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“The Baltimore Oriole arrives from the south, perhaps from Mexico, or perhaps from a more distant region, and enters Louisiana as soon as spring commences there.  It approaches the planter’s house, and searches amongst the surrounding trees for a suitable place in which to settle for the season.  It prefers, I believe, the trees that grow on the sides of a gentle declivity.  The choice of a twig being made, the male Oriole becomes extremely conspicuous. He flies to the ground, searches for the longest and driest filaments of the moss, which in that state is known by the name of Spanish Beard, and whenever he finds one fit for his purpose, ascends to the favorite spot where the nest is to be, uttering all the while a continued chirrup, which seems to imply that he knows no fear, but on the contrary fancies himself the acknowledged king of the woods . . . No sooner does he reach the branches, thank will bill and claws, aided by an astonishing sagacity, he fastens one end of the moss to a twig, with as much art as a sailor might do, and takes up the other end, which he secures also, but to another twig a few inches off . . . The female comes to his assistance with another filament of moss . . . inspects the work which her mate has done, and immediately commences her operations, placing each thread in a contrary direction to those arranged by her lordly mate . . . Their love increases daily as they see the graceful fabric approaching perfection, until their conjugal affection and faith becomes as complete as in any species of birds with which I am acquainted.” [. . . ]

“The plumage of the male bird is not mature until the third spring, and I have therefore in my drawing represented the males of the first, second, and third years.  The female will form the subject of another plate.  The male of the first year was taken for a female by my engraver, during my absence, and marked as such, although some of the plates were corrected the moment I saw the mistake.”

Curator’s Note:  In our copy the plate is uncorrected.


Acorn Club at the Watkinson

   Posted by: rring

On Saturday we hosted a meeting of the Acorn Club–a small but dedicated bibliophilic group (their archives are at the Connecticut Historical Society) that publishes books related to Connecticut history.  Here are a few of the more than 30 publications that they have published over the last 100 years:

Thomas Short : the first printer of Connecticut, by W. De Loss Love (Hartford, 1901)

Supplementary list of books printed in Connecticut, 1709-1800, by Albert Carlos Bates, M.A. (Hartford, 1938)

The journal of William Stebbins, Stratford to Washington in 1810, with an introduction by Leonard W. Labaree and notes by Pierce W. Gaines (Hartford, 1968)

Letters and documents of Ezekiel Williams of Wethersfield, Connecticut, Deputy Commissary General of Prisoners of War within the State of Connecticut (1777-c.1783), introduction & notes by John C. Parsons (Hartford, 1976)

John Warner Barber’s views of Connecticut towns 1834-36, edited by Christopher P. Bickford, J. Bard McNulty (Hartford, 1990)

Connecticut observed : three centuries of visitors’ impressions, 1676-1940, edited by Richard Buel, Jr. and J. Bard McNulty (Hartford, 1999)

For the members’ enjoyment I brought out a random sampling of items from our collection of books printed in Connecticut prior to 1800.  The earliest was this funeral sermon printed in New London and written by Cotton Mather, on Gurdon Saltonsall (1666-1724), Governor of Connecticut from 1708-1724.

Saltonsall was one of the few men in American history to step directly from the pulpit to the governorship.  His challenges were typical for the time: war with the native population and their allies, the French, boundary disputes with the adjacent colonies, and defending Connecticut’s charter from cancellation by England.  He was an early supporter and protector during Yale’s founding and its fledgling years, and came under political fire for insisting it be sited in New Haven rather than Hartford.

Another quite ephemeral piece is An account of the surprizing events of providence, which hapned [sic] at the raising of a bridge in Norwich, June 28th 1728 (New London, 1728).

This is part news story and part moral contemplation.  Forty men were working on building a bridge over the Shetucket River (about 3 miles from Norwich, CT), when a 100-foot section collapsed, dropping most of them 20 feet (and one man 40 feet) amid falling timbers to the rocky shallows below.  Many were injured, and two died: Jonathan Gale of Canterbury (who was just 19, whose father had recently died as well), and Daniel Tracy (who was 76, and only there to see the work being done as one of the founders of the project–he just happened to be on the bridge at the time).  This copy belonged to Tracy’s son, Winslow Tracy (1689-1768), which we can deduce from his signature, which he practiced writing on the back:

Another item, close to my bibliophilic heart, is a 1743 catalogue of the books in the Yale College Library.  It’s funny to think that this little 44-page pamphlet lists some 2,600 books of a library that now holds over 12 million volumes–a mere 270 years later.Lastly, my favorite, in an age when title-pages were like movie trailers today, giving a pithy summation of what was to come: The adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon, one of the first settlers at Kentucke: containing the wars with the Indians on the Ohio, from 1769 to 1783, and the first establishment and progress of the settlement on that river.  Written by the Colonel himself.  To which is added, A narrative of the captivity, and extraordinary escape of Mrs. Francis Scott, an inhabitant of Washington County, Virginia; who after the murder of her husband and children, by the Indians, was taken prisoner by them; on the 29th of June, 1785. (Norwich, 1786).


Bird of the week (11/7/11)

   Posted by: rring

This is the first of what I hope to be regular posts about the weekly bird we will show in the Audubon (took me 7 weeks to get into the groove, but we have 428 to go, so no worries).  Basically, I’m just going to be letting Audubon speak, transcribing sections from his “ornithological biography,” so here we go:

Plate VII: Purple Grackle or Common Crow-Blackbird (male and female)

“I could not think of any better mode of representing these birds than that which I have adopted, as it exhibits them in the exercise of their nefarious propensities.  Look at them: the male, as if full of delight at the sight of the havoc which he has already committed on the tender, juicy, unripe corn on which he stands, has swelled his throat, and is calling in exultation to his companions to come and assist him in demolishing it.  The female has fed herself, and is about to fly off with a well-loaded bill to her hungry and expectant brood . . . see how torn the husk is from the ear, and how nearly devoured the grains of corn already are!  This is the tithe our Blackbirds take from our planters and farmers; but it was so appointed, and such is the will of the beneficent Creator . . . ” (from Vol. I, 1831, pp. 35-41).


Audubon kick-off event

   Posted by: rring

We were very pleased indeed to welcome Dr. Christoph Irmscher, a member of the English faculty at Indiana University, to tell us “how to read Audubon” on November 3rd.  Christoph recently edited the Library of America volume on Audubon’s writings, and has been working on Audubon for over 13 years, amid several other topics.  His faculty profile is here:

We held an informal “review” of the three other volumes in the Reading Room of the Watkinson between 4:00 and 5:00pm, and examined several plates while Christoph explained aspects of production and gave a rich overview of Audubon which was part biography, part literary criticism, and part art history.

Also on display were the seldom mentioned “text” volumes of the set (five volumes of “ornithological biography”–Audubon’s commentary on each bird), as well as three plates recently acquired that were used in the engraver’s shop as examples for the colorists.

The event was the official opening of our new, permanent display of our copy (owned by the engraver, Robert Havell, Jr.) of the famous Birds of America set, as well as a celebration of our recent acquisition of the American Flamingo, to replace the one stolen from the set 35 years ago by a professional thief.

It is always a pleasure to learn more about our own books, not only from specialists like Christoph, but from our own readers and students–some of whom you will find on our other blog, I Found It at the Watkinson.


Dr. Scott Gwara’s visit to Trinity

   Posted by: rring

We have been thrilled to host the amazing Dr. Scott Gwara, of the University of South Carolina, who has come to the Watkinson Library for several reasons.

First, he was to give a talk about one of his current projects: a history of medieval manuscripts in North America (he focused his talk last night on those in America’s liberal arts colleges), which he did on the 19th.  Dr. Gwara has visited 80 libraries and seen over 3,000 manuscripts so far, and he says he has some 25,000 to go before the project is finished.  It was rather breathtaking to hear the stories of the individual collectors who have made it possible for these institutions to own these amazing artifacts of the medieval world.

The Watkinson’s collection of some two dozen manuscripts were, of course, featured in part of the lecture.  Scott had already blogged about them for us on his first visit.  Several of these manuscripts came by way of the 19th-century collector Joseph Jesse Cooke (1813-1881), who will be the subject of another post.

Dr. Gwara is also an extended guest speaker in Jonathan Elukin’s History of the Book class, where he is teaching the students about the structure of Books of Hours and medieval Bibles.  Here they are hard at work at their assignments and presentations.

Each student was asked to identify different parts in their books of hours and Bibles, and it was a great moment to see one group exclaim “we GET it!” in surprised delight.

Scott Gwara graduated summa cum laude from Hamilton College and, as a Marshall Scholar, earned a second BA in Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic from Cambridge University.  He received his PhD from the University of Toronto, where he was a Mellon Fellow.  Scott has authored five books and forty articles on Medieval Latin, Old English literature, manuscript transmission, and medieval education.  His forthcoming works are on genre in Old English, treasure-giving in Beowulf, and the notorious book destroyer Otto F. Ege.  Among other things, he is currently writing a history of medieval manuscripts in North America.  For the past 18 years Scott has taught at the University of South Carolina.

Just acquired, a fascinating and perhaps a hopeful document related to slavery.  This is a bill of sale for a slave, but it is possibly a case of a husband buying his wife out of slavery.

The first part reads, “Know All Men by these presents that I Catherine M. Folwell of Nashville, State of Tennessee, Widow, for and in consideration of the sum of Six Hundred Dollars to me in hand paid by Dow Johnson, now of Boston in the State of Massachusetts, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, do hereby bargain and sell unto the said Dow Johnson, his executions & assigns forever a certain negro slave called Jane Johnson aged about 25 five years.  And I, the said Mrs. Folwell do warrant the said negro to be a slave for life [the words: ‘to be sound, healthy, &’ have been crossed out] sensible, and warrant the title to said Dow Johnson, his heirs & assigns forever against all persons whatsoever.  In witness whereof I do herein set my hand and seal this 23rd day of December A.D. 1852.  Catherine M. Folwell.  Witness:  Ira Conwell and Jesse W. Page.”

It’s quite possible that this bill of sale was written by one of the witnesses, perhaps Conwell.  On the second page is a lengthy endorsement by the Clerk of the County Court F.R. Chatham who attested to the validity of the bill of sale on January 31, 1853.  Below this is the written endorsement of Phinehas Garrett County Registrar recording the bill of sale into the records of the County. One the third page is written, “This Bill of Sale is according to the Laws of Tennessee, and this negro woman Jane is to be delivered to Revd. Abiel Abbott [sic.] Livermore at Cincinnati, Ohio to be sent on to Boston, Massachusetts.  Francis B. Fogg.”

Reading between the lines, it is possible that Dow Johnson remained in Boston and was most likely a freed slave (whether by purchase or escape is not known).  However, he was prudent enough not to go to Tennessee on his own. Abiel Abbot Livermore was a Harvard-educated, New Hampshire native who became a Unitarian minister in 1836. He was editor of the Christian Inquirer, NY.  He was called to the parish in Cincinnati in 1850 and no doubt had abolitionist leanings.  Thus he helped arrange the purchase of and passage for Jane Johnson who was probably the wife of Dow Johnson.  More research must be done on this document to prove or disprove these possibilities.

One of the first things I learned upon starting at the Watkinson was that our copy of the Birds of America, which was given to Trinity by one of its early graduates in 1900 (Dr. Gurdon Russell, Class of 1834), was incomplete.  Unfortunately, well before the current security measures were put in place, a professional thief had stolen two plates from the book in 1977.  One plate (no. 430, the Slender-billed Guillemot) was recovered from a Boston bookseller within a year of the theft—the man also stole from the Connecticut State Library, the Boston Public Library, the Peabody Institute, and the New Bedford Public Library in Massachusetts.  The other plate (431, the American Flamingo), was never recovered.  Fortunately, we were able to secure a copy of this plate (from another set, owned by a paper company in Alabama) at auction on September 28, so after 35 years, our set is complete again.

The fact remains, however, that somewhere out there, on someone’s wall (hopefully unbeknownst to them), is our copy of the Flamingo.  Maybe someday we’ll find our wayward bird, but in the meantime, we will cherish our adopted one.


The Kickapoo Doctor

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Recently acquired is a piece of ephemeral printing often associated with the traveling medicine shows.  The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company (headquartered in New Haven, Connecticut) published a variety of booklets and other advertisements to promote their products.

A great site which outlines the history of the company is here.

And here are some of the advertisements inside:


The Eagle Has Landed

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Actually, it’s the Yellow-billed Cuckoo–but in any case, the Audubon is now “in situ” and open to Volume I Plate II — ready for viewing!  We will turn the page each Monday (or Tuesday, if Monday is a holiday) for the next 8.5 years and enjoy 433 new birds (Plate I, the turkey, was on display all summer, and so has done its duty; in fact, given the approach of Thanksgiving, we think it wants to keep a low profile).

This plate (along with the other first five) was engraved by William Lizars in January 1827.

The choice of the first five plates was intentional, and the sequence was planned by Audubon during his tour of the Great Lakes in 1824.  They included images of one large (turkey), one medium (Canada warbler) and three smaller species (yellow-billed cuckoos, purple finches, and prothonotary warblers).

Fifty copies were “struck off” for coloring, and Audubon was able to present the first set of five plates to the Royal Society of Edinburgh on February 5, 1827, with the venerable Sir Walter Scott in attendance.  Audubon was scrambling to gather subscriptions to pay for the work.

This exhibition is now open, but a more formal opening will be held on Thursday November 3rd.  Prof. Christoph Irmscher from Indiana University (his faculty profile is here) will deliver a lecture entitled “How To Read Audubon.”  Dr. Irmscher edited the Library of America edition of Audubon’s works, and writes on nineteenth-century American and Canadian literature, early American nature writing, and ecocriticism.From 4:00 – 5:00pm we will have all four volumes on display in the Reading Room, with Dr. Irmscher and myself on hand to answer questions.  At 5:00pm professor Irmscher will deliver his talk in the Joslin Family 1823 Room, and we will hold a reception.

After almost a year (we began this journey last November), the permanent display area for our amazing set of John James Audubon’s Birds of America is finally complete.

Next week, we will begin turning the pages (every Monday–or if it’s a holiday–Tuesday), and Trinity will get to see a new bird every week for the next 8 years or so.  I will likely be blogging about some of the more well-known or quirky ones, but hopefully we’ll start to see some regulars coming in just to see the new bird!  The turkey (plate I) was on display all summer, so we’ll give the poor fellow a rest (especially since Thanksgiving is around the corner).  But here’s a pic of him (with a volume of the Library of America edition of Audubon’s works shown for scale):

Mark your calendars for THURSDAY NOVEMBER 3rd, the official opening of this permanent exhibit.  Dr. Christoph Irmscher, English professor at Indiana University and editor of the collection of Audubon’s works just mentioned, will be delivering a lecture on the production of the Birds of America over twenty years–it’s a grand tale indeed.  There will be a “review” of the four volumes in the Watkinson Reading Room from 4:00-5:00pm, and the lecture will start at 5:00 in the Joslin Family 1823 Room (Library Level 2).