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)!


stargazingThought these might come in handy for your summer reading “Universe of Stories” theme…with a historical twist!

Below are 3 cards from Urania’s mirror, or a view of the heavens, a deck published in London in 1825. The full set consists of 80 constellation illustrations based on Alexander Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas. The cool thing about these cards is that when you poke pinholes into the stars, then hold the card up to the light, the constellations twinkle through. You’ll find these cards, and many more, in our library’s special collections.

Urania’s Mirror, or A View of the Heavens. Published in London,1825. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University LibraryDid you catch that the 3 cards I pulled from the deck are Harry Potter references? Sirius, Draco, and Scorpius, respectfully. So a little stargazing, a little history, a little literacy, and an awesome bookmark for your summer reading books to boot.

Here’s the printable template for the three cards. Enjoy!

Urania’s Mirror, or A View of the Heavens. Published in London,1825. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

Katie Hits the Roadshow

Get ready to have a serious case of the envies. Katie got to go on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW in San Diego last week. ANTIQUES ROADSHOW! So of COURSE I asked her to blog about it. Take it away, Mrs. Fifteen Minutes of Fame!

My grandfather was a collector. He collected books, magazines, newspapers, maps, ephemera, stamps, and posters, among other things. He also dabbled in selling some of the items he collected, but he was far more passionate about buying and collecting than he was with selling.

After my grandparents passed away, I inherited the book and stamp collection. I’ve been slowly working my way through boxes and shelves of materials, discovering many historical and interesting pieces that I had no idea my grandfather had purchased. To be honest, my dear grandfather himself likely forgot he had some of the things in his collection.

My younger brothers have also been given some family heirlooms, and we’ve often talked about how we should get the items professionally appraised. One of the places we jokingly said would be fun to take our items is the long-running PBS television series, ANTIQUES ROADSHOW. When ANTIQUES ROADSHOW released its schedule for the 2018 season, I sent one of my brothers a text and said “Hey, if I get tickets, want to come to the ROADSHOW with me?” And that’s how he and I ended up in San Diego over Memorial Day weekend with our carefully packed treasures in tow.

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW was held at the historic Hotel del Coronado, which is a gorgeous wooden Victorian beach resort built in 1888.

The ROADSHOW took over the entire hotel property, with appraisal tables inside the magnificent Crown Room and on the Windsor Lawn overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Film crews and producers were staged in the main appraisal areas, but roving crews were wandering the crowds and filming unique items throughout the day. Our first stop after having our tickets checked and receiving a ROADSHOW wristband was the Ballroom, where we waited to have our items reviewed by a general appraiser.

There we were given tickets to meet an appraiser in specific categories: Asian Art, Collectibles, Folk Art and Prints & Posters. The Collectibles table was outside on the Windsor Lawn, but the other tables we needed to visit were inside the Crown Room.

My brother and I (and occasionally my son) slowly made our way to the four category tables, met with the appraisers and had them look over our items. The appraisers gave us information about our antiques in general terms and provided us with both an auction and insurance estimate of value.

My day was absolutely made when I met Nicholas Lowry, one of the more recognizable ANTIQUES ROADSHOW appraisers, at the Prints & Posters table.

The story of the ROADSHOW was lines. One must be very patient and wear comfortable shoes when attending ANTIQUES ROADSHOW. We waited in a lot of lines. However, the long wait gives you the opportunity to meet and talk to others from across the country, each with fascinating stories about the items they brought to be appraised. One woman came well prepared to wait in the never-ending lines.

We were standing behind this woman when one of her items was chosen to be filmed by a roving film crew.

While waiting in lines inside the Crown Room, we saw four appraisals be filmed. We also paused to watch a gentleman have his mandolin appraised on camera in the Garden Patio.

It was quite interesting to observe the production and get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into filming ANTIQUES ROADSHOW. It’s a lot more complicated than it appears on television, with the antique owner and appraiser recording several explanation takes before the value estimate occurs. By doing it this way, the producers can capture the genuine look of surprise (or disappointment!) when the dollar amount is spoken.

I won’t reveal any secrets about the appraisals we watched live, but I will share that my brother and I were not selected to have our items filmed for an upcoming episode of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW. It is possible, however, to perhaps see us walking through the crowds or standing in one of the many lines!

My son braved the cameras and filmed a short clip in the ROADSHOW “Feedback Booth,” which runs during the credits, so maybe he’ll appear a future show.

As soon as we wrapped up our final appraisal, we left with smiles on our faces and hungry stomachs that needed to be fed. We have to wait until January 2019 to watch our episode of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW air on PBS, but the event provided us with fantastic memories we will never forget.

For those of you who may be planning a future visit to San Diego and the Hotel del Coronado: definitely stop by the sweet shop for a treat. The gelato they serve is excellent.