Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Story from Clements Library Lore: "Young Man, Make It Americana"

From its founding, the William L. Clements Library has dedicated its collecting efforts to the subject of American history. While some aspects of the collecting scope have changed over the years, we have generally held firm to the idea that items must be "Americana" in some fashion.

Plato. [Platonis Opera omnia latine]. Colophon: Impressum Florentie per Laurentiũ [de Alopa] Venetũ, 1485.  
Soon after the Library's founding in 1923, our first Director, Randolph G. Adams, discovered the challenges of enforcing this rule against a determined library supporter. Junius E. Beal, a Regent of the University of Michigan and collector of incunabula, wished to donate his 1485 edition of Plato's works to the Clements Library. When Director Adams protested that it wasn't Americana, Beal replied, "Young man, make it Americana. That is what you are paid for."

Fortunately, Adams was able to find the connection in a 1922 catalogue entry for the book by dealer Joseph Martini: "Editio princeps of Plato's Works, and a book of interest to the Collector of Americana, as it contains the First Appearance in print of the Story of the Atlantis, which rests solely on the authorship of Plato, who sketched it in the Timaeus." A typewritten copy of this entry is tucked inside the front cover of Beal's Plato, lest anyone question why this book is shelved in the Rare Book Room.


This anecdote is recounted with some variation by Adams' son Thomas R. Adams in "Defining Americana," The Book Collector vol 57, no 4 (Winter 2008), page 562. He described the title in question as a 1480 edition of Cicero's Tusculanae Disputationes, a book which sits next to the Plato on the shelf but was in fact part of Clements' original donation.

Regent Junius Beal also left his mark on the Clements Library in the form of the "Beal Books" on our front lawn. These stone books were once the carriage steps at the Beal residence in Ann Arbor. 

Emiko Hastings
Curator of Books

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Out of the Ordinary Gems & Oddities Trivia Answers REVEALED

Many of you who visited our previous exhibit might have participated in the trivia challenge What Is That Thing?  We invited visitors to identify objects in case 16. We can now reveal their names and purposes! Read what the mystery objects were below:

First Item: Powder Tester

The first object is an eprouvette or gunpowder tester. To determine the quality of powder a small amount is placed in the tiny vertical barrel, the muzzle of which is covered with a flap connected to the notched and calibrated wheel. The flintlock on the side is primed and, with a squeeze of the trigger, the powder sample is ignited.  The force of the explosion is conveyed to the calibrated wheel so the tester can measure the strength of the powder.  The most imaginative visitor guess on this was an "eighteenth-century pizza cutter!"

Middle Item: Flash Pistol

The middle object is a photographer's flash pistol, used before flashbulbs to light a scene.  Only three individuals correctly identified this item.  The majority of our trivia players guessed that this was some type of stamp.

Last Item: Sticking Tommie

The final, right-hand item is called a "sticking tommie," a wrought iron candle holder that can be hung or driven into a post to provide illumination.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Celebrating Mother's Day at the Clements Library

In the late afternoon of October 22nd, 1831, Maria Bradford gave birth to a "plump & fat" little girl whose "good lungs, made a great noise the minute after she was born." "As soon as I heard the child cry," she remembered, "I began to laugh." Maria was admonished by the attending physician to neither laugh nor talk for several days so as not to "disturb [her] whole system," but as we read her letter in the Bradford Family Papers we get a glimpse of the overpowering joy that came upon hearing her first-born child.

Maria was living in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was writing to her mother back east in Massachusetts when her daughter was one month old. "Though we have many kind friends; what are they all in comparison with you," she asked, wishing for some maternal guidance now that she was in the thick of motherhood herself. "How much I have to say to you, and how many things I have to ask you!" She spent some of her early sleepless nights missing her mother and thinking of her. "How much, and how often I thought of you, particularly of late; how many nights I have laid awake thinking of you, and of the care and trouble I was to you; after I was first confined I used to lie and cry of nights; my nerves were weak; Claudius was not with me, as I had the nurse and felt so lonely; then I thought of my child, and that 27 years ago I was in your arms, just as helpless, and dependent, so you see that every day I love you more, and I often think I have not done enough, no not half enough to repay your kindness and affection."

She named her baby Sarah, after her mother, and felt deeper than ever the ties that bound them all together. "I now know what it is to be a mother," she confided, "and I hope and pray to God that I may make as good a mother as you have been to me; and I hope my child will love me as well as I do you."

Letters such as these remind us of the emotional support women lend each other during the transition into motherhood, even if they can't be physically present. "My time is so entirely occupied that it seems as if I had no time to do any thing," Maria sighed, but she still made the time to write to her mother and share her love.

This Mother's Day, the Clements Library offers up this bouquet of beautiful floral bindings from some of our rare seventeenth-century books as a token of respect and gratitude for mothers near and far, past and present. May their time, today at least, be "so entirely occupied" by joyful celebrations.


Jayne Ptolemy
Reading Room Supervisor and Manuscripts Curatorial Assistant

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Robins of Spring

In early 1862, George Driver was serving on board the Highlander as a supply officer and doing his part for the Union cause, making his father enormously proud. The George Driver Family Papers include Stephen Driver's letter to his son dated March 2nd, which weaves together discussions of the Civil War and descriptions of home. Stephen looked to connect with George through mundane things like looking at the same new moon and listening to familiar birds singing. In a brief aside, Stephen notes that he "Saw the first Robin" and includes a small pen-and-ink sketch to document the moment. The buoyant excitement of seeing a robin and anticipating the coming spring bridged the divide between home and the front lines.


Examples of how the common robin engenders delight can be found throughout the Clements Library's collections. Their connection to impending (and long-awaited) spring elevates the bird as a joyful symbol. Unsurprisingly, tune books and sheet music reference robins as beloved harbingers of the new season and welcome musical accompanists.


The Clements Library's well-loved copy of the 1856 songbook The Robin Red Breast features a faded illustration of a Robin on its front cover. The book's namesake song invites the robin to "come in the morning - come ear-ly, and sing, For dear-ly I love you, sweet warbler of spring."

Even from a more scientifically inclined perspective, robins signify spring and our eagerness for the return of warmth, seasonal flora, and song. Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology, one of the seminal nineteenth-century works on North American birds, describes the robin as "one of our earliest songsters; even in March, while snow yet dapples the fields, and flocks of them are dispersed about, some few will mount a post or stake of the fence, and make short and frequent attempts at their song." Wilson acknowledges that the robin's tune is not the most beautiful, but he "makes up in zeal what he wants in talent; so that the notes of the Robin, in spring, are universally known, and as universally beloved. They are as it were the prelude to the grand concert, that is about to burst upon us from woods, fields and thickets, whitened with blossoms, and breathing fragrance."

Plate 2 from Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology; or, The Natural History of the Birds of the United States. Drawn by Alexander Wilson, engraved and colored by A. Lawson, (Philadelphia, 1829). Graphics Division: Prints F.2

While spring has not yet sprung in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we're eagerly looking for the robins and hoping for warmer days to come. Until then, we'll enjoy the birds and songs that we can find in our collections. As another tune in The Robin Red Breast proclaims, "Spring is com-ing! Spring is com-ing! With its dews and balm-y breeze. O, the birds with mu-sic greeting, Then will pour a welcome strain, And the heart, with rap-ture beat-ing, E-cho back the song a-gain."

Jayne Ptolemy
Reading Room Supervisor and Manuscripts Curatorial Assistant

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love Letters in the Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers

Samuel Latham Mitchill was a man of many interests. He held a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh, studied law, taught chemistry and botany at Columbia University, and served in both state and national legislatures. Even with so much on his mind, his wife, Catherine, was still never far from his thoughts.

The Clements Library's Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers include detailed letters he wrote to Catherine while he was serving in Congress. Discussions of politics and Washington society are tempered by expressions of marital love and affection. He opens his letters with sweet and varied salutations that warm the heart.  "My dear little Duck," "My Queen of Hearts," "My beloved wife," he writes, or, "My sweet love," "My pretty little Picture," "My dear friend and sweetheart," "My true Love."

On Valentine's Day, 1803, he wrote a long letter to Catherine. In what may be perceived as a bit of a romantic misstep, he spent some five pages writing about the holiday's ancient history, leading up to the American practice of sending valentines and the current belief that "Birds also choose their Mates" on Valentine's Day. In a last minute save, he closes the letter by proclaiming, "on this very fourteenth day of February in the year one thousand eight hundred and three, your absent Dove has re-elected you to be his Mate for the next twelvemonth."

Two days later he refers to a Valentine's Day poem he also sent Catherine, which one of his friends declared "enough to make you crazy with love." Sadly, the poem is lost to us. The passion and affection that inspired it, however, is documented throughout the collection well beyond Valentine's Day. Missing his wife in early December 1803, he sent her a letter despite having just written the day before. "I have little else to send her to day," he admits, "that a parcel of Kisses, well assorted, which I have imprinted with my lips on this Paper; Take them, my love, and make the most of them in behalf of the giver."

Samuel Latham Mitchill ALS to Catherine Mitchill, Washington, [D.C.], 1803 December 2. Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers, William L. Clements Library.

No matter how you spend this Valentine's Day, you can always find enough romance in the archives to make you swoon.

Jayne Ptolemy
Reading Room Supervisor and Manuscripts Curatorial Assistant

Monday, February 6, 2017

Digital Images from the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York

The old halfway house at the junction of Broadway, 8th Ave. & 59th St.

"If any one among us may calculate surely on a sublunary immortality, Mr. VALENTINE is the man. He has linked his name indissolubly with one of the greatest cities in the world in a manner which time shall strengthen not efface."  These were the accolades heaped on David Thomas Valentine (1801-1869) by The New York Times in 1863. Valentine, who served as Deputy Clerk to the Common Council for 37 years (apparently without promotion) had access to the most ancient archives of New York City. He also had the inspiration to seek out the earliest charts, maps, views of the city and publish them in facsimile form from 1841 to 1866 in his Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York.

Murray Hill : the oldest house, foot of Murray Hill, cor. 3d Av. & 34th St.

If you are seeking visual evidence supporting the study of urban America or the transformation from the colonial to the industrial age, Valentine's Manual is for you. Valentine had an eye for what was historic even in the 19th century and recorded the rapidly vanishing colonial architecture and old neighborhoods of New York. Valentine's presentation of impoverished streets as picturesque is problematic today. However, the print of the ramshackle house on Peck Slip where he grew up testifies to his close familiarity with his subject.

Contemporary 19th century innovations and events also appear, like the Loew Bridge over Broadway, made necessary by the frequent pedestrian fatalities, and views of colorful parades of soldiers heading south during the Civil War.

The "Loew Bridge," Broadway & Fulton St.

The illustrations from Valentine's Manual have been known to historians for some time and they have been available in scanned book versions in HathiTrust, Google Book, and other digital repositories. However, the prints in these online versions are difficult to locate without tedious browsing.

The Clements holds two sets of Valentine's Manual, one in the Book Division, the other as dis-bound prints in the Graphics Division. This latter set has been catalogued individually by former Head of Reader Services Diana Sykes and scanned by Digital Projects Librarian and Curator of Books Emi Hastings. 240 of these scanned images have recently been added to our Clements digital image bank with corresponding subject terms and descriptions, making this the most easily accessible online version of the illustrations from the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York. The remainder of the scanned images will be added shortly.

Click here to browse prints from the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York in the Clements Library Image Bank.

Clayton Lewis
Curator of Graphic Materials

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Learning Through Maps

Americans in general—and younger people in particular—are often criticized for being woefully deficient in a geographical understanding of their country, continent, hemisphere, and world.  In many ways such criticism is justified, and the noticeable reduction in geography instruction in schools has done nothing to improve the situation.  This is unfortunate because regular use of maps can fill the gaps in understanding of the form of our world, and atlases, whether printed or digital, are also fine sources of such information.

Western Hemisphere / Elizabeth H. Conklin, June 8. 
Pen and ink student's hemisphere map. 
For the past few years the Clements Library has been actively collecting a most interesting type of manuscript map.  Often described by dealers and collectors as “schoolgirl” maps, these exercises in cartography demonstrate that training in geography was one element of a good nineteenth-century education.  This type of map is frequently encountered in dealers’ catalogs these days, so there has been a good selection of potential acquisitions.  We now hold fifteen examples dating from 1818 to 1884.  Our catalog entries describe them as “student” maps because the majority of our examples were drawn by young men.  They include a variety of subjects—the world, the Western Hemisphere, North and South America, the United States and its component states, as well as Biblical cartography.  There is even a map titled “The Ocean of Love.”  The students obviously worked using a printed map as the source.

Most of our student cartographers are identified, and sometimes the name of their school is known.  Hannah French, for example, studied at the New Hampton Female Seminary of New Hampton, New Hampshire, about 1820 when she drafted a map of her country.  Some of the student maps are associated with manuscript collections held by the Clements, such as Elizabeth H. Conklin’s interpretation of the Western Hemisphere from the Conklin Papers and that of North America found in the James Thomas Papers and probably drawn by one of his school-age sons.

Some of our student maps are surprisingly sophisticated.  Melvin Wright was at school in Londonderry, Vermont, in 1841 when he drafted a heavily colored map of his state and embellished it with six marginal drawings including a view of the capital, Montpelier.  H.L. Hobart demonstrated that he or she was a better cartographer than a speller on the circa 1853 “Map of Michigan & Wiscosin.”  And Albert King even ventured into the allegorical.  In addition to his maps of “Hindoostan” and the Middle East, he prepared the “Ocean of Love,” with its “Land of Matrimony,” “Quicksands of Inconstancy,” and “Dead Lake of Indifference.”

The Clements will continue to collect “student” maps, but we have already reached a critical mass, where the available materials can support research into nineteenth-century education.  Used with our school atlases, school textbooks, and manuscripts with education content, a researcher can discover much about teaching and learning in the 1800s.

Brian Dunnigan
Associate Director and Curator of Maps