Thursday, December 13, 2012

the ultimate ivory tower

Today, while in Boston, I walked around Harvard and Harvard Yard. What a beautiful, peaceful place. While wandering around campus, I crossed the Charles river, empty of sculls and other boats. Harvard yard reminded me of Oxford, with brick buildings, courtyards and quiet walks. So what did I do there? I did research of course while looking at the R.G. Dun credit records of a variety of printing and publishing companies in Chicago and Philadelphia in the late 19th century. It was an opportunity to revisit some of the characters I met while working on my dissertation. Ironically, many of the companies I looked at barely made it into my carefully crafted chapters. So today I read credit reports. Sound boring? Well, imagine learning about how businesses grew, found investors, and even purchased equipment. The credit reporters came around every few months. Today researchers can study how companies rise and fall, wonderful lessons to apply to life today.

Tomorrow I explore the Freedom Trail in historic downtown Boston.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A brain teaser

One of the book collectors / rare book dealers posted Rhymed Rebuses today 
You might enjoy trying your hand at these pictorial letters and codes. They remind me of the picture letters I saw at the Morgan Library exhibit of Beatrix Potter Letters . While Potter's letters aren't secret codes, they are the forerunners of her famous books about Peter Rabbit and friends. I really enjoyed looking at the letters and books, and all the toys that she created. Yes, Beatrix Potter created toys, games, and more to promote her creations. She was a real business woman, licensing her ideas and copyrighting her books in the UK and the USA.  Unfortunately they didn't have a catalog of the exhibition which would have been a great souvenir. Nevertheless, the museum gift shop has lots of memorabilia and books for the curious visitor to take home.

Just in case you think I've been hanging around Brooklyn not doing much, in the same week I went to the Morgan, I was at the Met (my previous post) and the Brooklyn Museum (the anti-penultimate post). Last week I was at the Library Company in Philadelphia and saw a lovely exhibition about the Pennsylvania RR company and its stations in Philadelphia  . At the same time, I've been looking at more incunabula bibles. I'll post some pictures later this week.

I'm off to Boston for a few days to soak up more east coast culture.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

a different museum experience

As I start to see the end of my visit here, I thought I'd do some different things with my time, or more accurately, I am trying to see all the museums and collections I haven't gotten to yet. So yesterday, Tuesday, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a special tour. I know, I know, I've been there three other times since May, but I wanted to experience the museum differently.

Before I left, I selected 5 distinct exhibitions I wanted to see, just 5. Now these weren't the usual 'special exhibits' but minor showcases of materials held by the Met. I went to the main exhibits page  and scrolled past the fancy exhibits to the smaller ones, and voila, a special tour ensued.

First I went to see "Historic Images of the Greek Bronze Age: The Reproductions of E. Gillieron & Son"  This single room contained four walls of drawings and reproductions made by Ernst Gillieron, a Frenchman, and his son, the premier art reproducers of the late 19th century. They 'reconstructed' in situ the wall paintings at Knossos for Sir Arthur Evans, those contested murals that to this day we aren't certain are what is now on the walls. They also made and sold reproductions of artifacts found at the digs of Evans and Schliemann, including the Vaphio cups and the Mask of Agamemnon.  According to the captions, the Met commissioned and purchased these reproductions to fill out their collections. By the 1930s, they had acquired the original artifacts and put the reproductions away, until they displayed them in this room. It was fascinating seeing the drawings of what Gillieron found and what he created. Of course today, this type of reconstruction is frowned upon because it isn't 'accurate'. Nevertheless, we have a sense of what the walls of the palaces must have looked like. While the Met displayed murals from Knossos, they didn't show wall paintings from Santorini. I now need to find out if Gillieron also 'repainted' those walls or if the discovery was much later. The Met also has an article about the conservation work performed on the Gillieron materials before they were placed on exhibition, for the curious of course

On to the next gallery, which was of Turkmen Jewelry which was in the new Islamic / Middle East wing where all the Indian art is located. This little room was full of beautiful silver ornamental jewelry. The red and silver sparkled in the cases.
I wanted to take some home with me, but the pieces were too large. Alas the exhibition catalog weighed about 30 pounds and contained far more than the 20 or so pieces in the room.

After a water break, I went to see a curious little exhibit called "Pen & Chisel" which contained about 10 preparatory drawings for sculpture. The drawings dated from the 1450s to the late 1800s. One of the pieces was most interesting for it had tiny pin pricks all along the horse's body. I wondered what they were for and then realized that light could be projected through the holes onto a wall to create a life-size (or any size) reproduction. Alas, the caption didn't explain the prickings and my explanation could be incorrect. One other drawing was of the famous Marcus Aurelius Horse statues in Rome. What a delight.

Foot sore, wandered through the main hallway, past the huge tree and down the stairs to a very small gallery that's actually the atrium for the Antonio Ratti Textile Center and Reference Library   at the museum. This little gallery contained three cases entitled "Gems of European Lace 1620-1920"  . Oh the lace is magnificent. There were detailed explanations of how the lace was made, both needle and bobbin, and magnification of some of the pieces. If only.... 

Since I had some time to kill, I walked through the Roentgens exhibition, a big one   to see what all the fuss was about. The table were interesting, full of secret compartments and moving parts. None of his automatons were on exhibit, which was disappointing. I did enjoy seeing all the marquetry and polished  wood, but not as much as some of the other exhibits.

Unfortunately there were no small catalogs or even post cards of the little galleries, and I wasn't interested in a huge catalog of Turkmen art, so I left the gift shop empty handed. On the other hand, I spent intensive time reading captions and really looking at the artwork and drawings. Along the way, I stopped and looked at illuminated leaves of books, Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin (also no specific catalogs) which I've seen before but not really looked at. Altogether, it was an enjoyable way to experience the museum. I would definitely do it again. Thanks for joining me on my adventure.

Thursday, I'm off to see the Morgan Library & Museum. There's an exhibit of Beatrix Potter's Letters and a few bibles I want to study.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Museum musings

I just realized it's been over a month since I posted anything about my cultural adventures and explorations. There's no way to catch up or itemize the exhibits I've viewed. I'll have to go back and write about earlier visits another day. Today I want to write about the Brooklyn Museum  It's the first time I've ever been there as far as I know and what a building Building image In a few hours I toured most of the collection including one of the finest collections of Egyptian art and artifacts I've ever seen. They have papyri from the Book of the Dead, from Elephantine, and even writings on mummy wrappings on display.  They do have 12 panels from the palace of Ashur-nasir-pal II which shocked me. I thought the only ones in NYC were at MMA. It turns out they were a gift in the 1955. The panels are displayed with photographs of the great 5 legged bulls, which they don't have. Still magnificent no matter what they own.

While I managed to see most of the museum, I also took two tours. The first showcased a contemporary  African American Artists Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe Thomas uses a variety of media and crystals to make her art glitter. The docent explained that many of her pieces used paintings from the 1860s as models for her work. After pointing that out and seeing the impressionist paintings, I was less impressed by Thomas' work. 

As I was leaving I hooked up with an architectural tour of the McKim, Mead & White building. I must say that the building was much more impressive than the docent who seemed to say the same thing over and over again. There also seems to be no official published history of the museum, at least not in their gift shop, so I was doubly disappointed. 

On the whole, I liked the museum and could see myself returning for a special exhibit and maybe another look at the American Wing (also very impressive). But when compared with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this museum wasn't nearly as interesting.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Digital Collections

I was going to write about my experience today at the Center for Jewish History in NYC. I just wrote about the talk and experience to my Rare Book Librarianship students. Rather than repeat myself, I'll just give you the link.

Tomorrow I'm off to Columbia University. I'll take some pictures of the Hebrew Bibles with commentary to share.   I have lots of travel coming up and lots of libraries and museums to visit, so my blog should become really active again. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

The High Line

After a month in NYC, I finally took the time to be a tourist. I walked the entire length of the High Line, an interesting, trend-setting, innovative park on the elevated 10th Avenue train line. OMG it's amazing. The trail / park is the width of the rail lines and three stories above the surface streets. It runs from Gansvoort Street at 10th Avenue in the Meat Packing District to 34th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, right near Penn Station. You can see NJ from the park and of course, lots of NYC skyline. There are building roofs and water towers, smoke stacks, turrets, cupolas, crenelated roofs, and much more. There are tons of apartment buildings and lofts that overlook the park and some so close you can touch their windows.
Here are just a few photos of the fifty or so I shot. 

 There's a water fountain fashioned from a railroad track

Just below the park, there's an unusual warehouse that looks absolutely one dimensional. I just love buildings that look flat.

After walking all afternoon, I wandered around, and I do mean wandered, through the west village and into the east village. I must have walked 10 miles. Oh my aching feet.
It felt great to sit and eat with a friend in the east village.

I'll find more photos of the flora and post them later this week.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Brooklyn Mysteries

Over the past two days, I've wandered about Brooklyn looking at older buildings and wondering about their history. These particular buildings reveal their pasts through painted facades. Here's one near the Brooklyn Bridge. The name of the business is affixed to the upper level. it reads "The Eagle Warehouse & Storage Company. Today the building is probably lofts and condos, but once it was part of the Brooklyn Docks area where goods were stored awaiting shipment to other destinations whether by ship, rail, or truck. The Brooklyn Bridge area teamed with shipping and warehouses, dockworkers and ships. Today it's full of upscale restaurants and housing. 

Near this warehouse is another fine building which housed business offices for the Brooklyn City Railroad Company. I wish I'd taken a closed picture of the historic marker and of the stonework. I'll have to walk down and photograph this building again. The ironwork is stunning and the gates have dragon finials on them.

Today, I walked over to Park Slope. It was a really long walk. I now have a better sense of the neighborhoods between Brooklyn Heights and the Slope. Both are very upscale and trendy although I must say when I returned to Brooklyn Heights, it felt like home.

Along the way, I was more warehouses which have been turned into artists studios. This one was the National Packing Box Factory.

It's just on the east side of the Gowanus Canal.

There's actually a drawbridge over the canal and I could smell the salt water as I crossed over the very stagnant water. Here are some photos of the area as it is today

Once a swamp that the colonists used to their advantage to foil British troops, it's been channeled and dredged. Today there are projects to study the Indian tribes and early settlements in the area. The Ratser map shows the area in 1766 Wikipedia  has a nice historical essay about the canal which has been neglected and is now being cleaned up as part of a superfund project.

Once I found Park Slope, I found a beautiful branch of the Brooklyn Public library. It is in a traditional building. I really wanted to go inside and peruse the collection but my feet were tired and there was a huge hill to climb from whence Park Slope gets its name.

One more interesting building, this one in white with metal or enamel plaques with lions heads. I couldn't resist taking a picture.

I'm discovering that the sights and sounds of Brooklyn are endless. When I left Park Slope, footsore and thirsty, I boarded the B63 and rode up 5th Street to Atlantic Avenue. In front of me was the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, an extremely tall building that marked the street where I lived 30 years ago. I now know that I live about a mile from Fort Green and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I have no recollection of any of the landmarks however. The area is completely gentrified and absolutely renovated. The streets headed away from the tower on Atlantic Avenue were filled with signs in Arabic, a definite change from the Brooklyn of several decades ago.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Buildings Are Eye-Candy

As I walk in the city, I cannot help but admire the buildings. There are so many amazing examples of architecture intermingled on blocks and slathered onto facades.  Since I'm spending so much time at NYPL, I thought I should take my own pictures. Here is a close up of the lions:

The facade of NYPL is just gorgeous. Here are my own photos

Looking up at the columns (above) and straight ahead at the steps and entrance.

Caddy corner across the street is Mid-Manhattan, the largest circulating branch of NYPL, and once my place of employment. NYPL is in the process of selling off the building along with the former B Altman - now the Science & Technology Library. I don't know where the collections are going, but I do know that Mid-Manhattan looks sad and in drastic need of a cleaning.

On my way back to Brooklyn Heights, I decided to walk down Lexington Avenue and enjoy the sights. There are some stunning buildings. My favorite block contained this row of brownstones, not all brown or of the same period. The one on the left has a greenhouse on the top floor. The white one has ornamental ironwork and a front door flush with the street.

I thought the building on the far left was interesting because it has a roof line that two stories taller than its neighbor. I wonder which was constructed first?

Once I arrived in Brooklyn Heights, I decided to look carefully at the stonework on the buildings. While it's not stone work, it could be a sculpture. What do you think it on the top of this building? 
My day ended at the Brooklyn Historical Society and more time exploring the early history of Long Island. They have an amazing collection of books, periodicals, pamphlets, maps, and objects. Even the outside of their building is decorated with clay and stonework.  I'll have to ask the public historian who the faces represent. 

This building's front door has the largest set of pocket doors I've ever seen. They must be 25 or 30 feet tall, and they work.   These two gentlemen were making certain the doors slid back without a hitch. And they do glide in and out.

Tomorrow, the piers along the water in Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fixated on Bibles

You'll think I'm crazy to keep looking at Bibles, but they are magnificent. I'm really getting into looking at these incunabula. Today, August 28th, I went to the American Bible Society, just off Columbus Circle. They have more than 40,000 bibles in their library in 2400 different languages. 42 of the bibles are incunabula. Here's the link to their Rare Book Collection, curated by just one librarian Their conservator photographed one bible as she conserved it. The slides can be found at

I was treated to the exhibit "Printers, Monks & Craftsmen which focuses on bindings and the construction of books, using Bibles as examples. The online exhibit includes images of most of the bindings. They had a leaf from a Gutenberg, a magnificent Koberger, and even an Erasmus Greek Bible. Of course, I could not take photos of the exhibited items, but I do have the catalog from the exhibit with full color photos.

So what did I look at? Well, two bibles of the 42. There are about 12 I'd like to examine, two was enough for one sitting.  

First I examined the 1487 Schonsperger German Bible in 2 volumes with elaborately hand colored plates. This copy had more color in its plates than the one at NYPL. I had to start with Genesis because that's where the illumination is usually found. It has more color than the one I looked at last week. Of course, to double check, I'm going back to NYPL tomorrow to look.

Then I selected another woodcut to of Moses found at the very end of Deuteronomy. Notice he's being buried, which is quite a surprise.

The next photo is of one of the decorative initials. These are printed and colored yellow, green, or orange. quite striking. Not all the initial letters are colored, so this was a nice surprise

The final image in this set of photos is one of the captions at the end of a book. This one denotes the end of Leviticus. I think these are fascinating because each printer / publisher / editor inserts his own comments and often translates Hebrew or Greek into Latin or German in this case. Keeping my languages straight is a challenge.

The second Bible I looked at was printed by Johann Amerbach in 1481. I'd studied another Bible he printed in 1482 that's at Cleveland Public Library. I wanted to see how this was different or similar.  

The American Bible Society's Amerbach is bound in full vellum. The cover isn't scuffed or marred so it looks like a newer binding, certainly not contemporary, because the binder would have used tawed (a tougher skin, usually pig). Notice the leather strings to keep the text shut. They don't seem to be as effective as metal clasps, but then again, the vellum is pretty delicate.
This Bible is printed in Latin and doesn't have any woodcuts. The decorative letters and capitals are quite nice. They are actually added by hand. You can see the guide letters, which were printed, beneath the colored letters. These guide letters told the scribe what letter to insert. This fancy T is found at the end of Deuteronomy. I've included the 'explicit' which ends the book and introduces the prologue of Jerome to the book of Joshua.

As with the other Bible, I also started at the Genesis and the introduction by Jerome. Here are the initial letters.  The Prologue to the Old Testament is on the left. Notice the beautiful floral design. The Initial letter for Genesis is on the right. The I in "In Principio"  covers many lines, and highlights the text.

This final image is of the first explicit ending Jerome's Prologue and the incipit or beginning of Genesis "which the Hebrews call Bresith. I just love these captions. 

After two hours of examining Bibles, I was exhausted, so I walked in the southernmost part of Central Park, lunched on a bench while I watched people, and headed back to Brooklyn Heights.  
As you can guess, I'm having fun exploring books in cultural institutions. I wonder what I'll find next time.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Illustrated incunabula

Tuesday I had the pleasure of paging through two different copies of Schonsperger's 1487 Bible, printed in German and illustrated with woodcuts by HB (maybe Hans Bamler according to the cataloging record), who copied the famous Quentell woodcuts.  These woodcuts are the ones you see in most bibles of the time period illustrating famous scenes in the five books of Moses, the books of Daniel and the Apocalypse.

So you might ask why I looked at two copies of the book. Well, first of all, The Spencer Collection at NYPL  specializes in bindings and illustrations or prints. The complete copy they own is rebound in a late 19th / early 20th century full leather binding over raised cords (that means you can feel and see the cords over the spine). I was really disappointed because I wanted to see a contemporary binding. This complete edition is hand colored as you can see by the image on the left. 

The colorist used yellow, orange, and green with gold leaf. Every woodcut is colored. The picture on the left is of creation and is usually the most elaborate. You can also see that the initial I for "In the Beginning" is also colored with gold leaf, technically it's illuminated.

 The two volume set is really quite nice and, except for the initial letters for chapters and books, is printed from type, even the running headers.


 The photograph of the illustration on the right is not colored, that's from the second copy NYPL owns of this incunabulum.

 That book is bound in original or fairly contemporary boards of wood covered with leather, blind tooled, with metal clasps that have disappeared over the centuries. You can see the cords through the board and where the signatures are loose. 

All the woodcuts are uncolored as you can see on the right. 
Here's another image from that copy.

I've learned it's really important to look at all copies of an edition because there are variations in type, layout, but mostly in rubrication, coloring of letters and the woodcuts. When the printer or publisher sold the book, they often sold it uncolored, with some colors, and elaborately colored. The Koberger German Bible (1483) at Kent State University is elaborately colored. The Schonsperger (1487) obviously came in at least two color choices, some and none. Undoubtedly, there are others out there that are elaborately colored, either when purchased or afterward.

There are six other illustrated Bibles in the Spencer incunabula collection. I'll eventually look at all of them to compare woodcuts and printing.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Incunabula are amazing

I spent Wednesday looking at incunabula at NYPL. They have over 900 of the precious works and a huge collection of bibles. As you know I've been working on a study involving incunable Bibles and decided that I would continue to work on it as an entry into a variety of rare book rooms across NYC and other cities.

The 1501 bible printed by Koberger was a delight. Purchased for the Lenox Collection, it is in original boards that are blind-stamped. (I'll be taking photos next week.)  The book is printed on beautiful textured paper. As you can imagine, the Pentateuch is heavily annotated by hand as are the Gospels. The rest is pristine. There's little hand work by this point in time but each decorative letter has a guide letter peaking out from beneath the blue or red. There's hand rubrication of all the capital letters. Chapters are captioned as are books. The running headers cover both recto and verso, but are inconsistent. What's really interesting is the Hebrew transliteration which is strangely accented. I have to consult some colleagues to determine what accent Koberger would have heard. In some cases, even sounding out the words doesn't make any sense. Needless to say, it was an absorbing experience. 

After examining Goff, which is annotated with corrections, shelf marks for NYPL, and changes in ownership for collections, there are a dozen more Bibles by Koberger, Amerbach and others I want to examine, including 5 Hebrew incunabula.  

I promise pictures next time, providing NYPL doesn't have any restrictions on posting images online.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Promenading along the tree lined shore

This morning I headed out to explore the Promenade and take photos of the shore. I couldn't resist and neither could all the tourists vying for space at the railings to take photos. Imagine living two blocks from NYC Bay. It's absolutely beautiful.

As I walk down Clark Street, I encounter interesting facades. Today I decide to just take one photo. The bas relief is really beautiful.

Then I continued on to the Promenade. It's actually the park I wrote about earlier this week that's part of the NYC Parks.

I took lots of photos of the skyline. First I focused on the various islands. As I said, I can see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Governor's Island.
Here's a photo of all three. While the statue is hard to see, Governor's island is on the left. The foreground is the platform for a new park they are constructing in the bay.

  I also took photos of the skyline of lower Manhattan:

  Then I walked North to look at the Manhattan Bridge: 
Perhaps my favorite building is this one with the wavy walls. I wonder what it is?

 Last of all, I looked at the statuary in the park and came across this globe that tells the time except that it's in the shadows of wonderful trees.

I promised myself a walk in Cadman Plaza next week. I'll take more photos of those majestic court buildings.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Day 3 - what's better than books?

On Day 3, that was yesterday, I headed into Manhattan to the New York Public Library Astor Tilden and Lenox Foundation. The main Research libraries are now called the
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Patience and Fortitude still gaze out from their majestic height over the city. 

But yesterday, I entered through the Bryant Park doors along 42nd Street. First stop was the main reading room on the third floor where I asked about their incunabula. 
Of course, I have to apply to access the collection and it sounds as though it isn't accessed often, and it's a BIG collection. I have an appointment next week to start looking at their incunabula and research resources for bibles.  The librarian I worked with was great. He had worked with the rare book collection for 20 years and was now in the main reference room. He spouted Billings call numbers and made me feel right at home. That's the system I learned to love while researching my MA Thesis. Here's the wikipedia entry for Billings
It's so strange to see the main catalog room devoid of catalog drawers. The NUC drawers are gone also, but the NUC is still there, on the balcony. I only have to ask for a volume if I want one. (hint to students, learn where this great tool is). After apply to use two different rare book collections, I needed lunch.  

I heard a fascinating talk in Bryant Park. The former NYPD commissioner spoke about collaboration and how the city changed under his watch as both head of the Transit Police and the NYC police.William Bratton and Zach Tumin, Collaborate or Perish! Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World. Hosted by Laurie Puhn, bestselling author of Fight Less, Love MoreI must admit it's wonderful to sit in Bryant Park and feel safe and comfortable.

After filling my brain with collaborative ideas, I wandered back into NYPL to check out their exhibit of Lunch Hour places. The Automat was great as was the entire exhibit. 
I decided to look for my great uncle who was a prominent judge in the Bronx from 1904 until the late 1920s. While I found his biographical sketch, I didn't have more info to explore. Of course, the librarians suggested online resources. Eventually, I be able to dig at more materials. While that branch of the family may not have deep roots in NYC (his father came to NY in 1889), others do.

Four hours and I was exhausted, so I walked to the subway and headed home. 
Oh yes, I also met a lovely lady from Chabad, who made certain I had Shabbat candles to bring light and peace into my home.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Day 4 - I'm already behind

I cannot believe I've been here four days already. They have been full days of walking, working on my class, and more walking. 

Tuesday I decided to check out my local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library  in Brooklyn Heights.  There was a reference department on the ground floor which had business materials and periodicals. Lots of local newspapers and phone books. The second floor contained reading rooms filled with fiction and non-fiction. I explored the local history section 974.x and found a great book on the Other Islands in NYC.

While I will use the collection, I cannot get a card because I have no permanent address in Brooklyn. What a disappointment. At least I can read the local paper, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which has been publishing since 1841. 

After a few hours with fans blowing in my ears, I headed out to explore the neighborhood some more and admired the beautiful incised designs on the side of the building. 

Once I determine where my father lived in Brooklyn when he was growing up, I'll dig into their reference collection. In the next week or so, I'll get over to Grand Army Plaza where the main branch is located. From what I understand, the Brooklyn Museum is also in the vicinity. Sounds like an entire day adventure, starting with the bus.