Subscribe to the Rosenblog!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Tiny Treat

As Jobi's post last week pointed out, one of the rewards of shelf reading is discovering items in the collection which one has never noticed before. As Patrick and I were working our way through British Literature we ran across a petite pleasure: two copies of The Comic Bijou.

Comic Bijou. London: Rock Brothers & Paine. EL3 .A1bi copies 1 and 2

As you can tell from this picture, these volumes are truly tiny--only about an inch square. In fact, when Patrick peeked into the envelope containing the first copy, he thought it might be empty because he didn't immediately see a book. It was only on a second glance that he saw the minuscule volume tucked inside.

Even though they are small,  the books are rather fetching, with gold-embossed covers and gilt edges (which hopefully you can make out in the photo below).

Comic Bijou. London: Rock Brothers & Paine. EL3 .A1bi

The interior of the book consists of comic wood-engraved illustrations. I can sympathize with this one, entitled "Opening of the Exhibition."

Comic Bijou. London: Rock Brothers & Paine. EL3 .A1bi

We do try to plan a bit better here at the Rosenbach, but I can remember a few notable exhibits where we were hurriedly trying to finish up minutes before opening to the public (usually because of mis-behaving technology).

Comic Bijou was published in London by Rock Brothers & Payne and seems to date from around 1850, although there is no date on the title page and none in our catalog record. It looks like Rock & Payne produced a whole series of miniature Bijou books around this time, such as this 1852 Bijou Almanac,  a Bijou Bible, and volumes of travel illustrations, such as Bijou Picture of Paris and a volume of Illustrations of the United States. None of these are represented in the Rosenbach collection, but I'll have to keep my eyes (and maybe a magnifying glass) open for them elsewhere!

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Friday, July 24, 2015

I Love Inventory

Since this is my first Rosen-blog post, I thought I would tell you a few things about myself: I love pencils, spreadsheets, organizing things, and my birthday. Starting collections inventory the week of my birthday is pretty much the best present (if present is defined as ‘work activity’) I could ask for!

Conducting inventory is an important collections management exercise for museums striving to meet the collections stewardship standards set forth by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). It is an essential component of documenting the current condition and location of each object, especially since our collections are regularly used for researchers, Hands on Tours, exhibitions, and loans. Inventory is also the perfect time for me, a relative Rosenbach newbie, and interns Emily and Allison to learn about the important books in our collections.

Judy Guston and Allison Darhun examine Judaica
While I have done five collections inventories at my former museum and presented  Inventory: Important! Intimidating! But Not Impossible!  at the 2012 MAAM conference, I was happy that Librarian Elizabeth Fuller was leading Phase I of our inventory project: shelf reading the books in the library collection.

Shrek on a cart
 Elizabeth began with instructions for the project and an orientation to the Shelf Reading Kit, quickly renamed the Shrek. The Shrek includes a reference list of collections codes; a worksheet (yay!); envelopes for preserving small paper fragments; envelopes for old paging slips (but only if the book has been properly returned to the shelf!), acid-free ID strips, grip-tites (my new favorite supply-- pre-measured twill tape that go around the book and are pulled tight to keep covers together with their books), sponges for dusting, and a trash bag (for evil things like paperclips and dirty sponges). We also have improved separation boards with pockets to hold the paging slips that we use as space savers to indicate when a book has been temporarily removed from shelf.

Patrick Rodgers (the headless curator) demonstrates the use of a grip-tite

Divided into teams of two, we were sent to different areas of the library to begin the shelf reading. One person reads from the card catalog and the other carefully removes the book from the shelf (never grabbing or pulling on the top of the spine) and confirms that the book has the matching call number and an ID strip in the proper location. Condition problems are noted, and the book edges are dusted when necessary. Kathy and Patrick completed their section of 17th Century British Literature, (EL1), with ease and made headway with EL2. Emily and I started with Fine Press, while Allison and Judy worked with Incunables and Judaica. We have only covered a fraction of the collection (Elizabeth is still crunching the numbers but I am sure she will have an exact percentage soon), but I am looking forward to this regular Monday project.

Emily Pazar reshelves a book in Fine Press

Jobi Zink has been the registrar at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia since July 2014. Previously she spent 15 years as the registrar of the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bye Bye Boney

This week marks the 200th anniversary of the final surrender of Napoleon. Defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, Napoleon retreated to Paris and then fled towards Rochefort, hoping to escape on a French frigate and head to the United States. A British blockade prevented his escape and on July 15th, 1815 Napoleon surrendered to Captain Frederick Maitland of the British ship Bellerophon.

As always, there is an apropos political cartoon from George Cruikshank on the subject. Napoleon was a favorite target for the satirist and only nine days after the surrender he published "Complements & Congees or Little BONEY’S surrender to the Tars of Old England!!!"

George Cruikshank, Complements & Congees or Little BONEY’S surrender to the Tars of Old England !!! London: J. Johnson, 24 July 24 1815. 1954.1800.600 The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
In this image Napoleon leads an entourage of "brave generals" headed by a barber and a cook. He asks to be taken to America, or barring that, England since he "hate[s] those Bears & cursed cossacks." Captain Maitland responds, "I'm afraid they would not take that care of you in America that they will in England therefore I shall conduct you to the latter place as quickly as possible." Meanwhile, the British sailors speculate that Napoleon should be put in a zoo.

Of course Napoleon was not destined for the monkey house at the Tower of London. Instead, in August he was shipped off to St. Helena in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where he would die in 1821. For more on one of the odder souvenirs collected after Napoleon's death, check out our 2012 post on Napoleon's Penis.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Friday, July 10, 2015

Darius Codomannus

Hi everyone! I'm Allison, the Rosenbach’s newest collections intern! I’ve just returned to Philadelphia after spending the past semester abroad in London, England. I was so excited to explore all of the works by all of the British authors at the Rosenbach. Eventually, I came across a number of works by Charlotte Bron, but one in particular stood out: Darius Codomannus: A Poem. It was a poem by Bron that I had never heard of. Granted, I am by no means well versed in all things Charlotte Bron, but for some reason it stuck out in my mind.

Charlotte BronDarius Codomannus: A Poem.  London: privately printed, 1920. FP .W813 920 bt. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
Written in 1834, when Charlotte Bron was just 18 years old, the poem tells the story of the defeat of Darius Codomannus, the last king of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia. Often referred to as "Death of Darius Codomanus," the poem was written between her time as a student at Roe Head in Mirfield and as a governess at Roe Head. The poem was originally written in normal-sized script on lined paper and accompanied by other poems such as “Richard Coeur de Lion and Blondel” and “Saul”. It has been suggested that this group of poems shows that Bronte recognized that she needed to develop a public poetic mode to go along with her fantasy-based private writings. These poems were also said to have been similar to school exercises she wrote while in Brussels.

The poem, wasn’t published in her lifetime, but was eventually published in 1920. The small pamphlet, encased in a pink cover, is 16 pages. The last four pages of the Rosenbach’s copy, however, are not cut open and therefore are unable to be read. It was published for private circulation only, with just 30 copies made, which explains why is one of her least known poems and isn't even included on many lists of Charlotte Bron’s works. The pamphlet was published by Thomas Wise and printed in London by Richard Clay and Sons, Ltd. Thomas Wise had plenty of experience dealing with Bron’s work and had published a detailed bibliography of the Bron sisters.

Charlotte BronDarius Codomannus: A Poem.  London: privately printed, 1920. FP .W813 920 bt. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Darius Codomannus, also known as Darius III, was the last king of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia and reigned from 336 BCE to 330 BCE. He was conquered during Alexander the Great’s quest to control all of Asia. In her poem, Bronte uses elegant verse to showcase the death of Darius Codomannus as well as highlight his importance to Persia. Darius died at the hands of his cousin, Bessus. Bessus stabbed him and left his dying body to be found later by Macedonian soldiers.

A stately form, though blighted now. –
For grandeur dwells upon his brow,
And light shines in his lifted eye
Which looks on death unfearingly ;
And o'er him rests a placid grace ;
Sign of high blood and noble race

The forehead bears a diadem
Burning with many an orient gem
Stained ruddy now in blood.
The starry robe, the flashing ring,
The jewels in bright and braided string,
All speak of Persia's slaughtered king
Stretched dying by the flood.

The poem proceeds to go into detail of what happened to lead up to his death. It tells of the betrayal by his cousin and how, inevitably, Persia was left without a king. His death gave Alexander the Great the ability to take control and Alexander became the official ruler of Persia. You can find the full text of the poem at Poetry Nook.

At one point in her life, Charlotte Bron tried her hand at being a published poet, however was discouraged when she received a response from the poet laureate of England, Robert Southey. He said that literature could not be the business life for a woman and that she should be more engaged in her proper duties. Though it seems as though she respected his response, she continued to craft a number of poems. She eventually managed to publish a book of poems, aptly entitled Poems; however it did not sell well. It also did not include "Darius Codomannus." After the publication of her novel Jane Eyre, Bron stopped writing poetry except for three occasions, the deaths of her sisters. She is far better known for her novels than her poetry; however she is still respected as a poet.
  - - - -
Allison Darhun is a curatorial intern at the Rosenbach this summer and a History major at St. Joseph's University. 

Friday, July 03, 2015

Mercedes de Acosta

With last Friday's Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage and this weekend's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1965 march in Philadelphia that helped spark the LGBT-rights movement, it seems a good time for a post about one of the most famous lesbian figures in the Rosenbach collection: the writer and socialite Mercedes de Acosta.

Unknown photographer, photograph of Mercedes de Acosta. 1934 Acosta 22:02. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Mercedes de Acosta was born in New York in 1893, one of eight children in a rich Spanish-Cuban family. Her older sister Rita (profiled in an earlier post) became a prominent socialite, art patron, and fashion icon whose circle of friends included Degas, Rodin, Tolstoy, Bernhardt, Debussy, and Sargent. Rita’s wardrobe became the start of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Acosta discovered a love for the theater early, along with a love for other women. Among her early relationships were actresses Alla Nazimova and Tallulah Bankhead.  In 1917 Acosta began a long-term relationship with dancer Isadora Duncan, who wrote her very explicit love notes. During this period Acosta also began her public career as a writer; over her lifetime she would produce three volumes of poetry, two novels, four produced plays (and many other that were not performed) as well as screenwriting.

Arnold Genthe, portrait of Isadora Duncan. 
Acosta 19:11. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.     
In 1920 Mercedes married the painter Abram Poole, although she chose to keep her own name (and would later join the Lucy Stone Society which promoted this practice). Her marriage, which lasted until 1935, when the pair parted amicably, did not change her desire for other women and she continued to have liaisons, both long-running and fleeting. One of her most significant relationship during the 1920s was with the actress Eva Le Gallienne, for whom she created several plays, including Sandro Botticelli, a fictional account of Botticelli's model for his famous painting The Birth of Venus.

Poster for Sandro Botticelli. 1923. Acosta 22:04. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

In 1931 Acosta met Greta Garbo and, as a friend explained, “Once Mercedes met Garbo, all she did was dream of Garbo.” Their friendship was mercurial, however, with Garbo alternating between spending time with Acosta and deciding that she needed space. Although Acosta’s feelings for Garbo were vividly romantic, it is unclear if Garbo felt the same way towards her and Garbo publicly maintained that the relationship was platonic. In the interstices of her obsession with Garbo, Acosta also had relationships with other women, including Marlene Dietrich, who gave her this lipstick-stained scarf, among other gifts.

Scarf from Marlene Dietrich. 2006.0009 . The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Although many discussions of Acosta focus on her lesbian relationships, Acosta's star-studded circle of platonic friends also included many famous men, ranging from Cecil Beaton to Ram Gopal to Igor Stravinsky; you can check out a previous Rosen-blog post to see her copy of All Quiet on the Western Front inscribed by Erich Maria Remarque.

Late in her life, in dire financial straits due to illness, Acosta published a memoir, Here Lies the Heart, in 1960. Although she was circumspect regarding the details of her relationships, many of her friends were outraged to have their stories linked with hers in print and several, including Garbo, severed all contact. Her financial difficulties also led Acosta to sell her papers to the Rosenbach. The collection includes working material for Here Lies the Heart which reveals the fluidity of Acosta’s approach to her own story. It also includes her personal correspondence, a handful of objects (like Dietrich's scarf) and hundreds of photos, including some oddities like this souvenir picture of Mercedes with Gertrude Stein in a donkey cart in Mexico.

Photograph of Gertrude Stein and Mercedes de Acosta. Acosta 19:47. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
At Acosta's request, some sections of the collection were sealed until after the death of the correspondent; however they are all now available and you are welcome to delve deeper into her fascinating story simply by making a reading room appointment.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog..

Friday, June 26, 2015


What do the Marianne Moore room and the American Samoa state quarter have in common? They both feature a tanoa. A tanoa, as I just learned this week, is a Samoan ceremonial bowl. Marianne Moore's brother Warner sent her the bowl as a gift, presumably when he was stationed in Samoa as a Navy chaplain between 1932 and 1934.

Tanoa. 2006.3092. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

If you've been in the Marianne Moore room, this item is on the sideboard, on the right as you walk in. The glass insert is not part of the tanoa proper, but was made to fit it. Although Moore apparently kept subway tokens in her bowl, traditionally the tanoa is used for the ritual drinking of 'ava (a drink that in other Polynesian dialects is known as kava).

'Ava is a beverage produced from the dried root of the 'ava plant (Piper methysticum). It is important throughout Polynesia and the traditional preparation of the drink was described by the one of the scientists who visited Tahiti on Captain Cook's second voyage in 1773:

This root is cut small and the pieces chewed by several people who spit the macerated mass a bowl where some water milk of coco nuts is poured upon it. They then strain it through a quantity of the fibres of coco nuts squeezing the chips till all their juices mix with the cocoa nut milk and the whole liquor is decanted into another bowl.

'Ava was and is a key part of important Samoan occasions, both political and religious, although now it is typically ground or grated rather than chewed. The drink is ceremonially consumed while seated in an 'ava circle and the order in which the members of the circle are presented with the 'ava is strictly prescribed. The importance of 'ava in Samoan life is illustrated by the official seal of American Samoa, which features the tanoa in the center, along with the staff and fly whisk used to signify rank in the 'ava ceremony.

The tanoa bowl is also central to the Samoan quarter. Apparently all three potential designs that were drawn up for the quarter featured the 'ava bowl: "These included the ava bowl, whisk and staff and coconut tree concept; a man with traditional Samoan tattoo holding an ava bowl; and a traditional Samoan guest house with a head-dress and ava bowl. " 

There is a second, similar bowl in the Moore collection, although the small size of this one (only 3" across) makes it seem more of a souvenir than a potentially functional item.

Tanoa. 2006.4127. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

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

Friday, June 19, 2015

Mary Shelley Acquisitions

We're delighted to announce that the Rosenbach has recently acquired a rare first edition (1818) of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, as well as first editions of Shelley's novels Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), and Falkner (1837).  These terrific additions to our collections of English Romantic literature were purchased thanks to major support from the B.H. Breslauer Foundation and gifts from Mark Samuels Lasner and Clarence Wolf.  Here they stand in a row awaiting processing before they appear on our library's shelves. 

First editions of Mary Shelley's novels Falkner, Frankenstein, The Last Man, Perkin Warbeck, and Valperga.  Purchased with major support from the B. H. Breslauer Foundation and generous gifts from Mark Samuels Lasner and Clarence Wolf.   

For as big an impact as Frankenstein would have in launching science fiction as a genre and taking Gothic fiction in a new direction, you'll notice that the 3-volume novel (second from the left in an ochre binding) is the smallest of the lot despite being the best known work by Mary Shelley.  In fact, she was not acknowledged as author of this first edition and only 500 copies were printed.  Its success encouraged her father, writer William Godwin, to publish a new 2-volume edition in 1823 that contained hundreds of unauthorized word changes, after which Shelley published a 1-volume newly revised and expanded version in 1831.  Her manuscripts for the novel are housed at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library and are wonderfully digitized and available online at the Shelley-Godwin Archive.  The story of why she wrote Frankenstein is the well-known and dramatic tale of a group of writers scaring each other with ghost stories during the frozen summer of 1816 (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, see Kathy's previous blog posts on this topic!).  The other novel about an infamous monster to come out of that same gathering was John William Polidori's The Vampyre, published a year after Frankenstein.  Call me sentimental, but it seemed fitting to reunite first editions of each given their shared history! 

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, 1818.  EL3 .s5449fr 818 v.1.  Purchased with major support from the B. H. Breslauer Foundation and generous gifts from Mark Samuels Lasner and Clarence Wolf; John Polidori, The Vampyre: A Tale, London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1819.  EL3 .p766v 819a, The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 
If literary monsters are your thing you might look forward to an exciting exhibition we're assembling for fall 2017.  A major grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage will allow us to begin work on Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Monster Within, an exhibition about the scientific and ethical concepts at the heart of both Shelley's and Stoker's celebrated novels.  We'll share plenty more details about this exhibition and its related programs in the near future. 

Mary Shelley, The Last Man, London: Henry Colburn, 1826.  EL3 .s5449la 826 v.2.  Purchased with major support from the B. H. Breslauer Foundation and generous gifts from Mark Samuels Lasner and Clarence Wolf
Shelley's other works--Valperga, Perkin Warbeck, and Falkner--are deserving of blog posts in their own right (not to mention Lodore, 1835, which wasn't part of this acquisition).  Last but not least...but still last, is The Last Man, an 1826 novel by Mary Shelley.  Its characters are loosely based on the same personalities who played a role in Mary's creation of Frankenstein, such as her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron, but their ideals and intellects are put to a challenge that neither poet had to endure in life: the apocalypse!  Mary Shelley envisioned a world at the end of the 21st century that bore a striking resemblance to that of the 1820s, albeit with some wild innovations: yes, the Greeks were still fighting for their independence from the Ottomans but hot air balloons with "feathered wings" are also a common conveyance in the British Isles.  By the year 2092 a plague that is vaguely understood to have originated in the east gets spread by victorious Greeks to other parts of Europe.  England is, of course, the last country to fall victim to the pestilence in which "the air is empoisoned and each human being inhales death."  The plague makes its way around the globe and gradually kills off every human being until only the titular last man remains.  Exacerbating the ravages of the plague are a series of natural disasters, including the rising of a black sun, earthquakes, and floods that submerge half of England, as well as social disruptions familiar to fans of modern apocalyptic fiction (at one point American marauders cross the Atlantic, plunder Ireland, and invade England). Shelley was certainly way ahead of her time, and you can bet we'll be exploring these newly acquired editions in exhibitions and programs over the coming years. 

Patrick Rodgers is a curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.