Every day the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Penn Libraries acquires new and exciting material from around the globe. To help bring these items to the attention of a wide audience, Rare Book and Manuscript Library Director David McKnight and a team of curators and exhibit specialists have put together a fantastic exhibit showcasing some of their acquisitions over the past five years. For the next three months these items will be on display in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center on the sixth and first floors. Some of these collections and materials have been highlighted here on the blog in the past, including the Fez collection of Lithographs and the Asylum for Orphan Girls Records. To encourage people to take a closer look at the exhibit I thought I would do a quick rundown of some of my other favorites now on display.
Upon entering the exhibit it’s hard to miss the item above which hangs on the back wall of the Goldstein gallery. An original 1926 tent revival banner measuring more than 10 feet across and four feet high, it was produced by Clarence Larkin, a baptist minister and former professional draftsman with a knack for integrating his millenialist theology with his design background. This particular banner, used in Harrisburg, Pa., depicts Larkin’s vision of salvation history and provides a sense of how visual and oratorical cultures combined in the world of the tent revival.
Another favorite from the exhibition is this wonderful seventeenth-century uncut sheet of 52 playing cards with each suit representing a different continent (Europe: hearts, Asia: diamonds, Africa: spades, and the Americas: clubs). The cards contain facts about locations on the continent as well as portraits of leaders and other figures. Below are several uncut cards from clubs including the three (Florida), five (New Mexico), and Queen [“D” for Dame] (Virginia). The idea of Elizabeth I representing the “Queen” of the Americas is particularly striking, especially for a game produced in France.
The Penn Libraries have a strong collecting interest in the history of reading and the book. The new acquisitions gallery is full of great items in this vein but one of my favorites is this collection of circulating library labels. The bookplates and labels on the left come from circulating libraries in Reading, Liverpool, Manchester, and Dover, and are just a small sample of a striking collection of 219 such labels acquired by Penn in 2011 with the assistance of the Allan G. Chester and Florence K. Chester fund. Circulating libraries sprang up in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to serve a growing populace of avid readers and these labels help document the spread of the libraries and their clientele. Some of the labels include detailed rules for borrowing and provide warnings against “tearing out Leaves, Prints, &c.”
As is the case with book labels, the most interesting aspect of a book might not be its textual content but its material form. Perhaps my favorite example of this amongst the new acquisitions on display is a copy of an eighteenth-century printing of a classic of canon law (right). What sets this volume apart of course is the contemporary recessed compartment provided for a pair of spectacles! This item came to Penn recently as part of the fascinating Dr. Daniel and Eleanor Albert Medical Ephemera Collection which has a special focus on ophthalmology and the human eye.
The photograph on the right is one of many items from one of the most substantial new acquisitions here at Penn, the records of the Vermont Marble Company. This collection contains hundreds of linear feet of documents, drawings, photographs, and other records from the 1870s to the 1970s. On display in the gallery are pay records and company store ledgers from the 1870s, advertisements for marble and its uses, and mesmerizing photographs of quarrying work as shown here. The Vermont Marble Company supplied stone to countless building projects across the world with a special focus on monumental architecture. The National Gallery of Art, Lincoln Memorial, and United Nations Building, among others, all used marble provided by the company.
Finally, no visit to the new acquisitions exhibit would be complete without seeing the colorful and physically impressive 15th-century Genealogical Chronicle of the Kings of England purchased by the Penn Libraries in 2007. The roll is 37 feet long in its entirety and provides a detailed if often fanciful genealogy of the English kings leading back to Adam and Eve. If you can’t make it to Penn to see the roll in person, scholars here at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS) have made it available online in several different formats. A full facsimile of the manuscript is available both with and without annotation describing each illustration and name on the roll. In addition, SIMS has filmed a video guide to the manuscript that helps explain it in more detail.
Ed. Note: This post would not be possible without the assistance of Andrea Gottschalk and her team of exhibit specialists who mounted the exhibit and provided many of the images used here.