April 24th, 2015

Houdini’s bronze of Bernhardt

Newly cataloged from the Harvard Theatre Collection, a bronze statuette linking Harry Houdini to The Divine Sarah

bostonThe episode began with a fumbled gesture to honor the 72-year-old French actress during her final American tour. The gift, a bronze cast of Bernhardt as the Queen of Spain in Victor Hugo’s Ruy Blas, was presented at a matinée performance in New York on 8 December 1916 on behalf of the “actors of America.” The actors of America had, however, neglected to pay for it, and when, unable to recoup its fee elsewhere, Gorham Company forwarded the bill to Bernhardt’s manager and then on to Madame Bernhardt herself, she immediately returned both.

The ensuing tangle played out over weeks in the press, and ended with Houdini–expert in extrication­­–stepping in to spare those involved further embarrassment. He paid the $350 owed finally to the sculptor’s widow, Mrs. Samuel James Kitson. Kitson had been an American artist of some note and modeled the clay original (from which the bronze was cast) in Paris in 1879, likely after a photograph by Achille Melandri.

statuetteTCS 2 (Bernhardt)

Houdini’s goodwill paid rich dividends in publicity. His clipping service culled over 3,500 reports of the affair. To the cast he added the inscription, “Á Sarah Bernhardt avec mes hommages,” confirming his very public offer to present the gift anew. An opportunity came a few weeks later when the two met in Boston, but for whatever reason Bernhardt never claimed the trophy. It passed instead to Houdini’s friend, Quincy Kilby, along with the canceled check and Houdini’s telegram to Bernhardt. Elated, Kilby declared in a letter, “It shall be preserved in the archives.”

hommageIndeed it shall. It is probable that Kilby willed the piece to Harvard in September 1931 along with a scrapbook documenting his years of correspondence with Houdini.

Dale Stinchcomb, Curatorial Assistant for the Harvard Theatre Collection, contributed this post.

April 23rd, 2015

Exploring the origins of “African American”

Update: The sermon has now been digitized in full and can be seen here.

Fred Shapiro, associate director of the Yale Law School Library, recently brought to our attention an important and possibly unique sermon in Houghton’s collections. A 16-page pamphlet entitled A Sermon on the Capture of Lord Cornwallis is notable for the attribution of its authorship to “An African American”. Published in 1782, the book’s use of this phrase predates any other yet identified by more than 50 years.

A sermon on the capture of Lord Cornwallis. US 4405.5

The find was first reported in an article in the New York Times, and a followup piece gives more background information. The book was also the subject of a segment on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.

We’ve just sent the pamphlet to be fully digitized, and we’ll update this post as soon as it’s available.

[This post was contributed by John Overholt, Curator of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson, and Early Modern Books and Manuscripts.]

April 23rd, 2015

Beloved Detective Holmes

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Santo Domingo collection.

The private life of sherlock holmesAlthough fan fiction is cropping up everywhere now and seems to be a new fad, it has actually been around for quite some time.  Fictitious characters have often inspired imaginative readers who go on to write their own stories.  Sherlock Holmes is no exception, though the extent of the genre and the seriousness with which people pursue it might be unusual.   Much of the stories about Sherlock Holmes are written as though he was a real person, and there are even “historical” sites devoted to him.  One such author is Vincent Starrett, a Holmes enthusiast who wrote The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in 1933.  Written as a biography, it takes into account both the fictional character of Holmes and describes further exploits and adventures, while also discussing Arthur Conan Doyle and the writing and publishing of these stories.

Subcutaneously my dear watsonAnother way in which authors have interacted with fictional characters is to examine the full cannon of stories about them and analyze character traits or actions.  One example is Subcutaneously, My Dear Watson: Sherlock Holmes and the cocaine habit by Jack Tracy.  Inspired by the pastiche The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer, Tracy studies the use of cocaine in the Sherlock Holmes tales and describes how it impacts the detective and his relationships.  It is an interesting read for Holmes enthusiasts as well as those interested in late 19th century attitude toward cocaine and drug use.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Vincent Starrett and Subcutaneously My Dear Watson by Jack Tracy are from the Santo Domingo Collection. Several other books about Sherlock Holmes both by Arthur Conan Doyle and others can be found in Harvard’s collections.  Some examples include, The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes by Adrian Conan Doyle, Arthur’s son, and Sherlock Holmes: the unauthorized biography by Nick Rennison.

Thanks to Emma Clement, Santo Domingo Library Assistant, for contributing this post.

April 22nd, 2015

Fashion in Vienna

Want the latest fashions for the 1820s? Just head to Vienna. I’ve seen fashion plates (and in the Ward Collection, costume plates of course) from Paris, but how did Ward manage to find fashion plates for the enlightened Viennese theater-goer?

TS 239.318.1.5

TS 239.318.1.5

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April 17th, 2015

Yak Hair, Klingons, and Orson Welles

fletcher_yakhairFor over 70 years, Robert Fletcher ‘45 has designed costumes and sets for a remarkably diverse portfolio of stage, film, and television productions. He is probably best known for his work on the first four Star Trek films (covered in a previous entry here), but that is only a small portion of his long, still ongoing career. Luckily, he’s just published his memoirs (A Trunk Full of Yak Hair Or How the Klingons Got Their Look) which recount, often with great humor and candor, projects with Orson Welles, Dean Martin, George Balanchine, and William Faulkner to name a few.
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April 16th, 2015

Dogs will be 10 inches only

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

cat  Massachusetts is known for many things- ridiculously high taxes, fanatical sports teams, and this year “historic” winter storms.  What I was unaware of until now were the seemingly crazy laws that exist in our history until I started flipping the pages of this book.  Why would one limit the height of a dog to 10 inches and that of a cat to 48 inches?  The idea for Comics in the Law came from the popularity of the radio broadcasts of “Freak Laws” by Lyman Cook on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and Station KMOX in Saint Louis, Missouri during the 1930s.  Cook was a member of the Missouri Bar and the book is a compilation of these bizarre laws often accompanied by hilarious illustrations.  Here are a few gems I noticed that refer to our great state of Massachusetts.

santaWhat’s wrong with Christmas?  When the Puritans came over to America they also brought their dislike of festivity with them and commemorated Christmas by praying, reflecting on sin, and working instead of resting.  In 1659 the Massachusetts Bay Colony even went so far as to charge a five shilling fee for anyone caught celebrating.  This law lasted a long 23 years but it took almost another two hundred before the state declared Christmas to be an official holiday in 1856.  It can best be summed up by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who wrote “We are in a transition state about Christmas here in New England. The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.”

wife  Apparently a man cannot refuse to marry a woman simply because she has a bad disposition. This was upheld in a case tried in Suffolk County between Anna D. Van Houten vs. Asa P. Morse in 1894.  She claimed breach of promise of marriage against him and the jury returned a verdict supporting her.

If a man and a woman enter into an engagement to marry…or that there was a want of affection on her part, or an incompatibility, resulting from disparity of age, difference in character and dispositions, and other causes, will not justify him, as matter of law, in breaking the contract.

To learn more about bizarre laws across the country look for Comics in the law, by Lyman E. Cook … [Chicago,Universal publishers, c1938] which can be found in Widener’s collection.

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, for contributing this post.

April 15th, 2015

By Houghton, about Houghton

This post is first in a planned recurring feature sharing scholarly activities by Houghton Library staff.

Each issue of Library Quarterly includes a short article devoted to some aspect of the rich field of printing history. Since the History of the Book feature began with the January 2013 issue, Houghton Library staff past and present have made numerous contributions:

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April 14th, 2015

Destroy this collection

Hallucinex 1This post is part of an ongoing series featuring material from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection. 

Today’s featured item from the Santo Domingo Collection is L’internationale hallucinex (Le Soleil Noir: 1970), a collection of writings by French, American, and English countercultural authors in the form of a series of pamphlets. The collection announces its subversive intent on its case: “Revue – tract à détruire” is printed next to a collage of a knife stabbing an eye. Contained within are texts and images by William S. Burroughs, Claude Pélieu, Jeff Nuttal, Ed Sanders, and others. Distinguishing this copy is an original screen printing of a comic strip by illustrator José Sánchez, rolled and housed in a second compartment of the volume’s slipcase. The print is numbered 13/100, suggesting that one hundred copies of L’internationale hallucinex were thus issued.

Hallucinex 2

Hallucinex 3

L’internationale hallucinex: HN18.I6 1970a; HOLLIS number 5401109

Thanks to rare book cataloger Ryan Wheeler for contributing this post.

April 10th, 2015

Black Hero Comics of the 1970s

blackpanther010001Capitalizing on the popularity of Blaxploitation films, Marvel introduced several comic titles headlining black hero characters in the 1970s. Some of these characters had made previous appearances in Marvel comics. In 1966, Black Panther becomes Marvel’s first black (African) superhero (Fantastic Four #52) and Dr. Bill Foster, later to become Black Goliath, is introduced as one of the first African-American characters with a major role (The Avengers #32). Though the franchise had these black hero characters and at least one other–Captain America’s partner, Falcon, introduced in 1971 (Captain America #134)–the first African-American superhero with his own eponymous series was Luke Cage.

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (1972)
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April 9th, 2015

Symbolists and Decadents

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Santo Domingo collection.

Symbolists and DecadentsMany volumes in the Santo Domingo Collection are about fine art, some exploring the limits of social acceptability whereas others recount more commonly seen art.  Symbolists and Decadents by John Christian gives an interesting and thorough examination of the art movement of symbolism.  In the introduction Christian explains symbolism in art, stating “The term symbolist and decadent art is virtually impossible to define, so different in temperament, scope and achievement were the artists concerned.  The only real common denominator was an approach to subject matter, a belief that a picture is neither simply an arrangement of lines and colours, nor a transcript from nature, but that behind a picture lies another order of meaning.”  With this definition in mind, he explores several famous artists ranging from Odilon Redon to Paul Gauguin to Pablo Picasso.

Orpheus by Odilon Redon

Orpheus by Odilon Redon

The Mill by Edward Burne-Jones

The Mill by Edward Burne-Jones

Each painting is accompanied by a short paragraph of description and explanation about the artist and why the piece has been included in this collection.  Christian does not limit himself to one physical collection but references paintings held in a variety of museums and galleries.  The explanations are short and easy to read, there is no need to be an art historian yourself to enjoy this book.  The extensive introduction places the movement in historical context while highlighting some of the more famous artists involved.  Symbolists and Decadents is available in Widener Library’s collection.

For those interested, John Christian is also a renowned Edward Burne-Jones scholar and his book on the artist, Edward Burne-Jones : the hidden humorist, is available at the Fine Arts Library.

Thanks to Emma Clement, Santo Domingo Library Assistant, for contributing this post.

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