Thursday, March 29, 2018

Keep Your Powder Dry -- And Your Map Too

The Clements Library map collection comprises some 30,000 examples of cartography with American subject matter drawn or printed between the years 1492 and 1900. This body of material represents a variety of plans and maps ranging from the most detailed small-scale plan (of a formal garden or a town, for example) to dramatic large-scale wall maps representing the entire Western Hemisphere. These maps have all been drawn, carved, or printed on some form of surface—paper, vellum, glass, wood, fabric, and more. The nature of the material has something to say about what sort of use was anticipated for the map.

Major Robert Rogers, Commander in Chief of the Indians in the Back Settlements of America​. ​[London]​ : Thomas Hart, 1776.​ Mezzotint engraving.

The European colonial experience in North America added another medium on which a map could be pictured. The powder horn is an iconic object of the American frontier, associated in our minds with legendary figures like Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, Natty Bumpo, Robert Rogers, and anyone else who toted a rifle or musket into the wilderness to hunt game or wage war. No self-respecting woodland American, would think of braving the forest without a trusty firearm (Crockett’s “Old Betsey”) and well-filled powder horn. Genuine powder horns are very collectible these days, meaning that their cost is almost certain to be high and their quantity limited. Antique powder horns are also notoriously easy to duplicate, whether for legitimate use in historical reenactments or exhibits or intentional fakes. The combined concerns about opportunity, cost, and legitimacy long kept the Clements from acquiring a powder horn in its collection. Until now, that is!

The traditional American type was constructed of a bovine horn of almost any size. These were, easy enough to come by at a time when much of an army’s meat supply marched along with the soldiers “on the hoof.” When these animals were butchered for their meat, the horns were set aside for other purposes. Properly cleaned and polished horns were sought out for conversion. Once a raw horn had been cleaned and its interior cartilage removed it was further polished and a wooden butt plate was carved, fitted to the open (wide) part of the horn, and secured by tacks. The exterior was cleaned and smoothed and the spout end (the pointy part) carved to taste with a spout into which a plug, often decorative, was fitted. Then all that was lacking was fine black gunpowder for use either as priming for a flintlock mechanism or for the main charge  The horn was itself waterproof, and a properly constructed plug and butt piece were at least water resistant.

But why would the Map Division be interested in a three-dimensional object, a far cry from the maps on paper and other materials? The smooth outer surface of a powder horn offered a substantial amount of empty space that just called out for some decoration. Different elements were easily carved into the horn. Geometrical figures, plants and flowers, scenes of marching soldiers, coats of arms, patriotic symbolism, and prominent buildings were among the motifs most used. Of particular interest to the Clements are those designs that dupplicate the long, sinuous shape of a waterway—the St. Lawrence, Hudson, or Mohawk rivers, Lake George and Lake Champlain—with their towns, forts, Indian villages, and battles depicted, often in great detail. What the Clements lacked is known, obviously enough as a “map horn.”  Map horns usually combine elements of towns, forts, and encampments with the course of a waterway.


We are pleased to announce that we have finally bitten the bullet and acquired a map horn by purchase. It is not an eighteenth-century example, which would be the most appropriate for the collection, but we can at least show a simple example of an important American genre. Actually, powder horns were manufactured and used in other parts of the world. They were popular with artillerymen who could prime a loaded cannon by directing fine powder into the touchhole. When touched with a spark or a burning “match” the cannon throws its ball toward the enemy. Many individual map horns were carved for the owners (for a fee) by individual soldiers in camp. These usually include the owner’s name. A booming trade in horns bearing the British arms with a map was carried on by professional engravers in London and other cities.

Our new powder horn is a relatively simple example from the Civil War (1861-1865).  The horn is nicely shaped with decorative elements on the butt plug. Carved around the base is a simple map of the East Coast of the United States from Charleston, South Carolina, to Savannah, Georgia.  Also depicted (north to south) are “Ft. Sumter,” “Ft. Beauregard,” “Port Royal,” “Ft. Walker” “Ft. Paulaski” (sic) and “Savannah.” The name of the owner and/or maker, “Jim Reed,” is prominently displayed  The dealer who sold us the horn presented it as a Confederate piece because of the subjects of the carvings. That is no guarantee, however, and it might just as well have been carved by or for a Yankee sailor. Was Jim Reed a Confederate Soldier or Yankee sailor? Did he make and decorate the horn? Did he carve the horn or pay another to do it? When did he carve it? Another Clements mystery. In the meantime, the Map Division has a  powder horn as an example of a distinctive type of American map.

Brian Leigh Dunnigan
Curator of Maps & Associate Director

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Edward Walsh Watercolor Sketches Now Digitized


The watercolor sketches of Edward Walsh, M.D. are some of the most frequently reproduced materials from the Clements Library. These sketches, done between 1803 and 1806 while Walsh served as a surgeon for the 49th Regiment of Foot at Fort George, Ontario, are vital visual resources for any scholar interested in the history of the Old Northwest. His depictions of Detroit and York (Toronto) are among the best and earliest known views of those settlements. His detailed renderings of Fort George and Fort Niagara are valuable documentation on the state of these facilities in the interval between the American Revolution and the War of 1812. While Walsh mainly painted landscapes, his images are far from static; always present are people he encountered on his travels, from natives in canoes to soldiers at drill. The country that Walsh describes with these pictures is one still inhabited by indigenous people, carefully observed and depicted by the artist. In addition to landscapes, he also created images of birds and other wild North American animals.

Walsh, a merchant's son, was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1756. He studied medicine at Glasgow and Edinburgh before entering the military, where he had a hand shattered by an explosion while serving under Nelson during the British attack on Copenhagen in 1801. While in North America, he carried out smallpox vaccinations among the natives living along the Grand River near Lake Erie. He associated with both Tecumseh and Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant), even serving as a character witness in defense of the latter at a tribal council. After his relatively peaceful period of service in Upper Canada, Walsh returned to Europe, serving in the Peninsular War as well as at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He retired to Ireland, dying in Dublin in 1832.


Thanks to the Graphics Division's Diversity Equity and Inclusion internship from the summer of 2017, the Walsh watercolors are now available for viewing in the Clements Library Image Bank.

Louie Miller
Reading Room Supervisor and Graphics Division Assistant

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Civil War-Era Valentine's Day Print in the Peter H. Musty Papers

While serving as a drummer with the 61st Ohio Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, Ohio-native Peter Henry "Hank" Musty wrote many a letter to his friends and family back home.  Hank was most often in communication with his parents and his brother Francis.  He would occasionally send letters and illustrations depicting scenes of camp life.  In one such letter to Francis, written sometime between April and May of 1863, Hank confided that he received "a valentine in a letter from 719y 298sb59829, and it was a mighty nice one too and I send [sic.] one to her, it was a nice large one and no doubt you will hear about it."

Hank was fond of using encryption in his letters; he employed a simple substitution code in which numbers 1 through 9 corresponded to letters of the alphabet.  Once deciphered, 719y 298sb59829 translated to Mary Ernsburger, a fellow resident of Greensburg, Ohio, who seems to have harbored a crush on the young musician.  Stating that he "never intended to send any [Valentine] to anyone," Hank seemed to imply that he returned Mary's gesture out of politeness.  After imploring Francis to notify him if he heard anybody discussing his "nice large" valentine, Hank also enquired about what "Pip & 74th29 [i.e. mother]" may have had to say regarding the matter.  In the last line of the letter Hank admitted that he "can't quite understand mother's hints in her letters" and hoped that Francis might help him deduce what their mother truly thought of his exchange with Mary.

Tucked away among the letters and illustrations in the Peter H. Musty Papers is an undated, commercially-produced Valentine's Day print that may have been the gift Hank received from Mary.  Depicting a man playing guitar whilst serenading a woman on a balcony, this charming little valentine contains the text of a romantic poem which reads: 

"My song is mute, the strain
Which melodized each line,
My sentiments convey
To thee my Valentine."


The Civil War is one of the first military conflicts in which a significant number of participants were letter-writers and diary-keepers; Hank Musty was one of many thousands of American soldiers who were able to trade Valentine's Day gifts and/or maintain passionate correspondence with their sweethearts over the course of the war.  Hank returned to Greensburg in 1864 after being discharged for medical reasons.  We are currently uncertain as to whether or not he and Mary pursued a relationship upon his return.  Regardless of the outcome, the record of their exchange serves as a fine example of a soldier's long-distance brush with the romance and social dynamics of the holiday.


Letter transcription: "Francis I can't write you much just now, but I am agoing to tell you something which I want you to keep to yourself.  Don't tell any one anything about it.  The other day I got a valentine in a letter from 719y 298sb59829 and it was a mighty nice one too, and I send one to her.  It was a nice large one and no doubt you will hear about it I want you to tell me all if there is any thing said about.  I never intended to send any to any one but I done it to return her favor.  What does Pip & 74the9 say about me writing to her.  I can't quite understand mothers hints in her letters.  Can't you tell me? … [rest of letter torn away]"

Jakob Dopp
Reading Room Supervisor

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Ins and Outs of Cataloguing Atlases

Many years ago, a fellow map librarian said to me, “If you want to study old maps, be ready to do gymnastics.”  Those words stuck in my mind as I undertook to help a Dutch colleague by photographing all the maps in a series of Dutch atlases in our collection.  As the picture shows, this endeavor is definitely a gymnastic affair.  A ladder is required to get sufficient height to take in the sometimes very large maps folded inside the atlas. The sheer weight of some volumes demands muscle tone and core strength to move them around. So why, the reader asks, is such a performance necessary at all? Aren't these atlases described sufficiently in our catalogue?


No, they are not.  Sometimes we simply do not know what our atlases are, and occasionally it is only the title, name, and date on the spine that informs the catalogue entry.  This is because for the great centuries of atlas production in Europe– the 17th and 18th -- there was no standard format for an atlas, which was merely a collection of maps.  An atlas could be assembled by a collector, a printer, a geographer, a publisher, and bound at the time of collection or many years, if not decades, later.  To add to the confusion, because there were no copyright laws, and privilege only extended to the country of origin, maps were often copied and re-printed in a different city, sometimes with nothing changed, not even the printed place of production.  Thus it can be difficult, for example, to distinguish an original map by the well-known French geographer Guillaume Delisle published in Paris from the excellent copy made by Pierre Mortier in Amsterdam.

Sorting out copies from originals, random collections from designed productions, requires the expertise of a map scholar who closely studies all the known copies of particular atlases and creates a catalogue that may be consulted by map librarians to identify what is in their local collection.  Such a catalogue exists for Dutch atlases, the Atlantes Neerlandici, first published by Cornelis Koeman in the 1970s, and now being updated and expanded by Peter van der Krogt.  As van der Krogt was working through the atlases produced by Pierre Mortier, Covens and Mortier, Pierre Husson, Nicolas Visscher, Frederick de Wit, and Carolus Allard, he noticed many atlases associated with these names in the Clements Library.  The easiest way for him to consult these twenty atlases was for his old friend and colleague Mary Pedley to photograph them and for him to tell us what they are.

The result of this effort will be a closer and more refined identification of what we have in our rich collection of atlases, an improved catalogue entry for each of them, and a visual digitized record for readers to consult who cannot visit the library in person.  A winning project all around and worth every minute on the ladder!

Mary Sponberg Pedley
Assistant Curator of Maps

Friday, February 2, 2018

From the Stacks: Battle Estrays

Soldiers’ wartime letters and diaries sometimes contain references to items picked up on the battlefield or seized from enemy property. For example, the Henry Clinton Papers at the Clements Library contain letters and other materials captured or intercepted from Americans during the Revolutionary War. Battlefield artifacts such as bullets and other objects may be found in the realia collections of the Graphics Division.

In the Book Division, we have traditionally catalogued books of this kind using the local subject heading “battle estrays,” apparently a usage unique to the Clements Library. This terminology hints at the circumstances of the book’s capture without specifying the manner in which the item may have been acquired. Under this heading, you will find a handful of books in our collection with interesting stories to tell. Our “battle estrays” are usually inscribed with a brief note from a previous owner outlining the history of the object, purportedly captured during a military conflict. In some cases, this history may be supplemented by later notes from family lore. In researching these items, one must consider whether the inscriptions can be taken at face value. Whether to tell a better story, conceal wartime looting, or provide a more valuable association, it is always possible that the inscriptions do not tell the whole truth about the provenance of these books. 

The earliest known example in the collection is a book from 1733, Robert Warren’s The Devout Christian’s Companion. It bears the inscription: “Jesse Banister at Saratoga Oct ye 11 1777 This book was taken from one of Burgoins men at the above date.” This date falls just after the Second Battle of Saratoga on October 7, 1777, when British forces led by General John Burgoyne were defeated by the American forces under Benedict Arnold.


Volume 3 of Jonathan Swift’s Miscellanies (London, 1742) is the second "battle estray" connected to the American Revolution. This volume is inscribed: “22d-43d-54th & 64d Regiments took possession of New York 5 Brigade. Taken in ye Field of Battle the 16th of September 1776 T:B:” First Library director Randolph Adams noted in The Colophon that the British occupied the lower part of Manhatten Island on the 14th and 15th of September, then started up the island on the 16th. The battle on the 16th, in which this book was picked up, took place about what is now 126th St.


We have one item linked to the Mexican War, Instruccion para la Infanteria Ligera del Ejercito Mexicano (Mexico, 1846). It contains the signature of Lieut. Thomas R. McConnell, 4th Inf'y. U.S.A. Fort Chapultapec. Mexico, Sep. 13th 1847. This is the date of the U.S. attack on Chapultepec Castle, during which this book was apparently taken.

Nine “battle estrays” can be found among our Civil War books. Unsurprisingly, five are Confederate imprints, such as William Gilham's Manual of Instruction for the Volunteers and militia of the Confederate States (Richmond, Va., 1861) captured at Fort Donelson; William Hardee's Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics (Nashville, Tenn., 1861) "taken from the Rebels at Nashville, Tenn. March 26th 1862," A Manual of Military Surgery (Richmond, 1863) picked up after the Battle of Atlanta, and A Digest of the Military and Naval Laws of the Confederate States (Columbia, 1864), removed from General Lee's captured baggage train. One prayer book was reportedly "thrown overboard from the rebel blockade runner Robert E. Lee off Wilmington, N.C." in November of 1863.


Other purloined titles included The Washingtoniana: Containing a Biographical Sketch of the Late General George Washington (Baltimore, 1800), The Letters of Curtius (Richmond, 1804), and Reliquæa book of poetry by Emma M. Blake.

One particularly interesting item is the Lectures of Lola Montez (Countess of Landsfeld) Including Her Autobiography (New York, 1858). According to the inscription, it was taken from a deserted mansion in Charleston, South Carolina in March of 1865 by Luis F. Emilio, a Captain of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The 54th Massachusetts was the first Union regiment to consist of African American enlisted men. Captain Emilio became acting commander of the regiment on July 18, 1863 and mustered out of the army on March 29, 1865.


Finally, the collection contains three examples of books salvaged from World War II. Major Robert Benaway Brown, Curator of Books from 1946 to 1950, brought back a slim volume recovered from the city of Isernia in 1944. Another book, Royal Westminster and the Coronation, was damaged by a bomb in London. The inscription reads, "One of some 2000 books variously injured in 217 Amesbury Avenue, Streatham, London by a flying-bomb on June 29th 1944. Four were killed in the opposite house. I, the occupant of No. 217, and my wife were seriously injured and buried under debris. R.P. Howgrave-Graham."


The last item, a charred remnant of a book from a burned library, was salvaged by an American soldier and is now preserved in a cloth case. These artifacts remind us of the great losses suffered during wartime as well as the personal stories behind many of the books we care for in this collection.

Emiko Hastings
Curator of Books