The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: From Our Collections

The Joy of Bookplates

One of the Society’s “hidden gems” is finally getting its day in the sun with the processing of three collections of bookplates. Known since 15th-century Germany, bookplates, sometimes called Ex Libris, have a long and interesting history. Initially a tool to identify the owner of a book and to prevent theft (or ensure safe return), bookplates evolved from mere identification into tiny works of art and reflections of the owner’s personality and aspirations.

Perhaps the most common bookplates to be found in our collection are armorial bookplates, featuring family coats of arms and mottoes, which became prevalent in bookplate design from an early date. These armorial designs display both “pride of ancestry and love of the display of aristocratic claims.” Also quite common are simple labels with the owner’s name, sometimes enclosed in a border of engraving or type ornaments. But around the turn of the last century, bookplate designs became much more creative and personal with designers creating plates that reflected the interests of their clients—homes, pets, hobbies, portraits. In this period, many of the bookplates never made it into books, but instead were collected and traded among fellow enthusiasts. The collecting and trading of bookplates reached its peak between the 1880s and 1950s, and most of the plates in the Society’s collection date from this era.

The earliest bookplate found in the Massachusetts Historical Society is from 1685, a plate bearing the inscription “Gulielmus Payne Me suis addidit MDC,LXXXV, ” but I wanted to feature some of the quirkier examples of the art that caught my eye when I was cataloging these collections.

Edward N. Crane chose for his bookplate a play on his last name.


 Reverend Carl E. Peterson chose this 1893 design by Bessie Pease Guttman, better known for her illustrations of children and babies than for cheeky devils reading witchcraft books.


The Lake Zurich Golf Club in Lake Zurich, Illinois, identified its (presumably) golf-related tomes with the image of a studious monk with his libations and clubs at the ready.


 Dr. Maximilian Lewson of New York selected a somewhat dramatic scene by bookplate designer Curt Szekessy to represent his profession.


Last, but by no means least, Everett Hosmer Barney of Springfield, who made his fortune as a Civil War arms producer and inventor of clamp-on roller and ice skates, somehow managed to incorporate his genealogy, inventions, hobbies, and a grinning alligator onto one small bookplate.


The bookplates shown here are all from the Ruby V. Elliot bookplate collection (, but there are plenty to treasures to be found in the Society’s own collection (, as well as the collection of armorial bookplates amassed by Charles R. Crane (

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 7 June, 2018, 11:55 AM

Charles Cornish Pearson and the Great War, Part VII

This is the seventh and final post in a series about the wartime experience of Charles Cornish Pearson. Go back and read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI for the full story.


We’ve come to the conclusion of the story of Sgt. Charles Cornish Pearson and his service with the 101st Machine Gun Battalion during World War I. We pick up after the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in September 1918, a success for the Allies, who forced the German line back and captured thousands of prisoners and hundreds of guns. Loved ones back in the States were thrilled by the news. Charles wrote to his Aunt Florence:

Suppose the news in the paper the past few weeks has cheered up the people at home a good deal. Certainly is quite a set back to the Hun but guess they need a lot of licking yet before they see the error of their ways in the proper light. One doesn’t appreciate the havoc & needless vandalism they have carried on until one has travelled over this part of the country & then one hasn’t taken into consideration the slavery the civilian population has had to undergo the past four years. They sure have a lot to pay for if they ever can.



Despite rumors that the war was winding down, Charles knew his “next trick” would come soon, and he was right. Less than a month after Saint-Mihiel, on 8 October 1918, his battalion moved to the outskirts of Verdun to prepare for its part in the brutal Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Philip S. Wainwright points out, in his History of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion, that from this position the men could see the infamous Mort-Homme, the site of terrible losses in the Battle of Verdun two years before. Another soldier described the feeling of being surrounded by “numberless French graves” (p. 124).

From 23-31 October, the guns of the 101st were used to support an attack by the 26th Yankee Division at the Bois de Brabant-sur-Meuse. According to Wainwright, it was the hardest fight the battalion had ever faced, with “continuous shell-fire” and “gas attacks every night” (p. 52). Charles agreed. On 1 November, after a gap of 17 days, he wrote to his parents from a reserve position at Marre, and his usual breezy style was muted.

One doesn’t feel much in the mood for letter writing. […] Things have been happening pretty swiftly lately and I feel pretty lucky to be able to scribble you a line & say O.K. […] Suppose I could write you a great deal about what we have been doing the past days but am only too glad to be out of it for the time beginning [sic] & just say that war is h–l & let it go at that.


He told his brother Bill, in a bemused tone, “I often wonder how they all missed me and the others. Fate I guess with good dodging is the answer.” In a letter to his sister Jean, he included some very vivid details of the battle—huddling in a trench as shells flew overhead, the spray of dirt as “whiz bangs” hit the hill opposite, the hardness of the ground. He also switched seamlessly to the present tense and second-person pronouns, making his story even more visceral: “You try to sleep saying to yourself well you are pretty safe unless they make a direct hit…” But as for the worst of his experiences, he explained, “I am getting so now I try to forget all about them as soon as they are over and sometimes that is no easy thing to do.”

Rumors of peace were coming in fast and furious now. As one soldier put it, “this war is all over but the shooting” (Wainwright, p. 131). Sure enough, at 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918, the armistice went into effect. This description of that moment doesn’t come from Charles, but from another soldier quoted by Wainwright:

Suddenly there is a queer silence—we don’t know what to think or do. It is true—but no one wants to shout or laugh. We just cannot realize the significance of it. Here we were, only a few moments ago, ready to jump into our cars and go out and shoot up the Boche, or get shot up. What will happen, and where are we going now? (p. 132)


Charles, like others, was both stunned and relieved that the war was over. He wrote to his parents the following day,It seems too good to be true & one wanders around in a daze. It sure has been h–l at times but guess it has been worth it all.” And he signed off another letter with the words: “Finis la Guerre.”


Charles looked forward to getting back into civilian clothes, rejoining the commercial paper business, and doing “as I damn please for awhile.” He even asked his sister if she knew any single girls who would be interested in a “perfectly harmless veteran.” But he would have a long and frustrating wait of several months before the 101st Machine Gun Battalion finally sailed for home in the Agamemnon on 31 March 1919. Charles was discharged on 29 April 1919.



Charles married Edith Irene Carrier in 1925. He died on 19 May 1973 at the age of 83, survived by his wife, three children, six grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.

In spite of his humble protestations, Charles was a very compelling correspondent, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this deep dive into his papers as much as I have. I’ll finish with an excerpt from a letter to his sister, written from France after the war:

Glad you have appreciated or rather enjoyed my letters written over here. Am afraid you over exaggerate as I never was much of a hand at letter writing and my power of description etc is sadly lacking, still if they gave you some idea of what we have been doing over here why I am satisfied.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 1 June, 2018, 12:00 AM

Spring Flowers

The month of May brought a sudden profusion of new growth to Boston’s green spaces this year: front yards, city parks, community gardens, and wild untamed lots all burst forth into a riot of green foliage and bright flowers.

To celebrate the season on this final day of May, I bring you the botanical watercolors of Louise Wheelwright Damon (1889-1973), who painted these vibrant pictures in 1956. I love the examples of amateur art in our collections; that the trained eye and hand of artists such as Susan Anne Livingston Ridley Sedgwick or John Singleton Copley exist in our collections alongside these lesser known -- sometimes even unknown, unremarked upon -- works that brought their creator pleasure, were saved by a family member, and ultimately donated to our institution where researchers of the future could discover and enjoy them.


Westwood Lodge, 45 Clapboardtree Street, Westwood, Mass., 14 May 1956.

Graphics. Damon 004.



“Wild Crab Apple”

Westwood Lodge, 45 Clapboardtree Street, Westwood, Mass., 23 May 1956.

Graphics. Damon 009.


Untitled irises

Westwood Lodge, 45 Clapboardtree Street, Westwood, Mass., 8 June 1956.

Graphics. Damon 017.


Untitled queen anne’s lace

Westwood Lodge, 45 Clapboardtree Street, Westwood, Mass., 23 May 1956.

Graphics. Damon 030.


The Louse Wheelwright Damon botanical drawings are available to access in the MHS reading room or at a distance through the purchase of PDF or TIFF reproductions. Please check out Visiting the Library and Reproduction Services page for more detail.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 12:51 PM

Anna Peabody Bellow’s Travel Diary

Anna Peabody Bellow’s 1864 travel diary documents her voyage to England and France as a young and wealthy New England young woman during the Civil War. Included among her paragraph-a-day entries are watercolor and pencil sketches, perspective as a tourist in Europe, and a reminder that some things never change.

The Paris Bellows describes is under the Haussmann renovation and many famous landmarks make cameos in her diary.  She records sights such as the Champs Elysees, the Madeline, Notre Dame, and the Pantheon, which she described her visit as “a little uncomfortable visiting the tombs underneath.” I had a similar experience visiting the Pantheon crypt a few years ago, but seeing the resting place of legendary French writers was worth the chill. 

Though a tourist in the 1800s, Bellows’ account of Parisian museum going could be a post on TripAdvisor.  In an entry, Anna Peabody Bellows and her brother-in-law Charles are turned away from a museum without a ticket, “However by some hocus pocus Charles soon got in of course.”  I’m amused that charming one’s way into museums is not recent practice, and Bellow’s dry humor regarding museums does not stop there. At the Louvre’s sculpture gallery her blasé tone is incredible: “These much disappointed. Venus of Milo really the only thing we appreciate.”

Bellows and her entourage vacationed in Europe during the Civil War with little reference to current events in her diary full of social calls, travel itineraries, and statements of health.  I wonder her reason for traveling to Europe in the midst of a war and if she felt more anxiety for her country beyond the page. While the daily entries are short, they capture the essence of the day in the lists of monuments visited and names of the people with whom she dined.  In the lists of sight-seeing, she includes sketches to prompt her memory.

 For example, she meets “women with very funny hats on” as they wear traditional Lyonnais dress for a summer festival.

As a high school student preparing to take a gap year to study in Tours, France, I feel encouraged to keep my own travel journal for the sake of being fashionable in the 1860s.  Inspired by Bellows’ diaries, I would like to capture my surroundings not only through words but also in my amateur watercolor illustrations. I would like to research into the reason for the Bellow’s family trip during the Civil War, but in the meantime, I make the connection: Bellows left the Boston she knew well to see France, as I will this fall. While I’m not leaving the country during a war, Bellows and I have looked to Europe for a brief escape, in my case, one year of studying language for pleasure before jumping into four years of academics.

All in all, this journal is a delight for its pointed observations, illustrations, and addition to the account of Americans in Paris. If you are traveling this summer visit the library to check out this diary or other travel dairies at the MHS for inspiration on journal keeping.




comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 26 May, 2018, 1:00 AM

Immigration and Trade in Early 20th-Century Worcester

The Rockwood Hoar Papers at the MHS document the life and career of Rockwood Hoar, a Worcester, Massachusetts lawyer and politician who lived from 1855 to 1906. Hoar was the son of United States Senator George Frisbie Hoar, and he served in Congress himself toward the end of his life. Among Hoar’s papers are his legal files which are arranged alphabetically by client name, including immigrants from various countries. I looked into these files and focused specifically on the file relating to Ideem Fatool,* a Worcester resident who was, according to a September 1905 Hoar letter (a copy of which is in the collection), Syrian. Through my reading of these materials I got a sense of the research possibilities these papers offer for anyone studying the experiences of immigrants in late 19th- and early 20th-century Massachusetts.

Copy of a 6 September 1905 letter from Rockwood Hoar to George A. Carmichael of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad


Ideem Fatool lived at 31 Norfolk Street in Worcester and worked in “rugs” in 1905, according to the 1905 Worcester Directory (p. 238; Fatool’s first name is listed as “Saleem” in this directory). His file relates to a claim he made with the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad after a trunk of goods he shipped was lost along the way to its destination in Pennsylvania. In an undated typescript copy of a letter addressed to the railroad company, Fatool lists items in the lost shipment along with their values. He lists the total value of the goods as $157. His letter is followed by correspondence between September 1905 and March 1906, primarily involving Fatool’s lawyers and railroad representatives. Hoar writes to railroad agent George A. Carmichael about the issue in September. Carmichael responds the following week indicating that the railroad would require more information, and writes again in October to state that he is passing the dispute along to Boston freight claim agent T. C. Downing.

In November and February letters, Downing follows up with additional details relating to the status of the claim, and writes in his February letter that, without additional evidence, they would not accept Fatool’s statement relating to the value of the goods as accurate. Hoar sends information about the case to another lawyer, Charles F. Aldrich, in a February letter, and a Downing letter sent the following month is addressed to Aldrich. Downing writes that the company believed Fatool claimed the goods to be worth five times more than they actually were, and in a xenophobic comment, attributes this to the fact that Fatool was an immigrant and implies that he was likely looking for money from the company.


Rockwood Hoar to George A. Carmichael, 30 October 1905.


The last two items in the folder are February and March 1906 letters written from Aldrich to Hoar. These letters contain updates relating to the case. In both letters, Aldrich writes that Fatool had left the country, but the lawyer doesn’t seem certain of Fatool’s destination. In his 27 February 1906 letter, he writes that “Fatool has gone back to Europe,” and in his 6 March 1906 letter, he writes that “Fatool has gone back to the interior of his native country, which is Syria or Armenia, I am not sure which.” In his final letter, Aldrich notes that he is still attempting to find out more from the company about the issue, but it seems that he had hit a roadblock.

The materials in this file provide some glimpses into the Worcester of the period and the ways that immigrants helped to shape it. The list of goods in Fatool’s shipment includes wool, perfume soap, a silk spread cover, a quilt, drawnwork, and other items. Additionally, the folder includes a card for Orfalea Bros. & Co. in Worcester. The card lists laces, drawn work, Turkish rugs, and kimonas as some of the items they sold. The card also lists various cities and countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe from which they imported items. These items provide brief but insightful evidence of international trade networks of the period and invite further research into the roles Syrian immigrants to the United States played within these networks and within the Worcester community.

On a side note, I took to the Internet to see if I could find out anything else about Fatool, and interestingly, according to a blog post by Chet Williamson of Jazz Riffing on a Lost Worcester, a Saleem Fatool was the father of Nick Fatool, a noted drummer born in Millbury, Massachusetts who played with Benny Goodman and other acts in the mid-20th century. Williamson references Millbury birth records that give Syria as the country of origin for Nick Fatool’s parents. A little more digging would be required to confirm whether or not this Saleem Fatool was the same individual as the person I write about in this post, so I can only speculate at this point, but this was an exciting find, and the fact that I also play the drums made it particularly exciting for me.

If you are interested in looking at the Rockwood Hoar Papers, feel free to view them here in the MHS library. Most of the collection is stored offsite, so library staff recommends requesting the materials through Portal1791 at least two business days before your intended visit, but they are otherwise open and available for research!


*Fatool’s first and last names are spelled multiple ways by the correspondents in the file. The name “Ideem Fatool” is used here, as it is the one that is written on the folder and used in the collection guide. However, as noted in the text of this post, the spelling “Saleem,” which does not appear among the papers in Hoar’s file, is used in the 1905 Worcester Directory and in the sources cited by Chet Williamson in the Jazz Riffing on a Lost Worcester blog post, which makes me wonder if “Saleem Fatool” is the correct spelling of Fatool’s name.





comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 25 May, 2018, 9:23 AM

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