Archive for April, 2013

We acquired this fascinating piece of Connecticut-iana at the recent antiquarian book fair in New York City.  It is a 36-page scientific workbook by Robert Pierpont Cunningham (1782-1867), a mechanic and inventor from Pomfret, CT.  He was the son of Peter Cunningham, a retired sea captain, and Elizabeth Pierpont Cunningham, daughter of a wealthy Boston family.

The manuscript begins with notes on experimental theorems, chemistry, varnish, life boat design, mechanics, laws of motion, and optics, among others. Drawings and remarks on steam engines and calculations related to how ships see each other over the horizon are shown here.  Cunningham cites his sources (Isaac Newton and Erasmus Darwin are among them) and conducts his own experiments.  He seems to have been an active inventor, having patented at least four inventions between 1808 – 1945: a cider press machine, steering helm machine, and two different looms.







   Posted by: rring    in Americana, New acquisition, oppotunities for research

One of my favorite types of material are handbooks for working people.  At the recent New York Book Fair I picked up five of these from a New Jersey dealer with whom I have done business for years.  I was delighted that they were in excellent condition and rather inexpensive.  I will let the titles and Preface excerpts of three of them speak for themselves:

A New Conductor Generalis: Being a Summary of the Law Relative to the Duty and Office of Justices of the Peace, Sherriffs, Coroners, Constables, Jurymen, Overseers of the Poor, &c. (New York: Albany, 1803).  “Although it cannot be supposed that a complete system of criminal jurisprudence could be comprised in the following number of pages, yet it will be found that very few cases can arise, subject to an interference of the law, or any of its officers, for which the necessary instructions are not herein pointed out” (Preface).  A nice Early Republic edition of a classic legal manual (the first American edition was 1711, and English editions under the title A Guide for Constables go back to 1669).


A similar work is John B. Colvin’s A Magistrate’s Guide; and Citizen’s Counsellor: Being a Digested Abstract of those Laws of the State of Maryland [etc.] (Maryland: Frederick-Town, 1805).  This is the first printing of an early Maryland legal guide, written, says the author, for the average citizen, in part to protect him from “the impositions of the dishonest part of the bar.”

From the Introduction, “An occasional attendance upon our courts of justice, where I have often witnessed a lamentable want of legal information among that class of citizens who constitute the major part of the community, together with a strong recommendation of a friend, originally induced me to undertake the present composition.”

Departing from law and moving on to commerce, Joseph Blunt’s The Merchant’s and Shipmaster’s Assistant (New York, 1832) is a later edition of this guide, which contains information of every kind, from exchange rates to insurance, and from wreck laws to shipboard crime.

The Preface contains a highly articulate overview of the state of U.S. trade, stating that “its numerous and excellent harbours, and salubrity of climate, the freedom of its institutions, and the equality and justice of its laws, designate it as the natural depot and place of exchange of the manufactures of the old world for the productions of the new.  In that trade it will be enabled by its extensive and fertile territory, to take part as the rival of the South American states in the exchange with Europe; and the industry and the ingenuity of its citizens, the possession of raw materials, and its capabilities as a manufacturing nation, will enable it with equal ease to rival the European powers, in supplying the South American continent with manufactures.”

Recently acquired from a dealer in Philadelphia, almost 60 tracts related to a controversy that rocked the Scottish church in the 19th-century.  From about 1820 through 1843 the Church of Scotland was in turmoil over the question of lay patronage and its implications regarding civil authority over the church.  In 1843, after the “Ten Years’ Conflict” between the evangelical and moderate branches of the church, the issues were temporarily resolved by “the Disruption,” in which close to a third of the ministers of the Church of Scotland separated to form the Free Church of Scotland.  The upheaval prompted the publication of numerous pamphlets and treatises on the controversy, and its effects continued to be felt in Scotland for many years afterward.  This newly added collection contains works by many of the principal voices of the conflict.


The Play’s the Thing

   Posted by: rring    in Americana, New acquisition

We recently acquired just over 100 British and American plays dating from 1697 to 1880.  Aside from works by canonical authors like Shakespeare, Dryden, Congreve, Sheridan, and Voltaire, there are farces, comedies and tragedies by authors like Isaac Bickerstaff (“The Romp”, “The Adopted Child”, “Love in the City”), George Colman (“The Clandestine Marriage”, “Love Laughs at Locksmiths”, “The Mountaineers”), Hannah Cowley (“A Bold Stroke for a Husband”, “The Runaway”, “Which is the Man?”), Elizabeth Inchbald (“Everyone Has His Fault”, “I’ll Tell You What”, “The Wedding Day”), and Arthur Murphy (“The Apprentice”, “Desert Island”, “Know Your Own Mind”, The Orphan of China”).



Oldest “book” in the Watkinson!

   Posted by: rring    in book history, New acquisition

After 3 years of looking, I have finally acquired a 4,000-year-old Sumerian cuneiform tablet!  This clay tablet was written in Mesopotamia (current-day Iraq), dates from 2230-2221 BCE, and is a receipt (as many of these documents are) for twenty bundles of sheepskin hides for garments, with a seal of the royal scribe and the date.  It originated from Umma at the city-state of Ur.

The period of the Third Dynasty of the city-state of Ur was one of the most brilliant periods of Mesopotamian history.  What we know of the workings of the government and the economy are derived from these documents.  Dated the sixth month of the eighth year of Bur Sin, King of Ur. With a fine seal impression which reads “on the authority of the Royal scribe, Ursulpe, son of Lugulsaga.”  The balance of the information on this tablet has not been translated.

PROVENANCE (history of ownership): Apparently one of the many artifacts excavated by Hormuzd Rassam (1826-1910), the famous discoverer of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and given in 1895  with a group of other tablets to Theophilus G. Pinches, LL.D. (1856-1934), an eminent Assyriologist at the British Museum.  Pinches described some of these tablets in The Amherst Tablets (1908).  The tablets passed to a student and colleague of Pinches named Chappelow in the 1920s, and after the latter’s death, went to Sotheby’s (London) for auction.  The Sotheby catalog was prepared by Dr. R. D. Barnett of the Dept. of Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum and the tablets sold on July 28, 1958 to Dr. Herman Serota of Chicago.  In 1978 Dr. Serota sent the tablets to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago  where they were transliterated by Dr. Piotr Steinkeller (of Yale).  Dr. I. J. Gelb also examined the tablets and provided some translations. Serota died in 1981, whereupon the record ends–most likely the tablets entered the trade and were dispersed, possibly moving through private hands occasionally.  The Boston dealer from whom we purchased this tablet bought it from a California dealer in February–but we trust it has arrived at its final destination!

It is a tiny artifact, shown here with a penny for scale.  In terms of book and writing history, these tablets are so important to be able to show as one of the oldest extant examples of writing.


“This beautiful little hawk appears to be nearly allied to the European Hobby (Falco Subbuteo, Linn.) and is not inferior to that species in spirit and activity.  I procured the individual represented, in April 1812, near Flatland Ford in Pennsylvania, whilst in pursuit of a Dove, which it would doubtless have secured, had I not terminated its career.  When I first discovered this species, the individual was standing perched on an old fence-stake, in the position in which it is figured.  Never having met with another of its kind, I conclude that it is extremely rare in the United States.  Of its nest or young I am unable to say anything at present.

The name which I have given to this new and rare species was chosen at the time when Napoleon Le Grand was in the zenith of his glory.  Every body knows that his soldiers frequently designated him by the nickname of Le Petit Caporal, which I thought more suitable to our little Hawk, than the names Napoleon or Bonaparte, which I should have adopted, had I been so fortunate as to procure a new Eagle.

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 381 [excerpted].

[Curator’s note: this bird is actually a Merlin]

April 23rd is traditionally given as Shakespeare’s birthday, even though the only hard date we have is his christening (he was baptized in the Church of the Holy Trinity, in Stratford, on Wednesday 26 April 1564).  In honor of this, we purchased an odd little edition of one of Shakespeare’s sources.

Le theatre du monde, ou il est fait un ample discours des miseres humaines. … Avec un petit traite d le’excellence & dignite de l’homme. Paris: Jacques Stoer, 1607.  According to the bookseller, “A rare edition of this anthology of human misfortune.  The description of a 1546 plague outbreak at Aix that appears on pages 122-24 was taken from the account of Nostradamus’ treatise on cosmetics and preserves. The first edition appeared in Paris in 1558. The “Brief discours de l’excellence & dignité de l’homme” has a separate title-page and begins on page 185.”

We acquired this work by Pierre Boaistuau, known as Pierre Launay (1500-1566) from a rare book dealer in Worcester, MA.  “Boaistuau was a French author, editor, translator. He was the first editor of the works of Marguerite de Navarre. The present work was his greatest success as an author and went through a number of editions and translations.”

Shakespeare used this work for his Timon of Athens, which is “a play of strange clamour and majesty, ” according to Peter Ackroyd in a recent biography. “It is the story of a man whose lavish generosity is not reciprocated and who, as a result, falls into a state of savage misanthropy.”  In other words, very much a play for our times.


Welcome back!

   Posted by: rring    in exhibitions

We are happy to welcome back our copy of Valentin Lefebvre’s Opera Selectiora (Venice, 1682), which we loaned to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, for an exhibition on Paolo Veronese.  Shown here is a shot of the book in their gallery.

The museum published a lavish catalog, a copy of which we received for contributing to the show.

“The Indigo Bird arrives in the Southern States from the direction of Mexico, along with its relative the Painted Finch, and is caught in trap-cages, but with more difficulty than the latter bird.  It spreads far and wide over the United States, extending from the borders of our Atlantic shores to those of our great lakes.  It is not a forest bird, but prefers the skirts of the woods, the little detached thickets in and along the fields, the meadows, the gardens, and orchards, and is frequently seen hopping along, or perched on a fence, from which is does not disdain to send forth its pretty little song . . .

I have represented an adult female, two young males of the first and second year, in autumn, and a male in the full beauty of its plumage.  They are placed on a plant usually called the Wild Sarsparilla.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 377-379 [excerpted].


Past and Present Poetic Voices

   Posted by: rring    in Events, exhibitions, Trinitiana

Yesterday we formally opened the exhibition on “Hyam Plutzik ’32, American Poet,” featuring a reading of selected poems by Plutzik by Ciaran Berry (Assistant Professor of English), Clare Rossini (Artist-in-Residence), Dick Allen (Connecticut’s Poet Laureate), and Trinity students Diana Lestz ’13 and Cassie Spittel ’13.  All of the readers also read one of their own poems in Plutzik’s honor.

The exhibition was curated by Ed Moran, literary adviser to the Plutzik family, and most of the material was generously lent by the University of Rochester, although some artifacts (like Plutzik’s fishing gear) were lent by the family.

Associate Curator Sally Dickinson and staffer Henry Arneth were instrumental in the installation of the exhibit, which will be on display through the end of May, so that those who come to campus for Commencement will be able to view a slice of the life and work of this accomplished Trinity alum who died well before his time