomeo Zorzi d’Ampezzo (no dates).

Penn Libraries call number: IndC K1247 Ei552m

Inscriptions and Sketch of Three Horses

Inscriptions (one may be an ownership inscription) and a drawing of three horses possibly referring to a passage in St. Agustine’s De Trinitate

Iesus saluator filius perducat nos superius vbi regnat in gloria


In Nomine Sancte et Indiuidue trinitatie [sic?] patris et
filij et spiritussancti Amen Nouerint vniuersi

[The first line comes from the hymn “Ave fuit prima salus“. “Raynutius” may be a name (> “Rinucci”?) or refer to a chapter of canon law known by the name of one of the litigants in the case that gave rise to it. The sketch of three horses appearing above the trinitarian formula of the signum crucis might possibly refer to the passage in St. Augustine’s work De Trinitate (book 7, chapter 3) where he uses three horses as an example in discussing the meaning of the word “person” as it refers to the Christian God. Or they could just be a sketch of three horses.]

Penn Libraries call number: GC5 T2984 540a