The text below is adapted from Byrd Pinkerton’s WPRB blog posting and links to the audio interviews that Byrd conducted with Andrea Immel, Cotsen Curator, in June and July, 2013, with additional photographs taken by Byrd of the items discussed. (Byrd Pinkerton ’15 is a German major who works for WPRB, the Princeton student-run radio station.) A Closer Look at Cotsen’s Collection: Audio Interviews with Cotsen’s Curator by Byrd Pinkerton
It’s easy to experience the Cotsen Gallery, with its giant indoor tree and little cottage. But behind the gallery’s glass wall, there are thousands of books–some tiny, some massive, some gilt or marbled. That’s just a fraction of the collection, since more books (and dolls and lantern slides and board games and toy theaters…) are hiding out elsewhere in the vaults of Firestone.
And though they can’t be climbed on or played with in quite the same way as the Gallery furniture is, these treasures are accessible too. This summer, Princeton student and Cotsen staffer Byrd Pinkerton began a series of radio stories on different objects from the Cotsen Collection, which are now posted on Princeton’s WPRB Station blog.
In each piece, she talks to Cotsen Curator, Andrea Immel about an item, its history, what we do or don’t know about it, and why it might be interesting to researchers. The audio is complemented with text and photographs, but listeners can also page the items themselves and enjoy them in the reading room.
Taken literally, the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ usually applies to your average book in a bookstore. It also applies, however, to rare books.
When I first decided to highlight pieces of Cotsen Library’s rare book collection for this series, I was eager to talk about some of the showier items the collection has to offer-Queen Elizabeth’s Latin grammar book, the Beatrix Potter original letters or elegant Spanish toy theaters from the 1930s.
Instead, Andrea and I decided to begin with The Paper People an unassuming text, printed and cloth-bound in the 1800s, and see what the information that can be gleaned from the contents, the cover, the catalogue of advertisements, and even the end-papers.
I’m not a fan of bingo. I would go so far as to say that I strongly dislike it. But even I was delighted to play with this 18th century pre-cursor to the game, the French Jeu de Cavagnole.
During our interview, Andrea and I walked through the complicated apparatus of the game, all kinds of ivory spindles, cages and beads with scrolls…
One of the biggest differences between this game and your average bingo experience is the game board. Jeu de Cavagnole decorations have nothing to do with the gameplay at all. They’re just conversation pieces, designed to move the experience beyond simple gambling.
Once we figure out that LMNO isn’t all one letter and S, C and K stop seeming quite so redundant and confusing, we generally don’t spent a lot of time learning the alphabet.
Still, whether we’re thinking about it or not, there’s a new line of alphabet teaching tools for every generation of kids: alphabet puzzles, alphabet blocks, songs and poems and books with associative word pictures.
This week, my conversation with Andrea was all about alphabets throughout the ages. While we’re probably not going to learn a whole about the alphabet itself from these games and books, it turns out that they can tell us a lot about us: the most common parts of our day-to-day, the moral values we want to pass down to our children, even our sense of humor.