Textbooks Through Time

TextbookApparently, little has changed over time. Or should I say, that even in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, teachers and administrators had to warn their students not to deface school owned textbooks. I apologize for the blurriness, but this was another Special Collections gem I came across and it did not seem to want to have its picture taken!


Birds of North America

While cleaning the Special Collections (yes, the task is completed!! but I have a trove of photographs for you), I came across this piece – two pieces actually. A series that was sold by subscription but I believe was later made into a book − The Birds of North America Mute Swan, Birds of N.A.by Theodore Jasper, A.M., M.D. with the most phenomenal plates. The covers are in rough shape – but have since been properly contained to preserve them. I include a few images Bald Eagle from Birds of N.A.here.

More from Birds N.A.


Stalking The Wild-Eyed Curator

JNLF Emptying Wing Journal StacksI realized after I took this “selfie” (oh, what will they think of us in 200 years?), that my eyes were a little wild and crazed looking. Perhaps a bit of stress as I took a look at the 6 remaining shelves of bound and unbound periodicals that date back to the very late 19th century and all the way through the early 21st century! Astronomy, observatories, natural science, birds, plants. You name it, the MMA has subscribed to it or been gifted these periodicals for over 100 years. The Education interns very nicely helped me over the course of perhaps 12 hours, emptying all the outside wall shelves. Now, I have the ones in the middle. Pull from the shelves, box, label, carry up the stairs and carry into the other basement.

Why am I doing all of this? Because the conservation work on the exterior of the Library will begin soon. It is being funded – about $250,000.00 worth – by the Community Preservation Act, a grant I applied for on behalf of the MMA last fall. Happily, the Community Preservation Committee (Thank you, CPC!) funded the entire exterior conservation work and we hope to start with the roof in a few weeks. Then the mason will come and this will require cutting into the building to make the repairs thus, everything has to come out. The Special Collections have all been cleaned and moved to a climate controlled space – also funded by a grant. And now, it’s time for the periodicals or journals as we more commonly refer to them. Once moved, I will spend the winter going through them to make sure there is nothing stuck in them (ephemera) and that people have not written anything (important notes, etc.) in the margins. We will be keeping some, but there are others that will likely find a new home with other institutions. If there are articles in any of them by or about MMA or Nantucket, they will be kept. And the few that date to the nineteenth century, we will keep in the Special Collection as I believe these to be family items.

P.S. Please note that while I am wearing a Vassar t-shirt (in honor of Maria and the MMA-Vassar connections of past and present), I am a proud Mt. Holyoke graduate! I would never be forgiven if I did not note that!


Remember the Days . . .

Of getting your new textbooks for school? In my public junior high school and high school, we oftentimes had some very old, and very well-loved (or abused) books filled with book graffiti. While cleaning the MMA Special Collection books, I came across this. Now, how many times did you see a, “Turn to page X” only to find a drawing or maybe even something less than polite. Well, obviously children are children no matter the century though this student employed a nice rhyme and then just left her name on page 103.


If My name You Wish to See...

More from the Special Collections

Images from A History of the EarthAlways finding great things as I clean the books in our Special Collections. I am currently on “N” as in Nature Studies and this is what I found when I carefully opened the book. I KNEW there would be something good in there just by the cover and the whiff of its age.

The book is A History of the Earth and Animated Nature by Oliver Goldsmith. We have Volumes I and II published in 1857 and then Volume III published in 1856 but with simpler, black and white engravings.

The images are simply beautiful.



The Importance of Books or “Some things should happen on soft pages.”

Trixie Belden The younger Bobbsey twinsI came across a link to this letter from Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, in a newsletter. This library newsletter has proved to have some interesting finds and I have commented or linked to them several times on this blog. This letter from Lee to Oprah Winfrey speaks volumes about the importance of books not just the words on the page but the actual physical book – cover, spine, dust jacket, and pages – and I have mentioned this before. To further note, if you have not read some of the old childhood favorites noted by Lee in this letter, then you should. The Bobbsey Twins are a must – even if you are now in your 40s. And what would a girl do without Trixie Belden, girl sleuth? She was sort of the precursor to Nancy Drew – a younger girl who got herself into some fixes. (Images of Trixie and the younger Bobbsey twins above – there are two sets of Bobbsey twins!) Ah, those were the days and I consider myself not only privileged to have read them, but to have held those old books in my hands, curled up on a rainy summer day … And to STILL have those books!

Read Harper Lee’s letter and consider what she has to say.

My Winter Garden

As I continue to clean each book in the MMA Special Collections, I also leaf through the books to see what is in them – ephemera such as letters, photographs, notes, or sometimes pressed plants and flowers – who gave the book and/or owned it, and anything else I might come across. In My Winter Garden, published in 1900 and written by Maurice Thompson, the owner (who was not recorded and neither was the donor), I came across the most beautiful pencil drawings of birds, a landscape, a mountain goat, snakes … Take a look at these – they are absolutely beautiful! (And along the vein of my last post, would you find these in an iBook?!)

A page from My Winter Garden, OwlA page from My Winter Garden

A page from My Winter Garden

The Power of Books

A week or so ago, I received an email from a professional organization with a link to an animated short film that was nominated for an Academy Award (and now has won for Best Animated Short Film!). I found it compelling and appropriate to share here based on my work in a historic house museum and in archives and special collections. It also calls to me because I lived in New Orleans for several years before Hurricane Katrina and I have had several professional acquaintances who have gone to the city since the storm to assist with historic preservation. The film is called “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.” Gee, do you think his last name has some meaning?

Take a look at it – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Adzywe9xeIU. It’s uplifting and sad, it made me cry and it gave me the chills. I am obviously “pro books” – I work with Special Collections and Archives too in addition to my work as a historic house museum curator. You cannot smell the pages of an iBook or on your computer. You cannot wonder where the iBook has been or who has touched it. There aren’t notations on the pages from previous readers or flowers or notes tucked into the pages from years, decades, or centuries ago. Oh, and does an iBook have hand-painted plates?

Books are alive – they come alive as you read, as you turn from page to page. This is illustrated in the film when Mr. Lessmore repair a book – he extends the lives of the books and protects them. In his sharing of books with others – it brings the people back to life, lifts their spirits and imaginations, it gives them a friend. And most importantly, the film underscores the fact that we are just the caregivers – whether it be a book, an artifact, a historic house – we are not the owners. These things, these books, will live on long beyond us and someone new will come to take our place and care for these objects so that others might learn from them. I think this film, in just a very short twelve minutes or so, sums up the importance of books in our lives and their importance for the future.

Special Collection Books at the MMA

I have been spending quite a bit of time working with our Special Collection books here at the MMA. This collection includes rare and out-of-print books that have been collected since the early 1900s and span the ages from the 1500s to the 20th century. The collection is made up of botany, natural science, zoology, astronomy, Nantucket, and other books that relate to the work that has been ongoing at the MMA since its founding in 1902. The collection also includes Maria Mitchell’s personal library – a listing of some of the books can be found here on our website – and the books of her family members, including those of her father. It is simply an amazing collection.

My latest task is to clean and move the books to the new climate controlled storage space I was able to create with funding from the M. S. Worthington Foundation. A climate system and state-of-the-art conservation friendly bookcases were installed over the last few years and now the move is on. But before I can move the books, each one has to be cleaned. This involves dusting the cover and spine, as well as the text block of each book; wiping the same areas with a vulcanized rubber sponge; and then finally vacuuming those same parts. It takes me an hour or more to complete one shelf – which is between ten and twenty books depending on the size of the books. It’s tedious and long and I have to wear some equipment to protect myself from the dust. But, oh wow the things I am re-discovering or uncovering for the first time. My hope is that once I have cleaned and moved them, I can get the catalog of these books online for the public to see what we have and to come and use them – we have some rare ones that are hard to find and historians, scientists, and others (aside from those who use them now) would love to use these. They are too well-kept of a secret!

For your enjoyment, I have included a few pages from The American Flora Vol. II by A. B. Strong. 1848 was its original publication date. The hand-colored images are beautiful. The second is from Orchids: Their Culture and Management by W. Watson. It was published in London in 1890. The cover and spine are phenomenal – they certainly don’t make book covers like this anymore!

Orchids: Their Culture and Management by W. WatsonOrchids: Their Culture and Management by W. WatsonThe American Flora Vol. II by A. B. StrongThe American Flora Vol. II by A. B. StrongOrchids: Their Culture and Management by W. WatsonThe American Flora Vol. II by A. B. Strong