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Friday, June 26, 2015


What do the Marianne Moore room and the American Samoa state quarter have in common? They both feature a tanoa. A tanoa, as I just learned this week, is a Samoan ceremonial bowl. Marianne Moore's brother Warner sent her the bowl as a gift, presumably when he was stationed in Samoa as a Navy chaplain between 1932 and 1934.

Tanoa. 2006.3092. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

If you've been in the Marianne Moore room, this item is on the sideboard, on the right as you walk in. The glass insert is not part of the tanoa proper, but was made to fit it. Although Moore apparently kept subway tokens in her bowl, traditionally the tanoa is used for the ritual drinking of 'ava (a drink that in other Polynesian dialects is known as kava).

'Ava is a beverage produced from the dried root of the 'ava plant (Piper methysticum). It is important throughout Polynesia and the traditional preparation of the drink was described by the one of the scientists who visited Tahiti on Captain Cook's second voyage in 1773:

This root is cut small and the pieces chewed by several people who spit the macerated mass a bowl where some water milk of coco nuts is poured upon it. They then strain it through a quantity of the fibres of coco nuts squeezing the chips till all their juices mix with the cocoa nut milk and the whole liquor is decanted into another bowl.

'Ava was and is a key part of important Samoan occasions, both political and religious, although now it is typically ground or grated rather than chewed. The drink is ceremonially consumed while seated in an 'ava circle and the order in which the members of the circle are presented with the 'ava is strictly prescribed. The importance of 'ava in Samoan life is illustrated by the official seal of American Samoa, which features the tanoa in the center, along with the staff and fly whisk used to signify rank in the 'ava ceremony.

The tanoa bowl is also central to the Samoan quarter. Apparently all three potential designs that were drawn up for the quarter featured the 'ava bowl: "These included the ava bowl, whisk and staff and coconut tree concept; a man with traditional Samoan tattoo holding an ava bowl; and a traditional Samoan guest house with a head-dress and ava bowl. " 

There is a second, similar bowl in the Moore collection, although the small size of this one (only 3" across) makes it seem more of a souvenir than a potentially functional item.

Tanoa. 2006.4127. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Friday, June 19, 2015

Mary Shelley Acquisitions

We're delighted to announce that the Rosenbach has recently acquired a rare first edition (1818) of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, as well as first editions of Shelley's novels Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), and Falkner (1837).  These terrific additions to our collections of English Romantic literature were purchased thanks to major support from the B.H. Breslauer Foundation and gifts from Mark Samuels Lasner and Clarence Wolf.  Here they stand in a row awaiting processing before they appear on our library's shelves. 

First editions of Mary Shelley's novels Falkner, Frankenstein, The Last Man, Perkin Warbeck, and Valperga.  Purchased with major support from the B. H. Breslauer Foundation and generous gifts from Mark Samuels Lasner and Clarence Wolf.   

For as big an impact as Frankenstein would have in launching science fiction as a genre and taking Gothic fiction in a new direction, you'll notice that the 3-volume novel (second from the left in an ochre binding) is the smallest of the lot despite being the best known work by Mary Shelley.  In fact, she was not acknowledged as author of this first edition and only 500 copies were printed.  Its success encouraged her father, writer William Godwin, to publish a new 2-volume edition in 1823 that contained hundreds of unauthorized word changes, after which Shelley published a 1-volume newly revised and expanded version in 1831.  Her manuscripts for the novel are housed at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library and are wonderfully digitized and available online at the Shelley-Godwin Archive.  The story of why she wrote Frankenstein is the well-known and dramatic tale of a group of writers scaring each other with ghost stories during the frozen summer of 1816 (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, see Kathy's previous blog posts on this topic!).  The other novel about an infamous monster to come out of that same gathering was John William Polidori's The Vampyre, published a year after Frankenstein.  Call me sentimental, but it seemed fitting to reunite first editions of each given their shared history! 

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, 1818.  EL3 .s5449fr 818 v.1.  Purchased with major support from the B. H. Breslauer Foundation and generous gifts from Mark Samuels Lasner and Clarence Wolf; John Polidori, The Vampyre: A Tale, London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1819.  EL3 .p766v 819a, The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 
If literary monsters are your thing you might look forward to an exciting exhibition we're assembling for fall 2017.  A major grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage will allow us to begin work on Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Monster Within, an exhibition about the scientific and ethical concepts at the heart of both Shelley's and Stoker's celebrated novels.  We'll share plenty more details about this exhibition and its related programs in the near future. 

Mary Shelley, The Last Man, London: Henry Colburn, 1826.  EL3 .s5449la 826 v.2.  Purchased with major support from the B. H. Breslauer Foundation and generous gifts from Mark Samuels Lasner and Clarence Wolf
Shelley's other works--Valperga, Perkin Warbeck, and Falkner--are deserving of blog posts in their own right (not to mention Lodore, 1835, which wasn't part of this acquisition).  Last but not least...but still last, is The Last Man, an 1826 novel by Mary Shelley.  Its characters are loosely based on the same personalities who played a role in Mary's creation of Frankenstein, such as her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron, but their ideals and intellects are put to a challenge that neither poet had to endure in life: the apocalypse!  Mary Shelley envisioned a world at the end of the 21st century that bore a striking resemblance to that of the 1820s, albeit with some wild innovations: yes, the Greeks were still fighting for their independence from the Ottomans but hot air balloons with "feathered wings" are also a common conveyance in the British Isles.  By the year 2092 a plague that is vaguely understood to have originated in the east gets spread by victorious Greeks to other parts of Europe.  England is, of course, the last country to fall victim to the pestilence in which "the air is empoisoned and each human being inhales death."  The plague makes its way around the globe and gradually kills off every human being until only the titular last man remains.  Exacerbating the ravages of the plague are a series of natural disasters, including the rising of a black sun, earthquakes, and floods that submerge half of England, as well as social disruptions familiar to fans of modern apocalyptic fiction (at one point American marauders cross the Atlantic, plunder Ireland, and invade England). Shelley was certainly way ahead of her time, and you can bet we'll be exploring these newly acquired editions in exhibitions and programs over the coming years. 

Patrick Rodgers is a curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Deciphering Ulysses" Now Open

"I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality." 

Jame's Joyce's famous quip about Ulysses is a challenge which exhibition curator Beth Blum takes up in this year's Bloomsday exhibition: Deciphering Ulysses: A Playful Introduction to Joyce's Novel. The exhibition opened this week and will run through Labor Day weekend.

The whole structure of the novel can be seen as a puzzle, and fittingly the exhibition starts with an elaborate, three-foot-long reader schema that tackles the different episodes and their many correspondences.

Gorman-Gilbert schema for Ulysses: typescript. Joyce ephemera. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

More specifically on the topic of ciphers, do you know who the real life inhabitant was of 7 Eccles Street, home to the Blooms in the novel? 

Philip Phillips, photograph of 7 Eccles Street. Dublin, 1950. Gift of Sayre P. Sheldon and Lady Richard Davies.
2006.0004.099. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
 It was the cryptographer John Byrne, a good friend of Joyce's. In the exhibit you can find out more about codes in Ulysses, about Byrne's chaocipher machine (thanks to facsimiles from the National Cryptological Museum), and even try your hand at doing your own code-making and code-breaking. 

Can you figure out this text? You can if you come to Deciphering Ulysses!

The exhibit includes first editions, photographs, documents from United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses, and of course, selections from the manuscript. This section from the penultimate "Ithaca" episode (one of two episodes written in notebooks rather than on loose sheets) documents the contents of Leopold Bloom's drawer...
James Joyce, Ulysses: autograph manuscript, “Ithaca” episode. Paris, [August–October 1921]
EL4 .J89ul 922 MS.
The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
...which you can then explore for yourself (with a puzzle twist, of course).

So come on over and enjoy our "playful introduction to Joyce's novel." There are puzzles aplenty to revel in and learn from, unless, of course, you're a famous Russian-American author.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Friday, June 05, 2015

Monteith Madness

Is your home equipped with a monteith? The Rosenbach certainly is.

John Sutton, monteith. London, 1708. 1954.1784 Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

What, you may well ask is a monteith. A monteith is a vessel with a notched rim that served to hold the feet of stemware while their bowls were chilled in cool water.  Such cooling vessels, named monteiths after a “Monsieur Monteigh” who reputedly wore a scallop-edged coat, were developed in the late seventeenth century.  

Our monteith was made by London silversmith John Sutton. Its marks date it to 1708 and it is made of Britannia silver, a silver alloy with more silver content than sterling. Britannia silver was mandated from 1697 to 1720 to discourage the melting down of sterling silver coinage. An inscription on the front of the vessel indicates that it was given by the owners of the Prince George to Richard Arding in 1710.

John Sutton, monteith. London, 1708. 1954.1784 Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

A bit of Googling around finds that the Prince George was a merchant vessel (a galley) involved in the Spanish wars. Richard Arding was the commander of the ship, which carried 60 guns and 50 men. Apparently Arding would soon run into some trouble with his ship, as in 1712 the ship's owners petitioned the queen, hoping to secure the release of Arding and his crew who had been shipwrecked on the Barbary coast and were feared captured as slaves.

Whatever Arding's personal hardships, his monteith is elaborately decorated and is a beautiful piece. It features a detachable rim, allowing it to double as a bowl for punch, a popular eighteenth century drink consisting of alcohol, lemon, sugar, spices, and water. To learn more about punch, you can check out the NPR interview with David Wondrich, author of Punch: The Dangers and Delights of the Flowing Bowl. Our own flowing bowl features an engraved decoration on the bottom: a rampant griffon. This would have been obscured when the bowl was in use as a monteith or punch bowl, but would have been seen when it was displayed or drained. 

John Sutton, monteith. London, 1708. 1954.1784 Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
Pass the punch please!

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog