This Week @ MHS
This week at the Society we have three events for public consumption, consisting of a tour, a seminar, and plenty of furniture.
Starting on Wednesday, 23 October, the MHS plays host to another public program that is part of the Massachusetts Furniture Series. Beginning at 6:00PM, "'Newest Fashion' Furniture in Boston, 1690-1730: A Transatlantic View," is a program that explores how the influx of English cabinetmakers an chairmakers and the fashionable desires of a new Boston elite combined to transform the furniture trade in Boston in the period after the establishment of the new Charter in 1691. The talk is presented by Edward S. Cooke, Jr., the Charles F. Montgomery Professor of American Decorative Arts in the Department of the History of Art at Yale University, who has published extensively on both historical and contemporary furniture and was a former curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and taught at Boston University. There is a pre-talk reception at 5:30PM. Registration is required for this event and tickets are $10 per person (no charge for Fellows and Members). Please call 617-646-0560 or register online by clicking here.
And on Thursday, 24 October, join us for the next in the Biography Seminar series. "Telling Lives: Megan Marshall Interviews George E. Vaillant about the Harvard Graduate Study" will begin at 5:30PM and is free and open to the public. For more than three years, Vaillant, of the Harvard Medical School, directed the longitudinal study known as the Harvard Grant Study. His recent book, Triumphs of Experience, traces the men's lives into their nineties. Marshall's interview will look at the art of writing case studies and the implications for biographers of his finding on human development through the life course. RSVP required for this seminar. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
Finally, on Saturday, 26 October, stop by at 10:00AM for The History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute, docent-led tour exposes visitors to all of the public space in the building at 1154 Boylston St., touching on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or email@example.com.
And do not forget that we currently have a major exhibition on display, "The Cabinetmaker & the Carver:Boston Furniture from Private Collections." The exhibit is open to the public six days per week, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM. Visit fourcenturies.org to see more information about the major collaboration of which this exhibition is a part.
| Published: Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 6:08 PM
Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the MHS
Have you ever wondered who adds the references to Wikipedia articles? The answer is YOU!
Join us on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 from 2:00 PM to 6:30 PM for a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon! The MHS is hosting a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to edit Wikipedia articles using our materials on philanthropy and philanthropists in 19th-century Boston. This event is part of the week-long Open Access to Massachusetts History 2013.
The event will include a short how-to on Wikipedia basics, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Society and refreshments. If you are new to Wikipedia editing or an experienced Wikipedian, all are welcome! Just bring your laptop, power cord, a government-issued ID, and a ready mind. Learn more about the event and RSVP.
| Published: Friday, 18 October, 2013, 2:07 PM
Helen Keller in Boston
By Susan Martin, Collection Services
Those of us who process manuscript collections are always stumbling on interesting and unexpected finds. I was recently working with the MHS’s George E. Ellis papers to improve the arrangement and description of the collection, and one letter immediately caught my eye. It was written by 10-year-old Helen Keller.
Between 1888 and 1892, Keller was a student at Perkins School for the Blind in South Boston. (The school moved to Watertown, Mass. in 1912.) She found a happy home at Perkins, which she described in her 1902 autobiography The Story of My Life: “Until then I had been like a foreigner speaking through an interpreter. In the school where Laura Bridgman was taught I was in my own country.”
The subject of this letter, written to Dr. Ellis on 27 April 1891, is four-year-old Tommy Stringer, another Perkins student who was both blind and deaf. Stringer’s family was unable to support him, so he had been brought up from an almshouse in Pennsylvania to the Perkins kindergarten. Keller became his energetic advocate and wrote to friends and strangers alike, as well as newspapers, to solicit donations for his education. Ellis was one of the many who contributed. Keller wrote to him gratefully:
Mr [Phillips] Brooks once told me that love was the most beautiful thing in the world, and now I am sure it is, for nothing but love could brighten Tommy’s whole life. I think we ought to love those who are weak and helpless even more tenderly than we do others who are strong and beautiful....I have read that there are lonesome and dismal places in this great world, but I cannot imagine anything so sad and lonely as a little child’s heart who has no loving mother to caress and care for him. But we shall all be so good and gentle with little Tommy that he will think the world is full [of] loving mothers and patient fathers.
It just so happens that Ellis was the president of our very own MHS at the time, an historian, and a former minister of the Harvard Church in Charlestown, Mass. He corresponded with many notable people, but this letter, written in large, neat, blocky handwriting, stands out from the rest. It’s amazing to realize that it was written just four years after Keller met Annie Sullivan, at which time Keller could barely communicate at all, let alone read and write. (About a year later, she explained to the readers of the children’s magazine St. Nicholas how she wrote by placing a “grooved board” between the pages, probably some version of a noctograph.)
George E. Ellis died in 1894. In his will, he bequeathed $30,000, as well as his home and all its contents, to the MHS. Funds from the sale of his property were used to help build and relocate to our current home at 1154 Boylston Street. Our very own research room, Ellis Hall, is named after him. We hope to see you there sometime!
Thomas Stringer graduated from Perkins in 1913 and became a woodworker in Pennsylvania, dying in 1945.
| Published: Wednesday, 16 October, 2013, 8:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
Even with a shortened week there is a plethora of public programs going on at the MHS. The Society is closed for business on Monday, 14 October, in observance of the Columbus Day holiday, however, the building will be open to visitors as part of the Fenway Cultural District's Opening Our Doors event. This is the largest single day of free arts and cultural events in Boston and the MHS will have an open house from 10:00AM to 3:00PM.
On Wednesday, 16 October, the Society will host Charlene Mires of Rutgers University for an author talk. "Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations" tells the story of an ambitious dream shared and pursued by Bostonians in 1945-1946: to serve as headquarters for the new United Nations and to become not only "the Hub" but also the Capital of the World. This illustrated talk will draw from Mires' book to talk about the dramatic, surprising, and often comic story of civic boosterism awakened by the UN's search for a home. Registration is required for this talk and tickets are $10 per person (no charge for Fellows and Members). Please call 617-646-0560 or register online by clicking here. There is a pre-talk reception beginning at 5:30PM and the talk will commence at 6:00PM.
That author talk is followed up by another the next day, Thursday 17 October. "Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin" is presented by Jill Lepore of Harvard University. Taking place at Boston Public Library, Copley Square, this talk will center on Lepore's new book about the constant presence and influence that Jane Franklin had in the life of her brother, Benjamin Franklin. The author provides a revelatory portrait of the youngest Franklin daughter, herself a passionate reader, gifted writer, and shrewd political commentator, through the use of little-studied documents, objects, and recently-discovered portraits. The is event is free and open to the public. To reserve a spot, visit the Boston Public Library's website for additional information and directions. Talk begins at 6:00PM.
On Friday, 18 October, at 2:00PM, stop by the Society for a free public program centered around the current exhibition: "The Call of Classicism: Boston Furniture from the Early 19th Century." This exhibition spotlight by Irfan Ali, a collector of American furniture, examines Boston's answer to the call of classicism in the early 19th century, a time of prosperity for the city, by looking at furniture made by craftsmen such as Thomas Seymour, Isaac Vose, and Archibald and Emmons. This program is free and open to the public.
As a reminder, our current exhibition, "The Cabinetmaker & the Carver: Boston Furniture from Private Collections," is on view to the public six days per week, Monday - Saturday, 10:00AM - 4:00PM. Visit fourcenturies.org to learn about other similar exhibits done in conjunction with our own.
There is no tour this Saturday, 19 October.
| Published: Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 7:00 PM
Considering Collation: Decoding the Formula
By Dan Hinchen, Reader Services
In my last post I shared some of the lessons that I learned in July at Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. Now, as promised, I can explain what some of it means. If you remember, I provided a collation formula of a book from the print collection here at the MHS. Specifically, I gave a description of a book called “Pansebeia.” Published in the mid-17th century, this book purported to be a view of “all the world’s religions.” The formula that I gave read like this:
8°: A8 a8 B-I8 L-R8 T-2M8 2N4 3A8 3a4 3B-3F8 (K8 S8 3F8 missing; 2D6 missing, removed); [$4 (-3A2, 3a4) signed; missigning V4 as U4]; 345 leaves;  1-544 [545-552]; 2 1-78  [misnumbering 68 as 63, 78 as 73, 206 as 106, 479 as 463, and 266 as 96].
So, what does this mean? Well, it might take a while to explain all of this, so let us start simply.
This opening piece of the formula designates the format of the book. This lets us know the relationship between sheets of paper on which the text is printed and the number of individual leaves created when the sheets are folded into gatherings.
In determining the format of a book it is not sufficient to simply count the number of leaves in a gathering. There must be some other physical evidence to base it on. This is where watermarks and chainlines come in handy. A watermark is a symbol created by the papermaker to show that the hand-made product is his. The marks always appear on the same part of the sheet since it was actually a part of the frame used to create the paper. So, when folding a sheet of paper a certain number of times, the watermark will always appear in the same orientation, whether it is in the center of the page in a folio, in the center of the gutter of a quarto, or in the top of the gutter for an octavo. The chainlines in the paper are created by wires used in the paper-making frame that are slightly thinner than the rest of the sheet and are clearly visible when backlit. These lines will either appear vertically or horizontally in a book depending on the folds of the paper. So, using these identifying marks and seeing how they are aligned, we can establish the format of the book.
Specifically, this symbol refers to an octavo format; it can also be written 8vo. This means that the printer, when impressing sheets of paper with the text for the work, laid eight pages of text on each side of a sheet of paper in a designated pattern. The sheet is then folded three times, each time it is folded on the long edge of the sheet. What results is a gathering of eight leaves and sixteen pages.
Stay tuned for my next blog when I provide a little bit of information relating to signatures.
And since we are nearing Halloween, I leave you with a bibliographic description of “The doctrine of devils,” another title from the MHS print collection. Can you decipher any of the formula?
8°: A4 B-O8; [$4 (-A3,4) signed; missigning I4 as I3]; 108 leaves; pp.  1-205 .
| Published: Friday, 11 October, 2013, 1:52 PM