Time Travel 101

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New Jersey Colonial paper money side 1, 1759

Friends, teachers, history buffs…lend me your ears! Today, I wanted to share something a little different from our creative story times,community  events, and interviews. It’s related to another fantastic area of my job, Namely, working with special collections.

The Time Travel 101 program is a partnership between between our library and Princeton University’s Program in Teacher Preparation. It’s focused exclusively on the teaching of history using primary sources. The program consists of five different suitcases that contain primary sources teachers can borrow and use in their classrooms. Topics include Medieval manuscripts, New Jersey history, and WWII.

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Child’s gas mask and carrying bag, circa 1940

So actual 15th-century illuminated manuscript pages go directly to local classrooms for students to hold, examine, and learn from? YES! And at no cost as well! If you’d like to learn a little more about the program, please see this excellent article by Stephanie Ramírez, Princeton University Library Communications Specialist and Staff Writer.

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Book of Hours page, circa 1425-1450

And while the suitcases can only travel to certain local school districts, blog readers will be delighted to know that digital versions – complete with printable collections materials and curriculum for your classrooms – can be found right here on our library’s website.

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Various trade cards, late 19th century

Since Time Travel 101 launched a few years ago, we’ve been hearing great things from schools. My favorite is this e-mail, which was sent to us by a local teacher:

I wanted to give you some feedback on the Time Travel 101 suitcase. We LOVED it!!!! I was able to share it with approximately 10 teachers in grades 4-5-6. A teacher thought the suitcase lesson was too advanced for her students, but then the next day a student brought a copy of a summons for his 9th great-grandmother, accused of witchcraft! He said that he had told his parents about the suitcase, and they showed him this family artifact. He brought it to school to show the teacher and the class. I just thought this was a wonderful connection that this student made because of the suitcase lesson!


If you’re interested in some more of our special collections blog posts, you’ll find original Beatrix Potter stuffed animals here, the art of minim here, rebus puzzle cards here, a weird books post here, constellation cards here, some cool book curses here, an article about a different classroom special collections program here, and our awesome Gutenberg print history event here.

You can also jump over to Cotsen’s curatorial blog, which always has something interesting going on!

Hot Off The (Historical) Press!

hot off the historical pressRecently, the Department of Special Collections at Princeton University Library hosted an amazing exhibit, “Gutenberg & After: Europe’s First Printers 1450-1470,” and our library hosted a special event that featured a children’s tour and hands-on activities. If you’ve ever wanted to do something related to printing and the history of the book, read on!

The Gutenberg exhibit featured early European books that were printed on the first moveable type printing presses, including the world’s first dictionary, medical texts, law books, and the big granddaddy of ALL rare books, the Gutenberg Bible. That’s me in the above photo, leading the tour.

During my talk, I discussed hand-written books before print, how the early printing press worked, and how the growing availability of printed books evolved us into a culture of reading and writing. I had quill pens, actual 15th-century illuminated manuscript pages (thanks to this program!), vellum, and pieces of moveable type for kids to handle.

Meanwhile, in our children’s gallery, we had three hands-on activities: 1) Calligraphy; 2) A typewriter petting zoo; and 3) A pasta machine printing press.

calligraphy set upFor the calligraphy activity, we purchased both traditional feather quill pens and metal nib quill pens on Amazon, along with bottles of ink. Katie printed different examples of calligraphy so kids could replicate some letters. We also had calligraphy pens and brush pens in rainbow colors. Everyone loved trying the pens, and the calligraphy wasn’t just limited to the English language…

arabic calligraphyWe also had a massively popular typewriter petting zoo. There were 5 typewriters in all, 2 working, 2 non-working, and 1 toy for the really little kids. Kids could touch, explore, and clatter away on them! Katie and I were a wee bit worried about how loud the zoo would be, but quickly learned that the sound of multiple typewriters is actually incredibly soothing (at least to us!).

typewriter montageThe final activity was something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I spotted in on the Eric Carle Museum‘s blog (see this post for my tour of their awesome art studio). Namely, A PASTA MACHINE PRINTING PRESS! It was fantastic.

You can find detailed instructions here on the Carle’s studio blog. But basically, you’ll need foam trays, a carving tool, paint, rollers, paper, and a pasta machine. We purchased the cheapest one we could find on Amazon. It was $28. Just make sure the one you buy clamps to the table

pasta machine The steps for the activity are as follows: Firs, use a tool to carve a design into a foam sheet. The tool can be a pen, pencil, or wooden scratch art styluses. The foam sheets are the same material that meat is packaged on. We bought thinner versions on Amazon (Presto foam printing plates, a 100 pack of 6″ x 4″ sheets is $15).

foam sheetsNext, roll paint over your engraved foam sheet. We used trays to reduce the mess. They were definitely helpful!

foam traysFinally, place a piece of paper on top of your painted engraving and run it through the pasta machine printing press. Peel the foam sheet and the paper apart, and you have a beautiful custom print!

pasta printing press resultsImportant! Make sure the pasta machine is set to a wider setting. As you can see in the photo below, if the machine setting is too narrow, the paint will just squish into the lines of your engraving. The wider setting allows to white lines of your design to appear.

pasta machine settingsAlso, make sure kids know that if they want to print words, they have to carve them backwards as the printing process reverses the carved image. And you might want paper plates handy so kids can transport their still-damp prints home.

What’s really cool is that some kids started experimenting with printing in multiple colors.  Including THIS gorgeously vibrant one. LOVE!

rainbow print


Many thanks to Eric White, Curator of Rare Books, for his enthusiasm, expertise, and assistance in designing the children’s tour. And to AnnaLee Pauls, for generously loaning her beloved and amazing typewriters to our petting zoo!

Cursed Books

Black is the raven…black is the rook…blacker the child…who steals this book…’Tis the season for ravens and spooks, so we thought we would share something from the Cotsen Library’s special collections. Namely, book curses!

Book curses have existed for centuries as a method to discourage and punish thieves. Typically located on the front or back pages, they are literally a description (often presented as verse) of what will happen to you should you unwisely decided to steal the book.

Some book curses are incredibly detailed and intense, other are more playful, like the bookplate you see above. The plate is pasted inside Littledom Castle : and other tales, written by Mrs. M.H. Spielmann and illustrated by Arthur Rackham in 1903. Look at the gorgeous cover:

Littledom Castle: and other tales by Mrs. M.H. Spielmann; with a preface by M.H. Spielmann ; illustrated by Arthur Rackham. London : George Routledge & Sons Ltd. ; New York : E.P. Dutton, 1903.

Katie and I also found this book, Goldfish at School, or, The Alphabet of Frank the Fisherman, published in 1853:

Goldfish at school, or, The alphabet of Frank the fisherman; London: Hodgson & Co., 1823.

Below is the book curse. It’s a little faint, but it reads “Steal not this book for fear of for over he’s the owner.”

If you hop over to Cotsen’s fabulous curatorial blog, you’ll find this post, A Field Guide to Fairies. Inside a 1742 edition of Histories, or tales of passed times by Charles Perrault is a book curse penned by Mary Fearman:

Histories, or Tales of Passed Times by Charles Perrault. London: R. Montagu, and J. Pote at Eton, 1742.

A few more curses from Cotsen’s collections:

Virtue in a Cottage; or, a mirror for children in humble life, London, ca. 1790: “”Ellen Nickson / her Book Stal not / this Book for  / of Shame for hear / you see the owners / name Ellen Nickson”

The Protestant tutor enlarg’d, London, 1707: “Them that doth this book take / I will send them straight to the Perly gate”

Almanack, London, 1775-1789: “Steal not this Book my honest friend, or else the Gallows will be your end; and if I catch you by the Tail, I will lodge you safe in Newgate Gaol; and when the Judge will come to say where is that Book you have stolen away, and if you say you do not know, he will say go down below.”


Speaking of ravens, would you like to meet THE raven? If so, follow this link (if ye dare)!