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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Something Blue

Picking up on last week's theme of "something old", I'm jumping to the end of the rhyme to highlight a few of my favorite "something blue" items in our collection.

Patch box. 1954.2058

First off is this lovely blue box, which dates from the late eighteenth-century (ca 1790-1800). The picture doesn't do it justice, but the top and bottom are covered with a beautiful deep blue glass and the top contains three blue and white ceramic medallions. The box has a mirror on the interior of the the lid, which indicates that it may have been a patch box, used to hold the fake beauty marks which were fashionable at the time.

Nicholas Hilliard. portrait of James I. 1609. 1954.1611

Another wonderful blue item is this portrait of James I, by Nicholas Hilliard. Loyal readers may recall that I wrote about the loan of this object to an exhibit at Yale back in October. Trained as a goldsmith and jeweller, Hilliard became the court miniaturist to Elizabeth I and James I. His earlier experience with finely detailed jewels and precious metals stood him in good stead to depict the luxurious fabrics, metals and gems of his sitters. According the inscription flanking James's head, this portrait was done "Ano Dni: 1608 / AEtatis Suae 42" (In the year of our Lord 1608 at the age of 42). You can see other examples of Hilliard's portraiture in Britain's Royal Collection.

Dessert plate. ca. 1830. 1954.2015.43

I'm also a big fan of the blue and gold dessert service which belonged to belonged to Benjamin Gratz's second wife, Anna Boswell Shelby. Anna Maria Boswell was born in 1809 and in 1829 she married Orville Shelby, as his second wife. The dessert service, with its S initial, comes from this marriage. Orville died in 1835 and Anna married Benjamin Gratz in 1843. The dessert service is a great example of Empire or Late-Neoclassical design and features a very characteristic band of gold anthemion--a Greek-inspired palm frond motif--which I always think look like squids carrying pineapples.

James Joyce (1882-1941), Ulysses. Paris: Shakespeare & Company, 1922. EL4 J89U1 922a

Finally, I would be remiss not to show the first edition of Ulysses, with its beautiful blue wrappers. Sylvia Beach, owner of Shakespeare and Company, which published the book, described the trouble this blue cover caused:

Joyce's natural desire to have his book dressed in the Greek blue was one of worst difficulties.Who would have dreamed that the lovely blue of the Greek flag was not to be found? Again and again Darantiere [the printer] came up to Paris and we matched blues, only to discover that the new sample didn't go with the Greek flag, which was kept flying at Shakespeare and Company in honor of Odysseus. Alas! merely to look at that flag gave me a headache. Darantiere's search took him to Germany, where it ended with the discovery of the right blue--but this time it was the wrong paper. He solved this problem by getting the color lithographed on white cardboard, which explains why the insides of the covers were white.

And I thought picking gallery colors was tough!

OK, that's it until next week, when I will be able to report on "something new," the opening of our new exhibit, Westward Ho!.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Something Old

It's good to be back after a week's vacation. Earlier this week I was giving a walk-through to some folks who were very interested in finding out about the oldest items in our collection. This is actually a question I've had several times, so for all of you who've wondered about this, here's the answer.

Our oldest objects are the antiquities in our art collection, most of which do not have firm dates, however among the oldest objects are an Egyptian stele believed to date ca. 1800 B.C.E. and small sardonyx gem amulet with an inscription in the name of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon from 606 to 561 B.C.E.

Egyptian stele. Middle Kingdon, Dynasty XII. 1954.1991

Amulet. 1954.2040
Our oldest printed book is a copy of the I Ching (Book of Changes), printed in China during the Sung Dynasty, about the tenth century. It is an example of a block book, in which each page is carved and printed from a separate wooden block. The Chinese were quite skilled at this printing method and in the sixteenth century Matteo Ricci noted that a Chinese carver could carve a page for a block book in about the same amount of time as a western typesetter could set a folio page. For more on this book, check out this old blog post from our former library assistant Greg Giuliano.

I Ching. ca. 10th century. Incun 900 y

Our oldest example of Western printing is a single leaf from the Gutenberg Bible containing parts of Exodus, Chapters XVI-XVIII. If you'd like to see a complete Gutenberg bible, you can check out digital versions of the two copies at the British Library and the copy at State and University Library of Lower Saxony right from your desk, but to get you started, here's our single leaf
Gutenberg Bible leaf. Incun f455b

Finally, I believe our oldest complete book printed with movable type is a copy of Cicero's stoic treatise De Officii printed in Mainz in 1466.

I think that about covers it for the rundown of oldest items in our collection. Watch for future posts on things new, borrowed, and blue.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


As one last follow up on the Declaration of Independence, I'd like to give a hat-tip to our friends at Independence National Historical Park for their annual reading of the Declaration, which happens every July 8, the day the Declaration was first read publicly. It has become a bit of a collections department tradition to hike over to this event, and despite the heat a couple of us made it over today for the festivities.

When not listening to immortal words of Jefferson, I've spent much of the week hauling paint and painting walls in preparation for the upcoming Westward Ho! exhibit. Collections intern Dana Byrd has been a huge help with this; many thanks to our new painting queen. But there have also been a number of poetry related items that have crossed my path this week and they are more interesting than watching paint dry, so I figured I'd give them a shout-out.

Yesterday we had a celebration to mark the end of this year's Words in Bloom project, a poetry collaboration with the Stiffel Senior Center in South Philadelphia. The project is taught by the
Rosenbach’s poet-in-residence, Nathalie Anderson, who works with seniors to explore different modes of poetry and help them develop their own poetry. Yesterday the group travelled to the Rosenbach to read selections from their poems and enjoy a small reception. It was a real pleasure to listen to them; I especially enjoyed a couple of poets who infused their work with humor. Nat Anderson also read her poem "Sweat," which was quite appropriate, given the day. Congratulations to all and many thanks to Nat and all the folks here and at Stiffel who made this possible.

On a completely different note, last weekend I ran across an interesting review of a book entitled The Art of the Sonnet. The book focuses on the endurance and flexibility of the form into the twentieth century and beyond and the review devoted a chunk of space to Marianne Moore's No Swan So Fine. All roads lead to Rosenbach...

Finally, I wanted to mention a new collections project we're just starting, also focused on poetry. As anyone who has been to Friend or Faux knows, the Rosenbach has a number of 17th-century commonplace books, which were hand-written compilations of poetry assembled by educated literary types for their own pleasure. In the 1950s, Edwin Wolfe 2nd compiled a card index of the first lines of the poems in our commonplace books, along with books that the Rosenbach Company sold to other libraries. Fast forward 50 years and the Folger Shakespeare Library has created an online first line index at They not only put in their own information from their own indices, but are encouraging other institutions to contribute their records to create one centralized and searchable database. We are just beginning the project of inputting our files, with the assistance of another great collections intern, Chelcie Rowell, and given that our index includes thousands of cards it will certainly take a while to complete, but it's very exciting to be able to join in this collaborative endeavor. In the meantime, you can have fun checking out the holdings of other major libraries.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

More on the Declaration

After I published last week's musings on our copy of the Declaration I heard this story on NPR about the Library of Congress's use of hyperspectral imaging to determine word changes in Jefferson's rough draft. Apparently Jefferson changed the word "subjects" to "citizens," no small matter. Here's the official LC news release on the topic.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Declaration of Independence

Time is running out to see the Friend or Faux exhibit; its last day is July 11. In honor of the 4th, I thought I'd highlight one of the objects in the "Local Legends" section of the exhibit: the Rosenbach's "manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence" which shows Thomas Jefferson’s original wording and indicates the sections that were removed/amended when the document was adopted by the Continental Congress. (For more on the history of the Declaration itself, check out this online exhibit from the Library of Congress and this marked up version of the text from Duke)

The reason that our item is in
Friend or Faux is that the term "manuscript copy" can be confusing and our document has frequently been misinterpreted as having been written out by Jefferson himself. It was not. Our document is a manuscript, which means simply that it was hand written. But it is not in Jefferson's hand-writing. Instead, it is an 18th-century copy of a version of the Declaration which Jefferson sent to his friend Richard Henry Lee.

The section of the manuscript shown below is the section dealing with slavery, which as you can see by the "out" notation, was stricken from the final adopted version.

Manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence in an unknown hand [ca. 1794] AMs 1084/7

The text of the slavery section reads:

"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidels powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men shall be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."

Looking ahead to the Civil War 150, which is starting later this year, it's worth remembering that the difficulties the Founding Fathers had in dealing with the question of slavery in the Declaration of Independence and later in the Constitution would lay the groundwork for the 19th-century tensions that would lead to the Civil War. As Frederick Douglass famously wrote, "What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim." You can read the full text of Douglass's speech here. At Gettysburg in 1863, Abraham Lincoln would famously hearken back to the Declaration of Independence, emphatically stating that its promises should in fact apply to all men: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. "

Have a great Independence Day! The Rosenbach is closed on the 4th itself so our staff can enjoy the holiday, but otherwise we're open normally.