April 2009 Archives

Restoring Order

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Many at Princeton remember with great esteem the late Lara Moore, who, when she died at age 32 in 2003, was the History Librarian of the Library. Her example and achievements endure in many ways, such as in the able work of her successor, and, now, with the publication Lara’s book, Restoring Order: The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870, based on her Stanford dissertation. Her book is an important contribution to the history of libraries and archives.

Lara argues that the changing French governments shaped and re-shaped libraries and archives in order to mold public perception of their regime. Form and function traced back to policy. From this perspective, the trajectory of library development was not a smooth, upward, continuously progressive path from the disorder of the 1789 Revolution to post-Revolutionary order. Rather, the path was really “a series of very different attempts to recreate both ‘disorder’ and ‘order’ ” (p. 17). She also points out that while we may think we study the past, we should not overlook that we concurrently study previous generations’s conceptions of what they thought about the past (p. 22).

Is there an analog in American library history for this phenomenon? Or, put another way: “Was there an ancien regime to affirm or repudiate?”

Certainly for the ruling Protestants of nineteenth century America there was such an ancien regime to repudiate. I have encountered this attitude in an incident in the history of the Princeton University Library.

In 1878, Evan James Henry, a local Princeton lawyer, presented to the Library rubricated leaves of the Book of Psalms, once part of a Latin Bible printed in Strasbourg, ca. 1468. [Call number: (ExI) 5168.1468q].

At the time of donation, Princeton librarian Frederic Vinton interpreted the value of the gift as follows:

We may, therefore, fearlessly assert that we have a book printed more than twenty years before the discovery of America; about the time Warwick drove Edward IV out of England; while Louis XI reigned in France; before Lorenzo reigned in Florence, or Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain; just after Erasmus saw the light, and before Michael Angelo was born. Scarce one of the existing Universities in Christendom had been founded. All Europe was Catholic then, and free institutions had not begun to be. The spirit of modern discovery had not awakened, and men were still living in the dull ways of the middle ages. Until the Egyptian obelisk arrives, this book will be one of the most venerable things in America.

[Frederic Vinton] “A Rare Book in the College Library,” Princetonian 2, no. 15 (February 7, 1878): 173-174.

Restoring Order (Duluth, Minn.: Litwin Books, 2008) also reviewed in Reading Archives.

Obituary for Lara Moore (1971-2003)

Jesuit Thesis Print • Douay, 1753

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Actual size: 3 ft tall x 2 ft wide   

Jesuit Thesis Print • Douay, 1753.

Recently purchased for the Library’s holdings on the material culture of academic life was a Jesuit thesis print. In general, this genre of publication joined the visual and textual, markng in word and picture an important milestone in the education of a youth at a Jesuit college. Upon completion of a course of study, the student became the centerpiece of a staged show of his learning and rhetorical skills. This was done before an audience, sometimes with musical interludes. During the event, before a panel of his superiors in learning, the student elaborated on theses - topics of learned discourse. According to Louise Rice in her “Jesuit Thesis Prints and the Festive Academic Defence at the Collegio Romano,” in The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773, ed. John O’Malley et al., Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999, pp. 148-69, “… the sheet was distributed to members of the audience during the defence itself; it served as a kind of program, which enabled the audience to follow the progress of the disputation, and was taken home as a record or souvenir of the event.”

As a rule, a Jesuit thesis print featured a large picture surmounting the text of the theses. (For this particular one text and image together measure 43 inches tall and 28 inches wide, being two full sheets pasted together at one edge.)

In this case the scene is the famous story of the judgement of Solomon. This story of two mothers, a disputed baby, and a cunning strategy to determine the truth was widely known and illustrated. Raphael’s rendering is in the Loggia of the Papal Palace in the Vatican. In this print, engraved by Laurent Cars in Paris after a design by Serviatus Paira, the moment depicted can be read as the instance either before or just after his decision. One mother stands before King Solomon either in supplication or abjection, while in the foreground the baby is with the other mother. Onlookers point to the center of the drama.

Discoursing on the theses was Joannes Antonius Dominicus Verhulst from Bruges at the culmination of his course in the Jesuit College Aquicinctinus in Douai. This occurred in 1753. Twenty years later the Jesuits were suppressed and this practice declined.

Verhulst is discoursing on topics in rational philosophy - before judges, in this case, presided by Pierre de Cassal, Professor of Philosophy at the College. There was a tradition of dividing rational philosophy into three parts and so it is done here in three distinct columns: Idea (science of ideas), Juridicum (laws of thought), Discursus (science of the criteria of certitude).

Customary for the Jesuit thesis print was a thematic connection between the pictorial scene and the theses. Solomon was a symbol of many meanings, of which one was that he was a sage whose determinations of truth led him to wisdom.

Title: Philosophia rationalis. Imprint: Douai : Jacobus Franciscus Willerval, 1753. Format: Over-all dimensions 110 x 73 cm.; made up of two equal size sheets (upper: engraving (judgement of Solomon); lower: engraved architectural tablet surrounding letterpress text. Summary: Announcing defense of theses in rational philosophy by Joannes Antonius Domincus Verhults of Bruges, held at the Jesuit College Aquicinctinus in Douai on March 4, 1753 and presided over by Petrus de Cassal. Call number: (Ex) Item 5324301 broadside

NB - The practice of public display of a student’s rhetorical skills continued at colleges in the New World. The archives of the University have a number of such broadsides - just text, pictures were either not allowed or not affordable or both. These are found at Mudd Library in collection number AC115, Series 5, Oversize Items, 1748-1948, Commencement Broadsides, 1754-1764.

Venus' Miscellany • Rich, Rare and Racy Reading

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venus_misc003.jpg Sunday, April 5th’s New York Times Book Review includes a notice of the following by Professor Donna Dennis of Rutgers School of Law — Newark:

Licentious Gotham: Erotic Publishing and Its Prosecution in Nineteenth-Century New York (Harvard University Press, 2009). [See announcement and excerpt (pdf)]

In preparing her study, Professor Dennis used the Library’s copy of Venus’ Miscellany.
New-York : J. Ramerio & Co., [alias for George Akarman]
“A weekly journal of wit, love and humor.”
Editors: Ramerio & Clarke, <1857>.
Library has issues for May 9, 16, 23, 30,
June 6, 20, 27, July 4 and 11, 1857.
Location: Rare Books (Ex) Call number: Dulles drawer E2
Electronic access (pdf, large file)

“By the mid-1850s, working out of a series of offices in the vicinity of Nassau Street, [George] Akarman was well on his way to becoming one of the century’s largest producers of pornography, second only to a legendary publisher of bawdy books named William Haines.” (p. 5)

“In 1856, for instance, Akarman decided to launch a new venture, a highly risky, innovative periodical called Venus’ Miscellany. Calculating that he could not sell the magazine in New York without triggering prosecution for obscenity, Akarman planned to market it solely to an upscale audience of out-of-town subscribers, the sort of people who possessed the financial resources and sophistication to negotiate mail-order subscriptions and purchases.” (p.6-7) He told his readers he intended to put the paper “entirely into a subscription circulation, which will insure it to those who want it, and keep it from who do not want it.” (Venus’ Miscellany, Jan. 31, 1857, p. 3)

The index to Licentious Gotham gives the following entries for this ‘weekly journal’: Venus’ Miscellany (magazine), 6, 7, 109, 170-182, 197, 207; contraceptives advertised in, 171-172; “flash” weeklies compared with, 187-188; letters from female readers, 175-179; mail-order sale of, 182-190, 198; prosecutions involving, 190-192, 194; “racy” reading materials advertised in, 173, 174; story excerpts from, 259

Susan Dwight Bliss (1882-1966), collector, philanthropist

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Recent recovery of her card catalogue sheds new light on the reach of her generosity toward libraries as well as the full scope of her book collection.


Susan Dwight Bliss was born in New York City on January 16, 1882 to George T. Bliss and Jeanette Atwater Dwight Bliss. Her father was a member of the banking firm of Morton, Bliss & Co. and a large shareholder in several corporations, such as Phelps Dodge. Her mother inherited substantial wealth from her father, Amos T. Dwight, a cotton merchant (New York Times, 10 Feb. 1926).

Never marrying, she lived many years in the family mansion at 9 East 68th Street (1906-07, architects Heins and LaFarge, see library plans, part of the originals for entire house held by Princeton), first with her widow mother (her father dying in 1901) and then on her own after her mother’s death in 1924. (Photographs of the interior are available from the archives of Bowdoin College. See: http://coburn.bowdoin.edu:8180/luna/servlet/view/all/who/Bliss,+Susan+Dwight/when/1943/

There she maintained and continued book, manuscript, and art collections tracing back to her father and mother. Bliss_9E68_NYC_2ndFlr_library_alcove_interior2.jpg

She was known for her philanthropy. “She was a founding member of the social service executive board of St. Luke’s Hospital and served for many years on the hospital’s Auxiliary. Besides her work with St. Luke’s, she was active in many other organizations concerned with the social and medical welfare of children and of psychiatric patients.” [ Biographical note provided by Health Sciences Library at Columbia University]

She made numerous donations of art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1959, she gave 42 acres of green-space to the town of New Canaan, Connecticut (New York Times, 2 Oct. 1959). At her death in 1966, she bequeathed approximately $2 million to Yale University for establishing professorships in epidemiology and public health as well as a scholarship in the field.

The libraries of Bowdoin, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale received major benefactions, as did the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The most spectacular is that to Bowdoin. Named the Susan Dwight Bliss Room shortly after her death, it consists of the interior carved paneling (18th century French) and furnishings of her mansion’s library together with more than 1200 specially bound rare books for its shelves. See: http://library.bowdoin.edu/arch/exhibits/Bliss/index.shtml

In 1967, Harvard received her bequest of a collection of autographs of French royalty, deposited in 1957-58. (According to the New York Times, 10 Feb. 1926, a number of these first belonged belonged to her mother.) See: http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~hou01258

Yale was given a collection documented in the article “Royal Association Books in the Bliss Collection,” in the Yale University Library Gazette 40:30 (January 1966), pp. 160-167.

Her gift to Princeton first arrived as a deposit in October, 1957, with two provisos: that it be anonymous and that it was an intended gift. In June 1964, the entire deposit was converted to an outright gift. The following articles detail the contents, mostly festival books, making up this gathering: • [Alexander Wainwright], “An Anonymous Gift” in the Princeton University Library Chronicle XIX, 3 & 4 (Spring & Summer, 1958) pp. 209-211 [full text] • Dale Roylance, “Illustrated Books” in the Princeton University Library Chronicle XX, 1 (Autumn, 1958) pp. 53-56 [full text] .

In 1927, she presented to the Bibliothèque nationale de France, her mother’s collection relating to Mary, Queen of Scots, consisting of 113 manuscripts, 687 printed books, 627 prints, and 22 medals and other items. See: Bibliothèque nationale. Collection de manuscrits, livres, estampes, et objets d’art relatifs à Marie Stuart, reine de France et d’Écosse (Paris, 1931).

• Recovery of her card catalogue
Bliss.catalog.jpg
The catalogue originated in her home at 9 East 68th Street. Several years ago it was discovered in a Connecticut barn among items remaining from the estate of the executor of the will of Susan Dwight Bliss. A relative of the deceased executor brought it to the attention of staff here a Princeton. This relative has courteously allowed digitization of the cards.

The catalogue consists of approximately 18,000 cards and can be viewed at http://libweb2.princeton.edu/rbsc2/Bliss/.
The digital version essentially maintains the original order which fell into the following groupings:

Main listing, A-Z (6 drawers) plus 1 drawer of cards arranged by subject heading. Most cards are unmarked for location in the house, so it is assumed that these were in the library. Occasionally there are markings on the cards, such as “Hall, cab. 3” “Table.” A number of the cards state “collated on large card.” These were 5x8 cards maintained for especial rare books such as the ones she gave Princeton. This link is an example.
• Seven drawers comprising a group labeled “Given away to Bowdoin, 1949-1963.”
• Four drawers comprising a group labeled “Given away, All but Bowdoin.

Among the “all but” group are: American Museum of Natural History, Amherst College, Birmingham College, Brooklyn Museum, Brown University, Cooper Union, Frick Art Reference Library, Fryeburg Academy, Grolier Club, Hudson River Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of the City of New York, New York Public Library, Portland Junior College (now part of the University of Maine), Wilson College, and others in addition to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

Keyword searching of the cards is available, thus allowing convenient exploration of names of binders, details of association copies, names of former owners, and other bibliographical notabilia. For example, enter “Stikeman” to return cards for books bound by this New York City binder.

Search only Susan Dwight Bliss catalogue


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