Archive for September, 2010


For those suckers born in the last few minutes

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

The fact that 2010 is the 200thanniversary of P. T. Barnum’s birth just crossed my desktop, so I thought a glance into the stacks to see what we have would be interesting.  Barnum was born in Bethel, CT on July 5, 1810 to Philo F. Barnum, a merchant farmer who apparently descended from one of the eight original proprietors who established Danbury in 1685.  His mother was Irena Taylor, daughter of Revolutionary War veteran Phineas Taylor.  After a few false starts as a clerk and a newspaper owner, Barnum essentially moved to New York in 1835 and started shucking & jiving, beginning with purchasing the services of Joice Heth, purportedly the 161-year-old ex-nurse of George Washington, for $1,000, and making $750 a week by charging admission to hear her spin tales of our first president for a year until she died.  Schemes like the American Museum and his various traveling shows (including The Greatest Show on Earth) generated tremendous crowds and fans, and had an enormous impact on American popular culture.

The Watkinson has a nice handful of sources, including the second edition of Barnum’s autobiography, entitled Struggles and Triumphs: Or, Forty Years’ Recollections (1869)–from which the portrait of Barnum shown here was scanned.


“Without printer’s ink,” Barnum once said at a banquet in his honor, “I should have been no bigger than Tom Thumb.”  We have a copy of his Humbugs of the World (1866),which includes some of his theories about the effective use of publicity.  Barnum defined a “humbug” as “putting on glittering appearances–outside show–novel expedients, by which to suddenly arrest public attention and attract the public eye and ear.”  I include here a page from the table of contents.











“The Art of Money-Getting, or Success in Life” was first delivered as a lecture to an audience of over 2,000 in London on December 29, 1858, and in the London Times review of it the next day, its organization was likened to Cicero’s De Officiis.  On our shelves we have an edition of this printed in 1882.






The final nugget is, according to biographer A. H. Saxon, “an anonymous burlesque” by one of Barnum’s journalist friends, entitled The Autobiography of Petit Bunkum, the Showman, published in 1855–the beginning of which is shown here.



New Acquisition: Two Travelogues

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

Announcing the acquisition of a couple of nuggets, recently plucked from the trade:

Two manuscript journals by different authors, one recording a seaman’s nautical journey launched in 1881 from Saint John, New Brunswick, with stops at Saint Pierre, Long Harbor, and Halifax; and one a Brooklyn man’s 1885 trip to Florida by way of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia, mostly via train.

The sea journal describes the sailor’s never-ending efforts to keep the decks clean with sand and holystone and to keep himself clean as well; when no such labor is required, he reads “newspapers and history” or studies navigation and geometry, with a trip ashore noted for “target practice.”  There is one account of a fierce and damaging storm, and another of the attempted rescue of a steamer wrecked near Halifax; a Newfoundland 5-cent stamp with an image of a seal is pasted into the book.  At one point a lieutenant reads “the Articles of War”; it is possible, then, that this journal was kept on a Royal Navy vessel.

The Florida journal describes a visit to 1884 World’s Fair in New Orleans (the World Cotton Centennial Exposition) and includes a list of “Bird skins collected in Halifax River Region – 1885” as well as a lengthy itemization of travel expenses and another of birds seen or heard “during a walk 3 miles north of Jacksonville on afternoon of Feb. 7/85”



This week @ Trinity, 100 years ago…

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

September 27, 1910

“Freshman Win Both Rushes”

The freshman were victorious in both of yesterday’s rushes, winning the bulletin-board rush and the rope rush in rather easy style.  The sophomores were simply outnumbered, and are to be congratulated on their spirit in putting up a hard fight in the face of almost certain defeat.”  [The rope rush was new that year, and was described thus]: “At a signal from the referee’s whistle the two bands of shouting contestants rushed furiously at each other with an energy that became somewhat abated before the conflict was declared a victory for 1914.  Each man was armed with a four-foot length of rope and as he encountered a man from the opposing class he strove to tie him in such a manner that there would be no chance of his farther entering the battle . . . in previous years “Bloody Monday” rushes have been more or less farcical, but in no way could this be so termed . . . the college body, who witnessed the conflict as interested spectators from the sidelines, decided that there was no doubt as to the practicability of this new rush, and it will be a welcome substitute for the “push rushes” of former years, which maimed several men and were otherwise brutal.”

Best Advertisement:

The College Tailor (44 Vernon Street) offers “clothes pressed and cleaned for only $1.00 a month.”



Mankind’s most useful Art

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

The gold spine title “Astle on Writing” drew me to this volume, and I was not disappointed.  The full title is almost an abstract, as titles often were–best way to advertise what’s in the book, if a customer is browsing your stall in St. Paul’s Churchyard or Fleet Street: 

The Origin and Progress of Writing, as well Hieroglyphic as Elementary, Illustrated by Engravings Taken from Marbles, Manuscripts and Charters, Ancient and Modern; also some account of the Origin and Progress of Printing.  (London, 1803).

Thomas Astle (1735-1803) was a paleographer and antiquary, “son of Daniel Astle, keeper of the forest, a descendant of an old family of the country.”  This country-boy studied law initially, but (as is often the case when one studies the foundations of civil institutions and practices) developed a taste for history and its antiquities.  He cut his teeth on such matters by creating an index to the catalogue of the famous Harley Manuscripts (now in the British Library, see  This sort of detailed, often tedious work either gives you the hot taste of antiquarianism, or turns you off books forever.

After the death (1775) of Henry Rooke, chief clerk of the Record Office (essentially the National Archives) in the Tower, Astle was appointed to his place; upon the death of a superior eight years later, he took the higher office of Keeper of the Records–in both positions he proved zealous indeed.  The first edition of this, his greatest work, was published in 1784.  A full biographical sketch is in the Dictionary of National Biography.



This week at Trinity, 100 years ago…

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

From the Tripod, September 23, 1910:

“Largest Class in History of Trinity is 1914”  [100 students]

“Fourteen! Fourteen! Fourteen!  The cheer, raised for the first time on Trinity campus, told last night of the invasion of a new class, green it may be, but because of that very greenness full of new vigor and fresh blood.  For more than a week these men have been arriving in small contingents, asking questions, attempting entrance examinations, dining as honored guests of the several fraternities—all of which was by way of preparation for their four-year career as Trinity men.  That they will be Trinity men of the true type is the hope and belief of those who have given them their welcome—professors, officers, students.”


CARRIAGES.  When wishing Hacks for Evening Parties, Receptions and Dances, get prices from F. P. Wilson.  Tel. 1145.  20 Union Place.



Financial news in Philly during the War of 1812

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

I have an interest in War of 1812 material, especially as we are approaching its bicentennial in 2012–but I also like sources which were created and used “on the ground,” so to speak, by working people.

I found this bound set of issues of Grotjan’s Philadelphia Public Sale-Report, issued weekly, which contained “prices current” on the commodities which were “imported in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Boston.” It also listed the prizes (i.e., ships legally seized and sold for profit via privateering) taken from the British, and gave useful definitions of the commodities listed.  These could be rather long essays, and very helpful to a merchant or importer who was thinking about dealing in this or that commodity.  The description of cotton runs on for three issues.  A shorter example is the following entry on “feathers” (Dec. 20, 1813 issue):

The feathers of birds make a considerable article of commerce, particularly those of the ostrich, heron, swan, peacock, goose, and other poultry; for plumes, ornaments of the head, filling of beds, and writing pens.  See QuillsThere are scarce any birds, but what Bed-Feathers may be procured from, particularly those of the domestic kind; yet swans, geese, and ducks are those that furnish most, and the best.  Geese are plucked three times a year; towards the end of May, about Midsummer, and at the latter end of August; but chiefly when the feathers are ripe, that is, when they are perceived to fall off of themselves.  The feathers of dead birds are in the least esteem, upon account of the blood imbibed by the quill, which putrefying, communicates an offensive smell to the feathers, and takes some time to evaporate; for which reason live birds should not be stripped till their feathers are ripe.  Feathers are imported in this country from Poland, Germany and Russia.  They are divided in white, half-grey, and grey; and value accordingly.  The best feathers should be white, downy, void of large stems, fresh and sweet.  Care should be taken that no sand be intermixed, which is frequently practiced to increase the weight.  Ostrich feathers are dyed and dressed by the Feather-dressers, to serve as ornaments.  They are a very costly article, brought to us from Africa, and particularly the coast of Barbary.  Most of the prepared feathers used for ornament are manufactured in France and England, and imported into this country in that state.  The variety resulting from the dictates of fancy is so great as to preclude particular description; the duty for ornamental feathers is 32.5 per cent ad valorum in American and 37.4 per cent in foreign vessels.

The Watkinson has a limited run of the print version (May 1812-May 1814), but the Library subscribes to the fuller run (1812-1820) online, through our subscription to America’s Historical Newspapers.  You can get to the online version here:

Here is some info on Grotjan, taken from the American Philosophical Society’s website:

Born into a well to do mercantile family in Hamburg, Germany, Peter Adolph Grotjan (1774-1850) had already gained considerable commercial experience before he decided to emigrate to the United States at the age of 22 to take advantage of what he saw as the greater opportunities.  Settling in the nation’s capitol, Philadelphia, drew upon his connections in Hamburg for consignments and quickly cultivated working relationships with a number of local merchants.  Within two years of his arrival, Grotjan’s stock had risen, figuratively, and he had established himself as a young entrepreneur.  He formed a brief partnership with another young merchant, F. H. Holtzbecher, which developed into a joint venture running a store in Reading.  Although the arrangement lasted for only a little over a year, Grotjan gained his first taste of Democratic politics in Reading and using his connections, he and Holtzbecher established connections with a clientele that reached across the state and beyond.  After the amicable dissolution of his partnership with Holtzbecher, Grotjan returned to Philadelphia to resume business on his own. Despite a series of financial setbacks during the first decade of the 19th century caused by the defaulting of a few of his debtors, Grotjan’s trade expanded into the interior of Pennsylvania, and eventually to the ports on the Atlantic seaboard and the Caribbean. From 1812 to 1822, he published a commercial newspaper Grotjan’s Philadelphia Public Sale Reports, using his position as an entree into Democratic Party politics. So committed was he to the party that he named his third son Thomas Jefferson Grotjan. Although Grotjan never held major public office, he helped found the Philadelphia Hickory Club in 1822, was involved in local elections, and twice served as Philadelphia County auditor, 1828-1836 and 1841-1844.




It is better to look good…

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

There are many books in the Watkinson that relate to design, and I’ve often found that designers are elated when they see such books.  Owen Jones produced one such in 1868 (The Grammar of Ornament), which we have on our shelves; it contains 111 plates (chromolithographs) plus the amazing title page, shown here, and surveys ornamentation used by aboriginal tribes and the peoples of ancient, medieval, and modern Europe and the Middle East.







Here is an example of one plate (in the chapter on medieval ornament) detailing examples from illuminated manuscripts and its accompanying text:

“On plate LXXI the letter N is not surpassed by any example in the subsequent styles we have reproduced.  Here the true purpose of illumination is fulfilled; in every way, it is pure, decorative writing.  The letter itself forms the chief ornament; from this springs a main stem, sweeping boldly from the base, swelling out into a grand volute exactly at the point best adapted to contrast with the angular line of the letter: this is beautifully sustained again by the green volute, which embraces the upper part of the N, and prevents it falling over…”

Want to find the book?  Here:


A Hot Draught of Mad, Primal Fantasy & Poetry

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

I saw a copy of this novel (our copy shown here) in a recent catalog, described as “a striking novel of English children loosed upon poor unsuspecting Caribbean pirates.  Described by Rebbecca West as ‘a hot draught of mad, primal fantasy and poetry, A High Wind in Jamaica is one of the best novels about childhood ever written.'”  The book was published in the U.S. under the title The Innocent Voyage.

Richard Arthur Warren Hughes (1900-1976) was an English novelist and playwright, who by virtue of his ancestry considered himself a Welshman.  He entered Oriel College (Oxford) in 1919 and fell under the spell of T. E. Lawrence.  He had a moderate success writing plays and working for (and founding) theatres, and was a wanderer at heart.  A High Wind in Jamaica was his first novel, which he started writing in the Adriatic in 1925, and which he finished whilst residing in Preston, Connecticut in 1928.  According to the Oxford DNB it “was an immediate bestseller.  It tells the story of a group of English children captured but befriended by pirates during a voyage to England in the 1860s, the most remarkable of whom is Emily Bas-Thornton, a child on the verge of womanhood, whose psychology is brilliantly explored in a manner owing something to the theories of Darwin and Freud.  The novel examines some of the confusions and absurdities to which conventional assumptions about the nature of good and evil sometimes lead.”

It was made into a film in 1965, starring Anthony Quinn and James Coburn; see: