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Friday, January 30, 2015

Amaze Your Friends with the Mystic Oracle

A few months ago I ran across a historic magic trick in our collection: the Mystic Oracle, ca. 1825.

Mystic Oracle. EL3 .A1my The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
As the package states, the trick consists of a set of cards which allow you to guess a person's age, or any other number they choose.  You ask them to think of their age or to pick a number between one and sixty. You then offer them the following set of six cards.

Mystic Oracle. EL3 .A1my The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
You ask them to hand you all the cards which contain their number. You then triumphantly announce their number to your astounded audience. How did you do it? You just add the numbers in the upper right corner of the cards they give you and that will be their number. As the instructions in the set point out, if they give you the correct cards, then the method is foolproof. If you'd like to try it for yourself, you can print out a PDF of the cards and give it a shot.

The mathmaniacs website explains that the reason the trick works has to do with binary numbers and powers of two--note that the number in each of the upper right corners is a power of two. Dr. Mike's Math Games for Kids extends the trick with a set of cards that work for numbers up to 1000. Interestingly, nearly two hundred years after the Mystic Oracle, commercial versions of the trick are still popular today--check out the boards at the lower right of this Melissa and Doug magic set on Amazon.

I guess a good trick has a long shelf life.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Decay of Lying

This week we are lucky to have a guest post from Rebecca N. Mitchell, an Oscar Wilde scholar who visited the Rosenbach recently to do research in the records of the Rosenbach Company.

As libraries begin to digitize print catalogues and finding aids, it is no wonder that archival materials long thought to be missing are brought into the spotlight anew: while these works were certainly never lost to their archivists and librarians, the sheer volume of material held in collections worldwide means it is relatively easy for the works of even well-known figures to sit “undiscovered” by scholars in university archives and special collections. Such is the case of three manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, held in the Free Library of Philadelphia and brought once again to public attention in the Rosenbach's current exhibition, “Everything is Going On Brilliantly: Oscar Wilde and Philadelphia.”

Another of Wilde’s important manuscripts also sat unnoticed for decades, hidden in plain sight in the Special Collections Library at the University of Akron: the fair copy of Wilde’s “The Decay of Lying,” which he called in De Profundis the “first and best of all [his] dialogues.”1
Cover of fair copy manuscript of Oscar Wilde's "The Decay of Lying"; PR5818.D43 1889, Special Collections, University of Akron Library. Reproduced with permission.

The manuscript was given to the library in 1962 as part of the collection of patron Herman Muehlstein, a rubber magnate with extensive ties to the school.2 It remained there undisturbed, while scholars thought it was “destroyed or (more likely)…in private hands.”3

Herman Muehlstein's bookplate in fair copy manuscript of Oscar Wilde's "The Decay of Lying"; PR5818.D43 1889, Special Collections, University of Akron Library. Reproduced with permission.
Prior to reaching its stable home in Akron, the manuscript had a rollicking history that tells us much about the vast fluctuations of the bookseller’s market—and Wilde’s relative position within the literary marketplace—in the first half of the twentieth century. In this tale, Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach played a key role, with the manuscript coming into his possession a number of times, and sales records at the Rosenbach proved instrumental in illuminating part of this document’s fascinating provenance.

Folio 1 of fair copy manuscript of Oscar Wilde's "The Decay of Lying"; PR5818.D43 1889, Special Collections, University of Akron Library. Thanks to Merlin Holland for permission to reproduce this image.The manuscript, which served as the copy text for the essay’s original 1889 publication in the Nineteenth Century and bears the typesetters’ marks from the journal, was originally given by Wilde to Frank Richardson, a novelist who met his own untimely death. In 1910, Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge included the manuscript in a sale of “books and manuscripts,” where it was purchased by London bookseller J. Hornstein for £111. It next appears on the auction block at the 1920 sale of John B. Stetson, Jr.’s extensive collection of Wilde’s works. The Anderson Galleries’ catalogue for Stetson’s collection contains noteworthy details about the manuscript, including a description of the binding: “Written on 55 pp folio, and mounted with inner guards in book form, full blue morocco covers, and preserved in a lined cloth case.”4

At the sale, Dr. Rosenbach paid $1525 to purchase the “Decay of Lying,” along with an array of letters and other manuscripts.5 Many of these items—fifty-one of Rosenbach’s purchases at the auction, in fact—were destined for Colonel H. D. Hughes, as is clear from the extensive listing in Rosenbach’s sales records (RCo VIId:15, p. 162-63 [23 April 1920]). Hughes, a collector from Pennsylvania, curiously paid off his sizable balance primarily through daily installments of $100.00.

The sale of the “Decay” manuscript to Col. Hughes was not the last time that Rosenbach would handle the work. Just four years after the Stetson sale, the document again appeared on the auction block when, following the Colonel’s death, much of his collection was sold by the Anderson Galleries. Still bound in blue morocco, the manuscript is also noted as retaining the bookplate “from the J. B. Stetson, Jr. collection.”6 At the auction, Rosenbach purchased the manuscript for $625, quite the bargain compared to its previous price. (The New York Times recorded an erroneous sales figure of $525, though they noted correctly that the manuscript was purchased by the Rosenbach Company.7) Dr. Rosenbach would make a tidy sum on the resale: in 1930, he sold the fair copy of “Decay” to Comte Alain de Suzannet, a collector of British manuscripts with a particular passion for Dickens, for $4850 (Rosenbach Library VIId:22, p. 141).

Suzannet maintained a lively correspondence with Rosenbach, and the firm routinely offered him choice works by Dickens and Thackery, among other writers. The good humor that underscored their relationship was called upon when in 1933, Wilde’s “Decay of Lying” manuscript (which Suzannet already owned) appeared in the Rosenbach catalogue for sale at $3400.8 Including price information seems to have been a rare move for the bookseller, which—according to the New York Times—was regarded “with a little awe, as being something too immaculate and refined to descend to the vulgar level of mentioning money.”9

Suzannet did not fail to notice the presence of the manuscript or its price when Rosenbach sent him a copy of the catalogue; he wrote to Rosenbach salesman Harry Hymes in response that the catalogue presented “a feast spread out for hungry (but poor) men, who can only enjoy these good things through a plate-glass window!” (ALS 20 March 1933, RCo I:167:10). Suzannet asked to purchase a few items by Kipling at a discount before noting, “that 338 [Wilde’s “Decay of Lying” manuscript] is priced $3400. As I had the pleasure of purchasing this same ms. from you three years ago for $4750, are you crediting my account with the balance? In that case I would not bargain for the Kipling items.” (Suzannet underestimated the actual price he paid by $100.)

Comte Alain de Suzannet, autograph letter signed to Harry Hymes.20 March 1933. RCo I:167:10, Rosenbach of the Free Library of PhiladelphiaDr. Rosenbach was apparently concerned enough to respond to Suzannet directly: “I wish to apologize to you personally for the error relative to Oscar Wilde’s ‘Decay of Lying.’ By mistake it was included in the catalogue and, of course, the mark-down was on that as well as all the books and manuscripts in stock” (ALS 4 April 1933, RCo I:167:10). Perhaps as a consolation, Suzannet did receive a small discount on his Kipling order.

Suzannet’s collecting turned increasingly to Dickens’s writing,10 and in March 1934 he offered a number of (non-Dickensian) works from his collection at a Sotheby’s auction; there, the “Decay of Lying” manuscript sold for the astonishingly low price of £45.11 In 1935, the price of the manuscript was again on the rise, advertised by Maggs Bros. for £250.11Back to auction it went in 1937, when the “Decay” manuscript—now rebound in “full russia by Sangorski & Sutcliffe”—was purchased by Retz & Storm for $975.13 The manuscript remains in this russia binding today, preserved in excellent condition in Akron, apparently never again reaching the high prices it saw under Rosenbach’s care.

1 Wilde, ‘To Lord Alfred Douglas’, [January-March 1897], in The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis (London: Fourth Estate, 2000), 688.
2 For additional details, see Joseph Bristow and Rebecca N. Mitchell, “Fair Copy Manuscript of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Decay of Lying: A Dialogue,’” Notes & Queries 61, no. 4 (November 2014). doi: 10.1093/notesj/gju129. Thanks to Head Archivist S. Victor Fleischer and The Herman Muehlstein Collection at The University of Akron for assistance with this project.
3 Josephine M. Guy, ‘Introduction’, in Criticism: Historical Criticism, Intentions, The Soul of Man, The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (Oxford, 2007), p.xl.
4 Anderson Galleries, The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., Elkins Park, PA. Sale #1484, April 1920 (New York: American Art Association, 1920), p. 14.
5 “Oscar Wilde Collection of J. B. Stetson Sold,” New York Times 24 April 1920, p. 9.
6 American Art Association, Fine Books and Manuscripts of the Greatest Rarity and Interest including the Further Property of a Prominent Pennsylvania Collector (New York: American Art Association, 1924), n.p., lot 365.
7 “Book Sale Closes,” New York Times, 3 Dec 1924, p. 9.
8Rosenbach Company, A Catalogue of Original Manuscripts Presentation Copies First Editions and Autograph Letters of Modern Authors (Philadelphia and New York: The Rosenbach Company, 1933) p. 44, no. 338.
9 “Notes on Rare Books,” New York Times 9 April 1922, p.BR20. The New York Times noted that “Only the barest details” of the books were described, and thought that “the question as to whether high-priced manuscripts can be sold by means of a check-list such as this is highly speculative.”
10 See Michael Slater, “Introduction” in The Catalogue of the Suzannet Charles Dickens Collection (London: Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, 1975), ix-xvi.
11Sotheby’s, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters and Printed Books Forming part of the Library of the Comte de Suzannet, La Petite Chardière, Lausanne, March 1934 (London: Sotheby’s, 1934), p. 39, lot #256. The Grolier Club’s copy indicates the ms. was purchased by “Mayes.” The auction catalogue includes a reproduction of the final page of the manuscript, which confirms that this version is the same sold by Rosenbach in 1933; the binding is still listed as “blue leather.” The sales price of £45 is confirmed in the Times Literary Supplement (“Notes on Sales,” 5 April 1934, p. 248) and British Books/The Publisher’s Circular (1934, p. 539).
12 English Literature of the 19th & 20th Centuries, being a selection of First and Early Editions of the works of Esteemed Authors & Book Illustrators, together with Autograph Letters & Original Manuscripts; also Books on Sports and Pastimes (London: Maggs Bros. 1935), p. 174.
13Books and Autographs including Library sets in fine bindings from the collection of Mrs. Peter W. Rouss, Colored plates and Sporting Books from the Collection of Reginald Burbank, M.D.; Two Superb autograph letters by George Washington; Coaching and Sporting Prints; First Editions (American Art Association; Anderson Galleries, 1937), p. 234, lot #578; “$2,500 for a Work on Old New York,” New York Times 15 Jan 1937, p. 18. The price is confirmed in “Notes on Sales,” Times Literary Supplement 27 February 1937, p. 156.

Many thanks to Lauren Wayne for her excellent post on creating footnotes in Blogger.

Dr. Mitchell is Lecturer in Victorian Literature at the University of Birmingham (UK). Her most recent book, Oscar Wilde’s Chatterton: Literary History, Romanticism, and the Art of Forgery, co-authored with Joseph Bristow, is forthcoming from Yale University Press. She and Professor Bristow are presently at work on a longer piece on Wilde’s “The Decay of Lying.”

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Bottle

In honor of the 96th anniversary of Prohibition, which was ratified on January 16, 1919, I thought I'd highlight George Cruikshank's two famous series of temperance prints: The Bottle (1847) and the Drunkard's Children (1848). British illustrator Cruikshank started out at the turn of the 19th century doing satirical prints, then moved into book illustration (including Oliver Twist) but in the 1840s he started producing more work for the temperance movement. Cruikshank's father had been alcoholic and according to Cruikshank had died of alcohol poisoning after a drinking match; Cruikshank himself had been a drinker until he took an abstinence pledge in 1847. 

Cruikshank's series, which follow the decline and fall of a family as they succumb to drink were inspired by Hogarth's famous "Rake's Progress." They also followed in a long of pictorial depictions of the evils of drunkenness, such as Hogarth's 1751 "Gin Lane", which itself had been part of a campaign to pass the Gin Act, and contemporary illustrations such as the 1846 American lithograph  "The Drunkard's Progress".

William Hogarth, Gin Lane. 1751. © Trustees of the British Museum
N. Currier. The drunkards progress. From the first glass to the grave. c1846. Library of Congress.

So without further ado, The Bottle and The Drunkard's Children.

The Bottle, Plate I: The Bottle Is Brought Out for the First Time: The Husband Induces His Wife "Just to Take a Drop"
(Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2621)

The Bottle, Plate II: He is Discharged from His Employment for Drunkenness, They Pawn Their Clothes to Supply the Bottle
(Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2624)

The Bottle, Plate III: An Execution Sweeps Off the Greater Part of Their Furniture, They Comfort Themselves with the Bottle
 (Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2627)

The Bottle, Plate IV. Unable to Obtain Employment, They Are Driven by Poverty into the Streets to Beg, and by This Means They Still Supply the Bottle.
(Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2630)
The Bottle, Plate V. Cold, Misery, and Want, Destroy Their Youngest Child: They Console Themselves with the Bottle.
 (Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2633)

The Bottle, Plate VI: Fearful Quarrels and Brutal Violence are the Natural Consequences of the Frequent Use of the Bottle
 (Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2636)

The Bottle, Plate VII: The Husband, in a State of Furious Drunkenness, Kills His Wife with the instrument of All Their Misery
 (Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2638a)

The Bottle, Plate VIII: The Bottle Has Done Its Work - It Has Destroyed the Infant and the Mother, It Has Brought the Son and the Daughter to Vice and to the Streets, and Has Left the Father a Hopeless Maniac
(Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2638b)

The Drunkard's Children, Plate I: Neglected by their Parents, Educated in the Streets and Falling Into the Hands of Wretches Who Live Upon the Vice of Others, They Are Led to the Gin Shop
(Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2644)

The Drunkard's Children, Plate II: Between the Fine Flaring Gin Palace and the Low Dirty Beer-Shop, The Boy-Thief Squanders and Gambles Away his Ill-gotten Gain
(Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2647)

The Drunkard's Children, Plate III: From the Gin Shop to the Dancing Rooms, From the Dancing Rooms to the Gin Shop, the Poor Girl is Driven on in that Course Which Ends in Misery
(Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2650)

The Drunkard's Children, Plate IV: Urged on by his Ruffian Companions, and Excited by Drink, He Commits a Desperate Robbery--He is Taken by the Police at a Threepenny Lodging House
(Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2650)

 The Drunkard's Children, Plate V: From the Bar of the Gin-Shop to the Bar of the Old Bailey it is But One Step
(Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2656)

The Drunkard's Children, Plate VI:The Drunkard's Son is Sentenced to Transportation for Life
(Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2659)

 The Drunkard's Children, Plate VII: The Poor Girl Homeless, Friendless, Deserted, Destitute, and Gin-Mad Commits Self-Murder
(Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia 1954.1880.2665)

The Bottle was very popular when it was first printed; it sold over 100,000 copies, was adapted for the stage, and its images adorned all kinds of consumer goods, such as these plates (to see more, visit .

Anyone for a nice cold glass of water?

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Marianne's Music Box

If you have walked into the Marianne Moore room, you may have noticed an inlaid wooden box lurking behind a lamp and a samovar on the tall chest of drawers right in front of you.

Ch. Knusli,music box. Zurich, 1873-1894. 2006.2966.  The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
It turns out that this item is a music box, made in Switzerland by Ch. Knusli. It was  "Made expressly  for the Mermod & Jaccard Jewelry Company," in the third quarter of the 19th century. Mermod & Jaccard was a St. Louis company owned by A. S. Mermod, a friend of Marianne Moore's grandfather who was called "Uncle Mermod" by the young Marianne. Moore's grandfather's house in Kirkwood, Mo. (where Marianne lived until she was six) contained many  Mermod & Jaccard items, some of which were gifts from Mermod.

Interestingly, according to an 1883 History of Saint Louis City and County, Mermod's partner, D.S. Jaccard, had been born in St. Croixe, Switzerland, and began his jewelry apprenticeship by working on music boxes.  An index to one of Mermod & Jaccard's catalogs, which I was able to find online, lists a page of music boxes, right before five pages of clocks.

If you lift the lid on our box, the interior contains a cylinder mechanism player, underneath a glass lid. A label on the underside of the box lid indicates the available songs:

1. La Traviata,  Coro di Madrid, Verdi
2  Con Amore,  Polka,   Faust
3. Chimes of Normandy,  Chorus,   Planquette
4. Then You'll Remember Me, Balfe
5.  Mockingbird,  Grobe
6. William Tell, Prayer,  Rossini
7.  Faust, Chorus, Gounoud
8. Boccacio, Waltz, Suppe

Ch. Knusli,music box. Zurich, 1873-1894. 2006.2966.  The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Ch. Knusli,music box. Zurich, 1873-1894. 2006.2966.  The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
Cylinder music boxes work by striking the teeth of a metal comb with fixed pins inserted into a rotating cylinder. In boxes which could play multiple tunes (such as this one), the pins for the tunes not being played would pass between the teeth and therefore not sound. At the end of a song the cylinder would shift so a new set of pins would line up with the teeth and the next tune could play.

We don't know the state of the mechanism, so we can't wind our music box, but I found some other music box renditions of many of the songs that it included. These are not from the same model as we have and I could only find many of them on disc music boxes, rather than cylinder music boxes. Disc boxes were developed in the late 1880s and had the advantage of being able to play any number of tunes, simply by switching the discs. Nonetheless, I hope these videos can give at least  some idea about the kind of music Marianne's family would have enjoyed.

Eventually music boxes gave way to phonographs, which would reproduce any type of sound from spoken word to a full orchestra. We also have a number of Marianne Moore's records, but that is the subject of another post.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Happy New Year

Happy New Year From the Rosen-Blog!

Daniel Maclise, illustration for Charles Dickens, The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In. London, 1846. 1954.820a. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia