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Friday, December 09, 2016

Cross Writing and Cross Reading

Whenever I give presentations involving 19th-century manuscripts, people are always fascinated by the practice of cross-writing. This is the practice of writing a letter and then turning it 90 degrees and writing the opposite way. We have a number of examples of this from our collection, such as this Civil War letter from Alexander Biddle to his wife.

Alexander Biddle, autograph letter signed to Julia Rush Biddle, 25 September 1862. Rush IV:30:23. Collection of the Rosenbach
The ostensible and oft-quoted goal of this 19th-century technique was to save money on postage by keeping the number of sheets down. Although this may have been true, especially before the mid-century regularization of postal service in both the US and UK, I suspect the practice also became  became an ingrained habit or a practice associated with virtuous thrift. Alexander Biddle, whose letter is shown above,  had plenty of money and he wrote to his wife nearly every day that he was in the military, clearly indicating that he lacked neither money nor paper for correspondence.

Modern researchers often find cross-writing frustrating to read and it turns out that the nineteenth-century folks often thought the same. In chapter 19 of Emma (first published in 1815) Miss Bates describes a letter from Miss Fairfax:

[I]n general she fills the whole paper and crosses half. My mother often wonders that I can make it out so well. She often says, when the letter is first opened, 'Well, Hetty, now I think you will be put to it to make out all that chequer-work' -- don't you, ma'am? And then I tell her, I am sure she would contrive to make it out herself, if she had nobody to do it for her, every word of it -- I am sure she would pore over it till she had made out every word. 

Jane Austen, Emma. EL3 .933e v.2. Collection of the Rosenbach

Lewis Carroll, himself a fantastically prolific letter writer, also criticized the practice in his amusing pamphlet Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-writing:
My ninth Rule. When you get to the end of a notesheet, and find you have more to say, take another piece of paper--a whole sheet, or a scrap, as the case may demand: but whatever you do, don’t cross! Remember the old proverb ”Cross-writing makes cross reading.” “The old proverb?” you say, inquiringly. “How old?” Well, not so very ancient, I must confess. In fact, I’m afraid I invented it while writing this paragraph!

Lewis Carroll, Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-writing. Oxford : Emberlin and Son, 1890. EL3. D645ei copy 2. Collection of the Rosenbach.
My thoughts about the persistence of cross-writing as a habit, even after the price of postage came down, are echoed in the 1878 book: Analysis of Letter-writing, with a Large Number of Examples of Model Business Letters, which is not in our collection but can be found on Google Books.

In this country paper and postage are reasonably cheap. There is, therefore, no excuse for writing cross lines either on the margin of your sheet, or over the lines of your letter on the regular rulings. These cross lines deform your letter and add very much to the difficulty of reading it. It is very rare indeed, perhaps never, that you will see a business letter thus defaced, But no letter, whether of a business or social character, should be thus deformed.

Cross lines in letter writing came into use many years ago, on account of dear postage and the high price of paper. Less than twenty-five years ago, it cost more to send a letter from Detroit to New York than it did to send a bushel of wheat or corn. The high rates of postage furnished some apology, at that time, for utilizing every nook and corner of the sheet, in writing an old fashioned family letter. But those days have passed, never to return to the people of this country; and with them the necessity if not the inducement of cross lining letters.

 Ladies still continue the practice to some extent in their correspondence with each other. But, generally, the person receiving a letter thus disfigured regards it with disfavor, if not with disgust. It now appears like an affectation of economy, or of real economy bordering on stinginess or poverty. It is, to say the least against it that can be said, in very bad taste.
Of course, the vehemence of his outcry is a testament to the fact that the practice was still very much in evidence. Thankfully (for period and modern readers alike) it did eventually die out, leaving us only to tangle with the challenges of deciphering handwriting, without the other factors that could lead to "cross reading."



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster for the Rosen-blog



Friday, December 02, 2016

Parisian Luxury

George Curikshank, Parisian Luxury. London: G Humphrey, 1824. 1954.1880.1831. Collection of the Rosenbach.
Although this 1824 print by George Cruikshank was doubtless intended as a dig at the stereotypically spoiled French dandy, I often find myself admiring the  dandy's set up, especially as we head into the craziness of the holiday season.  The idea of relaxing  in a brimming full hot bathtub while getting to enjoy a hot beverage from a beautiful silver coffeepot sounds pretty nice. At first I thought he was using some sort of ingenious (but possibly precarious) floating tray, but looking closely at the print, it seems to be a three legged table that is perched in the bath.

This is an English print and the British were pretty slow to catch on to hot bathing. You can read a great article on colonial bathing on Colonial Williamsburg's website, and although by 19th century bathing was becoming more common, this print clearly indicates that it was still seen as characteristically (even foppishly) French. Napoleon had famously been a fan of hot baths. A widely quoted excerpt from a memoir by his friend and secretary Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne explains:

His partiality for the bath he mistook for a necessity. He would usually remain in the bath two hours, during which time I used to read to him extracts from the journals and pamphlets of the day, for he was anxious to hear and know all that was going on. While in the bath, he was continually turning on the warm water to raise the temperature, so that I was sometimes enveloped in such a dense vapour that I could not see to read, and was obliged to open the door . 

Note that Napoleon not only liked baths but had a tub with piped in hot water! Our French dandy just has a regular tub that has to be filled and emptied by hand (by his servants, of course). Bourrienne's memoir is not always the most accurate account, but Napoleon's penchant for baths is confirmed by other memoirists as well and many suggest that long hot baths were linked to his becoming fat.

Like Napoleon, who got caught up news while in the bath, our dandy is actually being remarkably efficient--at the same time as he is bathing, he is also getting his barbering and manicuring needs taken care of. His barber, at the right, is shaving his head so that his wig (on the wig stand in the center background) will fit properly. I'm not exactly sure what is being done to his foot at the left, but medical historian Dr. Alun Withy notes in his fascinating blog post on 18th-century hand and nail care that " From around 1750... a range of practitioners began to specialize in hand and nail care, and advertised their services....By the later 18th century...the first ‘chiropodists’ were beginning to appear."

All things considered, I think I'd like to sign up for the dandy package. Perhaps we could all emulate Napoleon and get our work done while lounging in the bathtub (much later, the codebreaker Dilly Knox would  break WWI codes in the bathtub, so some Brits eventually embraced the idea). We'll see if it catches on.



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster for the Rosen-blog


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving, 1781


Although Thanksgiving wouldn't be formally established as an official annual holiday until 1862, the practice of setting aside days of Thanksgiving goes back much further. Colonial legislatures, especially in New England, issued periodic Thanksgiving Proclamations and the Continental Congress designated a day of Thanksgiving every year from 1777 to 1782. You can find the full text of the Continental Congress proclamations online thanks to Pilgrim Hall Museum.

United States. Continental Congress; Proclamation : Philadelphia, 1781 Oct. 26.AMs 777/22 . Collection of the Rosenbach.

The Rosenbach has the manuscript of the Congress's Thanksgiving Proclamation for 1781, signed by the President of the Continental Congress, and the Congress's secretary, Charles Thompson. It was a year in which the new nation had much to be thankful for--the Proclamation was issued on October 26, 1781, just seven days after the critical victory at Yorktown:
[W]e beg recommend in a particular manner that they may observe and acknowledge to their observation, the goodness of God in the year now drawing to a conclusion: in which A mutiny in the American Army was not only happily appeased but became in its issue a pleasing and undeniable proof of the unalterable attachment of the people in general to the cause of liberty since great and real grievances only made them tumultuously seek redress while the abhorred the thoughts of going over to the enemy, in which the Confederation of the United States has been completed by the accession of all without exception in which there have been so many instances of prowess and success in our armies; particularly in the southern states, where, notwithstanding the difficulties with which they had to struggle, they have recovered the whole country which the enemy had overrun, leaving them only a post or two upon on or near the sea: in which we have been so powerfully and effectually assisted by our allies, while in all the conjunct operations the most perfect union and harmony has subsisted in the allied army: in which there has been so plentiful a harvest, and so great abundance of the fruits of the earth of every kind, as not only enables us easily to supply the wants of the army, but gives comfort and happiness to the whole people: and in which, after the success of our allies by sea, a General of the first Rank, with his whole army, has been captured by the allied forces under the direction of our illustrious Commander in Chief.

United States. Continental Congress; Proclamation : Philadelphia, 1781 Oct. 26.AMs 777/22 . Collection of the Rosenbach.

The day set for the Thanksgiving was December 13, 1781. This was  a Thursday; apparently reflecting New England tradition. The Proclamation, which was composed by a committee composed of two Presybterian ministers (Jonathan Witherspoon of New Jersey  and Joseph Montgomery of Pennsylvania ) and two New Englanders (Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Joseph Varnum of Rhode Island), did not assume God's continued favor, but called on people to

[A]ssemble on that day, with grateful hearts, to celebrate the praises of our gracious Benefactor; to confess our manifold sins; to offer up our most fervent supplications to the God of all grace, that it may please Him to pardon our offences, and incline our hearts for the future to keep all his laws; to comfort and relieve all our brethren who are in distress or captivity; to prosper our husbandmen, and give success to all engaged in lawful commerce; to impart wisdom and integrity to our counsellors, judgment and fortitude to our officers and soldiers; to protect and prosper our illustrious ally, and favor our united exertions for the speedy establishment of a safe, honorable and lasting peace; to bless all seminaries of learning; and cause the knowledge of God to cover the earth, as the waters cover the seas.
United States. Continental Congress; Proclamation : Philadelphia, 1781 Oct. 26.AMs 777/22 . Collection of the Rosenbach.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the Rosenbach.



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster for the Rosen-blog

Friday, November 18, 2016

Robert Louis Stevenson's Baby Book

I remember as a child being fascinated with my baby book; I would periodically pull it off the shelf in my mother's study to look at it and compare it with my brother's. When I became a parent, I, in turn, bought baby books for my children, although I wasn't always consistent in filling them out. But how often do we look at other people's baby books?  Robert Louis Stevenson's baby book has been preserved for posterity due to its 1922 publication by fine-press printer John Henry Nash in an edition of 500 copies.

Stevenson's baby book ; being the record of the sayings and doings of Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson, son of Thomas Stevenson, C.E. and Margaret Isabella Balfour or Stevenson. San Francisco : Printed for John Howell by J.H. Nash, 1922. Collection of the Rosenbach.

The introductory text by Katherine D. Osbourne, the wife of Robert Louis Stevenson's stepson, claims that

THIS Baby Record was meant by the young mother who wrote it as all such Records are to keep for memory's sake an account of the first years of her adored child, A few of the notes were added by her in later years.... With every passing year this Baby Record grew a more precious possession to the mother.

However, a closer look indicates that something more complicated must be going on. The baby book involved is Baby's Record by Reginald Illingsworth Woodgouse (R.I.W.), which seems to have come out in 1889. " So although the notes inside are detailed, they must have been copied into the baby book from an earlier source sometime near the end of Stevenson's life, or even shortly afterward (he died in 1894 and the book was still available then; his mother died in 1897)

Stevenson's baby book ; being the record of the sayings and doings of Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson, son of Thomas Stevenson, C.E. and Margaret Isabella Balfour or Stevenson. San Francisco : Printed for John Howell by J.H. Nash, 1922. Collection of the Rosenbach.


It seems that commercial baby books weren't really available in 1850, when Stevenson was born. The earliest example in the baby book collection at UCLA is from 1882 and the librarian there notes that it "feels like a new, unfamiliar phenomenon...it includes a ‘specimen page’ that shows the parent how to fill in the blanks." Similarly, an advertisement for Baby's Record from 1889 seems to need to explain what it's for.

But parents certainly kept notes on their children even before there were special books for the subject. Maria Edgeworth's Practical Education recommends "writ[ing]  notes from day to day all the trifling things which mark the progress of the mind in childhood" as an important means for  putting proper educational processes into practise, although she cautions that children shouldn't see the notebook because it would make them self-conscious. She records a number of anecdotes, such as "Y (a girl of three years and a half old) seeing her sister taken care of and nursed when she had chilblains, said, that she wished to have chilblains".  An alphabet book in the Cotsen collection at Princeton was annotated by a mother who recorded how her son explained each picture.

Back to Stevenson. Looking through the book, it seems that when his mother transferred her earlier notes from wherever she had kept them into this commercial baby book she was less interested in filling out all of the pre-printed milestones than in using the book's many journal pages to record more free form entries of little Lou's childhood. She does record his first journey, first crawl, and first steps in the "proper" places, but the section on his favorite foods is blank, although she notes elsewhere that he "[began] to evince a decided partiality for eggs" at around 10 months. (See below)

Stevenson's baby book ; being the record of the sayings and doings of Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson, son of Thomas Stevenson, C.E. and Margaret Isabella Balfour or Stevenson. San Francisco : Printed for John Howell by J.H. Nash, 1922. Collection of the Rosenbach.


Obviously since Stevenson grew up to be an author, one of the fun parts of looking through the book is finding early references to books and reading. On the same page as the note about eggs, his mother noted when Stevenson was 10 months old that "this month he also learns to shew how big he is— clap his hands (the backs) read a book and eat a piece- got boots on. " A year later he had been introduced to Uncle Tom's Cabin's: at the age of 23 months "Smout knows all the story of Eve and Uncle Tom, besides a great many out of the Bible, including the flood and the burning bush. He remembers them wonderfully well. When he was four years old "Lou dreamt that "he heard the noise of pens writing."

In addition to the Stevenson content, I found the book itself interesting as an element of the material culture of childhood.  Baby's Record, unlike many in the UCLA collection, which were sponsored by baby food or banks, does not appear to be linked to advertising.  But I was interested to see that it was clearly gendered and also clearly aimed at a well-to-do audience (who I guess were willing to buy a book rather than get a baby food handout version), as evidenced by an (unused) page for "Boys' amusements" that included spaces for recording "First cricket match," "First game of chess,""First game of lawn tennis" and "First rowing match," among others.

Stevenson's baby book ; being the record of the sayings and doings of Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson, son of Thomas Stevenson, C.E. and Margaret Isabella Balfour or Stevenson. San Francisco : Printed for John Howell by J.H. Nash, 1922. Collection of the Rosenbach.


In the end, I still have a lot of questions about this book, especially regarding when and why the recollections were transferred in. Did it have to do with Stevenson's death? Were baby books suddenly fashionable in the 1890s and lots of people created them ex-post facto for their children? If anyone reading this post know more about this, I'd be fascinated to learn.



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster for the Rosen-blog



Friday, November 11, 2016

A Souvenir of World War I

This small French flag is a nearly 100-year-old souvenir of the visit of an important World War I figure to Philadelphia. According to its envelope, this is a "Flag thrown from Marshal Joffre's automobile while visiting Phila. Pa- May 9-1917."

French flag, 1917. 2005.0001. Collection of the Rosenbach.    
Joseph Jacques Joffre had been commander of the French army during the Battle of the Marne in September 1914. He had kept the French forces together and pushed back the Germans in that important early battle. He did not fare so well in the prolonged trench warfare that followed and in December 1916 was removed from command of the army. But he was still a hero, and was well-known in America, so when America declared war on Germany in May 1917  the French sent him along with Lord Chancellor Rene Viviani as part of a delegation to the United States.

The delegation's main aims were in Washington, where they hoped to gather information and influence budding military policy. But Joffre and Viviani also embarked on a weeklong goodwill tour; among their stops were St. Louis, where John S. D. Eisenhower notes that Joffre "endeared himself to democratic Americans by going to a barbershop and unobtrusively waiting his turn for a haircut," New York, and of course Philadelphia.

In the course of a 5-hour visit, the delegation was whisked to the city's most iconic sites, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross House, and Ben Franklin's grave, and those with a Franco-American bent, including Girard College and the statue of Joan of Arc in Fairmount Park.   Philadelphians thronged the streets to see the motorcade, the crowd presumably included the man who collected and saved this flag. The article below from the May 19, 1917 edition of Editor and Publisher gives a brief account of Joffre's time in Philadelphia and includes a picture of him receiving a ceremonial sword. The child on the left may be the "Little Miss 1776" mentioned in the article, there was also a "Little Miss Belgium"--the daughter of an actual Belgian refugee, and a "Little Miss France"


 
In accepting the sword Joffre claimed that "the honor of this gift is particularly dear to me because it is an honor conferred on me in the place where American independence was born and I am here as a representative of that other great democracy. But above all what gives me the deepest pleasure and touches me most closely is that this gift is a present of the people."

For more on Joffre's visit to Philadelphia including additional pictures, you can check out the Library Company of Philadelphia's blog.   Historynet.com's article on Joffre also goes into great detail about his full American trip and what it accomplished.




Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster for the Rosen-blog



Friday, November 04, 2016

Dispatches from the 1800 Election

Between the crazy drama of this election season and the crazy popularity of the musical Hamilton, it seems an apropos time to look at some on-the-spot reporting from the crazy election of 1800. For those of you who have seen or listened to Hamilton, or just remember your history books, you'll recall that the election of 1800 came out as tie in the electoral college between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.

Details from Thomas Jefferson, autograph letter signed to to Rev. Charles Clay. 1799 Oct.12 . AMs 526/25 and Aaron Burr, autograph letter  signed to Benjamin Edwards. [1779 or 80] Aug. 5. AMs 529/27.  Collection of the Rosenbach.

The general election had pitted the Federalists John Adams and Charles Pinckney against Jefferson and Burr from the Democratic-Republican party (generally called "the Republican party" by historians). Constitutional election rules had not foreseen the rise of political parties and did not separate presidential and vice presidential voting; instead, each member of the electoral college voted for two men with the overall winner becoming president and the runner up becoming vice president. When the electoral college met, one Federalist elector cast a throwaway vote for John Jay rather than Pinckney, giving Adams 65 and Pinckney 64. However, despite the fact that the Republican party had seen Jefferson as the Presidential nominee and Burr as V.P., all of the Republican electors voted for both Jefferson and Burr, leading them to tie at 73 votes apiece .

With the electoral vote tied, the choice between Jefferson and Burr was to be decided by the House of Representatives.  In the run-up to the House vote Alexander Hamilton tried to convince his fellow Federalists to back Jefferson, who "though too revolutionary in his notions, is yet a lover of liberty and will be desirous of something like orderly Government – Mr. Burr loves nothing but himself – thinks of nothing but his own aggrandizement – and will be content with nothing short of permanent power in his own hands." Hamilton, an experienced political deal-maker, argued that Federalists would not be able to trust the self-interested Burr, since "no compact, that he should make with any passion in his breast except Ambition, could be relied upon by himself – How then should we be able to rely upon any agreement with him?"  Hamilton thought Jefferson might be willing to accept a  bargain that including retaining the Federalist monetary system, the navy, and low-level Federalist office holders in exchange for Federalist support in the House vote. But Jefferson declined.

Voting finally began in the House of Representatives on Wednesday February 11, 1801. Each state delegation would get one vote; since there were sixteen states at the time (the original thirteen plus Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee) nine votes were need to win. The Republicans controlled eight congressional delegations and the Federalists, who backed Burr despite Hamilton's efforts, controlled six, with two states deadlocked.  As the day wore on, in ballot after ballot neither Jefferson nor Burr could reach nine votes.

A letter in our collection was written from Connecticut Representative Elizur Goodrich to a New Haven lawyer "at two clock in the morning  & we have just this moment closed the twenty first balloting for president. The votes have uniformly been eight for Jefferson, six for Burr, & two divided."  

Elizur Goodrich ,  autograph letter signed to Stephen Twining.
12 February 1801. AMs 375/21. Collection of the Rosenbach.

Congress remained in session and an hour after Goodrich's dispatch, representative Samuel Smith from the deadlocked state of Maryland wrote a letter to Republican-party organizer Alexander Dallas indicating, "We are now at 3 o'clock of the 12th February A.M. The votes continually  8 for Jefferson, 8 for Burr, & 2 divided. I have not the most distant idea that there will be any change this session."


Samuel Smith, autograph letter signed to A.J. Dallas. 12 February 1801.
AMs 1186/18. Collection of the Rosenbach.

Smith's letter mentions that "attempts are made...to some of us" to convince members of his deadlocked delegation, but concludes, "On the whole make up your mind to have no legal president--they talk of President pro tem being made on the 4th March."  The specter of having of having no President in place by election day was alarming and as the days went on with increasing numbers of House votes leading to no decision, the situation grew increasingly tense. As historian Gordon Wood explained, "Republican newspapers talked of military intervention. The governors of Virginia and Pennsylvania began preparing their state militias for action. Mobs gathered in the capital and threatened to prevent any president from being appointed by statute."

Samuel Smith would actually play an important role in breaking the deadlock. On Monday February 16, Smith relayed assurances to the lone Delaware representative, James Bayard,  that Jefferson would be willing to accept the Federalist's deal. Burr apparently was not; Bayard later wrote to Hamilton that "Burr was resolved not to commit himself." On Tuesday, February 17, Bayard and the Federalists in three other states abstained and Jefferson was finally elected on the 36th ballot by a margin of 10-4 with two abstentions. 

In the aftermath, Jefferson himself disavowed that he had many any deals, leaving historians to fight over exactly what was or wasn't said. Congress was also determined to to repeat this particular fiasco, so it passed the 12th amendment in 1803 (ratified in 1804) to separate the electoral college's balloting for President and Vice President.

Had enough yet? This was only a small sliver of the crazy election of 1800. We didn't get into the partisan nastiness or any of the electioneering. But if you're feeling overwhelmed, I'll leave you with the much more succinct version from Hamilton.



Friday, October 28, 2016

The Language of the Hand

Many years ago, I worked as a ghost tour guide in New Orleans and struck up a deal with one of the palm-readers who set up tables along the periphery of Jackson Square. I led my group to his table at the beginning of my tour, and he would choose a volunteer and read the shape of his or her hand: the spread of the fingers, the shape of the palm, the angle of the thumb. If he had time, he would ask everyone in the group to hold out their hands for a thumb reading. It was a good deal for both of us: by the time the palm reader was through, my group was completely in thrall to the spooky atmosphere of the French Quarter at night and ready to hear my tales of wandering spirits. To the palm-reader's benefit, some of my tour guests would return to him after my tour for a more personal reading.

I mentioned this story to my colleagues when we were planning our Halloween party, and our librarian Elizabeth Fuller remembered seeing a book about palmistry--or cheiromancy--in Marianne Moore's library. Moore's collection includes a handful of books on the arcane arts, including the 14th edition of Cheiro's Language of the Hand, an illustrated volume by the celebrated clairvoyant Cheiro. The 15th edition is online; I used this version to research a palm-reading station for our party.

Cheiro's language of the hand. London: Nichols & Co.; Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally & Co. 1900. p.78.

Intriguingly, Cheiro's biography is entangled with literary connections. Born William John Warner in Ireland, Cheiro purportedly learned the clairvoyant and arcane arts while traveling in India as a teenager. When he returned to London at the end of the 19th century, he gradually rose to fame telling fortunes and reading palms for the celebrities of his era. The book's appendix, which includes testimonials from satisfied customers (p. 199 in the 15th edition), reads like a transatlantic Who's Who of page and stage:
Oscar Wilde
Indeed, Cheiro, the mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
Mrs. Frank Leslie [a New Orleanian author and publisher who was briefly married to Oscar Wilde's brother Willie]
Your palm-reading is so startlingly true that your possession of this mysterious skill or faculty might well inspire fear, were it accompanied by less of perfect trust and discretion.
Mark Twain
Cheiro has exposed my character with humiliating accuracy. I ought not to confess this accuracy, still I am moved to do it.
Other clients included the "Divine Sarah" Bernhardt, a famous actress who played the lead in the London production of Wilde's Salomé; Madame Nellie Melba, an opera singer after whom Melba toast and peach Melba were named; and Thomas Edison. What a time that must have been: during the belle époque before World War I, when both artistic production and scientific innovation were flourishing, a stylish salon might have included both the mystical Cheiro and the inventor Edison.

One hundred years after the peak of Cheiro's career, I paged through the 15th edition of Cheiro's Language of the Hand and realized that it's very similar to the readings I observed in New Orleans. Like my palm reader, Cheiro paid close attention to the shape of the palm and the fingers:

Cheiro's language of the hand. London: Nichols & Co.; Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally & Co. 1900. p. 29. 

He interprets the angle of the thumb:

Cheiro's language of the hand. London: Nichols & Co.; Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally & Co. 1900. p. 44.

But if you want to learn more about what these shapes mean, you'll have to visit us tomorrow night for a reading.