C is for Cotsen

C is for Canoe 4

From African A.B.C. by Norah Senior. Pan-African Books. ; West African Publishing Co., 1959. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library.

It’s time for the annual #ColorOurCollections, hosted by the New York Academy of Medicine! Each year libraries, archives, and cultural institutions around the world share free coloring sheets based on their collections. You might recall the Coloring Feathers post we did in 2021…but this year, we went alphabetical with “C is for Cotsen,” celebrating some of the cool alphabet books we have in our special collections vaults!

Our coloring pages consist of seven images spanning 1805-1959, including this hilarious one from 1840, “C is for Collision.” It was so completely random for an alphabet book, Katie and I had a good laugh over it

C is for Collision 2

R. Cruikshank’s Comic Alphabet by Robert Cruikshank. Darton and Clark (Holborn Hill), c1840. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library.

You can see our complete coloring pages here. In addition to the coloring activity, we thought it would be fun to revisit some of our fun alphabet posts. Here there are, in no particular order, starting with some tabletop topiary letters:

so very verdant

A story time where we rounded up some letters on the ranch!

hey uA popular DIY keychain project we designed for a community event table:

red letter day Our review of some awesome spelling straws:

sip n spellWe discover the cutest alphabet tactile toys, ever:

alphabet playtime

A gorgeous letter art activity for teens and tweens:

We test out some amazing vanishing paper for some free floating fun:

laserjet-testAnnnnnnd there was that time we filled our library with 130 giant inflatable alphabet letters:

balloons in entry 3

Quoth the Raven

quoth the ravenThis a not just a raven. It’s THE raven. The raven believed to have inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write his famous poem. If that isn’t enough of a distinction, this same raven (his name is Grip) was once the the beloved pet of Charles Dickens. After Grip died, Dickens had him stuffed and it’s reported that he arranged the foliage in the display box himself. Grip was a minor character in Dickens’ book, Barnaby Ridge. Poe, who was working as a reviewer in Philadelphia, read the book and remarked that the raven’s “…croakings might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.” Four years later, he published “The Raven.”

Grip the raven is just one of the treasures in the Rare Book Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia. I spent a happy afternoon there, learning about the history of the book and enjoying a massive cheese steak, both provided compliments of Joe Shemtov, Rare Books Librarian. Ready for a little history lesson?

envelope and tabletFirst, Joe brought out this Sumerian clay tablet and envelope (ca 2000 B.C.E). That’s the envelope on the left, and the tablet on the right. The envelope is, of course, clay, and was cracked open in order to gain access to the tablet. Interestingly, the tablet is a contract for a delivery of lard with a penalty clause. All business, those Sumerians.

papyrusNext, we move to a papyrus manuscript from Ancient Egypt (ca. 700 B.C.E.). The image above is a section from a Book of the Dead, which the wealthier Egyptians were privy to. Interesting fact – while the scribes were producing these, they would leave blank spaces for the names of the book’s future owners. The manuscript is written in Hieratic, a cursive writing system that allowed scribes to write more quickly than with hieroglyphs.

scrollThis Meghillat Esther scroll is a beautiful reminder of how the reading experience has changed over time. We flip pages to read, but before that, we scrolled. I suppose with computers, we’re back to scrolling. Huh.

vellumMoving forward, we start to see manuscripts and books written on vellum (i.e. the skin of sheep, calves, and goats). Vellum was sturdy, but rather tedious and time consuming to produce. The size of the animals limited the size of the vellum, which inadvertently resulted in more standardized sizes of books.

book of hoursThis is a Book of Hours (ca. 1475), a religious book that was the “bestseller” of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. From the mid-13th century to the mid-16th century, more of these books were bought, sold, bequethed, inherited, printed, and reprinted more than any other book, including the bible. A Book of Hours was a book of prayers, but also contained a calendar of feast days (which commemorated the days on which particular saints were believed to have been martyred, as well as the important days of Christ and the Virgin).

gutenberg bibleAt this point in history, books were still written entirely by hand. Until this came along. Above is a page from a Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed on a printing press. Johann Gutenberg invented his press in the 1450s and thus ushered in a new age of literacy. Gutenberg also popularized the use of plant-based paper rather than vellum. While opinions and records vary, it’s generally believed that approximately 180 copies of the Gutenberg Bible were printed, and only 21 complete copies exist today.

chapbookSprinting forward to the 19th century, books were looking very much like the ones we know and love today. And because of the plethora of printing presses, books were selling cheap. An 1840 chapbook like the one above would have cost mere pennies. This made the books more affordable to the lower classes, which  that meant more people could afford to start learning to read and write.

Of course, there were still some fancy books out there. Are you ready to see something really, really, cool?

fore-edge 1This is a book with a fore-edge illustration. While it’s a little hard to see in the image above, the edges of the pages are gilded (i.e. burnished with gold). But, when you fan the pages  just so…

fore-edge 2…the pages reveal an illustration! How completely and totally amazing is that?!? Man, I love rare books! Even better, this book has a double fore-edge. If you flip it over and hold the pages just so…

fore-edge 3There’s a different illustration on the other side. Unbelievable. While the Rare Book Department has been giving history of the book tours for some time now, they were recently awarded a Hatching Innovation Grant to create a traveling educational program to local schools and library branches. Congrats Joe!

The Rare Book Department at the Philadelphia Free Library is open to the public and free of charge (they’re on Facebook as well). The library is open Monday-Saturday with daily tours starting at 11:00am. You are also free to visit their exhibit galleries, which are absolutely lovely.

exhibit hallTheir new exhibit space, the William B. Dietrich Gallery, is currently showing Sacred Stories: The World’s Religious Traditions. The exhibit draws from “one thousand years of human history, illustrating the ways we have written, printed, decorated, and illuminated our Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.”

dietrich galleryWell, we began this post with Dickens, it seems only appropriate we end with him. This is the Elkins Room in the Rare Book Department, a gorgeous wood-paneled paradise filled with books, artifacts, sculptures, and artwork.

elkins roomSee the desk to the right? That, my friends, is Charles Dickens’ writing desk. Originally, it resided in Gad’s Hill Place, Dickens’ country home. The great man himself sat right there, wrote amazing things,  and even carved his initials in it! And there’s me, hopefully absorbing some of that writing power into my own fingertips.

dickens desk


Many thanks to Joe Shemtov and the Rare Book Department staff for an amazing afternoon! Sacred Stories: The World’s Religious Traditions is showing through January 30th, 2016.

Pick a Card

pick a cardA few weeks ago, I shared this fabulous hands-on education activity from Monticello. Today, I’d like to share another educational gem, this one from the Princeton University Art Museum.

Every spring, the Art Museum hosts a free Family Day for the community. It’s packed with activities, performances, refreshments, and a scavenger hunt. This year’s scavenger hunt involved one of the niftiest little card decks I’ve ever seen. The cards are the brainchild of Brice Batchelor-Hall, Manager of Student & Community Outreach.

Each card in the 30-card deck features a piece of art from the museum’s collections. During the scavenger hunt, kids used the cards to locate specific pieces of artwork in the galleries. Every time a kid correctly identified an artwork, a museum volunteer would reward him/her with a duplicate card.

matched cards

Later (and this is my favorite part), the two sets of cards could be used to play the game, Memory! But instead of matching two red apples, you’re matching two Masks of the Oculate Being. Or two slender vases with wisteria design by Gotō Seizaburō.

memory gameThe cards came in a stylish little clam shell carrying case too. Nice!

case

What a great way to introduce kids to art and simultaneously familiarize them with museum collections, connect them with volunteers, AND provide an opportunity for further fun at home. Not to mention the decks are super stylish (design credit goes to the talented Lehze Flax) and completely transportable. They can nestle in a purse or backpack, ready to pop out when your children need a quick diversion. But how many diversions also open the door to discussions about art, history, design, color, line, creativity, and a whole host of other concepts? Perfect. Simply perfect.

If you wanted to get literary with it, how about a deck of famous book characters? Historic writing implements? Iconic objects in your public library? Ooo! All the foreign edition covers of the first Harry Potter book!


All objects shown are from the collections of the Princeton University Art Museum. Photographs are by Bruce M. White and are ©Trustees of Princeton University. Many thanks to the University Art Museum for letting us share!