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Thursday, August 14, 2014

All the World’s a Stage: Researching the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893 at the Archives Center

Between May 1st and October 30th of 1893, Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition, which celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s journey to the New World. The people of Chicago had their work cut out for them.  Just twenty years after the Great Fire of 1871 and in the midst of labor strife, organizers set out to create a magnificent space in Jackson Park, located along Lake Michigan.  Known as the “White City,” the structures that were built were to be temporary and plastered with white stucco. They included the largest building in the world at the time, the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts building, in addition to the Woman’s Building designed by the first woman to receive an architecture degree from MIT, Sophie Hayden (1868-1959). Still standing today is the Palace of Fine Arts building, now known as the Museum of Science and Industry.
Silver gelatkin photographic print by unidentified photographer, 1893.  Kenneth M. Swezey Papers,
Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Many of the collections housed at the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center offer a glimpse into the World’s Columbian Exposition, where the Ferris Wheel and Crackerjack made their debut, and millions of people throughout the world journeyed to Chicago, which was considered by some as “the greatest marvel of rapid and substantial growth of any city in the United States” (Schneyer’s Illustrated Handbook, p. 2).  The Warshaw Collection of Business Americana has an exceptionally comprehensive collection of World’s Fair material. In fact, viewing this collection wouldn’t limit a researcher to just the topic of a World’s Exposition. The collection provides great historical context for anyone researching  Chicago at this time. The scope of the collection includes many guidebooks that provide calendars of events, maps, information on the many buildings of the fair, including their exhibits and layouts. Tourist information, including hotel costs ($2-$3 dollars a day for the Sherman House and the Tremont), places to shop (department stores Marshall Field’s and Carson Pirie Scott), and restaurants (over 700) can be found in these books as well.

New Indexed Standard Guide Map of the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago, 1893, from Rand McNally's "Week at the Fair" booklet.  From World Expositions series, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Archives Center, NMAH 

In addition to the Warshaw collection’s World’s Exposition material, the Archives Center has two diaries written by attendees of the fair in 1893. The Paul R. Strain Columbian Exposition Diary, 1893 was hand written by fourteen-year-old Paul Strain of West Virginia, who kept a daily log of every building he visited and each exhibit he viewed. Inside the West Virginia exhibit, he saw a globe made of grain, and when he visited “the largest building on Earth” he noted the French gowns, pipe organs, and a two-hundred-year-old carpet priced at $15,000 on display.  Plooma Boyd’s Diary of the 1893 Columbian Exposition notes her surroundings in Chicago, including streets and neighborhoods visited throughout the city and exhibits within the Chicago Exposition.

The Larry Zim World’s Fair Collection has an extensive amount of 1893 Columbian Exposition material and contains printed ephemera such as advertisements and admission tickets. The stereographs in the collection detail the breath-taking architecture, interiors of buildings, exhibits, and attractions such as the Ferris Wheel.

Stereograph by B.W. Kilburn, 1893 (copyright 1894), from World's Columbian Exposition series.
Larry Zim World's Fair Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Stereograph by B.W. Kilburn, 1893 (copyright 1894), from World's Columbian Exposition series.
Larry Zim World's Fair Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

In addition to the collections mentioned, there are Chicago Exposition materials interspersed throughout the 1350-plus collections in the Archives Center.  So take a journey back in time and experience the Chicago Columbian Exposition through the diaries, guidebooks, photographs and ephemera at the Archives Center.

Meghan Ryan, Intern
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ephemeral Thoughts during the Waning Days of Summer

Dawn at the Tidal Basin, April 2014 (photo by Julia Blakely)
The spectacular display of the capital cherry trees of this year is but a happy, distant memory and the gardens of Washington have that hot, exhausted look of August, escaping into a rare gardening book is in order. The Cullman Library has a survivor of an ephemeral form of publication—nursery trade catalogs—that are valuable not only for their pictures (documenting different techniques of illustrating processes) but as research sources on introduction of plants into the trade as well as trends in horticultural fashion. L. Boehmer & Co. in Yokohama, Japan, produced for the 1899-1900 season the Catalogue of Japanese lilybulbs, iris and other flower roots, trees, shrubs, plants, seeds, etc.

Front cover of the Catalogue of Japanese lilybulbs, iris and other flower roots ...
Bonsai trees were just beginning to be imported into the United States in the late nineteenth century. One of the earliest collections, bought in 1913 from the Yokohama Nursery by the departing American Ambassador, is at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum. And Washington’s famed cherry trees were a gift to the city from Tokyo in 1912. There were examples of importations from the mid-nineteenth century. Famed botanist and plant explorer David Fairchild and his wife, Marian, the younger daughter of the Smithsonian’s own Alexander Graham Bell, did much to beautify Washington, D.C. Along with their friend Barbour Lathrop, they introduced various varieties of Japanese cherries to the United States in 1903 and 1905, again from the Yokohama Nursery. Some of these were planted in the Fairchild’s home in nearby Chevy Chase, Maryland. For more on this history, with links to the Library of Congress's research on the first cherry trees in the District, please click here.

So it is interesting to find fruit, ornamental, dwarf trees and shrubs in the stock listed in the catalog (QK369 .B67c 1899 SCNHRB), as stated on the title page, of “L. Boehmer & Co., nurserymen & exporters of Japanese bulbs, seeds, plants, &c. … Yokohama, Japan … the only European nursery firm in Japan, established 1882.” Appealing to a well-to-do, sophisticated clientele, there are delicate hand-colored wood-block illustrations, bound-in illustrated printed wrappers, with silk ties. Although the text is all in English, the leaves are double-folded, Japanese style and printed by T. Hasegawa, publisher & art printer, Tokyo, Japan. An imaginative artist wittily combined images with the printed words.

This example, along with other nursery catalogs in the Smithsonian Libraries, can also reveal hints at the propagation history of specific plants, seed cleaning, packing and shipping methods, and prices, as well as changing styles in landscape design. Or, rather than research, the catalogs can provide inspiration—one can dream of a time of planting something new and exotic and while wandering around the gardens, enjoying cool weather.  


Soon The Ephemera Society of America will hold its board meeting in Washington D.C. (September 13, 2014). Events surrounding the gathering will include visits to several collections of the Smithsonian Libraries, to view such items as trade literature, including perhaps this truly rare nursery catalog, only one other copy of the 1899 imprint is known to exist.

Friday, August 8, 2014

How SI Staff Beat the Heat

Postcard of the National Museum of Natural History, c. 1910-1915,
Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA2013-07214
Summer means heat and humidity for us in the nation’s capital, and though it seemed like only yesterday we were worried about the snow falls, now we seek out the solace of light clothing and an air conditioned building. However, this was not always a luxury Smithsonian employees could find.

When the Smithsonian’s new United States National Museum building, now the National Museum of Natural History, opened in 1910, its state-of-the-art design and construction exhibited collections wonderfully, but did not always make for a comfortable working environment. Willis Carrier invented the modern air conditioner in 1902, and in 1906 the first office building designed for air conditioning was built. But this expensive novelty was not something the Smithsonian could afford at the time of the construction of the new museum. Consequently, Smithsonian staff often felt the heat.

In addition to the lack of cool air, according to Smithsonian taxidermist Watson Perrygo who worked in the building, “Everybody wore hard collars. We always wore ties. In my days you couldn't go in like this [short sleeved shirt and casual slacks] or they'd call you up to the front office.” This strict dress policy requiring jackets, collars and ties made for some overheated staff members who turned to a creative solution to cool off in the summer months.

Watson Perrygo at Work, January 19,1933
Smithsonian Institution Archives, 81-13386

Smithsonian staff chipped in money and pooled their resources to make their own air conditioning unit. Perrygo noted, “Oh, yes. You know what air conditioning we had--a piece of ice from the ice house with a fan blowing on it. That was the air conditioning. That was it for years and years.” The ice man would deliver a large block of ice and place it in a tub.  Staff would then place an electric fan behind it to distribute the cooled area to their workrooms, allowing them to survive Washington’s hot and muggy summer months. On occasion, the building became too hot and work operations shut down for the day, but that was a rare occurrence.

Taxidermists Working on Hippopotamus in Suites and Ties, 1930s
Smithsonian Institution Archives, MAH 11087-A

The United States Congress approved funds for the installation of air-conditioning in the Natural History Building in 1960, and staff no longer had to rely on ice to cool off. So enjoy the summer heat, casual attire, and the respite of air conditioned buildings.

Courtney Bellizzi,

Perrygo quotes Interview 1, Pages 39-40, Watson Perrygo Oral History, Record Unit 9516, Smithsonian Institution Archives

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Root Beer Blast from the Past!

Root beer is a small but powerful example of modern print advertising techniques in 19th century America.  The Warshaw Collection of Business Americana holds hundreds of trade cards, advertisements and ephemera.  The collection is organized into hundreds of categories ranging from agriculture to World’s Fairs, and root beer advertisements are found in the “Beverage” series of the Warshaw Collection.  The root beer companies exemplify new marketing schemes and a new way to make profit in patent medicines and “healthful” beverages.  There is also a large “Patent Medicine” series in the Warshaw Collection.

Hires Rootbeer trade card, ca. 1900.
The late 19th century, often known as the Progressive Era, was a time of shifting social customs.  Large corporations sprang up as smaller companies were absorbed or were run out of business.  New manufacturers such as Hires Rootbeer sent their products around the country to local grocers, druggists, and chemists, creating standardized nation-wide products.   Trade cards advertising Hires Rootbeer often give a local name and address to find the product, such as “S.O. Tarbox, Groceries and Drugs, Farmington, Me.”  Hires Rootbeer demonstrates the new way companies sold goods to a national market instead of merely a local one.

Some companies used games or pseudoscience to market their product.  Knapp’s Root Beer used palmistry on an advertisement for their root beer to attract more customers.  The drawing of a hand marked with letters corresponds to explanations on the back which supposedly indicate personality traits of the viewer.  Using palmistry on an advertisement attracted a new group of consumers to the brand.  People learned about the product while looking at the advertisement to figure out what their hands allegedly said about themselves.  Without the palmistry “hook,” consumers might not have given the advertisement a second look.  It is similar to the sponsorship that companies participate in today.  When Coca-Cola sponsors the World Cup they are getting brand notoriety, comparable to Knapp’s Root Beer palmistry.

Trade card for Knapps Root Beer, ca. 1900.
Verso of trade card at left.

Root beer advertisers also took part in the widely-used marketing scheme of patent medicines. Prevalent in the 19th century in America, patent medicines were non-regulated goods that a druggist or chemist would sell to the public claiming (mostly false) cures for common illnesses.  Dr. Buker’s Root and Herb Beer promised to be “a purifier of the blood” and “a stimulator of the digestive organs.”

Trade card for Allen's Root Beer Extract

Dr. Buker's Root and Herb Beer
advertising flyer.
Bryant’s Root Beer was used as “a general stimulant” and “a nerve tonic.”  Allen’s Root Beer Extract claimed not only to act “upon the Kidneys and Liver,” but to furnish “the most valuable elements of nutrition.” The unfounded claims of root beer producers demonstrate an attempt to profit from the budding consumer culture.

Bryant's Root Beer trade card.
Bryant's Root Beer trade card. Verso of card above.
Trade card for Raser's Root Beer Extract.

Similarly, Raser’s Root Beer believed in their product enough to warn their buyers to “Beware of worthless imitations.” Ironically, Raser’s root beer itself is an imitation of medicine, despite offering no proof of its promise as a “nerve strengthening beverage.” The advertisements never stated what ingredients of the root beer made it “nerve strengthening,” making the words dubious at best.  Questionable descriptions and claims such as these led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 passed by President Theodore Roosevelt, partly in an attempt to weed out false claims and misleading information.  The root beer trade cards in the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana are a minuscule part of Warshaw’s collection, but they tell a story of America’s early days of modern advertising.

-- Halle Mares, Intern,
Archives Center,
National Museum of American History

All images shown here are from items in the "Beverages" series, ca. 1880-1920, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Vacations are Forever: Archival Records of Leisure in Smithsonian Collections

We're at the peak of  a beautiful summer here in Washington, DC, but like many of you, we're still dreaming about escaping the daily grind to see something new. The people whose lives are represented in our stacks are no different: we think everyone can agree that vacation rules. Perhaps you've just gotten back from your own little adventure, or maybe you're counting down the days 'till the next one--wherever you are, take a break and dive in for a tour of vacation-themed objects in our collections.

Above: Landscape architect and photographer Thomas Warren Sears on a boat trip to England in 1906, after graduating from Harvard to visit many gardens and landscapes in Europe. Below: His traveling companion, possibly Helena Beatrice Cowburn. Thomas Warren Sears Photographic Collection, Archives of American Gardens, Smithsonian Institution.

Peter A. Juley and family on a road trip, undated. Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Photograph Archives. 

Scurlock Family Negs Russell Cox etc. [from enclosure]. Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Paul Bransom letter to Kicki Hays, 1947 Oct. 17. Helen Ireland Hays papers concerning Paul Bransom, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Walcott Family Enjoy a Meal in the Grand Canyon, May 1903. George P. Merrill Collection, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Vacation portrait of Mrs. Catherine Bryan and friends, circa 1944. Percival Bryan Collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Carter Harman [?], relaxing on a beach in Trinidad during a recording trip with Emory Cook, circa 1956 [?]. Cook Labs Records, Cook-051-13-n20. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.

Come, take a trip in my air ship by Geo. Evans and Ren Shields. Bella C. Landauer Collection of Aeronautical Sheet Music, National Air and Space Museum Library, Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Cecilia Peterson and Rachel Menyuk, Blog Coordinators

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Exploring a Renaissance Rarity in the Dibner Library

In the auspicious year of 1543, a book in German, Evangelien vnd Epistlen des Neϋwen Testaments (The Gospels and Letters of the New Testament; qBS239 1543 SCDIRB) was printed in the ancient Alsatian town of Colmar. Compiled by one Ambrosius Kempff, the work contains almost all of the New Testament and some of the Old Testament arranged in the order of the days of the Church calendar. As in a typical Roman Catholic lectionary, each selection was to be read on a certain day of the year. While the Dibner Library is primarily known for its history of science collections, it also contains several Bibles and other religious works, and we were pleased to be given this example on several accounts.

It is indeed a rare volume, with no other recorded copies in the United States and only a handful in European collections. Evangelien vnd Epistlen des Neϋwen Testaments appears in none of the standard reference works. It does get a mention in John M. Frymire’s The Primacy of the Postils (2010) which states it is written “Catholic” in the tradition of Erasmian humanism.

The Bewitched Groom

Interspersed among the 269 leaves of Fraktur letterpress are over a hundred woodcut illustrations by various artists, some of intriguing quality. This work could prove to be a rich source of analysis by an art historian as some of the woodcuts are by that most gifted and strange student of Albrecht Dürer’s, Hans Baldung, called Grien (d. 1545). Known as a painter—one familiar work is Three Ages of Woman and Death (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, 1510)—he was also a printmaker with a preoccupation with mortality and sorcery. One of Grien’s best known prints is the erotically charged The Bewitched Groom (1544).

The 1540s were a dynamic period for publishing: not only were significant works related to the Protestant Reformation printed but also announcements of new strides in the field of science. The year 1543 in particular is a major milestone in history of science literature, marked with exceptionally significant publications. In the field of astronomy, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) produced De revolutionibusorbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) in Nuremberg, providing arguments, based entirely on mathematical calculations, for the heliocentric universe. In mathematics, the first modern European language edition of Euclid's Elements appeared in Venice, translated into Italian by Niccolò Fontana Tartaglia (d. 1557). And in medicine, Andreas Vesalius's Dehumani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) was edited and printed in Basel by Johannes Oporinus (1507-1568). The profusely illustrated volume transformed the science of human anatomy by promoting direct observation in addition to (or many times countering) classical medical knowledge. These books of 1543 foreshadowed a new scientific era, the Scientific Revolution in the same year when Evangelien vnd Epistlen manifested the rich new religious literature.

This donation contained a pleasant surprise: it has a 19th-century armorial bookplate although without an accompanying name. However, thanks to online resources, notably the Ex Libris Chronicle of the American Society of Bookplate Collectors (formed in Washington, D.C. in 1922), the previous owner could be quickly identified by the motto and coat-of-arms. Evangelien vnd Epistlen des Neϋwen Testaments once belonged to a great bibliophile, Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843). He was the sixth son (of fifteen children) of King George III. His vast library of some 50,000 volumes was housed in Kensington Palace, where some members of the Royal family still live. The Duke’s librarian happened to also be his surgeon, Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, who produced catalogues of the collection as well as books on other topics. Pettigrew’s Medical Portrait Gallery (London, [1838?-1840]; R134 .P52 1838 SCDIRB) is on the Dibner shelves. Alas, the Duke had amassed huge debts (in no small part because of his collecting habits) so soon after his death the books and manuscripts were sold at auction and the library’s contents scattered. This volume is the only one in the Smithsonian Libraries identified with this provenance.

The manuscript inscription and armorial bookplate
But there was more interesting history to uncover in this one book. A handwritten inscription above the Duke’s bookplate seemed matter-of-fact at first glance: Jacob A. Westervelt to his daughter Eliza M. Westervelt / 1864. The names did not appear in either the Smithsonian Libraries online catalog nor in the Library of Congress or the Virtual International Authority File. However, one very good Wikipedia entry pinpointed the identities of these two:  Jacob Westervelt (1800-1879) was a famous shipbuilder whose long career included constructing 247 vessels, and who also served as mayor of New York City, from 1853 to 1855. One of his accomplishments was placing the police force, against great resistance, in uniforms for the first time. An 1885 portrait of Westervelt by Edward Ludlow Mooney is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Eliza Mariette (1841-1891) was the youngest of his eight children. 

The donor of the Evangelien vnd Epistlen is Mr. Theron Patrick, Commander United States Coast Guard (Retired) who recently visited the Dibner Library and the Book Conservation Laboratory of the Smithsonian Libraries. We very much appreciate his interest in our collections and we thank him for donating such a fascinating volume.

with the help of Diane Shaw, Special Collections Librarians, Smithsonian Libraries

The illustration of The Bewitched Groom is from Wikimedia Commons, all others are from the Lectionary, Evangelien vnd Epistlen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Frosty Treats in the Archives

Generally, food and archives do not mix, at least not literally. At the Archives of American Art we do not allow our researchers to indulge in a double scoop in our Reading Room, nor our staff to sip a milkshake in storage, but we can still celebrate National Ice Cream Month vicariously through some of our collection materials.

Andy Warhol and Philip Pearlstein in the cafeteria at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1948-49 / unidentified photographer. Philip Pearlstein papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
For example, take this photo of a young Andy Warhol working on a sugar cone in the cafeteria of the Carnegie Institute of Technology. I distinctly remember being a bit starry-eyed when I first saw the soft-serve ice cream machines in my college cafeteria (think of the options - soft-serve for lunch! Soft-serve for dinner! Soft-serve with Captain Crunch on it for breakfast!) so it is good to see that there are others, even super-famous artists, who share my affliction.

Detail of a storefront sign in Chicago, between 1972 and 1981 / Ray Yoshida, photographer. Ray Yoshida papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

While we're on the topic of soft-serve, how about these two cake cones filled with the stuff from the Ray Yoshida papers? Yoshida drew inspiration from found art and his papers include snapshots which he took of Chicago signs and billboards with quirky illustrations. Many of these are quite delightful, I particularly enjoy this one of a smiling tooth (it's a tooth...with teeth!), but the ice cream cones are undeniably the most mouthwatering.

Ad Reinhardt cover of Ice cream field magazine, 1939 July. Ad Reinhardt papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Lastly, we have Ad Reinhardt. Known for his abstract paintings, he also worked as a commercial artist and served for a time as the art director of the trade magazine Ice Cream Field. This cover that he designed for a 1939 issue epitomizes the enjoyment of cold treats on a hot day.

Hope you enjoyed this tour of all that is frozen and creamy in the Archives of American Art - now I don't know about you, but I need to go eat some actual ice cream. I promise I'll keep it away from the archival materials. If you can't get up right now and do the same, enjoy these other sweet frosty artifacts from across the Smithsonian's collections

Bettina Smith, Digital Projects Librarian
Archives of American Art