A Closer Look at Cotsen’s Collection: Audio Interviews with Curator Andrea Immel by Byrd Pinkerton

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.

Paper People in the Cotsen Library

Paper dolls at a war conference ("The Paper People")

Paper dolls at a war conference
(“The Paper People”)

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.

Hear the audio interview, with illustrations, on WPRB blog site.

Jeu de Cavagnole

French game "Jeu de Cavagnole" inside its box

French game “Jeu de Cavagnole” inside its box

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.

Hear the audio interview, with illustrations, on WPRB blog site.

A is for Alphabet

Panorama cylinder strip

Panorama cylinder strip

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.

Hear the audio interview, with illustrations, on WPRB blog site.

Little Miss Christmas, Holly Belle, and Their Creator Elizabeth Anne Voss (alias E. Voss and B. Gartrell…).

Some of the most adorable images of the 1950s were reproduced on the covers of paper doll and coloring books, proclaims the web site Paper Goodies from Judy’s Place.

Miss Christmas and Holly Belle paper dolls designed by Elizabeth Anne Voss.

Miss Christmas and Holly Belle paper dolls designed by Elizabeth Anne Voss.

Merrill Publishing Company in Chicago is considered to have published some of the best of its kind.  The proprietor Marion Elizabeth Merrill demanded–and got–quality artwork for printing on thin cardboard stock of books that would sell for just 29¢.  Jean Woodcock bought Merrill in 1979 and in 2008 a selection from Merrill’s archive of original artwork for cover designs was offered for sale by Mitch Itkowitz.

Among Merrill’s popular illustrators was Elizabeth Anne Voss (1925-1969).  Her pretty little Caucasian girls with almond-shaped eyes wearing dresses  bedizened with bows, ribbons, and trims are instantly recognizable.  Their continuing appeal  is confirmed by the fact that high-quality pdfs of her paintings can be purchased for  printing out and recreating the originals at home in a slightly smaller format.  Voss’s fans have speculated that there were two sisters working for Merrill at the same time because covers in the same style are signed “E. Voss,” “E. A. Voss,” “B. Gartrell,” “Betty Gartrell,” and “Elizabeth Gartrell.”

Thanks to a recent gift of a small group of covers and artwork by Voss from the late 1950s and early 1960s from her husband Donald H. Voss ’44, *49, I’ve pieced together some information about Betty Anne, as she was known.  She was the daughter of Nancy Reynolds and the engineer Robert D. Gartrell, who is famous in horticultural circles for the Robin Hill Azaleas, a group of hybrids he developed while living in New Jersey.  One cultivar was named after his artist-daughter.   Before her marriage to Donald Voss in 1952, Betty Anne signed her work with her maiden name Gartrell.

A cover signed with Betty Anne's married name.

A cover signed with Betty Anne’s married name.

Covers in the Voss donation suggest that cover designs signed “Gartrell” or “Voss” could be in simultaneous circulation for some years, so it’s no wonder  people have assumed that E. A. Voss and B. Gartrell were two people.  This confusion might have been cleared up much sooner if Voss had illustrated picture books instead of covers, in which case it’s more likely that she would have been the subject of articles in standard reference sources.

Some of Voss’s best loved images appeared on the covers of books with holiday themes, although typically she did mostly outline drawings for the coloring books.

Voss's title page designs for two editions of Little Miss Christmas and Santa.

Voss’s title page designs for two editions of Little Miss Christmas and Santa.

The copies of Little Miss Christmas and Santa and Little Miss Christmas and Holly-Belle in the Voss donation suggest that Merrill must have asked her to redo the cover paintings periodically to keep them fresh.   Voss designed new gowns and accessories,  added and subtracted figures, which necessitated  rearranging the composition, etc.  The typefaces and their layout could vary significantly from cover to cover, although at first glance they look rather similar.

Two variant covers by Voss for Little Miss Christmas and Santa.

Two variant covers by Voss for Little Miss Christmas and Santa.

The hair styles of Little Miss Christmas and Holly-Belle seem to be the only constants in these two cover designs.

The hair styles of Little Miss Christmas and Holly-Belle seem to be the only constants in these two cover designs.

One of the nicest items in the Voss gift is the copy of Little Miss Christmas and Holly-Belle with Santa Claus in the background.  It’s not a coloring book, as I discovered while processing the collection, but  Betty Anne’s preliminary drawings for the costumes for the two characters fastened into printed covers.

Can you spot the differences between the drawings (left) and the published artwork (right)?

Can you spot the differences between the drawings (left) and the published artwork (right)?

Cotsen is most grateful to Donald Voss for this tribute to his wife, whose work is so characteristic of the period.  For more paper dolls in Cotsen, check out this post!

Original Voss artwork showing Santa and Little Miss Christmas.

Original Voss artwork showing Santa and Little Miss Christmas.

So a Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!