Serpents in the Stacks

Serpents Book Illustration

As you know, when I was cleaning the Special Collections books, I came across all manner of interesting books. This one in particular I was asked to keep an eye out for having been a favorite of a dear MMA friend. Happily, I found it!
It seems a little unusual to have but I can understand why we were given it. It’s from 1742. Titled An Essay Towards a Natural History of Serpents in Two Parts it was written by Charles Owen. Frankly, it is a book that might have a hard time finding a home but from a historian’s and even a scientist’s perspective it can be helpful with learning more about the worship of serpents, the belief in them, and how actual snakes and other invertebrates might spawn (sorry) tails (sorry again! I can’t help it!) of serpents. I have provided you with the title page and one of the copper engravings.Serpents Book Title Page dated 1742


AND, AND!  A Happy Birthday to Alice Paul.  Born a Quaker, she was a mover and shaker in the rights for women.  Check out today’s “Google Doodle.”

Another Book from the Special Collection

Experimental Science Cover

I have nothing more to report on this really then how wonderful is that cover? The gilt science equipment and then the other designs in black on the cover. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, binding tape was applied in order to save the binding and cover from completely detaching. This was done often and thought to be a good conservation move but now we know the damage that can be done. Until we have funds to make the repairs and remove the tape – a trained book conservator needs to complete the work, not me – the tape remains. It is doing damage but it’s also keeping the book intact at least.


More From The Special Collections

Birds North America

While the cover of this booklet is not in wonderful shape – note the very old tape “repairs” and the further damage they have created – it is still a wonderful part of the collection with fantastic hand colored plates. It is the Birds of North America, Part 12 by Theodore Jasper, A.M., M.D. I will not go into detail – just look at the few plates I have included. They are wonderful. You don’t find this anymore.


Bird Plates

Bird Plates 2

More from the Special Collections: William (Cap’n Bill) Gould Vinal

Inscription from Nature RecreationAgain, you might not think there is much “exciting” to the book until you crack it open! Never judge a book by its cover they say and here is another example of that. This was an inscription written by Cap’n Bill (William Gould Vinal) in his book Nature Recreation in 1946 for the MMA. He gave the book to the MMA Library that summer when he came to give a lecture for the MMA. His lecture “Natural History of the Pilgrims” was given while he was Director of Nature Education at Massachusetts State College (UMASS). He also gave the last two nature walks of the summer season for the MMA. The book is inscribed in part to Grace Wyatt who was the Director of the Natural Science Department for many years.

Nature Recreation Title PageCap’n Bill, as he was known, (1881- 1973) was the author of many books, this one featured here among them. Born in 1881, in Norwell, Mass (then called South Scituate), he graduated from the Bridgewater State Teachers College and then from Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard where he received a second bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Later, he received a doctorate from Brown. He became one of the first formal nature educators in the United States. He taught at several universities, taught summer nature camps, served as a ranger naturalist in parks, and then went on to introduce nature education at Western Reserve University in the School of Education. In 1937, he returned to Massachusetts and established the Nature Guide School at the Massachusetts State College (UMASS) from which he retired in 1951. This made him the first instructor in nature education at UMASS. His passion was nature, its conservation, camping, nature guiding, and enjoying and teaching others about the outdoors and nature – a perfect fit for the MMA! Among other things he was a biologist for the Massachusetts Fish and Game Commission, active in Massachusetts Audubon, and he was a prolific writer authoring not only nature books, but nature guides, nature pamphlets, and a nature newsletter that ran for about two decades. There is at least one school named for him in Massachusetts – as well there should be! His papers, in part, can be found at the UMASS libraries. An interesting man and I am glad to learn a bit about him.


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 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

More from Birds N.A.


Telescopes For Sale!

Telescope for Mt. Holyoke CollegeAs I continue to clean the Special Collection books (ALMOST there!), I keep coming over all sorts of fun things. This is from the back of an astronomy journal. It is an advertisement for a telescope maker – J.W. Fecker of Pittsburg – but what I found personally interesting was that they featured the telescope they had built for my alma mater – Mount Holyoke College. The old Mt. Holyoke observatory, known as the John Payson Williston Observatory, is across the street from the main part of campus and it was wonderful. The attached workspace/classroom was of the same 19th century period as the dome which rotated on old cannon balls! Ah, recycling. It still houses an Alvan Clark – Maria Mitchell had an Alvan Clark – which was part of the original equipment but it may be that the Fecker is gone now. The Fecker Company got bought out but it was in business for about 120 years starting in the 1880s.


Found: A Book of Pressed Flowers

As noted in a previous entry, I have been hard at work cleaning and moving the Special Collection books. Prior, I worked on cleaning and moving Maria Mitchell’s own library and the books of her family members that we have. As I was recently working on the Botany Special Collection (SC) books, I came across this very small and unusually bound book. It is bound with a beautiful wood cover and a lovely detailed ribbon is inserted as an inlay and then varnished over to protect not just the ribbon but the wood as well. The title reads Jerusalem and what I believe is likely the word Jerusalem in Hebrew is above the English.

Inside are wonderful combinations of flowers pressed in intricate patterns and wreaths from sites across Israel – each page labeled as to where the flowers supposedly came from. This is obviously a souvenir that was purchased. What makes it of even more interest, and also out of place with regular botany SC books, is the fact that in it is written, “Brought from Israel by William Mitchell Kendall.” He was the nephew of Maria Mitchell, the son of her younger sister Phebe Mitchell Kendall and her husband Joshua Kendall. William Mitchell Kendall was a senior architect with McKim, Mead, and White and travelled fairly extensively – including taking a trip in his late teens with his parents and his aunt Maria to Europe, including Russia in 1873. I think he was likely influenced by his aunt’s love of travel and exploration. Maria Mitchell once said, “The habit of traveling once adopted cannot be easily given up.”

Now, the book will be placed with the family’s collection of Special Collection books where it belongs. What an exciting find!


Flowers from the Holy Land

JerusalemFlowers from Bethlehem

Flowers from Jerusalem

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