January 12th, 2017

Artistry of Linocuts

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring recently cataloged items from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.


This lovely artist book Geheimzinnige Personen : omtrent de flarden des levenswas was created by a Dutch artist, Margit Willems.  It loosely translates to Mysterious Persons: on the scraps of life and features 23 linocuts with text on separate pages.  You might be asking yourself what exactly is a linocut?  It is a printmaking technique that takes a linoleum sheet, often mounted on a wooden block, which is then used as a relief surface.  The artist uses tools to cut into the surface of the linoleum so that the uncarved areas will reveal a mirror image of the parts to show when printed.  Essentially the cut away areas will be white and the remaining area will be black on the linocut.


One of the early strong innovators in printmaking (including linocuts), book design, typography and illustration was Czech émigré Vojtěch Preissig.  Preissig came to America around 1910 where he taught at Colombia University and then the School of Printing and Graphic Arts at the Wentworth Institute here in Boston.  While he was at Wentworth Preissig designed recruitment posters for the United States during WWI that were aimed at Czech immigrants.

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Most of Willem’s linocuts do not use a great deal of color in this book, but when it is used it has a strong impact.  Her linocut that depicts an elderly woman who was robbed in Tubbergen (thus giving up her pincode) is an example of that.  You can see that she created the linocut as well as the typeset letters in black ink. Then she reused the typeset numbers inverted them and printed them with red ink.  It creates a striking image and also displays the skill of the artist in creating the image through several different (often laborious) steps.


Geheimzinnige Personen : omtrent de flarden des levens can be found in collection of the Fine Arts Library.

Thanks to Donna Viscuglia, Cataloger and Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, for contributing this post.

January 11th, 2017

Climbing that career ladder

Ah, patronage.  That special arrangement, in which a composer or author contacts someone in High Places, and asks them to lend their name (and/or their money) to a publication. No less a luminary then Blackadder has struggled with its complexities. Scholars today are particularly interested in those little dedications often found at the head of title pages, as researchers can follow the rise and fall of careers based on the social standing of their patrons (among other interesting details of cultural history). Today I’ve been cataloging some of the music found during our recent Pforzheimer project, and one particular volume caught my eye. At first glance, it appeared to be five separate pieces of music, each printed on different-colored paper, bound together with some random lithograph portraits. Years of experience with our Aladdin’s cave of wonders however, has taught me to be highly suspicious of first glances.

Abelinde Rae

Abelinde Rae

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January 10th, 2017

Washington the Great, Chief of the Columbians

Alfred the Great drove the invading Danes out of England and coins from his reign dub him “King of the English” in tribute to this victory. In the centuries following his death, he gained a reputation as the monarch who did much to create not only the new nation of England, but also the mythology that nurtured its national identity. The Harvard Theatre Collection owns a play about King Alfred with a surprising connection to George Washington and American history, a connection noted during the cataloging process which will make this resource discoverable for researchers.

TS 2026.30 front flyleaf

TS 2026.30 front flyleaf. Note the ownership initials F. H. — could this refer to Francis Hopkinson?

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January 6th, 2017

John Adams on Shakespeare, or As You Dislike It

Portrait of John Adams by Gilbert Stuart, 1823. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.Another year of Shakespeare has drawn to a close. This week on Broadway the curtain came down on the hit show Something Rotten! whose song “I Hate Shakespeare” offered the closest thing to a respite from the past year’s tempest of fulsome tributes. Those weary of the much ado can take heart: the next anniversary won’t come around until 2039, when Stratford’s favorite son turns 475.

Over the din of universal praise, the Bard’s detractors seldom get much airtime. Houghton’s own exhibition last spring, Shakespeare: His Collected Works, somehow managed nods to poet-playwrights John Dryden and William D’Avenant while playing down the artistic quarrel between Shakespeare and his adaptors that overspread much of the eighteenth century. Mea culpa.

Instead the exhibition highlighted just one contrarian: President John Adams, whose complaint was hardly artistic. He objected on moral grounds, laying out his argument in a disapproving letter to a young, ambitious, and I daresay, unsuspecting, playwright.

By 1822 Samuel B.H. Judah had two plays mounted at the Park Theatre in New York with indifferent success. A third, dramatizing events at the Battle of Lexington, was to be performed on Independence Day. Perhaps in light of these patriotic stirrings, Judah presumptuously sent to both Adams and Thomas Jefferson copies of his newly published dramatic poem Odofriede, compelled, he wrote, by its favorable reception “in some of the first cities in our country.”

It was a shameless exaggeration.


AC8.J8802.822o, Houghton Library.

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January 3rd, 2017

“Fuel for the fire of learning”: Houghton Library Opens its Doors

On this day seventy-five years ago, 3 January 1942, library staff and their families attended a private celebration to mark the opening of the new Houghton Library. As the Second World War raged in two theaters, William A. Jackson, the new Library’s first director, and Philip Hofer, the founding curator of its Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, were busy managing the careful transfer of some 125,000 books from the old Treasure Room in Widener Library to their elegant new home, an effort that took sixteen days to complete.


“The Treasure Room”: Invitation for 3 January 1942. UAIII – Harvard University Archives.

The formal public dedication ceremony took place on 28 February 1942. Following remarks by Harvard president James B. Conant, Arthur Amory Houghton, Jr.—Harvard alumnus, Corning Glass executive, distinguished bibliophile, and generous library benefactor—offered this solemn realization: “Upon us has fallen the responsibility of safeguarding education in its broadest and most liberal sense.” Seventy-five years on, Houghton Library remains steadfast in providing faculty, students, and researchers from Harvard and beyond, as Mr. Houghton hoped it would that cold February evening, with “fuel for the fire of learning.”

A small exhibition will be on view through March that revisits the library’s opening day through six contemporary publications, art and photographs. It is part of a year-long program of faculty and staff exhibitions, distinguished lectures, and a major symposium this fall to celebrate the momentous day when Houghton Library first opened its doors to the world. This is the first in a series of blogs commemorating Houghton Library’s 75th anniversary.

Peter X. Accardo, Coordinator of Programs, contributed this post.

December 15th, 2016

Perils of drinking

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring recently cataloged items from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.


img0003  L’antialcoolisme en histoires vraies is a volume that deals with the history of alchoholism and the various effects on all of society.  Crafted as lectures and lessons that go with official programs it was written by Dr. Emile Galtier-Boissière.  Galtier-Boissière is probably most well known for his work on Larousse medical illustré de guerre, which is an illustrated guide to medical care during World War I.  The illustrations throughout this volume dealing with alcoholism are particularly sensational and most likely hope to shock the reader with the effects of alcohol on people’s health and subsequent lives.

There is an entire chapter about the effect alcoholics and alcoholism has on the family.  For example this depiction of a woman clutching her baby in her arms while her husband is stumbling

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and drunk knocking furniture around their house is an indictment of the dangers of drinking.  There is also a visual of how alcoholism can change the health and appearance of a person.  In the later half of the 19th-century alcohol consumption in France was quite low compared to other countries like Russia and Sweden.  However by 1900 the average amount of what a person was drinking was sharply up so France launched an aggressive anti-alcohol campaign and managed to get it down from 4.88 liters per inhabitant to 3.76 liters by 1906.  You can see this reflected in the graphic in the volume which includes representations of the countries laboring under the weight of alcohol.


L’antialcoolisme en histoires vraies / par le Dr. Emile Galtier-Boissière,.. Paris : Larousse, [1901?] can be found in Widener’s collection. 

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, for contributing this post.

December 9th, 2016

Emily Dickinson’s Birthday Party: Cake, Hope & Camaraderie

taking a piece of black cake

Having a piece of Emily Dickinson’s black cake. Photograph courtesy of Noelle Lopez/Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning.

Today at Houghton Library, we celebrated the birthday of Emily Dickinson a day before her actual birthday of December 10th with an inspiring gathering of colleagues, scholars and students, faculty and friends. A feature-focus of the party was the serving of Dickinson’s own black cake made by Houghton staff from the manuscript recipe in our keeping.

At Houghton we have an ad hoc Committee for Fun and Good Wille, and as is the fashion of librarians the world over, that committee charged a subcommittee which we affectionately refer to as “Team Cake.” Team Cake consists of myself, my fellow Emily, Emily Walhout, and our colleague Heather Cole, who for these particular purposes, we consider an honorary Emily.

Team Cake has deployed twice now on a mission to recreate Dickinson’s challenging black cake. It would not be untrue to say that we are motivated to make these cakes because we are highly motivated to eat cake, but there are other reasons. And in a world that has seen undeniable improvements in the ease of cake-creation, given the supremely labor intensive proposition of this particular cake, those reasons are really our prime motivators.

Black cake, freshly baked before aging. Photograph courtesy of Emilie Hardman.

Black cake, freshly baked before aging.

Others have certainly baked Emily Dickinson’s black cake, but most scale the recipe down or alter ingredients —both very reasonable 21st century reactions to the recipe’s insistence on including five pounds of raisins. We, however, have wanted to stick closely to the original recipe, to experience what Emily Dickinson may have experienced in making it, to taste what she may have tasted. As we learned last year, this is a process that generates more questions than it answers and even after a year of following the intriguing trails and rabbit holes those questions have opened up, we still have questions, curiosity, blank places on the map that we can only fill in with the tools of the historian, the archival explorer. This is not a complaint: it is a feature, not a bug, as they say.

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December 8th, 2016

Footprints of a Bibliographical Ghost


Seymour de Ricci created this bibliographical ghost in his Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada (New York, 1935), in an entry on the library of the late Harvard University Professor Charles Eliot Norton (I, 1059).  de Ricci described there three leaves from the Psalter and Hours written probably in the 13th century for Isabelle of France, sister of St. Louis, that were given to Norton by the manuscript’s then owner, John Ruskin, as possibly “still in the possession of some member of his family” and asserts that “Ruskin had given away several leaves, including the 3 mentioned here and 6 which he gave to his school of painting in Oxford.”

De Ricci’s entry on Norton, who died in 1908, cites Sydney Carlyle Cockerell’s A Psalter and Hours executed before 1270 for a lady … probably … Isabelle of France (London, 1905), where Cockerell asserts that Ruskin’s “six leaves subsequently placed by him in his Drawing School at Oxford, and three that he gave to Professor Charles Eliot Norton, have been restored to the book.”  Thus it would appear that de Ricci knew of Cockerell’s work, but failed to read it carefully.  It is also unclear how de Ricci knew the folio numbers of the missing leaves which are not given in Cockerell.

The bibliographical ghost created by de Ricci continues to live on, however, in Melissa Conway and Lisa Fagin Davis’s “Directory of Collections in the United States and Canada with pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings” (Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 109:3 (2015): 273-420) which is a continuation of de Ricci and where the three Norton leaves are described as “currently untraced” (334).

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December 6th, 2016

Cautionary tales

artaud-3This post is part of an ongoing series featuring recently cataloged items from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

As Nazi occupation expanded into France, Antonin Artaud (1896-1948), the avant-garde dramatist, actor, poet, and theorist of the Theatre of Cruelty, was committed to a mental hospital in Rodez. There he came under the care of Gaston Ferdière, a medical doctor and poet, who subjected Artaud to hundreds of electric shocks across 51 sessions of electro-shock therapy, then a new and experimental treatment. It was during this period that Artaud annotated this copy of Les nouvelles révélations de l’être, his astrological pamphlet of 1937. Nouvelles révélations contains a number of prognostications, among them the rise to power of a world-conquering autocratic ruler – Artaud himself. Perhaps seeing in the war a parallel to his earlier prophecy, Artaud inscribed this copy with a dedication to Hitler:


To Adolf Hitler, in memory of the Romanische café in Berlin one afternoon in May of ’32, and because I pray God give you the grace to remember all the wonders by which HE has GRATIFIED (RESUSCITATED) YOUR HEART, this very day, Kudar dayro Zarish Ankkara Thabi. Antonin Artaud, 3 December 1943.*

(It bears mentioning that Artaud did claim to have met Hitler personally, as both frequented the Berlin café scene in the early 1930s, during Artaud’s time as a film actor; in some retellings of this story, Artaud asserts that the encounter ended in a fistfight.)


Artaud also annotated this copy extensively with additional passages and corrections to the text. This extraordinary copy comes to us from the Santo Domingo Collection in a similarly extraordinary case, designed by the French binder Renaud Vernier in 1990. The tan calfskin enclosure mimics the red and black type of the pamphlet’s cover with stamping, and the whole is housed in an additional slipcase.

artaud-1   artaud-2

As for Ferdière, he would write, in an article published in a special issue of the poetic journal La tour de feu dedicated to Artaud, that the dedication to Hitler was a “specific example of Artaud’s mental derangement … One recognizes here the faulty memory (so frequent with Artaud along with mistaken identity), mystical ideas, glossolalia, etc….”* But the doctor’s assessments were not uncontroversial, and neither were his practices. A subsequent patient of Ferdière’s, the Lettrist artist and poet Isidore Isou, lashed out against Ferdière’s diagnosis and treatment of Artaud in a book-length screed, Artaud torturé par les psychiatres.

*Translations from Antonin Artaud anthology (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1965), by the editor of that volume, Jack Hirschman.

Les nouvelles révélations de l’être: FC9.Ar752.937n (B).

Thanks to bibliographic assistant Ryan Wheeler for contributing this post.

December 1st, 2016

Mag Dog’s i

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring recently cataloged items from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

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Today’s post features an artist named Richard Stine and his book Smile in a Mad Dog’s i.  Stine self-published this first edition in 1974 with 4000 copies.  Inspired by the receipt books that newsboys used to carry in the 1950s he used two metal rings to bind the loose pages.  Stine also liked the idea of being able to add pages in the future though he never actually did it.  According to Stine he spent $9000 to publish it, at the time his entire life savings.  There is another edition that was published in 1976 by Carolyn Bean Associates.  I really enjoyed his text and drawings so I choose a few of my favorites to share below.  To learn more about what Stine is up to these days you can check out his blog Zen Dogs Blog.

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Smile in a mad dog’s i : drawings / Richard Stine. Ojai, Calif. : Richard Stine, [1974]. NC1429.S66 A4 1974 can be found in the Fine Arts Library’s Collection.

Thanks to Donna Viscuglia, Cataloger, and Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, for contributing this post.

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