Documentary Films on Princeton Icons

The impact of the Manuscripts Division and other holding units within Rare Books and Special Collections can be measured in individual research visits, as recorded in Aeon circulation statistics; photoduplication, imaging, and permission requests; growing numbers of undergraduate classes and graduate seminars meeting in the department; and the many academic books and journal articles published each year with citations and acknowledgments to the department and its staff. Print and online use can also be measured in the tens of thousands of hits recorded in Google Analytics, Google Scholar, JStor, ArtStor, and DPUL (Digital Princeton University Library). Academic researchers and Princeton classes are clearly the primary users of special collections materials, including manuscripts and archives. Somewhat hidden in these measures of use are well-known documentary film makers and their researchers, who focus on iconic figures well documented in Manuscripts Division. Film makers may not be obvious among the thousands of researchers who visit the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room each year or contact Public Services and curators to request reference assistance, photoduplication, and digitization of audio-visual materials. Media acknowledgments are often consigned to the rolling credits.

In the last year, significant assistance was provided to several well-known documentary film makers, whose films reach large audiences beyond the academic world. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is a documentary film by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, also well known as a portrait photographer. It was made for the PBS series American Masters and premiered in January 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival. The film has been described as “an artful and intimate meditation on the legendary storyteller that examines her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career.” Her years teaching at Princeton are also covered in the film. Associates of Greenfield-Sanders did considerable research for the film at Princeton using the Papers (C1491) of Toni Morrison, Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus, and Nobel Laureate in Literature (1993). Later in the spring 2019 semester, the documentary film will be viewed by students in two Princeton classes, which will be using the Toni Morrison Papers: AAS 555, taught by Professor Imani Perry; and English 414 / AAS 455, taught by Professor Autumn Womack. The film will be broadcast in the PBS American Masters series in late 2020. Another documentary film researched in part at Princeton is Hemingway, by the celebrated team of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. It is a two-part documentary film about the life and world of Ernest Hemingway. The Manuscripts Division has excellent photographic holdings on the author in the Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons (C0101), Patrick Hemingway Papers (C0066), Sylvia Beach Papers (C0108), and other collections. Hemingway is also slated for national broadcast in the PBS American Masters series in 2020.

Finally, Moe Berg is a documentary film by Aviva Kempner (Ciesla Foundation), who with her associates used the Manuscripts Division’s Moe Berg Papers (C1413) and the Neil Goldstein Collection of Working Files on Moe Berg (C1449). This will be the first feature-length documentary film about Moe Berg (1902-72), Princeton Class of 1923, who was a major league baseball player for fifteen seasons, who famously served as an American spy during World War II for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Moe Berg will be released later in 2019. For information about any of these collections, contact Public Services:

Toni Morrison with King Carl XVI of Sweden at the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm, February 4, 1994

Photographing Communities of Color

In celebration of Black History Month, the Manuscripts Division is pleased to focus on two African American photograph albums. The photographs are in commercially produced albums, which have cardboard leaves with pre-cut slots into which album owners inserted photographs over time. The albums were bound in sturdy leather and papier-mache covers, beginning with printed title pages and an “Index to Portraits.” Owners of these albums often identified the portraits of family, friends, neighbors, and fellow Church-goers in their Sunday best. The patented photograph albums were ideal for tintypes or ferrotypes, supplemented by cartes-de-visite (albumen prints mounted on cardboard). The tintype was an early photographic process by which positive black-and-white images were made on the silver-halide collodion emulsion, added to thin lacquered iron plates and fixed with potassium cyanide. Like the daguerreotype, the tintype was a French invention that came to be widely used in the United States for formal portraits, either taken in urban studios or mobile photo booths. Tintypes became popular during the U.S. Civil War, when soldiers proudly posed in their uniforms, and continued to be used through 1900 and beyond.

The older of the two albums in the Manuscripts Division (see first image below) is the H. M. Tyndale photograph album, dating from the 1860s and 1870s (C0938, no. 511q). The blank album was manufactured by the Henry Altemus Company, at 806 Market Street, Philadelphia, under an 1863 U.S. patent. The album contains 32 tintypes and 16 cartes-de-visite, one of which bears the label of the Philadelphia photographer Joseph Fenton. All but one of the portraits are of African Americans, identified by name at the beginning of the volume. Included in the index is a certain Annie Tyndale and another person with that surname. The city had an sizable African American population since the mid-18th century, including slaves and free blacks, and there were other free communities of color in the Philadelphia area. The U.S. Census for 1870 lists a married couple named Harold and Anna Tyndale, living in Philadelphia. H. M. Tyndale cannot be identified with the best-known Philadelphian having the same surname, Hector Tyndale [i.e. George Hector Tyndale] (1821-80), a white merchant who had served as a Brigadier General in the Union Army during the Civil War. Considerable local history research will be needed to identify and firmly localize the people in the album.

The Manuscripts Division has recently acquired another African American photograph album from the Philadelphia area (see second image below). The album is from Lawnside (formerly East Magnolia), now a borough in Camden County, N.J. It is located fifteen miles southeast of Philadelphia and two miles south of Haddonfield. The album contains 21 tintypes and 2 cartes-de-visite of African-Americans, including one taken in a Philadelphia studio (Holt’s Bell Studio). Most of the images appear to date from the 1890s though the early 20th century. Abolitionists had purchased the land in 1840 for African Americans, including freed and escaped slaves. The town was one of several African American towns in New Jersey; others included Marshalltown (Mannington Township) and Timbuctoo Village (Westhampton Township). In 1926, Lawnside became the first independent self-governing African American community in the north. Even today, Lawnside’s population is nearly 90 percent African American.. The blank album, similar in style to the Tyndale album, was manufactured by William W. Harding, Philadelphia, with a printed title page (The Photograph Album). The verso of the front end paper bears an inscription in pencil, “Property of / Hannah Hicks / Charleston Ave. / East Magnolia.” She was born about 1878 and was married to Newkirk Hicks. There are tintypes of the two in the album. At a later date, a family member identified the individuals on the photographs themselves. In addition to Hicks, surnames include other Lawnside families, such as Jones, Johnson, Summers, Fawcet, and Arthur. Many were probably members of Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Lawnside.

The Tyndale album is available for study. The Lawnside album will be available after its binding is repaired. For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts,

Tyndale Album

Lawnside Album

Recovering Lost Manuscript Evidence

Close study of physical evidence and provenance can lead to significant insights into the history of medieval manuscripts, early printed books, and other rare or unique special collections materials. We can see this in connection with Le Roman de la rose, which was one of the most widely read, admired, and influential Old French works of literature, in some 21,000 lines of allegorical verse. It was begun by Guillaume de Lorris around 1230 and completed by Jean de Meun (d. 1305?) four decades later. So popular was Le Roman de la rose that about 300 complete manuscripts are extant, including many illuminated copies. The Manuscripts Division has two complete manuscripts of the text (Garrett MS. 126; Princeton MS. 227), as well as a fragment of a manuscript leaf and a fifteenth-century selection of handwritten extracts. The abundance of manuscript copies has allowed the work to be carefully edited with attention to the inter-relationship of textual witnesses and images. Beyond using manuscripts to establish and edit the text, researchers are interested in tracing evidence of production, provenance, and readership. Such evidence has been noted when available for about 250 manuscripts surveyed by Ernest Langlois in his book Les manuscripts du Roman de la rose (1910); and for more than 130 manuscripts included in the Roman de la rose Digital Library.

Yet evidence of this sort elusive when unreadable or lost, especially when new owners erased old inscriptions and volumes were rebound or otherwise physically modified. Fortunately, recovery of lost manuscript evidence is still possible, as we can see with Princeton MS. 227. It is a relatively recent addition to the Manuscripts Division, which understandably has received far less attention than Garrett MS. 126, the gift of Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897. The latter is an illuminated copy dating from the mid-fourteenth century and can be viewed among Treasures of the Manuscripts Division in DPUL (Digital Princeton University Library). Princeton MS. 227 contains Le Roman de la Rose and Le testament, an Old French moralistic text by Jean de Meun, also found in Garrett MS. 126. Some of Princeton MS. 227’s provenance is well-documented. It was in the library of the French scholar Dominique Méon (1748-1829), who used it as one of his authoritative manuscripts in his edition of Le Roman de la rose (1814); and it was later manuscript no. 4363 in the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872), the great English private collector of medieval manuscripts.

At some point in the manuscript’s early history, the scribal colophon at the end of Le testament (fol. 209r), below the final “Amen,” was partially erased by washing with a wet finger or rag and scraping with a knife. Whoever did this was trying to remove the scribe’s name, but erased other parts of the colophon as well. Too faint to read was the partial date, essentially a “note to self” written by the same scribe at the end of Le Roman de la rose (fol. 175v). Erased and seemingly unreadable inscriptions can be recovered and deciphered by doing digital photography under ultraviolet light (UV), a standard technique for most of the twentieth century, based on the fluorescence of light and erased iron-gall ink under a “black-light” source. This temporarily makes the erased brown ink appear darker so that it can be read or photographed. Digital photography has made it possible to enhance the UV digital images by image-processing and manipulation in Adobe PhotoShop. At one’s desk, it is now possible to increase contrast, alter colors, and reverse the written text so that it displays as white or light-colored writing against a black background. One must also extend medieval abbreviations, add apostrophes where needed, and do some conjectural reading. This involves paying close attention to parts of letters (especially ascenders and descenders), counting obliterated characters, and making educated guesses about words of equal length that work in context or follow established scribal formulas. The imaging results for the two inscriptions in Princeton MS. 227 can be seen at the end of this blog post: fol. 209r (above); fol. 175v (below).

The scribal colophon can now be transcribed in full, as follows: “Ce livre est par fini guillaume charpentier et l’escrist de sa main et fut parfait de la second jour de l’octobre l’an de grace mil ccclxxv.” The faint scribal note on fol. 175v appears to read “En xv juillet.” Reading the two scribal notes, we can see that Guillaume Charpentier completed writing and correcting the entire volume on October 2, 1375, having finished work on Le Roman de la rose about ten weeks earlier, on July 15. 1375. More can be learned using this information. With the help of a perpetual calendar for 1375, readily available online, we determine that July 15 was a Saturday and October 2 a Monday. That means that the scribe, if he had worked Mondays through Saturdays each week, only resting on the Sabbath, would have had 67 days in which to copy Le testament on 69 pages (fols. 176v-209r. However, we know that medieval scribes working on a non-deluxe manuscript like Princeton MS. 227 would have been able to copy about three pages each day. For this reason, we can be sure that Guillaume Charpentier was only working part-time on this manuscript.

Who then was Guillaume Charpentier? Ernest Langlois mentions him but only in connection with the present manuscript. Charpentier’s name does not appear among scribes identified in the six-volume Colophons de manuscrits occidentaux des origines au XVIe siècle (1963-82). However, there was a royal clerk named Guillaume Charpentier, who was active in the 1360s and 1370s in the Dauphiné of Viennois (a royal province in southeastern France), then held by the son of King Charles V (r. 1364-80). Concerning this Guillaume Charpentier, see Guvtave Dupont-Ferrier, Gallia regia ou État des officiers royaux des baillages et des sénéchausses de 1328 à 1525 (1942), vol. 2, p. 382; Anne Lemonde, Le temps des libertés en Dauphiné: L’integration d’une principauté à la Couronne de France (1349-1408) (2002), p. 138. Higher-level document clerks, public notaries, and working administrators occasionally “moonlighted” by copying vernacular literary manuscripts on a part-time basis for local patrons. There is ample evidence of this phenomenon in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in England, Italy, and other places. Someone like this royal clerk probably had sufficient writing skills to copy an entire manuscript. Still, his name is so common in France that an exact identification of the scribe is impossible at this time. Certainly, it is a matter meriting further investigation.

For more information about this or other manuscripts, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, at

In Her Own Words

The chance survival of autograph manuscripts by unknown women of centuries past can help to illuminate their lives and times, innermost thoughts, and writing methods. Looking back at England in the 17th century, in addition to well-known authors such as Aphra Benn and Katherine Philips, there were obscure women writers yet to be discovered. A case in point is an abridged history of medieval England by a certain Susan Pigott (RTC01, no. 238), probably writing early in that century. Her 104-page manuscript, recently acquired by the Manuscripts Division, begins with a signed dedicatory letter to the king of England, filled with tantalizing autobiographical details. Pigott describes herself as a “poore oppressed widdowe,” with two children. Her late husband, Pigott wrote, had rendered “dutiful and dangerous services faythfully accomplished to your heighnes. And this our native countrey, in a forrayne nation, whereby he lost his life.” Since his death, perhaps two and a half years earlier, Pigott claims to have been a victim of “rare opressions and hevy injuries outrageously heaped upon me and myne agaynst all good order of law and like course of justice usual in any Christian Commonwealth.” She even mentions “secrett papers … penned from tyme to tyme” for royal use. Pigott’s signed but undated letter prefaces a summary history of the kings of England, from William the Conqueror to Henry VII. Pigott wrote and corrected her manuscript in English Secretary hands of the early 17th century, consistent with those illustrated in Martin Billingsley’s writing manual, The Pens Excellencie or the Secretaries Delighte (1618). The paper has a heraldic watermark dating from around the same year: a shield with the arms of Strasbourg and fleur-de-lys; below the shield is a terminal flourish “WR,” which in the 16th century had stood for Wendelin Riehel but continued to be used and imitated in later centuries. If Pigott’s epitome is contemporary with the script and paper, then the king in question should be James I (r. 1603-25).

Pigott describes her work as “a shorte sumanary [sic] of examples of youre majesties most noble progenitors, royall kings of this your heighnes realme sethens [i.e. since] the last conquest.” She compiled her epitome by paraphrasing (her operative word is “collected”) scattered bits of text from Raphael Holinshead (1525-80?), Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577), a collaborative multi-volume history. Pigott only used the four volumes relating to England and added Holinshead folio references in the margins. This popular work is best known today because William Shakespeare used the 1587 second edition of Holinshead as a source of information for King Lear, Macbeth, and various history plays (such as Richard III). Yet the identity of Susan Pigott is uncertain. The Pigott surname (with variant spellings) is of Norman origin and not unusual in England. British public records identify various widowed women named Susan Pigott. Among them is one who was a plaintiff in 1578-79 in a law suit involving a certain John Walton, Richard Groffield, Thomas Southern, and others; and another who in 1658 presented the curate Elnathan Pigott (d. 1675/76) to the Church of St. Marie, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. But neither Susan Pigott can be connected with the author of the present manuscript, and more research will be needed to identify her. There is no way to know if she actually presented it to the king. What we do know is that the manuscript was in various English and Irish libraries, including those of Nathaniel Boothe, 1747; Thomas Connolly, 1860; and Frederick William Cosens, 1890. The manuscript came to the Library in desperate need of conservation treatment. The Library’s Book Conservator, Mick LeTourneaux, has now completed that work.

The Robert H. Taylor Collection of English and American Literature has two other autograph manuscripts by English women of the 17th century. The best known is My Booke of Rememberance by Elizabeth Isham (1608-54), an autobiographical work written around 1638, when she was about thirty. She was the daughter of Sir John Isham and once fianceé to John Dryden. In Isham records her fervent religious beliefs and inner thoughts, while living at Lamport Hall, her family’s Northamptonshire home (RTC01, no. 62). Isham’s manuscript has been digitized and is available online in DPUL (Digital Princeton University Library). An online edition is available from the University of Warwick. Another autograph memoir in the Taylor Collection is that of Mary Whitelocke (b. 1639), dating from the 1660s and bound in a contemporary embroidered binding (RTC01, no. 226). Whitelocke’s memoir is an intimate and detailed account of a wealthy Puritan gentry woman, whose father was a London merchant. Addressed to her eldest son, Whitelocke’s memoir encompasses her life from the time of her first marriage at age sixteen to Rowland Wilson (d. 1650), a Member of Parliament, also from a London mercantile family. Whitelocke’s second marriage in 1650 was to the prominent lawyer and politician Bulstrode Whitelocke (1605-75), with whom she had seven children. The memoir often focuses on Whitelocke’s family and domestic affairs, though discussion of public affairs and events is also in evidence, particularly in connection with her second husband’s public life. For more information, contact Public Services,

RTC01, no. 238

Navigating the Mediterranean World

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to announce the acquisition and digitization in DPUL (Digital Princeton University Library) of a 1640 portolan navigational chart of the Mediterranean Sea (Princeton MS. 254). This portolan chart (image below) shows the Mediterranean, from the Iberian peninsula in the west (top) to the Greek Isles and the Holy Land in the east (bottom). It is oriented 90 degrees clockwise relative to modern maps, with Sicily (where it was produced) at the center. The well-known Italian cartographer Placido Caloiro e Oliva, active in Messina from 1611, prepared this manuscript map on the flesh side of a single parchment skin (85 x 44 cm, at widest points), writing in brown ink and decorating it in shades of red, green, blue, and brown watercolor. The map provides the Italian names of coastal ports and harbors, all of which are readable online using DPUL’s magnification tool. We also see rhumb lines, compass roses, cartouches, and other details. Twelve major port cities are indicated, including Genoa and Venice, each with buildings and festooned with colorful banners displaying the arms of that place. Some rivers are shown in blue, the Red Sea in red, and the north African coast (left) with two palm trees. At the top is an image of the Virgin and Child (85 x 85 mm), below which the mapmaker has signed and dated the map in gold: “Placidus Caloiro et Oliva fecit in Nobili urbe Messanae anno 1640.” He is one of at least sixteen Oliva family members active as mapmakers in the period 1538-1673. This portolan chart was acquired with matching funds provided by the Program in Hellenic Studies, with the support of the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund and matching funds provided by a gift of the Orpheus Trust to the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Hellenic Studies at Princeton. The chart will be on view in Welcome Additions, the Library’s first exhibition in the new Ellen and Leonard Milberg Gallery (6 March–23 June 2019).

Portolan charts were first produced in thirteenth-century Italy, based on careful observations by sea pilots of harbors, trade routes, compass directions, and estimated distances. Production of these navigational maps, which marked a significant advance over western cartography rooted in ancient models, spread to Spain and Portugal during the Age of Exploration and continued until the eighteenth century. Later portolani covered not only the Mediterranean, but also the British Isles, Baltic Sea, west coast of Africa, and the Americas. The Manuscripts Division already had a small portolan atlas with four double maps (Kane MS. 57), executed in the style of Jaume Olives (fl. 1557–1566), a mapmaker from the Majorcas. It has been digitized. The Scheide Library has a portolan atlas of 1642 with three double maps (Scheide M33), said to have been produced in Messina by Giovanni Battista Caloiro and Placido Oliva. The Manuscripts Division also has a late eighteenth-century Italian manuscript isolario for the islands of the Greek Archipelago (C0938, no. 735). Its 56 maps show many minor islands but sometimes omit major islands, such as Chios, Mytilenē, Rhodes, and Crete. This isolario was also acquired in cooperation with Program in Hellenic Studies, with the support of the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund and matching funds provided by a gift of the Orpheus Trust to the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies. For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, at

Portolan Chart, 1640

Alicia Ostriker: Poet and Critic

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to congratulate poet and critic Alicia Ostriker on being named the eleventh New York State Poet, succeeding poet Yusef Komunyakaa. Ostriker’s papers have been in the Manuscripts Division since 2002. In announcing her appointment, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York noted that Ostriker is being recognized for her collective body of work and the impact it has had on the people of New York and beyond. Previous poets who have served in the position include Marie Howe, Jean Valentine, Billy Collins, John Ashbery, Sharon Olds, Jane Cooper, Richard Howard, Audre Lorde, Robert Creeley, and Stanley Kunitz (whose papers are also in the Manuscripts Division). She was born in New York City in 1937 and came to prominence as both a poet and a critic in 1986, when she published her prize-winning volume The Imaginary Lover, a collection of poems, and Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America, in which she makes a controversial argument concerning the women’s poetry movement in the postwar and post-1960s America. She is a professor emerita at Rutgers University, Department of English, and was a long-time resident of Princeton, with her husband, Professor Jeremiah P. Ostriker, Department of Astrophysics. Alicia Ostriker is currently teaching in the Program in Creative Writing, Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton.

The Alicia Ostriker Papers (C0910) contain more than 20 linear feet of paper and electronic files donated by the poet, documenting her life and work as a poet and critic. The papers include manuscript drafts and proofs for dozens of volumes of poems, nonfiction books, critical commentary, essays, articles, reviews, interviews, and other writings, as well as some unpublished writings, song lyrics, student writings, and drawings. Ostriker’s extensive personal and professional correspondence includes letters exchanged with friends and fellow scholars and poets, along with reader mail and family correspondence. Her correspondents include many of the best-known American poets of the post-World War II period, such as Adrienne Rich, Robert Bly, Toi Derricotte, Stephen Dunn, Donald Hall, Maxine Kumin, Sharon Olds, Robert Pinsky, and May Swenson. The most recent gift of papers includes Ostriker’s correspondence (1995-2002) with Peter Pitzele, creator of Bibliodrama, for the interpretation of the Bible through performance.

Ostriker’s poetry and criticism investigates themes of family, social justice, Jewish identity, and personal growth. “People who do not know my work ask me what I write about,” the poet notes. “I answer: love, sex, death, violence, family, politics, religion, friendship, painters and painting, the body in sickness and health. Joy and pain. I try not to write the same poem over and over.” Joyce Carol Oates, Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor of the Humanities. has observed about Ostriker’s place in American letters, “Alicia Ostriker has become one of those brilliantly provocative and imaginatively gifted contemporaries whose iconoclastic expression, whether in prose or poetry, is essential to our understanding of our American selves.” Ostriker’s work and influence has been studied in a recent collection of essays: Martha Nell Smith and Julie P. Enszer, eds., Everywoman Her Own Theology: On the Poetry of Alicia Suskind Ostriker (University of Michigan Press, 2018). For more information about the papers, consult the finding aid or contact Public Services, at

Alicia Ostriker. Photo by Jeremiah P. Ostriker

Picturing Sylvia

The papers of Sylvia Beach (1887-1962), the American expatriate proprietor of the Paris bookshop Shakespeare & Company, best known for publishing the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), have been one of the most frequently consulted literary archives in the Manuscripts Division for more than a half century. Beach’s English-language book shop was a meeting place for American authors of the Lost Generation, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, as well as for French, English, Irish, and other writers during the 1920s and 1930s. Found among almost eighty linear feet of papers are thousands of photographs that document Beach’s life, times, and friendships. These include portraits by Man Ray, Berenice Abbott, Gisèle Freund, and other leading photographers. For details about the papers, consult the finding aid.

Beach’s superb photo archives have been complemented recently by a fortuitous rediscovery within the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. After Beach’s death on 5 October 1962, these materials remained in her Paris apartment at 12 rue de l’Odéon. In 1964, Howard C. Rice, head of Rare Books and Special Collections, traveled to Paris and stayed at the Font-Royal Hotel for the months of March and April, during which time he packed Beach’s archives, library, paintings, and other materials for shipment to Princeton. The Library formally purchased them later that year from Beach’s estate, administered by Holly Beach Dennis, her sister and executor. While in Paris, Howard Rice wisely asked André Jammes, son of the antiquarian bookseller Paul Jammes, whose bookshop was in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, to photograph Beach’s apartment and library with everything in place. André Jammes, it should be noted, was to become an eminent historian and collector of modern photography. Jammes gave Rice a roll of twenty-two 35-mm black-and-white negatives, recently rediscovered in Rare Books and Special Collections. The negatives are being scanned so that high-resolution images of eight different views can be kept on file. Researchers consulting Beach’s papers will be able to review the images in the Reading Room. Below is one of the photos, showing Paul-Émile Bécat’s well-known portraits of Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier, as they were in Beach’s apartment. The two portraits are today proudly displayed on the first floor of the renovated Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library.

Additional photographs related to Sylvia Beach, including some that show her as a child growing up in Princeton, have also come to the Manuscripts Division in recent years in the Frederic Dennis Papers on Sylvia Beach (C1540) and Noel Riley Fitch Papers (C0841). For more information, search finding aids or contact Public Services, at

André Jammes, Photograph, 1964

Documenting Islamic Society

In recent decades, Princeton-based and visiting researchers have turned to the Manuscripts Division for original documents to study the social and economic history of Egypt between the Muslim (641 CE) and Ottoman (1517 CE) conquests. Historians and other researchers in Near Eastern Studies seek original documents of every description to trace the lives of ordinary people during long centuries of Islamization and dynastic rule, from the Umayyads to Mamluks. At the same time, globalization has encouraged comparative studies of documentary traditions, including Egypt in these early centuries. One can see this trend in Princeton’s Comparative Diplomatics Workshop (2018-19), co-sponsored by the Program in Medieval Studies; the workshop draws on faculty and graduate students with an interest in documents and archives from ancient Rome, the western Middle Ages, Muslim Egypt, the Cairo Geniza, and East Asia.

In order to help support archival research on early Islamic society, the Manuscripts Division has had three collections of Egyptian documents and letters, chiefly in Arabic, cataloged and digitized. The earliest documents are several dozen Arabic documentary papyri, dating from the 7th to 9th centuries, which have been digitized and are being added to Papyri Collections in DPUL (Princeton University Digital Library). For descriptions of Arabic papyri, one should consult A Descriptive Inventory of Princeton Papyri Collections. A link to the updated PDF version (2018) is found in another blog post. Just added to DPUL is an interesting collection, Islamic Manuscripts, Garrett Additional no. 20, comprised of 29 documents and letters on parchment and paper, dating from the 10th to 19th centuries. Among them is a series of early 11th-century documents relating to the sale of property in the Fayyum village of Buljusuq. All but one of these documents came to the Manuscripts Division in 1942 as part of the extensive collection of Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897. Item 29 (see image below), donated by Garrett in 1953, was only recently rediscovered and added to the collection. Previously digitized is the Michaelides Collection of Letters and Documents (1106-1497), including 41 items collected by George Anastase Michaelides (1900-73) and acquired by the Manuscripts Division in 2005.

Additional documents from different parts of the Muslim world can be found scattered among nearly 10,000 Islamic bound manuscripts in the Manuscripts Division. To find them, search Voyager for manuscript documents by language (Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish). For additional information, contact Public Services,

Islamic Manuscripts, Garrett Additional no. 20, item 29

Archives of Harold Ober Associates

The New York literary agency Folio Literary Management recently acquired Harold Ober Associates, the distinguished New York literary agency, and has agreed to donate 90 archival boxes of additional Ober archives to the Princeton University Library. Harold Ober Associates was founded in 1929 by Harold Ober (1881-1959), whose career as a literary agent began in 1907 at the Paul R. Reynolds Literary Agency. Ober’s own literary agency came to represent an impressive list of leading 20th-century authors, including Sherwood Anderson, Catherine Drinker Bowen, Pearl S. Buck, Agatha Christie, Walter Edmonds, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Gunther, Langston Hughes, S. J. Perelman, J. D. Salinger, Muriel Spark, Dylan Thomas, and Philip Wylie. Below is a photo of older Ober files relating to the efforts of Harold Ober and Judge John Biggs (executor of the Estate of F. Scott Fitzgerald) to interest publishers in the author’s unpublished work after his sudden death in 1940. Harold Ober Associates has been donating its archives to Princeton for a half century. The Archives of Harold Ober Associates (C0129) already contained some 300 linear feet of Ober author files (1929-2002); as well as files of the agency’s three British affiliates based in London: David Higham Associates (1965-1972), Bolt & Watson Limited (1971-72), and Hughes Massie Limited (1968-1972). The additional Ober records, arriving in October, include both recent correspondence files (2003-15) and selected older agency records, including ledgers, appointment books, biographical files, and miscellaneous documents, which should be arranged and described, probably in the next year.

From the 1880s to the present, literary agents and agencies the United States, England, and other countries have served as representatives of authors, artists, and others (including their estates) for commercial dealings with publishers, editors, movie producers, theaters, media, and others. The archives of literary agencies are a valuable source of documentation for the study of particular authors and books, and nicely complement publishing archives. Since the 1940s, when Princeton faculty and librarians first became interested in the research potential of collecting contemporary authors’s papers, the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections has been acquiring the archives of publishers and literary agencies, mostly American and British. In addition to Harold Ober Associates and its British affiliates, the Manuscripts Division holds the Brandt & Brandt Contract Files (C0732); David Lloyd Agency Records on Pearl S. Buck (C0060); Laurence Pollinger Ltd. Files Concerning D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover (C0956); and the George Nicholson Sterling Lord Literistic Author Files (C0956). In addition, various collections of authors’ papers and publishing archives in the Manuscripts Division contain individual files about American and British literary agencies. For more information, consult Finding Aids or contact Public Services at

Ober Archives

Ancient Images

The oldest original art in the Princeton University Library dates back to the Akkadian Empire of southern Mesopotamia, ca. 2350–2150 BCE. It comes in the form of figural images incised into circular stone cylinder seals, sometimes accompanied by cuneiform writing. These were essentially roll tools, usually made with a hole drilled through the center of the cylinder to facilitate wearing it around the neck for portability. Over the course of several thousand years, such seals were used to make authoritative impressions in wet clay, which could serve, almost like an official signature, to authenticate cuneiform documents. They had other purposes as well. Nearly all of the Library’s seals are in the Manuscripts Division’s Stone Seals Collection (C0849), which contains 241 stone seals from Mesopotamia, Syria, and other areas. After more than four millennia, most of these stone cylinders are so well preserved that they can still be used to make clear images in a modeling clay, such as Plasticine, which can then be photographed under raking light to produce a digital image. One may also digitally photograph cylinder seals directly and reverse the image to produce something that looks like the impression that would have been made in clay. Either way, one brings alive for modern viewers the visual landscape, legends, and religious beliefs of the ancient peoples.

Below, for example, one can see such a modern impression made in clay from one of Princeton’s cylinder seals, a greenish Akkadian example (Stone Seals Collection, Garrett no. 4). Here is how the image has been described: “Contest scene involving eight figures. At the right are two lions, each held by a lahmu, a nude bearded hero, who grasps one of the lions’ hind legs and rests his own foot on the lion’s neck. To the left, a bison is held by a bearded human figure wearing a kilt and a fez-like headdress; behind the latter is a god who holds another figure, perhaps a bison or more likely a kusarikku, or bearded bull-man, in similar fashion. The proportions of the figures are in many places rather irregular; note in particular the left lahmu, whose head seems unusually small and whose left leg is completely out of proportion to the rest of his body.”

The seals are in three collections separately assembled and donated by generous Princeton donors: Moses Taylor Pyne (1855-1921), Class of 1877; Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897; and Edward D. Balken (1874-1960), Class of 1897. The seals range in age from Sumerian and Akkadian examples of the 2nd and 3rd millennia BCE to Persian examples of the pre-Islamic Sassanian period. The stone seals are primarily cylinder seals and stamp seals carved from hematite, serpentine, steatite, chalcedony, chlorite, lapis lazuli, quartz, and other minerals, much of which was probably mined in ancient Persia. The seals are numbered as follows: Pyne, nos. 31-135; Garrett, nos. 1-49, 136-143; and Balken, nos. 1-77. In addition to stone seals, seal impressions can be found on some of the approximately 1,350 clay tablets in the Princeton Cuneiform Collection (C0848), the bulk dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur (Ur III).

The finding aid is comprised of two unpublished preliminary listings: (1) Rudolf H. Mayr, “Preliminary Checklist of Stone Seals in the Princeton University Library”; and (2) Albrecht Goetze, “Mesopotamian Seals in the Collection of Robert Garrett.” Cyrus H. Gordon wrote several brief articles relating in whole or part to the Princeton collections: “Seals from Ancient Western Asia,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, vol. 12, no. 2 (1951), pp. 49-54; “Near Eastern Seals and Cuneiform Tablets,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, vol. 14, no. 1 (1952), pp. 45-46; “Near Eastern Seals in Princeton and Philadelphia,” Orientalia, new series, vol. 22, fasc. 3 (1953), pp. 242-50, plates 57-70. There is also one stone seal in the Scheide Library and a substantial collection of stone seals in the Princeton University Art Museum. For more information about the collection in the Manuscripts Division, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, at

Seal impression (Princeton Stone Seal Collection, Garrett no. 4)