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Friday, April 11, 2014

Sign Here

When giving tours or talking with people about the Rosenbach, I often get questions about "autographs" and whether the Rosenbach collects them.  The word "autograph" comes from the Greek for "self" and "write" and when we talk about an "autograph document" here at the Rosenbach, we are talking about an item that is handwritten by its author (rather than a secretary or copyist). An "autograph document" does not necessarily mean that it is signed. 

In common parlance, however, people often refer to autograph collecting in terms of collecting signatures of famous people. In general, that was not Dr. Rosenbach's approach. He certainly wanted to buy, sell, and collect manuscripts written by famous people, both literary and historical, but he wanted the items to be substantive--he was interested in the whole document, not just the signature. Of course there were some exceptions, for example, there are some Abraham Lincoln documents in which we have only his signature or only Lincoln's portion of a document with the rest clipped away. Another exception was Dr. Rosenbach's Signers Set.

"Signers Sets" are sets of 56 documents, each bearing the John Hancock of a signer of the Declaration of Independence (bad pun fully intended). William Buell Sprague assembled the first such set, beginning in 1815/6 when he was employed by the Washington family, who allowed him to take letters as long as he left copies. Most of the items in Dr. Rosenbach's Signers Set set are full documents, but the point of the collection was the signatures. For example, Button Gwinnett, a Georgia signer, is represented by a will he witnessed--the only part of the document that is in his hand is the signature.

Joseph Stanley, will witnessed and signed by Button Gwinnett.

Savannah, Georgia, 29 May 1770. AMs 545/17, rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Detail from Joseph Stanley, will witnessed and signed by Button Gwinnett.
Savannah, Georgia, 29 May 1770. AMs 545/17, Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Gwinnett's is often celebrated as the rarest signer signature; there are 51 known examples. Its scarcity is influenced by his not having had a substantial pre-Declaration political career, his death in a duel in 1777, the end of his family line before the 19th century, and the repeated destruction of Savannah. There are other rare signers, even some who may be rarer, but as Ryan Speer, the compiler of a recent Gwinnett census explains, "Button Gwinnett has had the benefit of better publicity!"

Signer's sets had a heyday in the 1920s and Dr. R. bought eight Gwinnetts between 1926 and 1934: one for himself and the remainder for the Rosenbach Company. Speer notes that "one of the most spectacular purchases of a Gwinnett autograph, if not the most spectacular, was made by Philadelphia bookseller Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach in 1927, when he paid $51,000 for autograph Number 36 in the census below—a 1776 letter of the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress bearing the signatures of Gwinnett and five other signers of the Declaration of Independence. Rosenbach, now a somewhat obscure figure, played an underappreciated role in increasing the visibility and inflating the market value of signers’ signatures and other manuscript Americana." The value of Button-graphs crashed with the stock market however, and did not recover until after Dr. R's death.

As a corrective to Gwinnett's media dominance, let's also remember Thomas Lynch Jr., a signer from South Carolina who died at age 30 and whose signature may actually be the most rare. Dr. Rosenbach noted that "genuine Lynch signatures are excessively rare;" because of that rarity he had to content himself with just a signature, one found on the frontispiece to Sophocles Tragedies.
Thomas Lynch Jr., signature. [ca. 1770] AMs 1084/6. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
With that, I'll sign off.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Friday, April 04, 2014

Four Scores on 150 Years Ago

We've written before on this blog about Dave Burrell and his ongoing five-year series of compositions for the Civil War 150th (see here, here and here); this year's performances, Listening to Lincoln, will take place next week on Thursday April 10 and Saturday April 12. But this year there's more--a companion installation, entitled Four Scores on 150 Years Ago, which opened on Wednesday and runs through May 25th.

This installation looks at all four years (thus far) of Burrell's Civil War compositions and displays his research notes and musical scores alongside the historical materials which inspired him.  For example, in this case focusing on the 2014 compositions you can see Burrell's hand-written scores and drafts of Monika Larsson's poetic lyrics along with a page from Lincoln's 1864 Baltimore Address which was the genesis of the idea of "Listening to Lincoln."

Among the other historical items in the installation are Lincoln's notes on recruiting black soldiers, an early printing of the Emancipation Proclamation, an album belonging to Confederate spy Belle Boyd, sketches from John Brown's trial, and an account of the death of Elmer Ellsworth, an early casualty of the war who was revered as a Union martyr.

AMs 811-2_1 Ellsworth photograph (Large)
Matthew Brady, carte de visite photograph of Col. Elmer Ellsworth. 1860. AMs 811/2.1
Four Scores also gives you a chance to  revisit past performances through audio and video from Burrell's concerts and to watch interviews with the artist himself describing his creative process and what the works mean to him. The chance to bring all of this together in one space--the historical documents, Burrell's working materials, his thoughts, and the music itself--is a real treat!


So join us next week for the concert and any time through May for Four Scores

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Friday, March 28, 2014

It's a Frame Job

This February the Rosenbach sent a three-inch object on a three thousand mile voyage. 2014 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Dom√©nikos Theotok√≥poulos, better known to the art world as El Greco. The city of Toledo, El Greco's home for almost 40 years, is celebrating with the largest El Greco exhibition ever, entitled  The Greek of Toledo. The Rosenbach was asked to loan a very small item to this very large exhibition: an oil-on-card portrait miniature, attributed as a possible El Greco.

Portrait of a woman. Late 16th century. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 1954.0640.047

Before going out on loan, the miniature needed some conservation on its frame in order for it to travel and be displayed safely. The miniature was no longer in its original frame, but in a more modern scroll-top frame of the type used on many of the 458 miniatures that Philip Rosenbach purchased from the artist and collector Talbot Hughes. However, the frame needed a new back, so that the miniature would be held securely, and it also needed a new glass on the front.

Enter miniature-conservator Carol Aiken. Carol first traveled from Baltimore to assess and measure the miniature and the frame, then she fabricated the necessary pieces in her studio, and finally she returned to the Rosenbach to put it all together.  Here is Carol at work at the Rosenbach, removing the miniature from its frame.

Here she is working with the new frame elements to ensure a perfect fit. You can see the miniature itself on the box in front of her.

Thanks to Carol's work, our painted lady was safe and secure for travel. Our curator, Judy Guston, took it to Spain and oversaw its installation (apparently right next to an enormous painting); the exhibit in Toledo runs through June 16 and then our happily-housed miniature will be coming home.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Friday, March 21, 2014

"The Charge of the Light Brigade," But Not the One You Think

The current tensions over Crimea perhaps inevitably bring to mind a previous Russian/European conflict over the Black Sea area--the Crimean War of the 1850s. Although the war has generally been little remembered in the West (although apparently in Russia it is another story), one aspect has resounded in popular memory: the charge of the Light Brigade.

This costly and futile British charge against a well-defended battery in the Battle of Balaklava on October 25, 1854 inspired the famous poem by Lord Tennyson. The Times account of the event, which included the phrase "a hideous blunder," was the source for Tennyson's line "Someone had blundered," which he controversially rhymed with "six hundred." Tennyson made a phonograph recording of the poem in 1890, which you can hear here.

Interestingly, the Rosenbach does not appear to have an early printing of Tennyson's Light Brigade (which was published in The Examiner on December 9, 1854 and included with the printing of Maude in July of the following year) , but it does have a copy of another poem with the same name, published in St. Louis in 1861.

Charles Casey, The Charge of the Light Brigade. St. Louis, 1861. A 861c

This Charge of the Light Brigade was written by a Charles Casey and although it was published six years after the events it describes, the introduction is signed and dated January, 1855, so it was written much closer to the actual event and only a month after Tennyson's poem was first published. I haven't been able to find out anything about Casey or about his poem. If anyone has any information, I'd be very interested to know. In any event, here is a brief excerpt  of The Charge of the Light Brigade by Charles Casey.

In two wavy glittering lines, onward they sweep--
Their eye on the foe, their steeds on the leap.
Their sword grip is tightened,
Held hard is their breath,
As they ride in their pride
Down that valley of death.

And the cheeks of the gazers grew pale at the sight;
As that war-wave swept on in its glory and might.

For. right in their front there runs
Aline of some thirty guns,
With the bravest of Russia's sons
Drawn up behind them.
Cannon on either flank,
Infantry rank on rank,
But none or paused or shrank,
No--they don't mind them.

On they dash, through the crash
Of the grape through their rank,
As hail smites down the meadow__
Smote down front and flank,
Down goeth man and steed,__
None now to pause or head
Mingled they groan and bleed,
wounded and dying.
Yet some lift their gory head, E'er their last breath has fled, To see how their comrades sped,
On the guns flying


Six hundred light horsemen in gallant array,
Charged gaily the Russ at the noon of the day:
Two hundred light horsemen, at eve on the plain--
Torn, bloody and shattered,--are all that remain.
But, like demi-gods, their laurels they have won,
And have writ in blood their name,
On the eternal roll of fame,
In five-and-twenty by the sun.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, World Wide Web

This Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. There has been a lot of online hoopla, including this great slideshow from PCMagazine of the earliest websites, as well as an article on predictions that didn't come true.

Given the anniversary,  it seemed like a great time to check in on our Networking Before the Net exhibit. The exhibition has its own Twitter hashtag #networkingexhibit and here's some of what both the Rosenbach and our visitors have posted.

The exhibit also offers a spot for visitors to rest and to help us create an exhibition commonplace book.

Commonplace books, or personal miscellanies, were blank books used to collect quotations, poetry, bits of wisdom, etc. that a person wanted to save. We asked visitors to contribute their favorite quote, quip or adage to our exhibit miscellany and here are a few of the items which have been shared:

"I would prefer not to" --Bartleby the Scrivener

"A house without books is like a room without windows" Horace Mann

"You can retrieve a pebble thrown into the pond--But you'll never get the ripples back"

"Respect, not earned, is not deserved"

"In the next two days, tomorrow will be yesterday"

"Don't ask what your country can do for you as what you can do for your country"--JFK

"Why are there so many songs about rainbows..."(visitors wrote the whole first verse)

"It's a small world...but I wouldn't want to paint it"

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye" The Little Prince

"The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be"---Marcel Pagnol

"Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber. between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lords, weep" Joel 2

"Why is a raven like a writing desk" Lewis Carroll

"Surgeons must be very careful/ when they take up the knife/For underneath their fine incisions/stirs the culprit life"--Emily Dickinson

"Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt" Kurt Vonnegut

"Between two evils choose neither/Between two goods choose both" Tyron Edwards

"To a Mouse" --Robert Burns (visitors wrote the whole poem)

"The opera ain't over 'til the fat lady sings" Casey Stengel

"To travel is to live and die a thousand times"

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music" Nietzsche

Thanks to all who have come to the exhibit so far and thanks especially to those who took the time to share their thoughts. If you haven't stopped by yet, the exhibit runs through June 16th.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Friday, March 07, 2014

Niagara Falls

As we all look forward fervently to the thaw, it's time for many people to start thinking about spring break. One of my favorite places I visited on a spring break was Niagara Falls, which I traveled to in college, many years ago. Even though it was still somewhat cold and not all the tourist operations were open for the season yet, the falls themselves were still amazing.

I am certainly not the only one to be impressed by Niagara Falls. The falls were an immensely popular subject for  drawings, paintings, and prints and one of my favorite items in the collection in an aesthetic sense is a set of hand-colored aquatints of Niagara Falls created by Charles Hunt after drawings by James Pattison Cockburn. Cockburn was a Royal Artillery officer who sketched North American scenes during a Canadian posting from 1826 to 1832. These prints were produced in 1833, at a time when Niagara Falls was just emerging as a tourist destination after recovering from the War of 1812. They were sold in both England and America and proved so popular that they were reprinted in 1857, when tourism at the falls had grown to over eighty thousand annually.

Charles Hunt after James Pattison Cockburn, The falls of Niagara: Table Rock & Horse-Shoe Fall     

London: Ackermann & Co., 1833. Rosenbach 1954.0943

Charles Hunt after James Pattison Cockburn, The Falls of Niagara: American Fall from Goat Island    
London: Ackermann & Co., 1833. Rosenbach 1954.0942

Charles Hunt after James Pattison Cockburn, The Falls of Niagara: View of the Horse-Shoe-Fall from Below Goat Island    
London: Ackermann & Co., 1833. Rosenbach 1954.0946

Charles Hunt after James Pattison Cockburn, The Falls of Niagara: View From the Upper Bank, English Side   
London: Ackermann & Co., 1833. Rosenbach 1954.0945
Charles Hunt after James Pattison Cockburn, The Falls of Niagara: General View Above the English Ferry   
London: Ackermann & Co., 1833. Rosenbach 1954.0945

Another great Niagara item in our collection is this photograph of Philip Rosenbach and an unidentified companion in front of the icy falls. It seems to be a studio photograph, either using a backdrop or with the men photographed separately and superimposed on an image of the falls, but you have to love the outfits.

Photograph of Philip Rosenbach and unidentified man. Rosenbach 2006.1706   
Maybe with some Photoshop I could make a virtual visit to the falls as well. Or maybe its time for a road trip.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Friday, February 28, 2014

Buddy Can You Spare a Dime....Novel?

Although not usually lauded as great literature, dime novels are an interesting part of the Rosenbach collection. The Rosenbach has over 65 dime novels, which is both a sizable number and only a tiny sample of what was produced. The short, generally formulaic, inexpensive tales (often set in the West) were incredibly popular in 19th-century America. The pioneering publisher of the genre, Beadle & Adams, sold 5 million copies of dime novels between 1860 and 1865 alone. The reverse of The Invisible Scout in the series of Munro's Ten Cent Novels lists 204 titles that can be obtained from the publisher and confidently states, "The Novels are the most popular books that have ever been published. The sales of them may be counted by Tens of Millions. there is scarcely a Village or Cabin on this Continent, where Munro's Ten Cent Novels are not as familiar as Household Words."

The Invisible Scout or a romance of early Kentucky
New York: George Munro Publishers, 1871
DN 22

The Invisible Scout or a romance of early Kentucky
New York: George Munro Publishers, 1871
DN 22
Dime novels had a predetermined length of 100 pages. The typesetters for The Invisible Scout seem to have encountered some difficulty in fitting everything correctly into the allotted space. Early on in the book there is often generous, even perhaps excessive, white space on the page at breaks, but on the last page it became clear that they had run out of room and had to squeeze the last few paragraphs in by switching to a smaller type font. Perhaps the author ran over his word limit, or they didn't have the whole text in front of them when they began setting, or maybe it was just a bad day at the very busy printing shop.

Arthur Livermore Meserve (1838-1896), The trappers of Wind River
New York: George Munro, [1871]
DN 23

Although dime novels were often set in the West, one common plot device was that the “western” hero was really a transplanted easterner, who reinvents himself in the west in order to pursue adventure, or to escape a tragic past. Alfred Collins, the hero of The Trappers of Wind River is typical: his clothing and bearing indicate that “his life had thus far not been spent in his present avocation,” but he “was well pleased with the wild freedom of his life; such a joy, as one only experiences upon the plains, and among the mountains of the far West.” Collins’s companions also include other transplants: a comic “Yankee” and an Irishman.

Edward L. Wheeler (1854-1885), Idyl, the girl miner, or Rosebud Rob on hand
The Deadwood Dick Library, II, no 18
Cleveland: The Arthur Westbrook Co., 1899
Gift of Bacon Collamore DN 59

Romantic notions of the west allowed even outlaws to be transformed into heroic figures in the popular imagination. The real Joaquin Murrieta was a vicious killer, whose gang robbed and murdered California Anglos, Hispanics, and Chinese for gain and sport. Frontiersman Henry Love eventually succeeded in locating and killing Murrieta in the San Joaquin Valley. He had Murrieta’s head cut off and preserved in a bottle of alcohol to prove his death.

A year later, newspaperman John Rollin Ridge, who had himself had fled to California after killing a man in Arkansas, invented a legend that Murrieta’s actions were revenge against American miners who had ravished and murdered his wife. Ridge’s sensational tale of a Mexican Robin Hood was turned into an even more popular dime novel and caught on in the East, sparking poems and numerous dime novels, and even appearing in histories of the west. In Idyl, the Girl Miner, Murrieta appears as an oddly sympathetic character, a gambler who gambles away his own child and in his distress asks his wife to shoot him.

This is only a taste of the Rosenbach dime novel collection. To see more, make an appointment to visit our reading room for the chance to delve into other tales of derring-do! 

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia