Posts Tagged ‘Browsing the Stacks’


Eat your Corn Flakes!

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

Here’s a 700-page nugget from the stacks, for those American Culture folks:

John Harvey Kellogg, of breakfast cereal fame, published this Ladies’ Guide in Health and Disease: Girlhood, Maidenhood, Wifehood, Motherhood in 1896.  Kellogg was “famed for promoting vegetarianism, sexual abstinence, and the liberal use of enemas,” and “here offers a straightforward and in some ways highly progressive (for its era) discussion of women’s health at all stages of life, focusing on developing a ‘higher type of womanhood’ (iii), one free from unnecessary invalidism and susceptibility to disease.  Kellogg denounces corseting, unsurprisingly, and also condemns the extreme differences in treatment of little boys and girls, which resulted in the latter becoming both mentally and physically but poor shadows of the vibrant women they might have been.  Although staunchly opposed to birth control and abortion, he also insists on married women’s freedom from unwanted ‘marital excesses’: of all the rights to which a woman is entitled, that of the custody of her own body is the most indubitable (p. 341)” [PRB&M description].



Early American alternate history

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

In the Watkinson we have a copy of Memoir of the Northern Kingdom, by William Jenks, possibly the first American fantasy tale.  It appears from its title-page to be a collection of letters written from the Rev. William Jahnsenykes to his son in 1872, and published in 1901 in “Quebeck.”  This was actually written by Jenks (1778-1866), and published in Boston in 1808.

 Funky?  Oh yeah.

 This is a fantasy satire on Jeffersonian politics and a rare example of early American fantastic fiction, cast as an epistolary history, in which the United States has split into three nations: a Northern Kingdom (New England, New York, and Canada) ruled over by an English viceroy (New England joins the Northern Kingdom after a war with Virginia); a francophone Southern slave-holding kingdom ruled by a branch of the Bonapartes; and the Illinois Republick, which alone retains the principles of the American Revolution.

 For a fuller account of this publication and of Jenks, see the blog by the redoubtable Jeremy Dibbell at the Massachusetts Historical Society, which has Jenks’s papers: ( )


One of the most impressive illustrated travel books in the Watkinson is by Abbe Jean-Claude-Richard de Saint Non (1721-1791), entitled Voyage pittoresque ou Description des royaumes de Naples et de Sicile (Paris, 1781-1786), bound in five folio volumes.

According to Gordon Ray, The Art of the French Illustrated Book, 1700-1914, “Saint-Non is one of the most engaging figures in the chronicle of the French illustrated book.  A small, almost frail man, he was often referred to as ‘little Saint-Non.’ Unaffected, modest, and amiable, his generosity was prodigal, and his loyalty proverbial.”

“Forced by his prominent and wealthy family to accept the priesthood as a suitable occupation for a younger son, Saint-Non was soon embarked on a significant career as an ecclesiastical official.  Early in life, however, he had acquired a taste for music, drawing, and above all engraving, and when his career met a political check in 1753, he turned his thoughts towards the encouragement of the arts.  Aided by the considerable fortune of his family, he became one of the notable amateurs of history.”

Saint-Non became adept at etching, and on his first visit to Italy in 1759, which overwhelmed his sensibilities with its grandeur, he began furiously sketching, engraving, and painting what he saw.  He toured Naples, Vesuvius, Herculaneum, and Pompeii with the painters Jean-Honore Fragonard and Hubert Robert, and eventually published a set of etchings containing 89 designs on 19 sheets [Suite de nix-feuille d’apres l’antique (Paris, 1762)], which we do NOT have in the Watkinson.  The subjects, as with some in the present work, are classical remains discovered in recent excavations.

Shown here is a view of Naples, and a plan of same.




Early African Newspaper

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

The Watkinson has two issues (vol. 1 numbers 3 & 4) of the first newspaper published in the colony of Liberia. From 1830 to 1834, its editor was John Brown Russwurm, a Jamaican-born mulatto who was educated in Canada, graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, and then settled in New York where, in 1827, he and Samuel Cornish co-founded Freedom’s Journal, the first black newspaper in the United States. The Liberia Herald became the fifth oldest newspaper in Africa after the French-language periodicals published in Egypt during the Napoleonic occupation of 1797, the Cape Town Gazette of South Africa, 1800, The Royal Gazette and Sierra Leone Advertiser, 1801, and The Royal Gold Coast Gazette, 1822.

The library record is here:



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.



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.