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Thursday, December 23, 2010

"God Bless Us, Every One"--Then What?

All of us are, no doubt, quite familiar with Dickens's classic 1843 tale A Christmas Carol. At this time of year various movie versions dominate the airwaves and those of us in Philadelphia can make our annual visit to the Dickens Village at Macy's. But have you ever heard of Dickens's "Christmas book" for 1844--The Chimes?

The Chimes is the second of five "Christmas books" which Dickens would publish in the 1840s, although the action of the story actually happens on New Year's Eve. As with A Christmas Carol, The Chimes focuses on a man's encounters with supernatural beings (in this case the spirits of the bells in a church tower) which help him regain his faith in human nature. Unlike the rich miser Scrooge, The Chimes' protagonist is a poor porter named Toby Veck, who is on the receiving end of upper class condescension and wonders if the poor have any right to live at all. Ultimately the book, like all of Dickens's other Christmas books, declares a strong moral message of the importance of charity and brotherhood and the need to recognize and improve conditions for the poor. It ends with a clear call:"So may each Year be happier than the last, and not the meanest of our brethren or sisterhood debarred their rightful share, in what our Great Creator formed them to enjoy."

The Adelphi. Chimes: a goblin story[London, 1844] EL3 f.D548 Ephemera #55

The Chimes was a financial success, selling nearly 20,000 copies in three months and spwaning numerous theatrical adaptations. Dickens himself had tested out the work by staging pre-publication readings for his friends, events which influenced his later move into public readings of his works. The vibrant poster shown above is from the authorized production at the Adelphi, which was put together by Dickens's friends Mark Lemon and G. A. A'Beckett and opened on December 18, only two days after the publication of the book. With such a timeline the play was necessarily based on the proof sheets for the novella and failed to include some last minute changes that Dickens made to the text. It also lightened the mood by omitting Dickens's heavy-handed last line.

The Rosen-blog will be taking take a week off because of the holidays, but we'll be back in the new year. If you are planning to visit the Rosenbach over the holiday week, please note that we will be closed 12/24-12/25 and again 12/31-1/1. But do feel free to come on in the rest of the time--maybe bring those out of town relatives?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pilgrims Reunited

I've blogged before about some of the ways the Rosenbach makes its collection accessible online, such as, Phil , our online fine/decorative arts catalog, and Manuscripts Online, which provides high quality images and transcriptions of selected items from our Americana collection. But you may not know that from time to time the Rosenbach also participates in other institutions' online projects.

One such project is " In the Bigynnyng" at The Rylands Library at the University in Manchester. "In the Bigynnyng" will digitize all 41 medieval manuscripts in the Rylands collection (c 12,000 images) and make them publicly available via a dedicated project website. So how does this involve the Rosenbach, you ask?

One of the items in the Rylands collection is a two-leaf fragment from a 15th-century manuscript of the Canterbury Tales, which includes a wonderful picture of the Miller. It's such a nice picture that it's showcased right on the project homepage.

Part of the Miller's Tale from Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. JRL022709tr

As it so happens, the Rosenbach has eleven leaves from the same manuscript, including images of the Man of Law and the Cook.
Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales. England, 15th century. MS 1084/2

So what we're going to do is have our leaves scanned at the Regional Digital Imaging Center at the Philadelphia Athenaeum, using their wonderful high-resolution overhead scanner. Then we can send the images across the pond and the wandering pilgrims will be digitally reunited on the Rylands site!

All of this update is really an excuse to share a great Canterbury Tales parody video by some talented high school history teachers from Hawaii. If you like this one, you can find more videos on their Youtube Channel.(Hat tip to the AHA blog).

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Going, Going, Gone

We’ve been knee deep in the Civil War around here, preparing for the Civil War Begins exhibit to open next week . As you know, you can check out today’s dispatch from 1860 at But December 8 also marks an anniversary for a different war—as the day after “the day that will live in infamy” it was when the United States entered World War II in 1941.

Of course World War II and its build-up had been going on much longer in Europe and December 8 also marks the anniversary of a rare book auction held in New York in 1938, to benefit European refugees.

Dr. Rosenbach chaired the auction and the celebrity auctioneers included radio personality Major Edward Bowes, writers George Kaufman and Christopher Morley, and journalist Dorothy Thompson, who had herself been expelled from Nazi Germany in 1934. Rockwell Kent designed and donated the cover art for the catalog.

The honorary chairs of the event were Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann, both of whom had fled Nazi persecution and settled in America. Both men signed our copy of the sales catalog, beneath their respective introductory texts.

(all images from Going, going, gone! Rare book auction, Hotel Plaza, New York, December 8, 1938. [New York, 1938] Ro1 938b copy 1)

Overall the event raised about $35,000, which is roughly equivalent to half a million dollars today. (For more on converting historic dollar amounts, check out Measuring Worth).

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Sendak Mural arrives in New Year

The Chertoff Mural prior to conservation. (C) 1961 by Maurice Sendak, all rights reserved.

To add to all the other exciting news circulating around our collections recently, we’ve gotten word that a mural painted by Maurice Sendak on the wall of a New York apartment in 1961 will finally be arriving at the museum in mid-January 2011! Its new permanent home will be the Sendak Gallery on the first floor of the museum. This is the homestretch of a project that’s taken more than three years, but will ultimately share with our visitors the only surviving mural painted by Sendak, as well as the longest (at about 13 feet long) and heaviest (at nearly 800 pounds!) piece in our Maurice Sendak Collection.

A 33-year-old Sendak painted the mural for his friend Roslyn Chertoff and her two children, Nina and Larry. The mural depicts a procession of classic Sendakian characters (almost all of whom show up at some point or another in his picture books and other drawings): His dog, Jennie, is in the lead, followed by two boys playing a drum and a trumpet and guiding a lion on a chain; following them is a little girl in an oversize red dress leading a bear on a leash, while a golden sun shines on them from the upper right corner. The whole assembly is colorful, rambunctious, and lively (not to mention well attired, particularly their various hats). A few years ago, Nina and Larry generously donated the mural to the Rosenbach. Judy Guston, Curator & Director of Collections at the museum, went to New York with a team of conservators from Milner + Carr to see the mural for herself: “I think the most striking thing about the mural was its location in a room that overlooked NYC’s Central Park. The light streaming into the high windows, while curators usually think of it as bad for art, lent a sense of joy and movement to the work, almost leading the procession of characters outside into the park, which is what I was convinced the work was supposed to do—to lead the children from their bedroom outside into a place of adventure and play.”

Detail of the Chertoff Mural prior to conservation. (C) 1961 by Maurice Sendak, all rights reserved.

Of course, the tricky bit was removing the mural from the apartment. As Judy explained, “At first, it had seemed that it might be removed ‘from’ the wall, but upon the start of the actual work, it became clear that the entire wall would need to be removed to keep the fragile mural intact.” That’s 800 pounds of gypsum block wall! It took four days for the conservators to carefully stabilize the mural’s surface and flaking paint, cut out the massive section of wall, and prepare it for travel to our area—a miraculous process that we’ve documented on film and that will be the subject of future blog posts.

There’s still much to be done. We’re still looking for a few final contributors to help us bring the mural home and interpret it for our visitors—check out our “Bring It Home!” campaign page for more details about how you can help this effort. After the mural is installed, in late January through February we’ll be inviting you to witness the actual conservation of the mural in the gallery itself. Keep your eyes on our website, free e-newsletter, and this blog so you can follow mural developments throughout the winter.