Weird Books in the Cotsen Stacks!

the bronte castle alphabet

(Cotsen 60766)

Today, we turn the blog over to the one and only Dr. Dana Sheridan,Cotsen’s scrumdiddlyumptious Education & Outreach Coordinator. This post is based on the program that she and Cotsen curatorial assistant, Ian Dooley, dreamed up for the Cotsen Critix based on collections materials. It’s cross-posted on the two Cotsen blogs for everyone’s enjoyment. Take it away, Dr. Dana and Ian!


The Cotsen Children’s Library is part of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University, but it also houses a whimsical gallery space and outreach programs that promote a love of literacy in children. Today, I’d love to share a collections education presentation we hosted for Cotsen Critix, our literary society for children ages 9-12.

cotsen critixThe session was entitled “Weird Books,” and our goal was to give kids a deeper appreciation for the unusual formats books can take. The books were selected and presented by Cotsen’s curatorial assistant, Ian Dooley – a frequent contributor to this blog (here, in fact, is his most recent post on Dickens).

The first book Ian presented was a tiny volume stashed inside a leather-hinged walnut shell. It’s The Bronte Castle Alphabet by Elmira Smith Wilkey (Bronte Press, 1981). The book is a mere 3 cm (1.18 inches) in height!

ian displays miniature bookIn contrast to the miniature book, Ian brought out an extremely oversized one – the aptly titled Let’s Count Big Book (World Book Co., c1953). He discussed how this book might have been used in a classroom, and why it needed to be so large.

let's count big book

(Cotsen 23000)

And what about books that have no pages? While the kids puzzled this question over, Ian brought out two horn books. The first was an Urdu horn book created in Lahore, Pakistan by Mubarak’s Sons Stationers. While undated, it’s most likely 20th century.

urdu horn book

(Cotsen 151623)

Here’s another, very different horn book. The illustrated blocks on the face of the horn book depict the 6 days of Creation. The illustrations appear to be printed from blocks used in the Coverdale Bible, which means that this object dates back to 1535. The kids were simply stunned by its age.

wooden horn book

(Cotsen 63377)

And then there are books made out of unusual materials. Such as this metal book, L’Anguria Lirica (Edizioni Futuriste di Poesia, [ca. 1933]). It’s a collection of poetry by Tullio D’Albisola, illustrated by Bruno Munari. The text and illustrations are color lithographed on tin.

l'anguria lirica

(Cotsen 26541)

Some books might appear normal, but they contain a secret. This 1877 edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Macmillan and Co.) has a hidden fore-edge painting. Fan the pages just so, and you are treated to John Tenniel’s illustration of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (Ian describes the fore-edge painting of this book in much more detail in this post).

alice fore-edge

(Cotsen 30998)

And speaking of Alice, Ian thought the kids might recognize this famous artist’s interpretation of the story.

dali alice

(Cotsen 26631)

The melting clock is the giveaway, really. This is a 1969 folio edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Maecenas Press, Random House) with illustrations by Salvador Dali. One very unusual thing about Dali’s Alice is the binding. It doesn’t have one! The chapters float freely apart and are stacked and stored inside a clam shell box when not in use.

Ian also brought out a lift-the-flap book and a book on wheels for the kids to examine. He remarked that while we might not find these formats unusual today, at one time, they would have been extremely novel to young readers. He added that early movable books and shape books like the ones below also helped push the boundaries of what can be traditionally considered a “book.”

early lift the flap book

Die Praxis des modernen Maschinenbaues : Modell-Atlas (C. A. Weller, Berlin [191-?]) (Cotsen 28687)

a ride to fairyland


A Ride to Fairyland (Valentine & Sons, Ltd., London [ca. 1915]) (Cotsen 11891)

The presentation’s grand finale was a book so lengthy, we needed to display it on a 6 foot table! It’s The City Park (Viking, 1981), a reproduction of an antique German toy book by Lothar Meggendorfer. The book unfolds into multiple arrangements that can display different scenes and perspectives in a 19th-century city park.

the city park fold out

(Cotsen Reference PZ7.M5143 Ci 1981)

the city park close upAll in all, “Weird Books” was a fantastic presentation full of surprises and revelations for the kids. Ian was kind enough to stay for 30 minutes after his presentation ended, answering questions about rare books, Cotsen’s collections, his job at the library, and inexplicably, robots. Thanks so much Ian!

To see more books from the Cotsen stacks, visit our virtual exhibitions!

Math Anxiety in the 1920s: Marcus French versus the Algebra Teacher

pathex news showing pictures

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, January 9, 1927. Marcus as projectionist. He’s chosen a film of a boxing match to show.

Marcus is back, with more letters to his big sister Eleanor this week.  Most days in Amsterdam, New York, were school days, not holidays, and buried in some of his bulletins  (aka the “Pathe newsreels”), were hints that things weren’t going well in algebra.

quad_patterns

A page of equations from an algebra text in use during the 1920s.

The first sign is in his letter of November 22, 1925, when he was eleven.  The pet stories always came before any other news.  His dog Jock had started raiding trashcans for food, while Dixie the cat disgraced himself by leaping on the dining room table at dinner to steal a piece of rabbit off a plate.  After an anecdote about the Sunday school teacher, Marcus announced, “I’m getting on in school pretty good here’s my marks.”  He received a gentleman’s C in English, writing, arithmetic, junior business training, printing, and textiles.   No absences, no tardies, but not exactly a stellar academic record that marking period  (the symbol scrawled down for his grades in spelling, history, science, and music is undecipherable and highly suspicious).

report card

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor dated November 22, 1925.

Nothing much about algebra until January 9th, 1927.  It was a pretty good day, all things considered.  Dixie had been given a dose of catnip after he was caught eating the house plants.  “For an hour and a half,” reports Marcus delightedly, “he was an insane cat.”   catnip-banned-uk

Another hot tidbit was that Father had brought home three new films–two two-reelers “Castor Oil” and “Big Business” starring Our Gang and a one-reeler “Suds” featuring Stan Laurel, making Marcus the proud possessor of ten reels of film.

big_business__1924___lobby_card_

Lobby card for the Little Rascals’ short “Big Business.”

Then he drops the bombshell: “Miss Bartley is giving me 3 extra hours every week in algebra.  No more news.”

movie reels and extra algebra

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, January 9, 1927. Surely Miss Bartley did not actually whack him over the head to make him do his homework…

By the 30th of January, the increased homework was paying dividends.   After telling Eleanor that Dixie had discovered the catnip’s hiding place in the pantry and sat in front of the cupboard yowling until given a dose, Marcus crowed, “I passed another algebra test 85%.”

85percent

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, January 30, 1927.

Things had really improved by mid-March.  There was a long account of Jock’s returning home covered in blood with a crushed paw (he had probably gotten run over again) before Marcus gleefully announced, “I passed an Algebra test!!” (That made three for the academic year.)

an algebra test!

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor March 13, 1927.

On the next page, he drew himself fainting when Miss Bartley handed back another exam marked 85% with the encouraging words, “Good work.”  What is going on in the paper he drew in the upper right hand corner???  It looks as if he got all five questions right…

help Im fainting

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, March 13, 1927. He appears to be wearing sunglasses, which surely can’t be right, and knickerbockers.

We may never know the answer to that question, because the ice floes rushing down the creek behind the barn was a lot more interesting, when it came right down to it.

icebergs

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, March 13, 1927. Marcus has drawn himself on an ice berg saying “Haw, haw, what fun.”

Marcus also wrote good letters about Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Also highlighted on the blog is The Flapper’s Magazette by a young English girl  in the 1920s.