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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Don't Take Any Wooden Nickels--Or You Might Be Hanged

First of all, thanks to everyone who came out last weekend for our Philagrafika events, the event was a great success and one thing we definitely learned from the watercoloring exercise is that adults like to do craft projects too!

I realized through conversation that my label for George Cruikshank's "Bank Restriction Note," which was displayed with Enrique Chagoya's dollar bill satire was less enlightening than it should have been and may have raised more questions than it answered. So I thought I'd try to clear up some of that in this forum.

(Color photos of our banknote make it hard to see the details clearly, so I am using this black and white version of the note from William Andrews's book Bygone Punishments, via Project Gutenberg.)

In my label, I noted that the Bank Restriction Note was a protest against the use of capital punishment for forgery and also that the Bank Restriction period referred to the years 1797 to 1821 in which the British government, strapped for cash from the Napoleonic wars, went off of the gold standard and issued bank notes that were not redeemable for gold. All well and good. But I stupidly did not explain what the connection was between Bank Restriction and forgery--so here goes.

During the Bank Restriction period the government started issuing one, two, and five pound bank notes, whereas previously these denominations had only been available as coins. Before Bank Restriction, the smallest banknote was for 10 pounds, which meant that the average person would never use paper currency. The introduction of the smaller bills meant that paper currency was used much more and therefore made forgery easier to pass off--it was no longer suspicious for people to be paying with paper. Also, the early official banknotes were not well designed and people weren't used to handling paper currency, which made forgery even easier. The result was that "In 1801 forgeries amounting to over £15,500 were discovered. Over half of them for the one pound and two pounds, the balance being five pounds." (see here for more information)

So now onto the capital punishment side. One of the things that galled Cruikshank was that it was not only the making of forged currency that was punishable by death, but also the crime of "uttering" which was passing forged notes, regardless of whether or not the person realized they were forged. So an innocent person, who didn't realize the notes he received were forged and then passed them on into circulation, could also be hanged. Reformers decried this as an example "the bloody code" and forgery became the focus of reform efforts in the British capital code in the late 1810s and 1820s. In 1832 the punishment for forgery was reduced from death to transportation (to Australia).

I hope this clears everything up.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Weather, Revolutionary Style

As we continue to pick our way through snow and slush on the streets of Philadelphia our librarian Elizabeth Fuller just pointed me to a great winter letter from William Floyd to George Clinton on January 28, 1780. Floyd was serving in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, while Clinton was governor of New York.

William Floyd,autograph letter to George Clinton. Philadelphia, 28 January 1780. AMs 773/225

At the beginning of the letter Floyd responds to Clinton's concerns about provisioning troops stationed at the North River in New York. Floyd is upset to hear that they are in distress, but notes optimistically that "I am happy to inform you that the roads since the snow has fallen, is much better than before, which has facilitated the transportation of provisions to the army at Headquarters, in such a manner that with the great exertions of the state of New Jersey they are amply relieved for the instant; and if the roads should continue as they now are for a few weeks I hope they will obtain a considerable supply." In the 18th-century, snowfall on the roads was actually a GOOD thing, since it could allow the use of sleds and when packed down would create a better surface than the mud and slush that were typical on the unpaved roads.

The Headquarters Floyd speaks of was the encampment in Morristown, New Jersey, now a historic site. It is good that supplies were finally reaching them, since the situation was quite dire. On January 8, George Washington had sent out a letter to the magistrates of New Jersey asking for supplies, because“The present situation of the army with respect to provision, is the most distressing of any we have experienced since the beginning of the war. For a fortnight (two weeks) past the troops, both officers and men, have been almost perishing for want. They have been alternately without bread or meat the whole time, with a very scanty allowance of either and frequently destitute of both. They have borne their sufferings with a patience that merits the approbation and ought excite the sympathy of their Countrymen.”

For more on the Hard Winter of 1779-1780, which was actually worse than the famous Valley Forge experience of 1777-78, check out this NJN documentary--the website has lots of useful info and the documentary itself will air several times next week. (Although, even if Valley Forge can't win the weather award I do want to congratulate them on the fantastic Washington's birthday celebration which I attended on Monday with my 5 year old. It was one of the best family day programs I've attended anywhere in a long time and it even came with real birthday cake baked according to Martha's recipe!)

William Floyd,autograph letter to George Clinton. Philadelphia, 28 January 1780. AMs 773/225

Back to Floyd. After conveying a bunch of news about the Congress, Floyd gives an update on the weather in Philadelphia. He says that the past five weeks have been the coldest that anyone can remember since "the year 40" and notes that "last week an ox was roasted on the river and I am told the ice is now 2 foot thick." By the river, Floyd means the Delaware River and when I read this I was shocked--could the Delaware really have frozen over 2 feet deep? But a quick check indicated that yes, in the amazingly cold winter of 1780, not only did the Delaware freeze, but the Chesapeake Bay froze over at Annapolis and Long Island Sound froze over as well. Boy am I glad I wasn't around for that winter--especially since it was in the era of fireplace heating, which meant that temperatures indoors wouldn't have been too much better than those outside. Brrrrr!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Greetings from the Frozenbach

Yup, there's a lot of snow out there! But we're back on the job and we got the finishing touches on the "For Ruthie" exhibit in time for opening today, so everything's going full speed ahead.

In honor of the snow and the upcoming President's Day holiday, I'd like to direct everyone to last year's blog post on Abraham Lincoln and snow, from the 21st-Century Abe project, which describes the "Winter of Deep Snow" of 1830-31 (sounds familiar, doesn't it).

Also check out this great picture from today's Philadelphia Inquirer (click through the photo gallery to #5)--it's a Where the Wild Things Are snowman! If Alice in Wonderland is more your style, check out this Mad Tea Party snowscene on Flickr. It was done a couple of years back in Duluth and is well worth a look.

Or perhaps, you'd prefer Dracula? (Given that they called the last snowstorm "Snowzilla" I'm hoping the next one will be "Count Snowcula")

Count Dracula


Or maybe James Joyce?
James Joyce turned into snowman - Pula

Enjoy the weather everyone; it's great for curling up with a book or warming up with ours at the Rosenbach.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Gallery is for Painting

...or at least that's what it feels like as we prepare to install our next Sendak exhibit "For Ruthie: Ruth Krauss, Maurice Sendak, and Their Young Philosophers," which will open next Wednesday (2/10). Or perhaps, to riff on another Krauss title, I could say "I want to paint my gallery green." We haven't actually painted the whole thing green--parts of the room are also "butterscotch" and "french pastry," which would be a lot nicer in my book if they were actual desserts rather than paint colors.

But paint, plaster, and woodfill aside, I am very excited about this show because the Ruth Krauss books are some of my personal favorites in the Sendak collection. If you are not familiar with Krauss, she was the author of 45 books over her long career, of which the most famous is probably her second book The Carrot Seed; it was published in 1945 and has never been out of print. Sendak first worked with her on A Hole is to Dig, which came out in 1952 and marked Sendak's first real success as an illustrator. As he explained, "Ruth saw my funny little drawings of the big-headed children from Brooklyn, and she liked them. I was a complete unknown, complete unknown. I'd only done one book, and that was for the United Seminary of America, called "Good Shabbos, Everybody." I dare say that was not a well-known book. Oh, God, was that a book. And Ruth said, `Give it to them." Krauss became a mentor and close friend for Sendak; he would go on to illustrate A Very Special House, I'll Be You and You Be Me, Charlotte and the White Horse, I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue, Somebody Else's Nut Tree, Open House for Butterflies, The Birthday Party, and Bears, which was originally illustrated by Phyllis Rowand, but was reillustrated by Sendak in 2005.

Why do I like the Krauss books so much? Some of them I enjoy simply because they are so direct and funny--books like A Hole is to Dig, which offers up definitions from children's perspective, such as "toes are to wiggle" and "a tablespoon is to eat a table." I have young kids myself and I think Krauss really nailed it. Sendak thought so too---he credits Krauss with having taught him to be fiercely honest about children in his books. Other Krauss books I love because the illustrations are so beautiful. Sendak did some really fantastic watercolors for books like Charlotte and the White Horse and I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue. Here's an example:

Final drawing for I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue. © Maurice Sendak, 1956, All rights reserved.

But don't take my word for it. Give us another week to get the gallery ship-shape and then come see for yourself.