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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Exploring Wonderland

As you probably know if you are a frequent reader of the Rosenblog or visitor to the Rosenbach, we have had a very busy fall with the opening of “Down the Rabbit Hole: Celebrating 150 Years of Alicein Wonderland." Alongside this wonderful exhibition—which is on now through May 15, 2016—we presented a full fall roster of public programs to highlight and explore themes in the exhibition.

Have you heard the one about the writer, the visual artist and the cognitive scientist stuck in a room with a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? Well, they weren’t exactly stuck … and they were joined by a sold-out audience, but we presented just that on October 21, 2015, with the program “Alice and the Art of Looking.” The panel featured Maria Popova, founder of the “digest of interestingness” that is Brain Pickings; Maira Kalman, author/illustrator of many books for adults and children; and AlexandraHorowitz, a cognitive scientist who studies psychology and animal behavior. The trio's wide-ranging conversation addressed Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a masterwork of narrative and an allegory for existence through science, storytelling, art, and asked the question, what is the “looking glass” of society today? The audience enjoyed diving into the unique perspective offered by each of the panelists even further during a lively question and answer period and proved just how many interpretations and experiences are contained within this one brilliant work.

The very next evening, we were thrilled to have Leonard Marcus, acclaimed children’s literature expert and guest curator for the “Down the Rabbit Hole” exhibition, present a slideshow talk on the significance of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the philosophy and practice of the Surrealist painters. Particularly fascinating was the way in which Marcus drew connections between Lewis Carroll’s “nonsense” and its influence on the work of René Magritte and Salvador Dalí.

On November 11 and 18, Emilie Parker, Director of Education, and I made the trip to the lovely Bryn Mawr Film Institute to introduce two films: Dreamchild (1985, directed by Gavin Millar) and Alice (1988, directed by Jan Švankmajer). These were two of a four-part series of Alice-related films screened by BMFI in partnership with our exhibition. The films curated by BMFI illustrated just some of the ways in which Lewis Carroll’s classic book has had immense impact on a wide variety of filmmakers of varying styles and approaches. 

Before his appearance as part of the Free Library’s always-excellent Author Events series, we were honored to host Simon Winchester on November 16 in a sold-out talk on his book, The Alice Behind Wonderland, which explores Lewis Carroll’s photography and his depiction of the real-life Alice in his 1858 photo “Alice Liddell as the Beggar Maid”. Winchester elucidated the way in which a passion for photography, a very new hobby at the time, was a portal through which Charles Dodgson, a socially awkward Oxford mathematician, was able to access his creativity to create some of the most beloved literary works through his alter ego, Lewis Carroll. 

On December 3, artist and illustrator Charles Santore offered a robust Rosenbach audience a glimpse into his studio with a slideshow talk. Santore showed images depicting his progression in the illustration process of his edition of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground—from staged photographs, to sketches, to full watercolor panels. As an extra treat, the artist brought some original illustrations with him for an up-close look at his work. Santore’s generosity carried over into the book-signing where he took the time to include an original sketch in each book he signed for the audience.

Stay tuned for more exciting “Down the Rabbit Hole” events in 2016, starting with Christopher Morgan on Lewis Carroll’s puzzles and games on Thursday, January 21, 6:00 pm. If you are interested in a more intimate experience with our collection, check out one of our Lewis Carroll Hands-On Tours in January, February or March, or any of our other Hands-On Tours on a variety of subjects. Information on all of our programs is available on our website. We hope to see you soon!

Alexandra Wilder is the Sunstein Family Manager of Public Programs.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Yule Log

George Cruikshank, title page for The Yule Log. Glyphograph. 1954.1800.2691

This personified Yule log and its attendant sprites come from an 1847 Christmas book by L.A. Chamerovzow. Here's what a grumbling William Makepeace Thackeray had to say about the book (and its genre) in "A Grumble About Christmas Books":
[T]he personification mania of the Mayhew brothers is as nothing compared to the same malady in the author of the Yule Log, Mr. A. Chamerovzow, who has summoned the admirable George Cruikshank to his aid, and produced his Christmas legend with gilt leaves and cover; in which there is the usual commodity of fairies, and a prize rustic, who, impelled by the demon of avarice, neglects his friends, knocks down his blessed angel of a wife, turns his seduced daughter out of doors, and is on the point of being murdered by his eldest son; but just at the critical moment of throttling he wakes up and finds it all a dream. Isn't this a novelty? Isn't this a piece of ingenuity? Take your rustic, your fairies, your nightmare, finish off with a plum pudding and a dance under the holly bush, and a benign invocation to Christmas, kind hearts, and what not. Are we to have this sort of business for ever? Mon Dieu! will people never get tired of reading what they know, and authors weary of inventing what every body has been going on inventing for ages past?
Not exactly a glowing review. But I still like the picture (by our ever-popular George Cruikshank).

Best wishes to all who are celebrating. If you are planning to visit the Rosenbach over the holiday week, please note that we will be closed 12/24-12/25 and 1/1 and will close early on 12/31, but we're open as usual otherwise.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster at the Rosen-Blog.


Friday, December 18, 2015

This Is Not the Droid You're Looking For

A long time ago (in 1868)  in a galaxy close, close to our own (okay, it is our own) a young inventor created a marvelous mechanical man. Our teenage whiz is Johnny Brainerd and the story is The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward Ellis.

Edward Ellis, The Steam Man of the Prairies.  New York: American Novel Publishing Co., [1868?]. Rosenbach DN 52

Steam Man is often credited as the first science-fiction dime novel and a trail blazer in the inventor genre of adventures. The steam man itself isn't exactly a robot, but a locomotive-like engine in human form that can pull a carriage. Science fiction is always a commentary on the real world of its creators and this story clearly reflects the transformative power of the railroad, the world-altering mechanical marvel of its day.

Here's a full description of the contraption, taken from the first chapter of the novel (all quotations are from this transcribed version on Wikisource): 
It was about ten feet in height, measuring to the top of the 'stove-pipe hat,' which was fashioned after the common order of felt coverings, with a broad brim, all painted a shiny black. The face was made of iron, painted a black color, with a pair of fearful eves, and a tremendous grinning mouth. A whistle-like contrivance was trade to answer for the nose. The steam chest proper and boiler, were where the chest in a human being is generally supposed to be, extending also into a large knapsack arrangement over the shoulders and back. A pair of arms, like projections, held the shafts, and the broad flat feet were covered with sharp spikes, as though he were the monarch of base-ball players. The legs were quite long, and the step was natural, except when running, at which time, the bolt uprightness in the figure showed different from a human being.
In the knapsack were the valves, by which the steam or water was examined. In front was a painted imitation of a vest, in which a door opened to receive the fuel, which, together with the water, was carried in the wagon, a pipe running along the shaft and connecting with the boiler.
The lines which the driver held controlled the course of the steam man; thus, by pulling the strap on the right, a deflection was caused which turned it in that direction, and the same acted on the other side. A small rod, which ran along the right shaft, let out or shut off the steam, as was desired, while a cord, running along the left, controlled the whistle at the nose.

In describing his hero's invention of the steam man Ellis dwells on the challenge of making a machine that can walk, but eventually the steam man is " brought as nearly perfect as it was possible to bring a thing not possessing human intelligence." It can make 60 miles an hour along railway tracks or 30 miles per hour on a normal road,which is "the highest rate at which [Brainerd] believed it possible for a wagon to be drawn upon land with any degree of safety."

The steam man is taken out west the frighten Indians away from a gold mining operation, which works until the Indians become familiar with the machine. At the end of the story, as the miners and Johnny Brainerd try to return home they are trapped in a ravine by wily Indians who build a wall of boulders that the steam man cannot scale. In order to escape, Brainerd runs the steam man at full speed into the obstacle, which causes the steam man's boiler to explode like a bomb:
The shock of the explosion was terrible. It was like the bursting of an immense bomb-shell, the steam man being blown into thousands of fragments, that scattered death and destruction in every direction. Falling in the very center of the crouching Indians, it could but make a terrible destruction of life, while those who escaped unharmed, were beside themselves with consternation.
As the Indians are stunned by the carnage, the whites scramble up the ravine, steal some Indian horses, and make it to the Missouri River. The the original steam man is no more, but the author reassures us that:
With the large amount of money realized from his western trip, Johnny Brainerd is educating himself at one of the best schools in the country. When he shall have completed his course, it is his intention to construct another steam man, capable of more wonderful performances than the first.
So let our readers and the public generally be on the lookout.
The Steam Man of the Prairies was first issued in 1868 and the Rosenbach has a copy of this "Beadle's American Novels" version. Although the original story was subsequently reprinted, Ellis did not actually write a sequel. However, a competing dime-novel publisher commissioned Henry Cohen to write a knock-off version entitled Steam Man of the Plains, starring the inventor "Frank Reade," and the Reade version went on to have several sequels, including one about a steam horse.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster at the Rosen-Blog.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Silver Menorah

This silver Chanukah lamp is one of three menorahs in the Rosenbach's metals collection .

William Abdy I (d. 1790), Chanukah lamp. London, 1786. Rosenbach. 1954.1818.
It is a bench form menorah with eight oil lamps;  originally there would have also been a shammash lamp, which presumably would have hooked into the socket on the right.

William Abdy I (d. 1790), Chanukah lamp. London, 1786. Rosenbach. 1954.1818.
 An inscription on the front of the menorah reads "PRESENTED TO S. A. SAMSON, BY Mr. Asher Samson 5596." In the Gregorian calendar 5596 translates to 1835/36, but the menorah itself is older than the inscription. The hallmarks on the reverse clearly indicate that it was made in 1786/87.

William Abdy I (d. 1790), Chanukah lamp. London, 1786. Rosenbach. 1954.1818.
 If you are not familiar with silver marks, the lion passant guardant indicates that the piece is sterling silver containing 92.5% silver; the crowned leopard's head indicates that it was assayed in  London,  "l" is a date mark corresponding to 1786/87, and the monarch's head on the far right indicates that the duty was paid.  The "WA" mark which appears above the hallmarks is the maker's mark for the silversmith, William Abdy, generally called William Abdy I to differentiate him from his son.

We don't know much about the Samsons mentioned on the menorah, but the piece is engraved with a scene of the biblical Samson fighting the lion, which seems to predate the inscription.

William Abdy I (d. 1790), Chanukah lamp. London, 1786. Rosenbach. 1954.1818.

I did a bit of poking around online in search of our Samsons and it turns out that a list of donors for a "Jews' Infant School" opened in 1841 lists an Asher Samson, S.A. Samson, and L.A. Samson as all living on Oxendon Street in London (near Piccadilly Circus).

Jews'Infant School, 127 Houndsditch ... Address on the opening of the School ... 14 Sept. 1841, with a list of Subscribers, etc J. Wertheimer&Company, 1841. Available through Google Books

The 1841 census, taken the same year as the subscription list was made, lists Asher Samson, age 55, Amelia Samson, age 55, and Lewis Asher Samson, age 35 as living together on Oxendon St, which suggests that Asher may have been the father and L.A.his son. Although he doesn't appear in the 1841 census, S.A. may have been another son, possibly the Samson Asher Samson, born around 1810, who is listed as a cigar manufacturer in the 1851 census and later dealt in glass and china (he is buried in Balls Pond Jewish Cemetery in London and you can see his headstone on

All of this is very speculative however, and I may be barking up the wrong tree entirely; there may well be other Ashers and other S.A.'s out there. There are several Samson family trees floating around online  and I have not had the time to sort it all out--so if anyone is looking for a genealogical project, let me know.

Happy Chanukah to all who are celebrating.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster at the Rosen-Blog.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Making Music

When I'm not at the Rosenbach, one of my hobbies is singing with a local chorus here in Philadelphia, so now that December has arrived I am immersed in a non-stop round of rehearsals, concerts, and gigs. Being in a musical frame of mind, this week's post looks at a 300-year old music book: An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes, In a Plain & easy method. With a Collection of Tunes in Three Parts, written by the Rev. John Tufts of Newbury, Massachusetts. There seems to be some debate about when the first edition of this book was published, I've seen dates from 1710 to 1721. Our 1726 copy is the 5th edition, which is the oldest surviving edition. 

John Tufts, An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes. Boston: Samuel Gerrish, 1726. Collection of the Rosenbach. A 726i

An Introduction is a slender book, but our copy was clearly well-loved as it seems to have circulated through three members of the same Newbury family--not only did Moses Hale write his name on the title page, but it also contains bookplates for Oliver and Mary Hale. I especially like Oliver hales bookplate (ont he elft) with its wonderful assortment of printers' flowers.

John Tufts, An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes. Boston: Samuel Gerrish, 1726. Collection of the Rosenbach. A 726i

The book consists mainly of a compilation of tunes, with a section at the front explaining how to read them. The melodies are written on treble and bass staves, but instead of using conventional musical notes, Tufts uses letters indicating solfege symbols (S for sol; L for la etc.). he only used four solfege syllables: fa, sol, la, mi, with fa being used for the root and 4th; sol for the 2nd and 5th, la for the 3d and 6th and mi for the leading tone 7th.  These letters had been used along with more conventional musical notes in the 1698 edition of the Bay Psalm Book, which may have inspired Tufts.  For duration Tufts added a dot after the letter if it was to be held for two beats and a colon for four, as shown in his explanatory key below.
John Tufts, An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes. Boston: Samuel Gerrish, 1726. Collection of the Rosenbach. A 726i
One of my favorite bits in the book is that Tufts includes some exercises before diving into the psalm tunes. I was struck by how little has changed--these mental and vocal exercises of going up and down scales and intervals is exactly what I do every Wednesday night during choral warm-ups.

John Tufts, An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes. Boston: Samuel Gerrish, 1726. Collection of the Rosenbach. A 726i

Tuft's compilation includes 37 three-part hymn tunes. In his 1954 article John Tufts' "Introduction to the Singing of Psalm-Tunes" (1721-1744): The First American Music Textbook, Irving Lowens compared the tunes against some contemporary hymnals and concluded that "Tufts' choice of tunes was remarkably astute" since  18 of the 37 were still in modern use. Just for the tunes shown on the page below, you can check out to see hymns that still use the tunes York, St. Mary's, and Windsor.

John Tufts, An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes. Boston: Samuel Gerrish, 1726. Collection of the Rosenbach. A 726i

Thanks to the Margaret Dodd Singers, the Gregg Smith Singer, and the magic of YouTube, you can also hear some of these tunes used for psalms in an early-American style, although the harmonies may not be exactly those that Tufts provides.

One tune that does not appear in any English publication is "100 Psalm Tune New", leading Lowens to speculate that it may be an American composition, possibly even by Tufts himself, and as such could be the "earliest authentic specimen of music composed and published in British North America."

John Tufts, An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes. Boston: Samuel Gerrish, 1726. Collection of the Rosenbach. A 726i

Interestingly, Rev. Tuft's house, built around 1715, survives in West Newbury and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. So if you're driving by, wave and hum a psalm tune!

Picture by Magic Piano.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster at the Rosen-Blog.