Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"If the world is still here and round and beautiful"

Lee Hays liked to write letters. He tended to be a homebody, but after he lost both legs to diabetes, he was stuck at home more often. Long, thoughtful letters were his way of being a part of the world, and his correspondents responded in kind. His resulting papers, now being digitized here at the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, are thus rich and dense with perfectly encapsulated life moments.

One such cluster of letters are copies of those sent to the Murtaugh family, who seem to be his neighbors in upstate New York. A few of the letters, written to the younger Murtaughs, caught my eye in particular because of the uniquely wonderful way Lee had of speaking to younger people: with respect, interest and humor. They are full of advice that is honest and kind--never preachy or judgmental.

Lee Hays is often remembered for his work in music, especially his contributions to The Weavers, but it's his powerful grasp of language that always gets me. Since it's back-to-school season and some of you may be getting ready to either hit the books or assign said books, let Lee drop some knowledge on you: he has quite a bit to share.

Poem for Lee Murtagh, August 1973. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_004. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

Lee Hays to Bruce Murtagh, 1977. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_005. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

Lee Hays to Tony Murtaugh, 8 August 1978. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_008. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

Lee Hays to Bruce Murtaugh, November 1980. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_010. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

Cecilia Peterson, Digitization Archivist
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Water, Water, Everywhere. And Latino studies too!

As a curator of Latino Studies at the Anacostia Community Museum, I am often asked where my work fits within the museum’s initiatives.  The answer is: EVERYWHERE. 

Here is one example.

One of the Smithsonian’s signature initiatives, Waterways, has its roots right here in the Urban Waterways project at the Anacostia Community Museum. Urban Waterways has made profound and multifarious connections (geographic, fresh/salt water, culture/science, nature/built environment, and many more).

Rowers compete during the Stonewall Regatta held Sunday June 3, 2012 at the Anacostia Community Boathouse and sponsored by DC Strokes Rowing Club. here they row under the Pennsylvania Avenue/John Phillips Bridge on the Anacostia River.  Reclaming the Edge Exhibition Records, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution.  Photograph by Susana Raab

When I started at ACM, I was immediately tasked with planning a small exhibition. Reclaiming the Edge was in the main gallery and it sparked an idea: Bridging the Americas. My exhibition is not about the Panama Canal per se, but the history and culture of Panama, the migration patterns of Panamanians to the U.S., and the unique urban identity called “Zonians” have everything to do with the Canal. I am building an archival collection through photo documentation in D.C. and Panama and by conducting oral history interviews with Panamanian and Zonian D.C.area residents.  Bridging the Americas connects the Washington D.C. area to Panama, a country famous for its urban waterway. In the exhibition there will be a breakout section about the Panama Canal, a powerful geographic/cultural/commercial/political urban waterway. Moreover, it connects me to the current museum work.

Bridge of the Americas, Pacific side of the Panama Canal, August 2014.  Bridging the Americas Research Project, Anacostia Community Museum. Photograph by Susana Raab.

Various Smithsonian units have holdings that relate to the Panama Canal, such as photos of celebrity Canal visitors, political buttons, and of course, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which is located in Panama.
However, the framework of Urban Waterways is a new perspective on Panama and one with with global implications.

I had the opportunity to travel to Panama last month for the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal and to see the current Panama Canal expansion project.

100th anniversary of the Panama Canal sign, Gatun Observation Center, Panama. Atlantic side of the Panama Canal, August 2014. Bridging the Americas Research Project, Anacostia Community Museum. Photograph by Susana Raab.

Panama Canal expansion in progress, August 2014. Gatun Observation Center, Panama, Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. Bridging the Americas Research Project, Anacostia Community Museum. Photograph by Susana Raab.

As water covers 75% of the earth, the waterways initiative has been a fluid connector (pun intended). I want to capitalize on my expertise and also build meaningful links to the existing work of the Museum.
So where does Latino Studies fit at Anacostia? EVERYWHERE!

Ariana A. Curtis, Ph.D.
Curator (Latino Studies)
Anacostia Community Museum

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fascinating Fasteners

Micro spatula and archival bond paper with stainless steel paper clip (photo courtesy Alison Oswald)
One of my favorite archival tools is the stainless steel micro spatula. This durable, light-weight tool is invaluable for quickly and safely removing staples and other fasteners found in archival collections. Fasteners, such as staples, paper clips, brads (small tapered nails), grommets, and straight pins are found throughout archival collections. They were used by the creators of the documents to maintain the order and relationship deemed important at the time. Consequently, these fasteners play an important role in archives. An archivist must respect and retain these relationships when organizing and preparing a collection for research use to ensure historical integrity and context. Unfortunately, these all-important fasteners can cause physical damage to the documents such as tearing, puncturing, and staining from rusted metal. Metal fasteners can also be sharp, cutting archivists and breaking against brittle paper, causing even more damage. To reduce the risk of further damage to the materials, archivists remove these fasteners and keep relevant items together using a stainless steel paperclip secured over a small strip of archival bond paper. In some cases where a paper clip will not work, a small folder made of archival bond paper can maintain the order.  Sometimes, we leave non-rusty staples in place provided that environmental conditions are not conducive to rust. In some cases, fasteners are embedded so deeply that they can’t be removed.

2. Advertisement and price list for Rockwell-Barnes Company, manufacturer of fasteners, undated. (AC0060-0002300)
3. Sample card for McGill’s patent fasteners, Holmes, Booth & Haydens, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Office Equipment series, undated.  (AC0060-0002305-01) (front)
 4.  Verso of card above  (AC0060-0002305-02)
Most fasteners I encounter while processing are the standard paper clip, sometimes known as the “Owl” or “Fay.” Although I have yet to encounter one in a collection, I recently found information about some really fabulous fasteners manufactured by Holmes, Booth & Haydens, a Waterbury, Connecticut manufacturer involved in casting, rolling and drawing brass and copper in the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana.  I am especially fond of McGill’s No. 3, S-Ring (a turtle). This sample card which features the “McGill Fastener” was used by salesmen as a point-of purchase ad in a stationery store. I was intrigued by these fasteners and began to wonder if I would remove an example if I found one while processing? Would I hesitate, micro spatula in midair?  Best practice dictates I remove it, but I would save this novelty.

Like many things, these fasteners have a fascinating story. George W. McGill (1843-1917), an inventor and patent attorney (how convenient!), invented the first of many metal fasteners in 1866. McGill held over fifty patents, all relating to fasteners.  An improvement in metallic paper-fasteners (US 56,587) was McGill’s first patent, issued on January 24, 1866.  Several legal cases were based on this 1866 patent and subsequent patents for improvements to fasteners. Holmes, Booth & Haydens, had, under contract, the sole right to manufacture the McGill fasteners. But others in the fastening business were interested too so the trade was fraught with litigation surrounding the McGill patents.

In 1891, McGill sued (McGill Fastener Company vs. Universal Paper Fastener) for infringement upon his patent of 1875 for an improvement in metallic paper-fasteners (US 162,183) and his 1886 patent for the regular flathead “T” paper fastener (US 337,182). These two shank fasteners, with the head covered by a metal cap and bent at right angles, formed a button-like head that was applied in a variety of ways. The courts decided in favor of the Universal Paper Fastener Company, citing the McGill patents void and “want of novelty” and therefore there was no infringement. Despite this legal setback McGill would not be deterred.

In 1893, he went back to court in Lawrence vs. McGill.  McGill accused Benjamin Lawrence of the B. Lawrence Stationery Company of manufacturing fasteners like McGill’s patents of 1866 for a metallic fastener  (US 56,587) and 1883 for a staple fastener (US 285,640) and selling them at half the cost.  Lawrence argued that McGill’s patent was invalid because it was invented in England and that even if the patent was valid, it had expired. McGill sent a circular notice to the trade warning other companies against selling the infringed fastener. That circular caused the courts to consider a companion libel case—did McGill’s have the right to issue the circular claiming that B. Lawrence Stationery was infringing? Did McGill blackmail Lawrence by offering money to cease manufacturing?

McGill stated in his testimony, “I am the pioneer in this fastener line in this country. When I brought out my first device in 1866 I had faith and confidence in the business, and devoted my time, energy and money to its development. I spent $25,000 in making improvements which it took years to make and complete. I studied the needs of the business community, kept in touch with the march of improvement, worked hard to find out precisely what the trade needed, and invented new devices for growing needs and various uses.”

5. Advertisement for McGill’s Patent Fasteners, manufactured by Holmes, Booth & Haydens, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Office Equipment series, undated.  (AC0060-0002303)
And, in 1901, Holmes, Booth & Haydens vs. McGill appeared on the docket again. McGill brought four lawsuits (thankfully, they were consolidated into one lawsuit) against Holmes, Booth & Haydens for liability for royalties from 1895 to 1896. The suit was settled in favor of McGill, who recovered $20,315.96 worth of royalties. Metal fasteners were certainly profitable for McGill!
To learn more about our collections, visit the Archives Center.

The American Stationer, Volume, 28, 1890, pages 277, 958.
The American Stationer, Volume, 31, 1892, pages 695 and 745.
The American Stationer, Volume, 33, 1893, pages 202-204.
American Stationer and Office Outfitter, October 13, 1917.
Federal Reporter, Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit Courts of Appeals and Circuit and District Courts of the United States, Volume 48, 1892.
United States Court of Appeals Reports, Volume 47, 1901, pages 296-302.

Alison Oswald

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Garden Time: The Beauty of Floral Clocks

Floral clocks are an exciting and innovative garden design element that began to be featured in outdoor public spaces at the turn of the twentieth century.  Though “Floral clocks” can refer to Carl Linnaeus’ design which places flowers in a clocklike pattern to open and close according to the hour, the floral clocks referred to here are large functioning time pieces placed amongst richly colored and contrasting “carpet plants” in elaborate, often geometric patterns in a garden bed.
The Archives of American Gardens’ includes photographic prints Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens' floral clock.  The idea for the floral clock’s design is credited to Edinburgh Parks Superintendent, John McHattie who arranged to have clock makers Ritchie & Son install the mechanism for the clock in 1903.

When the clock began to operate on June 10, 1903, it had only an hour hand; in 1904 a minute hand was added.  The Prince Street Gardens’ floral clock was unique for not only having a twelve foot dial, but also for having florally worked out hands.  The hands of the clock were created from long, shallow troughs of sheet meal, and planted with flowers.  The Princes Street Gardens’ floral clock was not only a work of ingenuity for masterfully combining the technology of clock making with the art of planting design, but also for the engineering that took to install it on a forty degree incline.

Princes Street gardens Floral Clock in Edinburgh, Scotland, between 1920 and 1940.
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection.

At the turn of the twentieth century, floral clocks became feature at world fairs and public parks. In America there were floral clocks displayed on the slope of the Agricultural hill at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Water Works Park in Detroit Michigan featured a water powered floral clock and by 1948, America was home to the world’s largest floral clock in Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Brentwood, Maryland, which still operates today.

Stereograph of the Great Floral Clock in front of the Agricultural Building at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904.
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Historic Gardens Stereograph Collection
Floral clocks have their place as a trend or fad in gardening history and are wonderful examples of the use of technology in the garden.  The ability of landscape architects, gardeners, and clock makers to collaborate on such beautiful and yet demanding pieces is what makes the floral clock so special.  

Jessica Brode
Smithsonian Gardens

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Guiding Spirit of Tuskegee

In my previous blog post, Donors in the Archives, I promised to share interesting tidbits learned about treasures in the Dale/Patterson Family papers. During a recent processing session with the donor, Dianne Dale, I learned an interesting fact about Frederick Douglass Patterson, who Ms. Dale affectionately refers to as “Uncle Fred.”

I was aware of Frederick Douglass Patterson’s many accomplishments during his long and distinguished career. He was the third president of Tuskegee Institute (University); founder of the United Negro College Fund; and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987.

What I didn’t know about Dr. Patterson was his personal aspiration to fly and his role in establishing an aviation program at Tuskegee.

The Spirit of Tuskegee Institute,  Frederick Douglass Patterson papers, 1882 - 1988.  Anacostia Community Museum Archives.

As Ms. Dale and I organized the Patterson materials within the collection, she provided me with further insight. She said:

While serving as president of Tuskegee, Uncle Fred was able to use his position to realize his dream of flight. He established a commercial aviation program and learned to fly at an old cow pasture at the school. When WWII escalated, he saw the potential for training black pilots and met with officials at the Department of Defense to find out if the Army Air Corps was to be integrated. His idea was that if the armed services were to remain segregated, Tuskegee had the capacity to train black men to fly.

At the time, Eleanor Roosevelt was a trustee of the Julius Rosenwald Foundation, which funded black schools in the rural South. Uncle Fred invited Mrs. Roosevelt to Tuskegee to propose the construction of an airfield there. Eventually Tuskegee received funding to start pilot training at Moton Field. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and Daniel “Chappie” James were a part of the ROTC program and were among the first officers to command and train troops now known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Dr. Patterson’s interest in flight soon subsided after almost crashing his plane twice. His passion for aviation turned into an avocation until he finally stopped flying and focused his energies on building Tuskegee’s military aviation program.

Frederick Douglass Patterson isn’t mentioned often when we speak of the Tuskegee Airmen. However, I would argue it was Patterson’s aspirations to fly coupled with his belief in aviation programs to provide opportunities for trained African American pilots that paved the way for the celebrated WWII fighter pilots.

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives    

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.