Subscribe to the Rosenblog!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Stealing Library Books Isn't Cool

The Rosenbach Museum & Library. May not be reproduced without permission. As the repository for the artwork and manuscripts of Caldecott Award Winner Maurice Sendak, we at the Rosenbach take an interest in all things Sendak. That includes this news item from The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, regarding Iona and Peter Opie's I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book (Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 1992), illustrated by Sendak. (Disclosure: Sendak is a friend, benefactor, and former trustee of the Rosenbach.)

In a nuthsell, Bethany Taylor, a third-grader at Cedar Grove Elementary in Murfreesboro, brought home a copy of I Saw Esau. Her mother, Jackie, upon seeing the illustrations, decided it was "obscene" and now refuses to return the book to the school library. She doesn't approve of the library making it available to children. She also feels the library staff fell down on the job by letting Bethany take it home.

Now, one might argue with Ms. Taylor's definitions of art, obscenity, and pornography, but I won't. Mr. Sendak can speak for himself on that issue if he likes. (The text itself is a collection of actual schoolyard rhymes, taunts, comebacks, and stories children tell each other. Opie collected them with her husband, Peter. I will say that I think Mrs. Opie gets it right in her introduction to the book when she says:
The best antidote to the anxieties and disasters of life is laughter: and this children seem to understand almost as soon as they are born. If laughter is lacking, they create it; if it is offered to them, they relish it. Here in this book is a feast of laughter.
The accompanying illustrations were done, I think, in the same spirit. I will also note that Ms. Taylor's daughter, Bethany, seems to prove Opie's point. According to The Daily News Journal, "[Bethany] thought the poem, 'Reality' which features frontal nudity of a young boy, was "funny."" She went to say, "I thought it was just a joke. It's not my fault I brought it home." Click on the image at left for a larger version of that illustration.)

As a parent myself, I respect Ms. Taylor's right to decide what books are appropriate for her third-grade daughter. You're supposed to keep tabs on what your kids are reading and seeing, right? When something you don't like comes their way, you take action by, well, parenting. No problem. If you don't want your kid reading a certain book because you find its content offensive or otherwise inappropriate, again, no problem. Just return it to the library. And this is where I have to part ways with Ms. Taylor.

She says she won't return the book to the school library. See, I work in a library and I just can't get behind not returning books. That's not cool. (Yeah, the Rosenbach's books don't circulate, and, yeah, I sometimes have trouble getting things back to the Free Library on time.) The whole point of libraries is to allow people to share the ideas found in books. Maybe you discover that you don't like the way other folks think about children's strategies for dealing with the world; or you don't like what children say and do on the playground; maybe by sharing a book you discover that Sendak's illustrations strike you as dirty. OK, fair enough. Send the book back. (I confess that the strategy of keeping a book in your house that you don't want your child to see does confuse me.) Ms. Taylor has a right to decide what's appropriate for her young daughter, but by keeping the book she's also deciding what every kid at Cedar Grove Elementary School should and should not read. And that's not cool, either.

And don't even get me started on putting Post-It® notes in books as seen in the photos accompanying the article...

Images above: illustrations by Maurice Sendak for I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book, edited by Iona and Peter Opie (Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 1992), pp. 82 (top), 38 (bottom).

Friday, February 16, 2007

Another Installment About Old, Old Books at the Rosenbach; or Gutenberg, Shmutenberg

Sure Juan de Zumárraga's Doctrina breue is the oldest surviving complete book printed in the Americas (see "Bay Psalm Book..." below). But let's not forget that printing goes back a lot further than that. The world's oldest known printed book, a copy of the Diamond Sutra, bears the date 868 C.E. So the Chinese were printing books -- on paper, which they had also invented -- way back in the in the 9th century while in Europe tonsured monks were sitting in dimly candlelit, drafty scriptoria getting hand cramps scratching out manuscripts with plucked, sharpened goose feathers on the soaked, dried, scraped, stretched, polished skin of some poor calf, goat or sheep, taking who knows how long to finish a single page, let alone a whole book, and would be for almost 600 more years. Look at this stuff. Yeah, it has pretty pictures and all, but seriously: can you even read it? (You can see a lot more of it here; a lot more detail on how they made these things is available here.)

Is there any major technological advance the Chinese didn't lead the way on? Gunpowder, firecrackers, the compass, paper, printing; and that's just the stuff an ignorant chump like me has heard about. Well, I say respect to the inestimable Chinese. I wonder if Philip Rosenbach (in the back, with the dashing moustache) was honoring the Chinese and their technologocial achievements when he hosted this dinner:

2006.1702.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.  May not be reproduced without permission.

Whatever Philip and friends were up to that night, the Rosenbach brothers did recognize and respect what Chinese printers had accomplished. They made sure their collection had a sample of Chinese printing, a book that was produced long before Gutenberg printed his first Bible in 1455*. The book in question is 10th-century copy of the I-Ching, printed during the Sung Dynasty.

Incun 0900y.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.  May not be reproduced without permission.
Now, if you're looking closely, you might suspect that this book wasn't printed using the letter press technique Gutenberg perfected. And you'd be right. Chinese printing at this period was block printing -- the text of the whole page was carved on a block and then printed. It wasn't typesetting -- composing words and pages from individual characters, as in movable type printing. In the 11th-century Chinese printers did invent movable type, but they apparently didn't like it -- the Chinese writing system had way too many characters to keep track of to make movable type really useful.

One other detail about Chinese printing: apparently they didn't have the technology to print on two sides of a page (Gutenberg figured out that piece.) If this book is typical of others from the period, they devised a clever solution to that problem. First a large page was printed from the block. The page was then folded down the middle, from top to bottom. That folded edge then became the fore-edge of the page and the open ends were sown together in the binding. As a result, the pages look like they've been left unopened. But if you were to cut open that fold along the fore-edge, the inside pages would be blank, of course, because there's nothing printed there. Hopefully this photograph helps make the description above a bit more intelligible:

Incun 0900y  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.  May not be reproduced witout permission.

(You'll notice paper inside the printed pages. It's opaque while the paper with the printing is not -- I assume it's there to prevent the printing from showing through from one page to the other which would make the page more difficult to read.)

*Of course the Rosenbachs had a sample of Gutenberg's handiwork, too:

Incun f455b.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.  May not be reproduced witout permission.Doctor Rosenbach handled a great many Gutenberg Bibles, but he only kept this one token, a page from Exodus (chapters 16-18), for himself. Perhaps Gutenberg's Bibles weren't rare enough for his library?

Images (starting from top of post):
1. Edward A. Wilson, "Success at last!", from Douglas C. McMurtrie, Wings for Words: The Story of Johann Gutenberg and His Invention of Printing.

New York: Rand McNally and Co., 1940

2. [Chinese-themed dinner hosted by Philip H. Rosenbach]
[Philadelphia?: unknown date]

3 and 4. Yi-King [The Book of Changes]
[China, Sung Dynasty: 10th-century, C.E.]
Incun 0900y

5. Biblia Latina
[Mainz: Johann Gutenburg, 1455]
Incun f. 455b

Images in links:

1. John Lydgate
[Philadelphia?: unknown date]
MS f. 439/16

2. Horae
[Tours, France?: ca. 1510]
MS 1057/29

3. Biblia Latina
[Mainz: Johann Gutenburg, 1455] Incun f. 455b

Monday, February 12, 2007

Great News from the National Constitution Center

1954.1563. The Rosenbach Museum & Library. May not be reproduced without permission.
Abraham Lincoln [detail]
John C. Yorston and Co., 1896. 1954.1563.

Congratulations to our friends across town at the National Constitution Center! Last Friday they announced the good news that they've acquired acquired a printed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln and William Seward.

The Rosenbach isn't fortunate enough to have a copy of the Leland-Boker printing of the Proclamation, but we do have an interesting document related to other reproductions of the document. It seems President Lincoln donated his original manuscript copy of the Proclamation to the Chicago Northwestern Sanitary Fair in 1863. It was purchased there by Thomas B. Bryan for $3000. Bryan then presented the mauscript to the Soldiers Home in Chicago. Seeing an opportunity to raise additional funds for the Home, the United States Sanitary Commission produced lithograph facsimiles of the manuscript. Framed copies sold for $5.00. To kick off the enterprise, the Bryan circulated a subscription book which was signed by President Lincoln, Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, Secretary of State Seward, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, the other members of Lincoln's cabinet, and members of Congress from every state. It's a great, historic autograph collection -- and all for a good cause, to boot. The book is now part of the Rosenbach's Americana collection.

When I first heard the Constitution Center's news, I thought this subscription book related to the Leland-Boker printing. That would have been a great connection. Either way, we're thrilled to see a copy of this printing come back to Philadelphia where it originated.

The NCC's site has a link to
Seth Kaller, Inc., the dealer who helped them secure this copy. Check out their site for a great overview of the Emancipation Proclamation and the history of the Leland-Boker printing.

AMs 432/28.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.  May not be reproduced without permission.United States Sanitary Commission. Subscription book for facsimiles of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Washington, D.C., October 1863. AMs 432/28.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Bay Psalm Book, Shmay Shmalm Shmook

Bible. The Whole Booke of Psalmes, Faithfully Translated into the English Metre.
[Cambridge, Mass:] [Stephen Day], 1640. A640w.

The oldest surviving book printed in what became the United States is, as is widely known, The Whole Booke of Psalmes, a.k.a the Bay Psalm Book. Eleven copies of it are known to exist -- one of which can be found here in the friendly confines of the Rosenbach Museum & Library. People get excited about it; they want to come and see it -- it's American, it's really old (for the U.S.), it's historic. Don't get me wrong: I get excited about it. When I tell people what kind of rare books the Rosenbach has, I always mention it.

But I ask you this: where's the love for Jaun de Zumárraga's Do[c]trina breue muy p[ro]uechosa delas cosas q[ue] p[er]tenecen ala fe catholica? Where? I demand to know!

Juan de Zumarraga (1468-1548), Do[c]trina breue muy p[ro]uechosa delas cosas q[ue] p[er]tenecen ala fe catholica.
Mexico City: [Juan Pablos for Juan Cromberger], 1544. A543do.

Sure, you're asking: what the heck is Do[c]trina breue muy p[ro]uechosa delas cosas q[ue] p[er]tenecen ala fe catholica? Well, I'll tell you, and I bet if you come to take a tour of the Rosenbach, your tour guide will tell you, too. It's only the oldest surviving book printed in the Americas -- Mexico City, 1544, by Juan Pablos (known in his homeland of Italy as Giovanni Paoli.) The Rosenbach owns a copy. Not only that, but it's bound with two other books printed in Mexico City in 1544, namely, Johannes Gerson's Tripartito del christianissimo y consolatorio doctor Iuan Gerson de doctrina christiana, and Este es en cõp[e]dio breue que tracta d'la manera de como se hã de hazer las p[ro]cessiones. So the three oldest, complete books printed in the western hemisphere can all be found here. (That's good collectin', Dr. Rosenbach.)

Okay, okay, if you want to be picky about it, history tells us that Paoli/Pablos arrived in Mexico City in 1539 and printed four other books before Doctrina breue. But two of them are lost and the other two only survive in fragments. (USC has one of those fragments.) Sure, the older books, are well, older, but how much use is it when you can't read the whole thing? Isn't it like watching Citizen Kane without the last reel -- how would you know what "Rosebud" means? How would you know? Well, you'd never know, and you'd have wasted your time. But when you pick up Doctrina breue at the Rosenbach, you can curl up with it (so to speak) secure in the knowledge that you will be able to learn all of the rules of Christian conduct as explained by the first Bishop of Mexico City. And don't worry, the heretical passages have been blacked out, so you know you're just getting the good stuff.

(Tangent: the offending passages apparently refer to the amount of blood the risen Christ had. According to Edwin Wolf they say he had "recovered blood sufficient to sustain life." [See Wolf, ed. Legacies of Genius: A Celebration of Philadelphia Libraries (Philadelphia: PACSCL, 1988.] It's genuinely interesting to me that the Church considered this question. It hadn't occurred to me that it might be an issue, but in a way it makes sense. If Christ was the Son of God become human, both man and divine, you'd want to address the questions about his natural, human body and how it worked. Those questions would, I imagine, become especially interesting in light of the unique and remarkable event of his resurrection. I'm not sure what the Church later decided on this issue -- was it that Christ hadn't recovered blood? Was it that such a question wasn't appropriate? I don't mean to be flippant here; I'm just curious to know how these kinds of theological questions were handled.)

It throws people off when you tell them first book printed in the Americas was printed in Mexico City. Not only that, but the first book printed in South America, at Lima, came off the presses in 1584, six decades before the colonials in Cambridge got their act together. (The Rosenbach has a copy of that book, Doctrina christiana, y catechismo para instrvccion de los Indios, too. Clearly the Spanish were focused pretty intently on religious matters, especially converting the Indians.) And that's still a quarter century before the English made the Jamestown settlement stick.

So what's the point of this little screed? (I'm starting to wonder myself...) I guess it's this: let's give the Spanish in Mexico the bibliographical respect they deserve, all right? And if you make an appointment to use our reading room to see the Bay Psalm Book, I'm personally going to ensure that you also take a look at Doctrine breue.

See you soon!

Friday, February 02, 2007

On Jerome Kern, George Bernard Shaw, Lars Ulrich, and More

Jerome Kern (1885-1945), inscription to A.S.W. Rosenbach in Nine Answers by G. Bernard Shaw...
[New York:] Privately printed for Jerome Kern, 1923

Ro3 923sh

Tucked away in Doctor Rosenbach's personal library is this little volume, an inscribed Christmas gift from Hall of Fame songwriter and legendary book collector Jerome Kern. And when you come across the autograph of the man who wrote "Ol' Man River," "I Won't Dance," "The Way You Look Tonight," (a perennial wedding favorite, but not my personal favorite), and "A Fine Romance" (that's more like it), you have to look into it.

The book is a privately printed 62-copy edition of Nine Answers by George Bernard Shaw. (This copy is number 19.) Kern owned the manuscript of Shaw's essay at the time. Brown University also has a copy of this book, and according to their site, Shaw himself was none too happy to learn of this pirated edition.

I'm not sure how to square Shaw's intellectual property concerns with his famous socialism -- The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism does call for the elimination of private property after all. Mr. Shaw, have you met Mr. Ulrich?

Anyway, Kern started collecting books in the 1920s. His first purchase from the Rosenbach Company came in December 1922 and included a Wordsworth presentation copy. By the end of the decade, he had given up collecting and sold off his books and manuscripts. His brief career as a collector was certainly charmed, though. For example: in 1924, he grudgingly paid Dr. Rosenbach $9500 for Shelley's own copy of Queen Mab, complete with annotations in the author's hand -- Kern knew the Doctor had paid only $6000 for it at a 1920 auction. (Its previous owner, Buxton Forman, had paid £6 for it in 1896.) In the famous Kern sale of 1929 at Anderson Galleries, he recouped his initial investment when the book sold for the trifling sum of $68,000. Dr. R., by the way, was the underbidder at $67,000. (The auction as a whole was an outrageous success -- the total receipts amounted to $1,729,462.50.)

But like I said, Kern was charmed. The same Queen Mab went up for sale again in 1951 and sold for just $8000 to Carl H. Pforzheimer -- less than Kern had paid for it. You can now see the book in the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection at the New York Public Library, where it never need fear the auctioneer's hammer again. Click here for an image, replete with notes and Romantic doodles. (In case you're wondering, the Shaw manuscript sold for $2600.)

Looking through the Rosenbach Company Archives, grudging -- well maybe nonchalant is more appropriate -- seems an apt description for Kern's approach to payment. Philip Rosenbach wrote him several letters insisting on overdue payment, the first in February of 1925 for a bill of $4000 dating from January 1924. Kern finally made good on his debts in April of 1926. According to former employees Philip had a short fuse, but Kern apparently earned Philip's wrath on this one.

It all blew over, though. Kern periodically bought other items from the Rosenbachs after the 1929 sale.

More on Kern and the Rosenbachs and very expensive books can be found in the Edwin Wolf/John Fleming biography of A.S.W Rosenbach from which much of the above has been cribbed. The book is sadly out-of-print but some copies are available in our Museum shop.

That is all.

Above: Elliot & Fry, portrait of Philip H. Rosenbach [detail]
London, 1905

Update: That is not all! One last thing about Jerome Kern. In the early 1920s he apparently lived at a place named "The Nuts" in Bronxville, New York. Now, is that the name of his house? If so, what a great name! Especially in the Roaring Twenties. I'm thinking of dubbing my house "The Fruits" or "The Bolts" or "The Sausages" or "The Loons" or something whimsical like that.

By 1926, correspondence addressed to Kern in the Rosenbach Company Archives goes to "Cedar Knolls" in Bronxville. Cedar Knolls is apparently a town near Bronxville. I had originally thought Kern moved or changed the name so his manse would better comport with the dignified Biltmore/Cliveden/Monticello school of estate naming (which, of course, is not nearly as much fun as "The Nuts"), but I guess he just moved to a different part of town. Ah well.