Category Archives: Just for Fun

Books, Boys, and Beastly Bats

We were charmed by this advice from educator Marcius Willson’s The School and Family Primer, published in 1860 as an introductory text to his series of four readers for children. It sounds very much like the advice we give to our researchers on a daily basis. (Click on the image to view a larger version.)

(We’re also agog at the two pictures chosen to illustrate the letter “B.” Confronted by such a gigantic bat, the boy’s nonchalance is decidedly impressive.)

The Star-Spangled Cucumber

As archivists, we know that we’re supposed to mark the Fourth of July with a remembrance of that most celebrated of documents, our Declaration of Independence. We think, though, that we’ll leave the remembering and celebrating to our fine colleagues at the National Archives, and give some attention to a document of a completely different sort—a pamphlet bearing one of the most wonderful titles we’ve ever come across:

Lest you think we’re joking, here’s a link to the catalog record. The pamphlet reprints an oration delivered by David Daggett to the citizens of New Haven, Connecticut on the Fourth of July, 1799.

Of course, at the risk of spoiling the fun, we have to note that the title is actually a reference to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Since Swift was a pretty funny guy himself, we’re hoping you’ll forgive us.

Happy Fourth of July from the RBMSCL!

Thanks to Beth Ann Koelsch, who brought this treasure to our attention many years ago.

Gee, Paperclips are Expensive…

Archival supplies are often the overlooked backbone of special collections. Imagine if we didn’t have boxes to hold all those priceless papers, or rubber stamps to warn everyone that the enclosed tintypes were “FRAGILE”?

Stainless Steel Paperclips

Boxes, folders, envelopes, interleaving paper: all of these things have been specially made treated to be acid-free, lignin-free, and archivally safe for the materials we store in them. They are designed to extend the life of our collections by preventing items from shifting during transport, or letting users grab a sturdy folder instead of a delicate manuscript. Some boxes and folders are chemically engineered to absorb oxidative gases from items like old newspapers, preventing them from yellowing or damaging other papers that might be stored in the same box.

Specially designed supplies usually result in extremely expensive supply costs for a special collections library. Regular cardboard boxes can cost as little as a dollar, while our archival boxes for letter-sized paper cost as much as $10. Oversized material requires extra-large folders and boxes, which can run as much as $40 per box! Even tiny supplies pack a punch: stainless steel paper clips, for example, cost a whopping 8 cents per paper clip. Regular paper clips are much cheaper (less than 1 cent), but they also rust and damage paper.

As archivists, we want to protect our collections so they will last as long as possible. Special supplies, while expensive, are critical to our success.

Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Technical Services Assistant.

Your Bloomers Are Showing

Cover of "The Bloomer's Complaint," 1851.

According to an informal and completely unscientific survey, five out of the eight women who work in the RBMSCL’s reading room are wearing pants today. This might not be the case were it not for the efforts of Amelia Bloomer, early feminist and fashion pioneer, who celebrates her 192nd birthday today.

To honor Amelia, we quote from a 6 August 1851 letter from University of North Carolina chemistry professor Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick to his future wife, Mary Ellen Thompson (from our Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick Papers).

Remarking on current cultural matters from his position at the Nautical Almanac in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he writes:

There is something said every day or two about ‘Bloomers.’ I have seen several of them and like them. The young ladies have changed the fashion of putting up their hair, combing it up and back, something like what is vulgarly called a ‘cow-lick.’ I do not like it.

Professor Hedrick’s progressive opinion on the bloomer suit was not widely shared. Witness the chorus of “The Bloomer’s Complaint,” a charming song also from 1851:

I’ll come out next week, with a wide Bloomer flat
Of a shape that I fancy will fright them,
I had not intended to go quite to that,
But I’ll do it now, only to spite them—
With my pants “a la Turque,”
And my skirts two feet long
All fitting of course, most completely
These grumblers shall own after all, they are wrong,
And that I, in a Bloomer, look sweetly,
And that I, in a Bloomer, look sweetly.

Thanks to Mitch Fraas, RBMSCL Research Services intern, for suggesting this post.

Class of 2010, Where Will You Be in 100 Years?

The Class of 1910 files into Craven Memorial Hall.

This weekend, over 3,500 accomplished students will receive degrees from Duke University. So much has changed in the 100 years since the Class of 1910 received their degrees (32 Bachelors of Arts and 3 Masters of Arts) on Wednesday, June 8th. Then, Duke was still known as Trinity College and John C. Kilgo was finishing his sixteen-year term as college president (William P. Few would assume the presidency in November). The Trinity Chronicle (now the Duke Chronicle) was only five years old.

We thought we’d revisit those school days of long ago by reprinting a few headlines from that fledgling paper for the 1909-1910 school year.

  • “Fortnightly Club Meets: Good Attendance at Postponed Meeting Last Friday Evening: Prof. Webb Selected Dante Theme,” October 27, 1909
  • “Doctor Kilgo’s Sermon: President Gives Masterly Defense of Faith Faculty of Our Mind,” November 17, 1909
  • Watts Hospital Opening: Thousands View the Various Rooms and Listen to Addresses,” December 8, 1909
  • Ninety Nineteen Initiate: Six New Men Taken through the Mysteries of the Order: Candidates Undergo Mystic Stunts,” February 23, 1910
  • “Mr. Nash on Fertilizers: Good Attendance at Regular Meeting of Science Club: Growing Interest in Club Work,” March 9, 1910
  • “Chronicle vs. Archive: Yearly Exhibition of Strictly Amateur Players, a Few Ringers Excepted: Most Exciting Game, Chronicle Wins,” April 20, 1910. (Yes, as the headline says, the Trinity Chronicle staff won that baseball game 8-5.)
  • “Commencement Program: All Arrangements for the Last Week Have Been Completed: Secretary Nagel to Make Address,” April 27, 1910
  • Mr. Brogden Speaks: Popular Durham Attorney Makes Forcible Talk to a Large Assemblage—His Subject: ‘Habit and Thought,'” May 4, 1910

The RBMSCL warmly congratulates the Class of 2010!

Additional Resources:

For Mom

On this special day, we’re sharing this cover from the sheet music from 1915 song (words by Edward Morton and James S. Donahue and music by Newton B. Heims). We love the sweet chorus:

Just write her a nice little letter,
Tell her you hope she is well,
Send her some little remembrance,
Something to make her heart swell,
Pet her and call her your sweetheart,
Cheer her and make her feel gay,
Don’t say a word that will grieve her,
Let this be your Mother’s Day.

Of course, we can’t write about mothers without mentioning one of the beloved treasures of the RBMSCL: enslaved woman Vilet Lester’s 1857 letter to her former mistress (from the Joseph Allred Papers). Vilet asks about her precious daughter, whom she had to leave behind when she was sold (ultimately) to a Georgian family. Each time we read it, our eyes get teary and our hearts break all over again.

Happy Mother’s Day, Vilet. Happy Mother’s Day to moms everywhere!

RBMSCL Photos: It’s MayDay!

Today, archives and other cultural heritage institutions across the country will be celebrating MayDay, our annual reminder to re-examine our strategies for protecting our valuable collections in the event of an emergency. To honor the day, we’re posting this picture of a range of pH-neutral archival boxes and papers, just waiting to house our new acquisitions. Proper housing is one of the many steps that the RBMSCL takes to ensure that our collections will be around for generations.

Over at Preservation Underground, our colleagues in the Preservation department have prepared a handy list of online resources on library emergency planning.

Free Comic Books!

Today is Free Comic Book Day, which means that comic book shops all over the world will be giving away free comics.

But every day is Free Comic Book Day at the RBMSCL, where everyone can use all of our 56,000 comic books (in the Edwin and Terry Murray Comic Book Collection) for free! You can’t take them with you, but you can spend as much time with them as you want in our reading room.

If you do want to take home some free comics (and who doesn’t?), the closest participating store is Ultimate Comics on Ninth Street in Durham.

Post contributed by Megan Lewis, Technical Services Archivist for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

The Story of the 6,487 Books

On this day in 1800, Congress approved the creation of the Library of Congress (here’s the birthday blog post from the Library of Congress Blog). By 1814, the collection numbered some 3,000 volumes, many of which burned when the British army invaded the capital city in in August.

On 30 January 1815, Congress and President James Madison turned to former President Thomas Jefferson to help rebuild the library’s collection. Jefferson was offered $23,950 for his Monticello library of 6,487 volumes.

That very week, on February 3rd, Francis Calley Gray and George Ticknor arrived at Monticello to pay a visit of a few days to their friend Mr. Jefferson—a visit which Mr. Gray meticulously recorded in his diary, which we hold here at the RBMSCL.

Francis Calley Gray's diary.
Francis Calley Gray's diary. Nice handwriting!

The morning after a welcoming dinner—complete with silver goblets engraved “from G.W. to T.J.”—Mr. Jefferson had prepared a special treat for his guests, both bibliophiles and collectors. As Gray wrote in his diary:

Mr. Jefferson gave me the catalogue of his books to examine + soon after conducted us to his library, + passed an hour there in pointing out to us its principal treasures. His collection of ancient classics was complete as to the authors but very careless in the editions. They were generally interleaved with the best English Translations. The Ancient English authors were also all here + some very rare editions of them. a black letter Chaucer + the first of Milton’s Paradise Lost divided into ten books were the most remarkable. . . . Of all branches of learning however relating to the History of North + South America is the most perfectly displayed in this library. The collection on this subject is without a question the most valuable in the world. Here are the works of all the Spanish [travelers?] in America + the great work of De Brie in which he has collected latin translations of the smaller works published by the earliest visitors of America whose original publications are now lost. It is finely printed + adorned with many plates. Here also is a copy of the letters of Fernando Cortes in Spanish, one of a small edition, + the copy retained by the Editor the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo for himself, but given by him to the American Consul for Mr. Jefferson.

On February 27, following his friends’ departure, Mr. Jefferson wrote to bookdealer Joseph Milligan (letter provided by the Library of Congress) to request his assistance in transporting the entire collection to Washington, D.C. These 6,487 books, some of which Mr. Gray had the good fortune to see, now belonged to the American people.

Sadly, an 1851 fire destroyed much of the Library of Congress’ collection, including two-thirds of Jefferson’s library. Which prompts us to remind everyone that MayDay is coming!

Thanks to Crystal Reinhardt, University Archives Graduate Student Assistant, for helping with this post.