Rare Book School Day 5

   Posted by: rring   in book history

IMG_2920From “Lower Tibet” (the floor underneath RBS where its collections and other things are kept), to the top of Special Collections (a bit of Michael is visible here, ascending the stairwell) we roamed and ruminated!

After the morning gathering (donuts today) of all 5 classes, we split off for ours into Lower Tibet to examine a teaching collection RBS has assembled over the years of artifacts. This included binding leathers, parchment samples, packets of various sorts of ephemera (for teaching typography, illustration methods, paper, etc.), plates of steel and copper, a lithography stone, electrotype and stereotype plates, and many other items. A booklet sourcing a bunch of this material was given to us, and will be of great use to me in building such a collection at Trinity (we already have a huge head start).

IMG_2921In the afternoon we discussed The Peddlar Lady of Gushing Cross, an “animated book” by Moving Tales, which published it, as well as the WordPlay Shakespeare (an “enhanced e-book” by the New Book Press. We had a rather animated (so to speak) discussion about what was a book, and the concept of “loss and gain” when it comes to the ways in which the culture “chooses” to go in one direction or another (like, say, to embrace the novel, or the e-book, or the online newspaper). It generated a lot of potential in terms of how to inform my own class discussions.

During lunch, I am proud to say, we gave the first “class gift” during Michael’s 5-year tenure (we will be listed as “H-90 2014” under the “Very Good Friend” strata of giving next year). This was an idea of mine to give a little to RBS as a class, and to challenge other classes to do the same! Michael thanked us nicely in his closing remarks, and it only increased the sense of community we shared (and perhaps it helped to spur the very long lines for RBS merchandise). Time to pack up and drive back to Hartford!


Rare Book School Day 4

   Posted by: rring   in book history

IMG_2914Shown here is a snapshot of my little area and a few things we discussed today–of particular interest is the plastic “tackle box” full of samples of type, leading, linotype, wood type, ornaments, a monotype sheet, and other THINGS related to printing history. To construct a kit like this for students is fairly easy, and I plan to put at least two kits together for the Watkinson this fall.

We have spent a fair amount of time throughout our discussions moving back and forth, as it were, between what constitutes (or should) our most global pedagogical goals in terms of book history, and the ways in which we can effect those goals “on the ground.” How we teach, and what we teach, and our imagined outcomes, will of course depend on many factors.

It is the (good) goal of the course  to provide, say, a member of the faculty teaching early modern European intellectual history on the one hand, and a library staffer who must present a one-off session to an English literature class on the other, a set of approaches and resources to employ with sufficient flexibility to meet most goals, and to, as effectively as possible given those goals, answer the questions, “what do we see?” [and therefore] “what do we know?” [and therefore] “now that we know this, what can we say?”IMG_2915

The week has been fairly intense, but RBS is always fun BECAUSE of this intensity. If you bring 100+ book folk, who are all highly intelligent and very quirky in their own ways,  together in an enclosed space for any amount of time, lots of great things happen. As it is the last week of this RBS session, the staff is getting a little wild around the eyes–hence the need for comic relief, provided here my Michael as he attempts to “wrangle” a library “snake.”

Much of today was a rapid-fire list of books, articles, etc. to use for various purposes that were not in our online “workbook,” and a discussion of the merits of each of them took some time. Then we were in special collections to look and talk about more potential pairings of material, which can happen virtually as well as physically (for those without the luxury of large collections).IMG_2919 I am happy to say that the Watkinson lacks nothing in terms of its ability to support any sort of book history teaching that Trinity will ever likely need or want to do–at least in terms of the West, from the 12th century to the present!


Rare Book School Day 3

   Posted by: rring   in book history

IMG_2913Three sights have greeted me every morning so far: a rather imperial statue of the explorer George Rogers Clark (across the street from my hotel), the rising sun striking the face of special collections, and a line of librarians entering the Alderman Library when they open the doors at 8:00am (to the tune of chapel bells tolling the hour).

We began the morning with an exercise. Each of us was given a 17thC book and told to examine it for form (i.e., what is there?) and function (i.e., what does it do?). Since I was not able to present my observations in class, because we often raise more questions than can be answered in the time allotted, I will do so here.  My book was actually two works bound together (a sammelband) both published in 1630. Each imprint (which were duodecimos–gatherings of 12 leaves), was signed on the first five leaves of each gathering. However, within each imprint were multiple title-pages, which suggests that these were reprints of previously issued works, because the pagination was continuous throughout.

IMG_2912The author of these tracts was Nicholas Byfield, a Calvinist who died rather horribly of a gall stone the size of a watermelon (15 x 13 inches) that weighed 3 lbs! The book is quite thick (about 4 inches), and just a little taller–with heavy leather over thick paper boards and the remnants of metal clasps–clearly a book intended to travel. On the back flyleaf was this inscription, or as much as I could make of it:

“1735 Thomas Angell’s Book / God gave him grace therein to look and not but understand / for learning is better than house and land, [unclear] when house and land is spent / [unclear]” Clearly this was a book meant to keep the Christian on his path. There are many marginal notes in various hands, variously legible.

IMG_2911After discussing the ways in which we can use the concept of format (which is the imposition scheme of a book; that is, the relationship of the text block of one printed page to the original sheet which was printed from the forme) to explain how books are put together, we then turned down the side road of discussing the pecia system of manuscript production during the rise of the universities; finally we dug more deeply into the uses and applications of the “workbook” that Michael has provided for our use. This includes many sample syllabi, exercises, diagrams, models, timelines, and tons of other resources to help us construct our own courses and instruction.

As with the two times I have been here before (1999 and 2001), I know that I am making crucial contacts and significantly advancing my knowledge- and resource-base as a curator and for my work as a teacher of book history.


Rare Book School Day 2

   Posted by: rring   in book history

Recall that I am attending RBS in general to enhance the quality of all of my courses, but specifically to develop a course on “The Impact of Print Culture on Connecticut History, 1700-1900” (working title) for our American Studies program, which will be part of its new track, “New England and the Nation.”

IMG_2907We began today with a discussion about the ways in which we can establish clear goals in terms of what our students will take away from our instruction (from one-off presentations, which most librarians do, to semester-long courses, which are generally run by faculty, and everything in between). The absolute essentials of what the students should come away with, in terms of bibliographic literacy, were five in number: format, edition, impression, issue, and state. It is also crucial, we have been convinced, to “follow the money” when it comes to unpacking the rationales and contexts of book production.

It is helpful to have a goal with parameters which can be contracted to one class period, or expanded to multiple ones. We also discussed the pedagogical merits of instructional videos which can be found on YouTube or for sale, on various processes such as papermaking, binding, typecasting, printing on various presses, etc.

One comment that Michael Suarez made about the potential of London fire insurance records viz. book history made me think about looking into similar records in Hartford, with an eye to seeing if printers or booksellers carried such insurance for their equipment and stock. This may be a fruitful angle of inquiry in terms of getting at certain telling types of data. I am hoping there are such records, and the question is, assuming I do find them–what are the ways in which I can incorporate them into my assignments? This idea of thinking all the way around the economic and social aspects of books, as well as their intellectual ones, is a compelling methodology, and I am sure the students will find it so as well. It translates to a more robust self-training on my part, but hey—what else am I in this business for if not to learn about what I love to learn about, and pass that passion and curiosity to others?

IMG_2906 The mid-day session comprised lengthy discussions on illustrative processes and the ways in which they can be approached and taught, depending on our audiences. We decided that the field needs the equivalent of Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography that covers only the production processes of the 20th century. This would be an incredibly useful tool for teaching, if a one-volume overview could be compiled, perhaps as an anthology, with chapter-length contributions from specialists on each major process used in all aspects of book production during the period.


IMG_2908We ended in special collections again, discussing one special “pair” of books to teach with—the so-called “Nuremburg Chronicle” (Liber Chronicarum, 1493) and its 1497 “pirated” edition.

I am proud to report that not only does the Watkinson have FOUR copies of the Nuremburg Chronicle (two in German, one partially colored but complete, one colored throughout that lacks 9 leaves; and two in Latin, one complete and partially colored, and the other uncolored and lacking 6 leaves). We also have a copy of the “pirated” edition.

We also viewed “A Noble Fragment” (a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible), and discussed the ways in which one might present that leaf to students (we have two such leaves at Trinity—one from the Old Testament, and the other from the New).

It’s a great day when you realize anew the richness of your own collection and its pedagogic potentialities!!


Rare Book School Day 1

   Posted by: rring   in book history

IMG_2894A beautiful start to the week—here’s a picture of what I THOUGHT was Monticello (but is not) atop its mountain, which is visible from the steps of the Alderman Library…still an inspiring sight as we walk into our first full day of class.

How does a book make its meaning? All books have intentions on imagined readers, and we can reconstruct many of those intentions from the physical copies left to us.

We began the discussion with samples of Harlequin romance novels, which was delightful to me because I have always been fascinated by the romance genre. It is the most effectively marketed genre in the history of American publishing, to my mind, in great part because it knows its own market with a greater intimacy than say, the publishers of mystery novels or of science fiction (although online marketing and publishing is changing that). The key benefit to my own teaching is that modern books are so much more accessible to undergraduates as a starting point in terms of discussing what sorts of meaning we can decode from physical copies. I am pretty sure the same sort of exercise could be done with young adult novels, with which my students will have more experience.

IMG_2896Starting with what students know, or can easily access, and leading them to apply the same sort of observational analysis to older books, like this giant, gorgeous antiphonal, was the core take-away for me today. That, and the idea of showing books in pairs, to allow the students to “read” one against the other, comparing and contrasting their elements and conjecturing why they are different or similar, rather than asking them to guess at the significance of the aspects of just one book. This was demonstrated to great effect when we were shown a truly exquisite Paris Bible and an even more impressive miniature manuscript Bible.

IMG_2897IMG_2898The composition of the class is a nice mix of 7 librarians, 6 academics, one book designer, and one rare book dealer. The conversations and questions have been excellent, and we seem to be learning a great deal from each other–working through  issues both practical and theoretical.

Lunch for my little group brought almost no book-talk–we discussed parenting! But it was a welcome relief from the intense focus of class, and we went back re-energized. The connections we are forging with each other cannot rest on bibliophilia alone, after all–we don’t live or work in a vacuum.

IMG_2900The evening talk by Nick Basbanes was well-attended, not only by RBS students, but from the community and parts beyond (apparently one devoted fan drove all the way from Pittsburgh to see him and to get a few books signed!). It was humbling to see pictures from his travels in China, where paper was invented, and to know that one family who has been making paper for 600 years has had to close because the children have no interest in continuing the work.  At the culmination of his talk, quite a few of us could not escape dry-eyed from a moving story that involved paper in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy (I will not divulge it here–read the book).

Tomorrow promises new epiphanies and ideas for my teaching, meeting new potential collaborators/allies/connections, and more excellent food!



Day 0.5 of Rare Book School

   Posted by: rring   in book history, Random!

I am taking a week-long intensive course called “Teaching the History of the Book,” for professional development.

basbanesAfter driving 450 miles from Hartford to Charlottesville (and then getting lost in the town because I have no smart phone or GPS), I stagger to the front desk of my hotel and who should I meet coming out of a cab but Nicholas Basbanes—author of the recent book On Paper: The Everything of its Two Thousand-Year-History (Knopf, 2013). I first encountered Nick’s now-famous work on book collecting, A Gentle Madness, in graduate school in the mid-90s, and met him in person in 2002 when he spoke at a book collecting contest I was managing at Brown University. He is one of the featured evening speakers this week.

I stuck out my hand and said, “Nick, you don’t remember me but I use your books in my classes, and I brought my copy of On Paper for you to sign at your talk tomorrow night.” We were both travel-weary, and the rooms were not ready, so we went out for a beer and talked—mostly he talked about a book he has just sold to Knopf about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

At the registration and reception, I saw some old friends and met some new people, and most importantly caught some excellent gossip (a staple of the rare book world). No time to socialize more, since my instructor sent around a link this afternoon to another 1,200 pages of resource material to become familiar with before we begin tomorrow morning at 8:20am!! Welcome to Boot Camp for Bibliophiles!


Farewell feast for AMST 851!

   Posted by: rring   in Classes, Interns, students

IMG_2857Tonight one of my students provided a feast for our last “world of rare books” class: octogenarian Emily Leonard, who made (among other things) the incredibly sinful chocolate chocolate cake in the foreground. It was a grand finale to a truly great group-dynamic this summer–thanks to all of my students (two not shown), and best of luck in your collecting!


During the 1st summer session (June/July) I am teaching AMST 851, a graduate course on “the world of rare books.” I have nine (9) students in all–four from American Studies, four from English, and one auditor from Simmons College’s LIS program.

Len1A few of us were privileged to visit the home of one of our Trustees, who collects Americana before 1840. He laid out a table of some of his favorites and went around, book by book, telling each item’s story. He also told us how he began collecting as a child–first with coins and stamps, then on to books beginning in his teens.

The one item that sticks out in my mind was a little (but important) rare tract by Samuel Penhallow (1665-1726), published in Boston in 1726: The History of the Wars of New England with the Eastern Indians.  This copy was annotated with commentary by someone who knew a veteran of the wars–in some cases correcting the text. The Watkinson has a 19th-century reprint of this work, but not the original, and certainly not such an amazing copy!

Len4In all the collection comprises over 600 items, which are neatly  shelved in several rooms.

img938During the 1st summer session (June/July) I am teaching AMST 851, a graduate course on “the world of rare books.” I have four students from American Studies, four from English, and one auditor from Simmons College’s LIS program.

Several of us attended a sale sponsored by New England Book  Auctions, a firm that runs a few auctions per month out of the Hotel Northampton, serving mostly dealers but often collectors and librarians as well. The sale proceeded at a nice clip–faster than usual, and 215 lots were knocked down in precisely two hours. The Watkinson won the following items, to the delight of the students (and one of our new Board members, who came with us and purchased two items for his own collection).

A lot of ten (10) early 19th-century chapbooks for children (religious/moral/educational): two were published in London (with color illustrations) by the Wholesale Bible and Prayer Book Warehouse; two in Massachusetts (Worcester and Wendell); three in Philadelphia (issued by the American Tract Society); and three in New York (issued by the American Sunday-School Union).

img942An edition of the history of the Jews by Flavius Josephus published in Vermont in 1819–a rather scarce book, all told–which was clearly intended for a Christian audience. There are only 13 copies listed in American libraries (five of which are in New England), and ours is the only copy in Connecticut!

img941A very small (4 x 2.5 inches) edition of John Wesley’s Thoughts on Slavery, originally published in 1774. This edition was produced in 1839 by the American Antislavery Society in New York. According to the preface: “To many it will probably be a matter of surprise, to perceive how exactly the sentiments of Rev. John Wesley, on the subject of American slavery, agree, not only with those put forth about the same time, in this country, by Hopkins, Franklin, Rush, Jay, Jefferson and others, but, also, with those now advocated by the American Antislavery Society. –Truth is immutably the same; and hence the wisest and best of men, in every age, and in every country, have invariably arrived at the same results, when reasoning on the momentous question of Human Rights. Though written more than sixty years ago, the reader will find, in the following pages, a minute and faithful account of Slavery as it exists in this nation; and the sin of slaveholding, and the duty of instant emancipation, are here demonstrated beyond the possibility of successful refutation. Let no one, into whose hands this little tract may fall, fail to give it a candid perusal.”

img939img940And finally, a rather excruciatingly racist minstrel show, The Nigger Boarding House: A Screaming Farce, by Oliver Wenlandt, published in 1898 (New York: Fitzgerald Publishing Corp.). This is also fairly scarce–only 13 copies are recorded, and this is one of only two in New England (the other is at Yale). On the title-page it reads, “in one act and one scene for six male burnt-cork characters,” and further, “with complete directions for its performance.” Also of interest to theater historians is a full-page ad on the inside front cover for “Dick’s Theatrical Make-up Book,” shown here.



Commencement 2014

   Posted by: rring   in Events, Tours

IMG_2854We were thrilled yet again to have a steady stream of visitors on Saturday of Commencement Weekend, many of whom were urged to visit by President Jones, who has always been a staunch supporter of the Watkinson.

In all we had 113 people, including students and their families, as well as random alumni, wander in between Noon and 3pm, who came to view our featured items:


IMG_2853Lucky 13!, a “baker’s dozen” of student exhibitions in the Watkinson Library including Native American education movements, explorations of Latino identity through artists’ books, 19th-century tourism in the Hudson Valley, the history of the Hartford Insane Asylum, and the works of Beatrix Potter.

2nd folio t.p.The so-called “2nd Folio” of Shakespeare’s plays, acquired in 2012, which was published in 1632, nine years after the landmark “First Folio” of 1623 (in which eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays were published for the first time). The 1632 edition bore over 1,200 corrections as well as the first published poem by John Milton.
title pageThe first edition (Brooklyn, 1855) of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which the poet self-published (he also designed the binding and set some of the type). Just acquired, this literary landmark has been considered America’s second Declaration of Independence, in terms of its radical break with European literary culture and distinctly American voice.
John James Audubon’s Birds of America (1826-39). Given in 1900, this is by far the most valuable book at Trinity. We began turning the page to a new bird every week in September 2011. We are halfway through Volume II, and will get through the entire 4-volume set sometime in 2019.