New Exhibition: Flying Machines opens October 1st, 2015


Exhibition flyer

Flying Machines: Science and Fantasy will be the next exhibition in the Cotsen gallery. Featuring mechanical flyers from the world of childhood; the show will include illustrated books, board games, an installation of toys, and a very special piece of realia on loan from the Museum Objects Collection.

Centered around two major themes, science and fantasy, the items selected track depictions of flying machines from the realistic to the magical in children’s literature. From the earliest fantastic ideas about man-made flyers, through inventive science fiction and real scientific experiments, into the whimsical machines of impossible flights. The exhibition features imagined contraptions from seven different countries over almost 100 years of flights of fancy (1892-1971).

To appease your curiosity for the next two weeks (since I’m sure you are all waiting with bated breath for the opening) check out some of the books that just didn’t quite make it:


All About Airships, front board, Cotsen 75809


The Flying Grandmother, Page [7], Cotsen 7330


Wings for Per, Endpapers, Cotsen 7248


En aeroplane dans les 7 ciels, Page [10], Cotsen 6492200


Das grosse Erlebnis, Page spread [9-10], Cotsen 58400


Airplanes: Stories and Pictures, Page [26], Cotsen 49801


Air Babies, Title page, Cotsen 31474


Valériane in a Helicopter, Page spread [14-15], Cotsen 21961

If you enjoyed those, the books that actually made it into the exhibition promise to be even better!

Flying Machines: Science and Fantasy

Opening October 1st and running until the end of year. 

Visit during the first 2 days to get a special gallery give away for children (hint: it’s a toy Styrofoam airplane!).

Exhibition title card

Exhibition title card

Cotsen’s Covert Collections, part 1: A Pair of Burmese (Myanma) Buddhist Manuscripts

Around Princeton, Cotsen Children’s Library is most often referred to as “the children’s library” (with a myriad of connotations). In the research community, the library is well-known for its wealth of children’s literature, folk tales, educational material, toys, manuscripts, and juvenilia. Material is available in scores of languages spanning the last 400 hundred years or so. But Cotsen is also home to an array of fantastic and surprisingly rare material that most wouldn’t expect to find given our collection interests and reputation.

In a blog series I’d like to call “Cotsen’s Covert Collections” (so I’m calling it that), I will showcase some of the more unexpected collections material that I come across. These are the items that I find in the vaults that make me say: “I can’t believe we have this. I don’t quite know what it is, but this is really cool!”.

The first items I’d like to show are a pair of Burmese (Myanma) Buddhist manuscripts:

2 volumes, Cotsen 101728

2 volumes, Cotsen 101728

The shape of these manuscripts differs drastically from a typical Western bound manuscript. Both feature accordion folded sections of rag paper pasted together between highly decorative red and gold painted wood boards.


The manuscripts have no spine like in a typical codex. The sheets are pasted together at even intervals and stacked, they are only connected to the binding at the terminal ends.

Each panel can be read separately or the whole work can be unfolded vertically like a wall chart. In this way, the manuscripts are something between a bound manuscript and a scroll. Unlike a western manuscript or a typical scroll, however, the works are double-sided. On one side the works feature hand painted illustrations and text, on the reverse side the works feature only inscribed text.

The top manuscript in the first picture above.

The top manuscript in the first picture above.

The bottom manuscript in the first picture above.

The bottom manuscript in the first picture above.

The record indicates that both manuscripts were made around 1890 in Burma (Myanmar). This information was probably provided from a dealer’s description which we no longer have with us. Though the items themselves provide no indication of place or date (as far as I can tell) the manuscript style is iconically Burmese; and we’ll just have to take the date on face value for now.

Judging by the skill of the paintings, the mistakes in the texts, and the similarities of the works, I think it’s safe to assume that one artist probably authored both works; and that he or she was an amateur or novice.

Though my knowledge of the Burmese (Myanmar) language can hardly be called knowledge, the script does seem to differ from modern Burmese. My guess is that the manuscripts were written in Burmese-pali as is typical of other more ornate Buddhist manuscripts from Myanmar called Kammavaca. Burmese-pali uses an older form of Burmese script in order to write the Pali language, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism (the dominant branch of Buddhism in South East Asia). ***A blog comment by pansuriya (see comment below) has corrected my supposition above. The text panels are in the Shan language while the image descriptions are indeed in Burmese. I have also turned the text images 180 degrees since I depicted the text upside down.

The first manuscript seems to depict various previous lives of the Buddha juxtaposed against his final earthly state. Called Jataka tales, stories about previous lives of the Buddha are moral tales in which a particular virtue is correctly exercised by the Buddha in one of his past forms:


1st panel, Possibly a short depiction of The Story of Chaddanta Elephant


4th panel

Of course, the text on the reverse side of the manuscript would probably offer further clues about the content of the images. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know what the text says either:

First text panel

First text panel

Last text panel

Last text panel

The second manuscript might be focused on scenes from the life of Siddhārtha Gautama, but I’ll admit it’s difficult for me to discern:


2nd panel


6th panel (luckily this final panel is not stained by red dust which has soiled the rest of the work)

First text panel

First text panel

Last text panel

Last text panel

By including items like these on the blog, I hope to make it more transparent that Cotsen has a variety of materials that one would not expect at “the children’s library”. Hopefully, bringing these objects to light means that someone more knowledgeable than me can help us discover more about these wonderful (and under-described) materials. We have a range of unusual or unexpected artifacts, books, and objects. I hope this blog series will inspire researchers to see what else they can find in our collection.