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Friday, September 27, 2013

What It Is? Revealed

Our mystery object from last week was, as its box explains, a Fiske Reading Machine.

Fiske Reading Machine. 2005.0015. Rosenbach Museum & Library

Fiske Reading Machine. 2005.0015. Rosenbach Museum & Library

The Fiske Reading Machine was a magnifying device that was intended to be used to read "micro books" (as its instructions call them),  thereby enabling you to carry a whole newspaper or even a novel in your pocket. A March 30, 1926 article in the Miami Times entitled "'Reading Machine' Invented to Abolish Bulky Volumes" explained that the "reading matter..is so microscopic as to be undecipherable with the naked eye" and claimed that Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad could be reduced to a "13-page pamphlet three and three-quarters by five and three-quarters inches in size." Another article, published in Scientific American in June, 1922, highlighted the diminished costs of producing, distributing, and storing reading material with the new device. Check out the articles for more on the fascinating reading idea.

This photograph, used in the Scientific American article, shows a version of the reading machine in use.

Photograph by Harris & Ewing. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Who knows what Admiral Fiske would have made our modern pocket sized reading devices!



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.


Friday, September 20, 2013

What is It?

Okay Rosenbloggers, it's time to put on your thinking caps and guess the identity of this week's mystery object from the recesses of the Rosenbach.

Here are two views of our mystery object--folded up and unfolded.



I'll give you a hint--it's not something you'd find at your optometrist's office, but is actually related to reading. If you have an idea, post it in the comments and tune in next week for the answer!



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.


Friday, September 13, 2013

In The Beginning...

...there was an empty gallery.  Now it's full of early Hebrew printed books, the first books by and about Jewish Americans, and artifacts related to the Gratz family, one of the earliest and most prominent Jewish families in Philadelphia.  Collected by museum co-founder Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, these three themes make up the new exhibition In the Beginning: Three Jewish Firsts in the Rosenbach Collection, curated by Curator & Director of Collections, Judy Guston.  The exhibition opens Wednesday, September 18 (though members can preview it the day before), but we thought we'd give you a sneak peak at how the installation is going and at some of the tantalizing objects you'll see on display.

Here's the introduction to the exhibition, which contains a surprising artifact in a niche on the left.  Any guesses what it might be?
Thanks to Will Bucher for the excellent mount-making on this...oops! I almost gave it away!  If you're stumped, search for "1954.2040" in our object database, Phil.

 The exhibition includes manuscripts, photographs, silver and other decorative arts, and plenty of fascinating printed books, including the earliest printed books in the American colonies.  Here are a few below (and seen from the bird's-eye view atop our lighting ladder):

 Last but not least is the Lisbon Pentateuch, printed in 1491 and bound in an amazing box-binding that's extremely rare and also a little formidable to install.  It's one of the highlights of a fascinating section on the earliest printed books in Hebrew. 

Friday, September 06, 2013

Homes of American Statesmen


 This week's post is by collections intern Robin Craren
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A fascinating book within the collection of the Rosenbach, Homes of the American Statesmen, written in 1854, explores the various homes of men from our country’s early history. The book’s publishers wished “to preserve, in living memory, the individual and private memories of the benefactors of our country.”
Homes of American Statesmen: with Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches. New York: G.P. Putnam and Co., 1854. Rosenbach Museum & Library. A 854h.
Each chapter highlights a different man; the first and longest chapter focuses on George Washington, while later chapters illustrate the homes of Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Andrew Jackson, and many more. Each chapter includes beautiful wood engravings of their homes (some chapters have more than others; the most plentiful being the chapter on Washington) as well as brief histories of the men and a facsimile of a letter written in each of their hands.

Possibly the most fascinating chapter is that of George Washington written by Mrs. C.M. Kirkland. This chapter has the advantage of telling the history of both Washington’s adult life and also of the Revolutionary War itself through the various headquarters in which he stayed. Although there are quite a few wood engravings within the chapter, I decided to show those that pertain to the war in and around Philadelphia. All of these houses are still extant so it gives us an opportunity to see how they look today and how they may have been preserved as monuments of our past.

On the eve of the Battle of Brandywine (September 11, 1777), Washington established his headquarters at the house of Benjamin Ring, a Quaker farmer and miller, in what is now Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania.
 
Wood engraving of the headquarters of Washington at Chadd’s Ford, Homes of American Statesmen: with Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches. New York: G.P. Putnam and Co., 1854.  A 854h.”
Benjamin Ring House

Benjamin Ring House, now now part of the Brandywine Battlefield Historic Site. Photo by road_less_trvled. 


After losing the Battle of Brandywine, Washington’s troops retreated and eventually made their way to Germantown after the British capture of Philadelphia. After an unsuccessful battle in Germantown, Washington retreated to White Marsh where he stayed from November 2-December 11, 1777. He successfully fought off attack from the British on December 5th and 6th but relocated to Valley Forge on December 11th for the duration of the winter.

Below is an image of Washington’s headquarters in White Marsh, now in Springfield, owned by George Emlen at the time, along with a modern image.
 
Wood engraving of the headquarters of Washington at White Marsh, Homes of American Statesmen: with Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches. New York: G.P. Putnam and Co., 1854. A 854h.


Emlen House: Camp Whitemarsh--(Nov 2nd to Dec 11th, 1777)
Emlen house. Photo by road_less_trvled.
As I mentioned above, Washington and his troops moved to Valley Forge where the Continental Army suffered through a brutal winter with food shortages and inadequate shelter and clothing, killing nearly 2,500 American soldiers from December 1777 to February 1778. During this period, Washington stayed in the home of Isaac Potts, which was being rented by his relative, Deborah Hewes, who in turn rented the home to Washington. The house was located at the confluence of Valley Creek with the Schuylkill River in Valley Forge, PA.


Wood engraving of Isaac Potts House at Valley Forge, Homes of American Statesmen: with Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches. New York: G.P. Putnam and Co., 1854. A 854h

Wide-angle Headquarters with shadow
Modern image of the Isaac Potts House in Valley Forge, now part of the Valley Forge National Historic Park, image from National Park Service
 Although the Revolutionary War went on far longer than these three illustrations convey, they resonate with our current location. Another interesting illustration from the same chapter shows the Longfellow House in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Washington stayed during the Siege of Boston in 1776. 
Wood engraving of the headquarters of Washington in Cambridge, MA, Homes of American Statesmen: with Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches. New York: G.P. Putnam and Co., 1854. A 854h

Longfellow House,now the site of the Longfellow National Historic Site.   Image from National Park Service Digital Image Archive
While these wood engravings may be my favorite part about this book, another very interesting and unique feature can be seen inside the front cover of the book, an original crystallotype photograph (a process patented by this photographer in 1850) of the John Hancock house in Boston. Although the handwritten notation (as well as its reference in the publisher's note) indicate that it is a sun picture, this may just be the name given to early photographs. Each copy of the first published edition had an original photograph pasted into the book as a frontispiece. The problem of press printing of photographs remained unsolved until the 1880s when the cross-line screen was introduced, diffusing the photographic image into patterns of dots which could then be printed by letterpress.

Crystallotype photograph of the John Hancock House, Homes of American Statesmen: with Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches. New York: G.P. Putnam and Co., 1854. A 854h.”
While several European authors seem to have illustrated their works with photographs as early as the late 1840s, the use of glass-plate negatives (instead of the one-off process of daguerreotypes) were not used regularly until the late 1850s. However, two books were published in 1854 in America in which photographs were used as illustration: Homes and John Collins Warren’s Remarks on Some Fossil Impressions in the Sandstone Rocks of Connecticut River. While both were published in 1854, Homes is copyrighted 1853 and was most likely sold during the Christmas season of that year as several copies of the first edition have the inscription, “Christmas 1853,” making Homes of the American Statesmen possibly one of the first books to be illustrated with a photograph.