I walked past the sandwich board for this exhibit who knows how many hundreds of times last year, always on my way to something else or outside of business hours. So with two days left before it closed for good, JWM home, Imogen asleep, and the bomb cyclone threatening house arrest for the coming weekend I sprinted over to Locust Street just before closing.
It was itty-bitty and delightful. I loved the video (watch for the volvelle showing the waxing and waning of the moon) they had running on loop and took one of each handout offered (plus a set for my mum (we are SO their target audience)). The very first item description I read mentioned that one particular book collector calls his approach the “critical mess” method. Happily, you can sift through the entire exhibit online. Here are a few of my favorite things; all images and text via The Library Company of Philadelphia, unless otherwise noted.
A View of the Tunnel under the Thames (London, 1828)
Construction of the Thames Tunnel, the first tunnel under a river, began in 1825. The tunnel was a huge tourist attraction. This early tunnel book made a perfect souvenir; its form relays the experience of being inside a tunnel.
Your Hidden Skeleton, (Philadelphia,1910)
The introduction to this book explains that this is “a novel autograph book which reveals the secret skeletons of your friends through their handwriting.” Note that each page was folded to create the skeleton.
(Hi, it’s me again: HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE THIS can we make it a thing again and also: SO Betsy Ray c. Heavens to Betsy, yes? And speaking of Maud Hart’s heroine …)
The Expanding Fortune Teller (Nashua, N.H., ca.1849)
This toy book comes with instructions. “Expand the wheels by pulling the strings by each tassel. Let the person choose a new number for every question, from 1 to 24. The answer will be found against that number by looking at the colored paper and number named with the question.”
(…I’m positive she had one of these stashed in her writing desk to conjure her Tall Dark Stranger (Tony! How I loved thee.) into being. The Fortune Teller was laid out in several pieces in the actual exhibit, which showed the questions you might ask — Where will you meet your intended? What will he be doing? What do you love with the greatest ardor? — and the corresponding wheel color where you’d find your answer. The wheel was open to green (What do you mostly wish for?) and is an ABSOLUTE TREASURE. Among the options: Purity of Heart, To See and Be Seen, To Be Obeyed, Single Blessedness, The Esteem of the Good, A Trip to California, A Cure for the Heartache. YOU GUYS. I’m going to need a time machine and my best dimity dress, stat.)
Ships’ log for Hantonia II (constructed 1811)
Bound in flexible sailcloth, the book could be rolled up and safely tucked away inside the captain’s overcoat in case of wet weather.
Some “weather words” are wonderfully poetic:
– Fresh gales and dark squally weather.
– A very large swell heaving from the Eastward
– Light breezes & baffling and cloudy weather
– Fresh breezes and tumbling seas.
– Strong gale and heavy seas.
– Strong breezes and flying clouds.
The Book of Common Prayer (London, 1702), The Holy Bible (London, 1684),
The Whole Book of Psalms (London, 1673) bound together.
According to the bookplate, Mary Sandwith (1732-1815) was given this Bible by her grandfather in 1736, when she was a small child. She likely made the needlepoint woolen cover in the Bargello style, or flame stitch, when she was around eleven years old. The spine has the words “Mary Sandwith her BIBLE 1743” embroidered to look like a book label.
Things left in books collection, Library Company of Philadelphia
Anonymous readers left these lovely bits and pieces inside books as place markers or sentimental tokens, but we have no record of where these pieces of ephemera were found. Without the book as context, they lose meaning. It is our policy now to leave these traces of readership in place.