July 26th, 2013

Auspicious Debuts: Our Town

Our Town poster. ppfMS Thr 889 (725)Just over seventy-five years ago, Our Town opened at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre, two weeks ahead of its scheduled Broadway premiere. That same day, January 25th 1938, The Boston Post carried a headline linking the new show to a suicide. Rosamond Pinchot, the glamorous starlet once billed as the loveliest woman in America, had taken her own life the previous morning, reportedly distraught over her failure to win a part in Thornton Wilder’s play.

News of her death “fell like a bomb into the middle of everything,” Wilder confided to his friend Alexander Woollcott in a letter now part of Houghton’s collection. Director Jed Harris—whose affair with Pinchot was public gossip—although shaken, was bearing up. But the emotional strain only added to tension between the two on the tack Harris’ production was taking.

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July 19th, 2013

You’ve Got Mail: Theodore Roosevelt as comic artist

Despite the many demands of being president, Theodore Roosevelt found time to regularly write to each of his six children while they were away at school or visiting friends. Tailored to match each child’s interests and personality, TR’s letters are filled with descriptions of family pets, siblings’ antics, and his own many adventures (which make equally entertaining reading for adults and children). Among his many talents, TR was a clever comic artist, and his playful sense of humor is much more evident in these letters than in his official correspondence or other writings.

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July 11th, 2013

A Revolutionary discovery in the stacks

Whereas this province labors... (1767) leaf 1. 42-5288.Update: These documents have now been fully digitized, and are available here.
Although the overwhelming majority of Houghton’s collections are well-cataloged, a few things that slipped through the cracks in the conversion from the card catalog to an online catalog still lurk on our shelves. Karen Nipps, Head of the Rare Book Cataloging Team, recently discovered such an item, one of tremendous importance that offers crucial new evidence about the stirrings of revolution in Colonial Boston.

In 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, named for Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Acts were a series of taxes intended to raise revenues from the colonies to pay for the British troops stationed there, and to pay the salaries of colonial governors and judges. Lacking any representation in Parliament, the colonists protested the taxes the only way they could–by refusing to purchase the goods imported from Britain on which the taxes had been levied.

Bostonians gathered at Faneuil Hall on October 28, 1767, to discuss the new taxes and plan their course of action. A list of imported goods to boycott was drawn up, and instructions were given that Keep reading →

July 9th, 2013

What’s New: A Collection of Bookbindings

Per le faustissime nozze del nobil uomo sig. conte Gaetano Guglielmi Balleani, 1821.Typ 825.21.681For over 20 years, the bookseller David Block and his wife Shiu-min Block assembled a personal collection of bookbindings produced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Their choice was guided by the condition of the books and the range of bindings they wished to include in their collection. In 2008, the David and Shiu-min Block Collection of Bookbindings came to the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts as a partial gift, enriching the collections in an area previously not collected systematically by the Department. The collection includes about 250 books. Paper and cloth publishers’ bindings designed in America and in Europe represent the majority of examples but there is also a significant number of unusual bindings in leather, silk, and velvet.
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July 1st, 2013

New on OASIS in July

Playbill from Howard Athenaeum, January 12, 1857Finding aids for nine newly cataloged collections, and preliminary box lists for four recent acquisitions, have been added to the OASIS database this month, including programs of the Ballets Russes and playbills from Boston theaters.

Processed by Irina Klyagin:
Ballets Russes Programs, 1907-1929 (MS Thr 965)

IUrii Nikiforovich Danilov Papers, 1920-1980 (MS Russ 125)

Processed by Micah Hoggatt and Susan Pyzynski, with the assistance of Bonnie B. Salt:
Playbills and Programs from Boston Theaters, 1775-1988 (TCS 66) Keep reading →

June 21st, 2013

Lost Books

In early June, the Library received this message from Maria Barrera: “I purchased from a flea market vendor a book that I believe belongs to the Harvard Libraries. It does bear the seals of Harvard College Library and lacks any note that may indicate it was withdrawn. I am enclosing pictures of the seals and the front page, for your ready reference.”

The book, W.Y. Sellars’ The Roman Poets of the Republic (Clarendon Press, 1881), turned up at the Park Slope Flea Market in Brooklyn, NY. Its markings confirmed that not only was it a Harvard Library book, but it was from the library of Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911), Harvard Class of 1841. As a Union colonel in the Civil War, Higginson commanded the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first federally authorized regiment of African-American soldiers. He was a prominent social reformer, campaigning for the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and temperance. In his later years, he was the author of numerous works on American literature and history, and was the mentor, and first editor (with Mabel Loomis Todd), of Emily Dickinson.

Not only did the volume have Higginson’s own book label and a plate indicating it was a gift to the Harvard College Library,

AC85.H5358.Zz881s bookplate


it also bore his signature on the half-title, his note on the flyleaf,

AC85.H5358.Zz881s half-title page

and several other brief marginal notes in Higginson’s hand, as well as various other marginal marks such as lines, checkmarks, and hash marks. (As the charge slip in the back of the book shows that it circulated nine times between 1950 and 1960, and undoubtedly many times in the decade before that, it’s likely that some of the markings are by other readers.) While unlikely to lead to major changes in scholarship on Higginson, we were very pleased to have it restored to the Harvard collections.

Higginson’s books—831 volumes—along with manuscripts, letters, and scrapbooks, were given by his wife and daughter to the Harvard College Library in three installments between1938 and 1940, supplementing Mrs. Higginson’s gift in 1922-23 of Higginson’s journals and correspondence. While the papers went into the Treasure Room (predecessor of Houghton Library), the books went to the Widener stacks, and circulated to Harvard faculty and students.

In January 1957, Houghton Librarian William A. Jackson went to the Widener stacks in pursuit of another volume from Higginson’s library, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1876) sent to Higginson by Emily Dickinson in spring 1876 (see Johnson and Ward, Letters of Emily Dickinson, nos. 450 & 457). Presumably Jackson was alerted by Johnson and Ward, who were then editing Dickinson’s letters, of the references in Dickinson’s correspondence.

Daniel Deronda’s fate was not as fortunate as that of the Roman Poets: as Jackson’s note inside the volume makes clear, volume one of the two-volume edition, perhaps containing an inscription from Dickinson, had been rejected (i.e. discarded) in 1949. James Walsh, Keeper of Rare Books at Houghton, followed up in the College Library records; his note at the bottom confirms that the lost volume did indeed contain an inscription.

AC85.D5605.Zz876e2 v.2 flyleaf

Perhaps it will turn up in a flea market some day? Let us know if it does!

[Thanks to Leslie Morris, Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, for contributing this post.]

June 14th, 2013

Theatrical designs by Domenico Ferri

“Arsenal de Venise”: scene design by Domenico Ferri for Gaetano Donizetti’s Marino Faliero (1835), lithograph (35 x 42 cm.)
In 2010 the Harvard Theatre Collection acquired Choix de decorations du Théâtre Royale Italien (Paris, [1838]; call number pf TS 239.208.5), a rare suite of twelve lithographs by different hands after theatrical scene designs by Domenico Ferri (1795-1878), a Bolognese architect and artist who spent most of his active career in Paris.  All but the final plate are printed on Japanese proof paper and mounted, and the original lithograph front wrapper (dated 1837) has been preserved. Keep reading →

June 12th, 2013

Follow us on Tumblr and Twitter

Houghton Twitter logoHere at Houghton we are constantly digitizing new material. We’ll continue to post about larger items and collections and collections here on the Houghton Blog under the digitzation tag. But there are also so many interesting and beautiful single images that we wanted to find a home for as well, so we’ve created a new Tumblr blog to show them off.

And remember, for all your Houghton Library news, including new blog posts, exhibitions and events, discoveries in the collections and more, follow us on Twitter at @HoughtonLib.

June 10th, 2013

Adding a page to Lincoln’s oldest manuscript

One of the highlights of our 2009 exhibition Harvard’s Lincoln was this early leaf of mathematics exercises in Abraham Lincoln’s hand. Now, two researchers at Illinois State University have announced confirmation that this Houghton item (MS Am 1326) is the long-separated 11th leaf of a “cyphering book” Lincoln prepared in 1825, at the age of 16. It is the earliest surviving work in Lincoln’s hand.

Abraham Lincoln. Exercise book fragment: manuscript (recto), [ca. 1825] MS Am 1326

Abraham Lincoln. Exercise book fragment: manuscript (verso), [ca. 1825] MS Am 1326

The original manuscript was separated by Lincoln’s friend and law partner William Herndon, and the Houghton leaf is accompanied by a presentation letter from Herndon. Two fragments of another leaf, one held at Brown University and the other at the University of Chicago, were digitally reunited at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project in 2010.

June 7th, 2013

You’ve Got Mail: Eight Further Unpublished Letters by William Morris

William Morris, ALS to Laurence Hodson, June 17, 1895.On 4 April 2013 books, manuscripts, and art work from the collection of Laurence W. Hodson (1864-1933) were auctioned at Bloomsbury Auctions in London. Hodson also sold books and manuscripts from his library in 1906, but this most recent auction will allow scholars to evaluate more effectively Hodson’s role as an important art collector; as founder, with C. R. Ashbee, of the Essex House Press; and as patron of William Morris. Houghton Library acquired a number of lots at the auction, including extensive correspondence with Sydney Cockerell, F. J. Furnivall and Emery Walker and other members of the Kelmscott Press circle, and eight hitherto unrecorded and unpublished letters from Morris to Hodson. A correspondence between Morris and Hodson had been hypothesized since Morris and Co. were engaged to refurbish the interior of Hodson’s residence, Compton Hall, near Wolverhampton, and the last wallpaper designed by the company was produced for the house and bears its name, “Compton.”
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