Archive for the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ Category

Old Skool Photoshop

Monday, June 16th, 2014

By Sissy Albertine and Mark Martin

Long before the days of glamour shots and digital images edited with Photoshop, many traditional film photographers used a method of retouching the original negative with a finely pointed lead pencil to achieve a smooth, desirable skin texture. Drawing on the emulsion side of the negative with a pencil, a retoucher could either add or remove density to correct imperfections, such as wrinkles, blemishes or sagging skin.

Contact print, showing before and after retouching.

Contact print, showing before and after retouching.

This example is a contact print made from a medium-format negative taken by Norman Studio in Natchez, Miss., and found in the Thomas and Joan Gandy Photograph Collection. The photograph shows before and after retouching of a 5×7 inch negative of Miss Pearl Guyton, a long-time history teacher at Natchez High School. Though the photograph is not dated, her clothing and her appearance in the before image and what that might tell us about her age (she was born about 1886 according to the 1940 census) suggest it is from the 1930s.

So, you ask, how was this pre-cursor to airbrushing done?

Retouched negative showing pencil marks.

Retouched negative showing pencil marks.

First, a solution of powdered pumice was applied to the emulsion side of the negative to create a “tooth” for the lead. Then, the retoucher blended the uneven tones with a pencil to subtract lines and smooth out the surface of her skin. Miss Guyton looks like a different person with the lines on her face softened and the bags under her eyes erased. The final product is a much more attractive portrait.

Revolutionary War Documents Discovered in Special Collections

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Fifty-seven original letters and other signed documents related to the American Revolution have been discovered in the LSU Libraries’ Special Collections. The materials include documents signed by or sent to several members of the Continental Congress, three signers of the Declaration of Independence (Samuel Huntington, George Read, and Benjamin Harrison), and other politicians, diplomats, and military leaders, including Generals Henry Knox, Arthur St. Clair, and Benjamin Lincoln, Washington’s second in command, who formally accepted the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781.

Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books for the LSU Libraries’ Special Collections, discovered the materials. He says that an unidentified collector added them to a large set of facsimile reproductions of Revolutionary War manuscripts produced by the American bibliographer B. F. Stevens in the 1890s. The original documents went unnoticed, Taylor believes, because they were interspersed among the 2,107 document facsimiles, which were published in 24 volumes as B.F. Stevens’s Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives Relating to America, 1773-1783. The collector also added more than four hundred engravings to the volumes, depicting individuals and events associated with the Revolution.

“In the 19th century, people often ‘extra-illustrated’ books by inserting prints, letters, autographs, newspaper clippings, and anything else that supplemented the text,” Taylor says. He adds that the materials are a good example of how people collected “relics” of the Revolution. “Some of the letters are interesting in themselves, but I think they are more interesting as a group. How did the people who fought the Revolutionary War go from being ordinary men and women to national icons? How did America create its own mythology? These materials can help teach students about that process.”

Press copy of a document produced for Benjamin Franklin, ca. 1782

Taylor notes that even mundane items in the collection shed light on America’s founders. His favorite document is thought to have been made for Benjamin Franklin, probably by one of his secretaries. Known as a press copy, it was a precursor of the photocopy. “The paper is highly absorbent and as thin as tissue paper,” Taylor explains. “When it was pressed against a letter that had been dampened, it soaked up some of the ink, producing an exact copy.” The technique was invented in England around 1780 by James Watt, who is best known for his work on the steam engine. Franklin, a famous inventor himself, was among the first to use it. The document in LSU’s collection (a passage copied out by hand from a contemporary news magazine, the Maryland Gazette) has a watermark indicating that the paper was made by James Watt.

“This is just one example of the many exciting surprises that Special Collections staff and our visiting researchers find almost every day when working with our collections,” Jessica Lacher-Feldman, Head of Special Collections, commented. “Whether for teaching, research, student and faculty recruitment, or just personal curiosity, the library is a remarkably rich resource that benefits the university, the broader community, and in fact the world. While the collections are processed, and guides are available, the collections are not usually described to the item level.  Exploring and researching a specific collection can yield great things that might be of special interest to the researcher based on their topic, interests, and background.  We plan on digitizing this small group of documents and making them available online through the Louisiana Digital Library in the near future.”

The LSU Libraries Special Collections, in Hill Memorial Library, is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the library at (225) 578-6544 or by email at

Vampires! At Hill!

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

LSU Libraries Special Collections is expanding upon and growing a new collecting area — we are looking at the world of Vampires!  This collection builds on vampire fiction by Louisiana authors or with a Louisiana setting already held in the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collection (LLMVC), of which there are more than 100 titles, including DVDs (True Blood) and other works of fiction.  Recent acquisitions include over 400 volumes of Anne Rice vampire fiction translated into numerous languages.  Special Collections’ growing Vampire Collection also complements the library’s existing holdings of 18th and 19th-century Gothic fiction, tales of mystery and the macabre, science fiction and fantasy, early occult science, and “outsider” literature (i.e. the Codrescu collection).  Academic fields of study that it would support include literature, history, folklore, psychology, religion, foreign languages, art history, graphic design, GLBT studies, film studies, and popular culture.


Vampire literature is a publishing phenomenon that has been growing since at least the 1720s.  Originating in central Europe, it spread to England in the mid eighteenth century. The first major work on vampires published in English, in 1759, was a translation of the French Benedictine monk Augustin Calmet’s treatise on apparitions and vampires. The work proved popular and was retranslated in 1850, helping to cement the notion of vampires in the Western European consciousness.  Special Collections holds both of these volumes.



The late eighteenth century saw the rise of Gothic fiction. In the early 1800s, Robert Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron were including vampires in their poetry. The first major work of vampire fiction in English was The Vampyre, a novella published in 1819 by Bryon’s personal physician, John William Polidori.  Special Collections recently acquired a copy of the work.

Vampires appear in many works of Victorian fiction, culminating in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897).  The genre was popular in France and Germany as well, important examples including Paul Féval’s Le Chevalier Ténèbre (1860), La Vampire (1865), and La Ville Vampire (1874);  Marie Nizet’s Le Capitaine Vampire (1879); and Hans Wachenhusens Der Vampyr – Novelle aus Bulgarien (1878).

In the twentieth century, vampire literature crossed from traditional Gothic fiction into science fiction.  As early as 1908, we find vampires in outer space in Gustave Le Rouge’s Le prisonnier de la planète Mars.  Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954) is set in a futuristic Los Angeles.  Multi-volume vampire epics, of which more than 200 have been published in English alone, trace their origin to Marilyn Ross’s Barnabas Collins series, published from 1966 to 1971.  Anne Rice’s 10-book Vampire Chronicles (1976-2003) has sold 80 million copies worldwide.

Scholars in a variety of disciplines use vampire literature to explore a myriad of themes, from feminism to post-colonialism.  Gay vampire fiction is largely a recent development, but vampire fiction has always been charged with sexuality, and even Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla featured a female vampire with lesbian inclinations.  The genre has also crossed into juvenile literature, comic books, and graphic novels.  Several magazines have been published, featuring interviews with actors, stories about vampire films, and news of book releases and vampire-related events.  To see a bit more about the Vampire Collection at Hill Memorial Library, watch our new and exciting YouTube video.    For questions about the collection, contact Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books.

Earthquake Game Anniversary Button Giveaway!

Thursday, September 19th, 2013


In honor of the 25th anniversary of the famed “Earthquake Game”, and our new exhibit opening Monday, “Saturday Night in Tiger Stadium”, LSU Libraries Special Collections is giving away some commemorative buttons and magnets today and tomorrow. Spread the word. All you need to do is Like us on Facebook, and then come to Hill Memorial Library and tell the person at the reception desk that you have “liked us on Facebook” — and they will give you a pin or a magnet celebrating the anniversary of the Earthquake game against Auburn. Wear to to the game on Saturday!

Our button giveaway is today and tomorrow (9/19 and 9/20) only and supplies are limited. We want to get to 1000 likes by Friday at 5 pm. Let’s make that happen! Geaux Tigers! And we will be making more cool buttons to give away in the future.  Stop by and see us!

Postcards and Other Archival Adventures

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013


In addition to holding and making available incredible physical collections, we are continuously adding to our digital collections as well.   One recent addition to the LSU Libraries Special Collections portion of the Louisiana Digital Library consists of two significant groups of postcards from our collections, which are now available to everyone online.

The Mississippi and Louisiana postcard collection, 1906-1939 contains 93 items and depict commercial buildings, residences, churches, monuments, hotels, schools, and streets mostly situated in Bay St. Louis, Miss. Among these buildings and structures are the Osoinach’s Opera House, Pass Marian lighthouse, and Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church, which was erected in 1850 and destroyed by fire in 1907. The collection also includes similar postcards of buildings and structures in several other Mississippi and Louisiana locations, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Others depict storm damage along an unidentified beach.

The Louisiana postcard collection, 1904-1951 is comprised of 517 items and depict subjects in towns and regions of Louisiana and some areas of Mississippi and Wyoming. Louisiana towns and regions best represented in the collection include Abita Springs, Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Bogalusa, Convent, Covington, Donaldsonville, Franklin, Hammond, Houma, Jennings, Lake Charles, Mandeville, Monroe, Morgan City, New Orleans, Plaquemine, Saint Francisville, Shreveport, and Thibodaux.

In addition to the images on the postcards, the backs of the postcards have been digitized, giving insight into life in a different time and place.  What can we infer from this cryptic note on the back of this ostrich postcard?  And how did they spend that Sunday in 1915?


To browse the postcard collection you can  click here. You may also view the finding aid for the analog version of the collection here.

The actual postcards are in the Hill Memorial Library and are available to view and use.  And all the work done to make them available to the public, both physically and virtually, happens in LSU Libraries Special Collections.  One simple postcard just like this can serve as the start of a project — whether it be an art project, a poem, an essay, or a research paper, or a pathway to new discoveries.  Visit Special Collections, in person, or online, and start your own adventure!



Extra-Illustration: Art or Insult?

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

For most of us, a few penciled notes and perhaps a bookplate are as much as we’re ever likely to modify the books we own. But in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, some readers made a hobby out of taking ordinary books and transforming them into something extraordinary by adding images and other carefully selected materials.

It all began in 1769, when an English clergyman and print collector named James Granger published his Biographical History of England. Although the book was unillustrated, its author listed sources of engraved portraits of its subjects and encouraged readers to go out and collect them. Many did, and, in fact, had such a good time hunting down the illustrations that they started “grangerizing” (or “extra-illustrating”) other books as well. This new pastime was pursued for the most part by wealthy men, who, as historian Ellen Gruber Garvey has suggested, “found in the process of recasting and personalizing books a means to reclaim the luxury and rarity of a printed form that, thanks to mechanized printing, had become commonplace.”

Grangerized copy of Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives Relating to America, 1773-1783

The idea is simple. A biography of Shakespeare, for example, could be extra-illustrated by adding portraits of the bard and other historical figures, a map of his birthplace, engravings of characters from his plays, and original letters written by famous actors, plus things like playbills, newspaper clippings, watercolors — basically anything that could be bound into a book. The sky was the limit. No two extra-illustrated books are alike, each one being the product of an individual collector’s skill and personal taste. (The American book collector Robert Hoe grangerized thirty copies of the same edition of Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler just to see how much variation he could achieve.)

Because their makers had no reservations about cutting illustrations out of other books to illustrate their own, grangerized books have always had a bad reputation. In The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New (2002), grangerizing is defined as “The art, or insult, of adding illustrations to a book, often with artwork removed from other books.” A “Grangerite” was, in one nineteenth-century critic’s opinion, “a sort of literary Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan, who has spread terror and ruin around him.”

Some grangerized books, nevertheless, are now valuable tools for research and teaching. The LSU Libraries’ Rare Book Collection contains several examples of such books. The largest is Matthew Pilkington’s The Gentleman’s and Connoisseur’s Dictionary of Painters (1798). Originally published in 840 pages, LSU’s copy has been expanded to twenty volumes, comprising hundreds of rare prints related to the artists mentioned. For anyone studying the history of illustration, the set is a treasure trove of material.

Pilkington’s Dictionary of Painters

Another good example of extra-illustration is A Memoir of George Cruikshank, Artist and Humourist (1878) by Walter Hamilton. Its pages have been inlayed into larger sheets of paper and bound together with 116 prints by Cruikshank and his contemporaries. Some are now quite hard to find on their own, such as James Gillray’s famous caricature of the Prince of Wales, titled “A Voluptuary under the Horrors of Digestion.”

James Gillray print in Memoir of George Cruikshank

Some grangerized books were designed as pantheons to a nation’s heros. The original owner of LSU’s copy of B. F. Stevens’s Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives Relating to America, 1773-1783, published in 1895, not only tipped in portraits of figures from the Revolutionary War, but also a few original letters, including one to General Benjamin Lincoln, George Washington’s second-in-command at the Battle of Yorktown who accepted the British surrender when Lord Cornwallis snubbed Washington by sendng his own second-in-command, General Charles O’Hara.

“Lovat’s Ghost on Pilgrimage” (Culloden Papers)

Virtually any book could be extra-illustrated. LSU’s copy of Culloden Papers, a collection of correspondence relating to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s failed attempt to restore his family to the British throne in 1745-46, was grangerized by John Rushout, Lord Northwick (1770-1859). A fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, Northwick was a well-known art collector and connoisseur whose interests extended to everyday art as well as the Old Masters.

Extra-illustrated books usually had to be rebound to accommodate the additional material. Some collectors were so proud of their work that they commissioned deluxe bindings like the one seen on this copy of A New History of the English Stage.

New History of the English Stage

As valuable as digital surrogates are, it is important to remember that individual copies of books sometimes contain unique information that can inform our understanding of how readers in the past interacted with texts. Extra-illustration is a colorful example of how people did more with books than just read them — in some cases, they repurposed them to showcase their own taste and talent as collectors.

— Michael Taylor

God Save the King!

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Belated congratulations to Will and Kate and little baby George! It’s a good solid name, borne by six previous monarchs.

The first King George came to the throne 299 years ago, on the first of August 1714, following the death of his distant cousin, Queen Anne. Although she had given birth to seventeen children, none of them survived her, an astonishing rate of mortality even at a time when most families could expect to lose one or two children. And although at least fifty people were more closely related to Anne than was her cousin George (a minor German prince), all of them were Catholics and therefore ineligible to take the throne because of a law, known as the Act of Settlement, passed by Parliament in 1701.

Ever since the days of Henry VIII, British monarchs had carried the title “Defender of the Faith.” Ironically, the faith being defended was originally Catholicsm, the title having been bestowed on Henry by Pope Leo X in recognition of a book the king had written upholding the pope’s supremacy. But by the time George the First came to the throne in 1714, the world had changed. The British now expected their king to defend the Protestant viewpoint, not the Catholic. The monarchy and the church became so fused together that when a new edition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was printed in 1717, it included an engraving of King George with the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the 21st Psalm written in tiny letters right across his face!

Another portrait in the book shows the Prince of Wales, also named George, who would become King George II in 1727. His grandson, George III, was the famous “Mad King George” whose stubbornness drove the American colonists to rebellion in 1775.

LSU’s Rare Book Collection contains several early Books of Common Prayer. In addition to being of interest to religious scholars, they can also be used to study the history of bookbinding. The three shown here, dating from 1615, 1693, and 1717, have especially fine bindings, evidence of how much they were treasured by their original owners. One of the volumes bears a note saying that in 1713, it was the property of Mary Bowen of Upton Castle in the Welsh county of Pembrokeshire. It passed to her daughter Martha McLaughlin, who died in Abbeytown, County Roscommon, Ireland, in 1791. Her son William repaired it in 1814 “in memorial of her genuine and unaffected piety, and to record his unabated love and affection for the tenderest and best of mothers.”

Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books

Special Collections Featured on C-SPAN Book TV

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

C-SPAN’s Local Content Vehicles stopped in at LSU Libraries Special Collections in early December to film segments for C-SPAN2 BookTV with Interim Assistant Dean of Libraries Elaine Smyth and Interim Head of Special Collections Tara Laver. The pieces aired December 31st and January 1st and are now available online.

Smyth highlighted the book Nouveau Voyage aux Isles de l’Amerique, a two volume description of the people, animals, and plants of the Caribbean written by Dominican friar Jean Baptiste Labat in the 1790s. What makes our copy noteworthy is its characterization as “The Bloody Book,” a moniker that comes from rust-colored stains on some of the pages that are purported to be the blood of French revolutionary Jean Paul Marat. The book is alleged to have been in Marat’s room when he was stabbed to death by Charlotte Corday, a member of an opposing faction. Hear the full story in the video.

Laver chose to feature the William C. C. Claiborne letter book. President Thomas Jefferson appointed Claiborne to receive Louisiana from France at the formal transfer of power in New Orleans, after the Louisiana Purchase. Claiborne subsequently served as governor of the territory (1803-1812) and state (1812-1816). The volume contains his outgoing correspondence to Jefferson, Secretary of State James Madison, and officials in New Orleans and around Louisiana, from 1804 to 1805. His letters detail and illustrate the challenges he faced as he tried to establish American authority among a population with political and cultural loyalties divided among France, Spain, and the U.S.

C-SPAN filmed several other features on Louisiana history and culture during their stay in Baton Rouge. Check them out!

Sir Thomas Phillipps’s Old English Grammar

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

The history of book collecting is studded with colorful figures. One of the most honored but also most eccentric was Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872). The illegitimate son of a wealthy textile manufacturer, Phillipps spent his inheritance indulging his passion for medieval manuscripts. His obsession was so great in fact that he referred to himself as a “vellomaniac,” from the word vellum, the material on which early manuscripts were written. It has been estimated that Phillipps acquired more than 100,000 books and manuscripts, spending as much as a quarter million pounds, a colossal sum by nineteenth-century standards. As proof of just how much material he amassed, his library took more than 100 years to disperse, the last sale catalog being issued in 1977.

By the end of his life, Phillipps was not only deeply in debt but had also become estranged from most of his family. Had it not been for him, however, many important manuscripts would have been lost forever or lain undiscovered for many more years. One of his most important finds was a fragment of a grammar and glossary written by the Anglo-Saxon abbot Aelfric of Eynsham, known as Aelfric Grammaticus or Aelfric the Grammarian. The manuscript also contained a number of Old English poems which Phillipps subsequently published.

The discovery of another grammar book, now in the LSU Libraries’ Special Collections, further reveals Phillipps’s interest in this area of study. The Rudiments of Grammar for the English-Saxon Tongue, published in 1715 by the “Saxon Nymph,” Elizabeth Elstob, a pioneer in Old English studies and one of the first professional women scholars, was inscribed by Phillipps at his Worcestershire estate, Middle Hill.  The copy is of some interest for its annotations about etymology, apparently in Phillipps’s hand. He wonders, for example, whether the word geswingen, meaning “to whip,” is the source of “the schoolboy’s threat ‘I’ll give him a good swingeing.’” The connection to Elstob is also interesting on account of Phillipps’s acquisition of the manuscript collection that she and her brother William Elstob owned and studied.

The 18th Century in 3-D

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Special Collections recently acquired a wonderful little eighteenth-century “view book” of six hand-colored cards showing a scene on a Caribbean plantation. The item is meant to be viewed with each card set slightly apart from the others, creating a three-dimensional effect. In the foreground of the scene are three couples lounging and chatting together. Moving into the scene, we see slaves cutting sugar cane under the watchful eye of an overseer. Beyond that are the slave quarters, a sugar mill, and the plantation house.

These cards are a valuable addition to the library’s holdings of materials on slavery, sugar, and Caribbean history. A related recent acquisition is Buonaparte in the West Indies, or, The History of Toussaint Louverture, the African Hero (1803). Attributed to the abolitionist James Stephen, the work is an account of the rule in Haiti of former slave Toussaint L’Ouverture, his resistance to Napoleon Bonaparte’s attempt to reinstate slavery on the island, and his treacherous arrest and murder in a French dungeon in April 1803.

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