Tag Archives: hidden books

Discovery at the Library of Congress

Early Fall on Capitol Hill
Early Fall on Capitol Hill

The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection at the Library of Congress is one of the finest collections of illustrated books in the US. Calligraphy, both in the form of manuscript as well as printed writing manuals, is well represented in the collection. The Rare Book & Special Collections department has other collections that fill in gaps in the printed writing manual subject area. Acquisitions are made to expand their holdings, and I was allowed to review a number of books that have come into the collection but haven’t been cataloged yet.

I was eager to find hidden books in the uncatalogued book truck. Looking at material that hasn’t been pored over is a thrill because I might find an item that hasn’t been researched yet, or has some other importance that awaits discovery. This time, I was rewarded with discovering a new-found friend, Joseph Seavy.  I pulled a little blue pamphlet off of the truck, placing a flag to mark its location and knew immediately that I was the first to see this as a related item to the Newberry copy.

The Writer's Assistant, Joseph Seavy Library of Congress
The Writer’s Assistant, Joseph Seavy
Library of Congress

The fact that I was looking at another copy, knowing that there may be only one other place that it existed was exciting. The Massachusetts Historical Society’s copy had been microfilmed, but the only images they took were of the cover and inside wrappers. No images of the text pages were available.

I anticipated seeing the watermarked letters, and hoped there would be writing over them to show how people used these instruction books.

Front cover/first page The Writer's Assistant Joseph Seavy Library of Congress
Front cover/first page
The Writer’s Assistant
Joseph Seavy
Library of Congress

You can see the letters in this copy are well-written. And they are of the same style as the letters in the Newberry copy. I turned the page and subsequent pages, and all were filled with a fairly accomplished hand written on both sides of the laid paper.

The Writer's Assistant Joseph Seavy Library of Congress
The Writer’s Assistant
Joseph Seavy
Library of Congress

This is what the Newberry copy looks like:

The Writer's Assistant Volume 4 Joseph Seavy The Newberry Library
The Writer’s Assistant
Volume 4
Joseph Seavy
The Newberry Library

In both books, the letterforms are the same, the scribal version shows the influence of the pressure of the pointed pen. I’ve asked for a light sheet (a paper thin light source) and lay it behind the one of the manuscript pages but cannot detect a watermark. And the book is laid paper, not wove as is the Newberry copy.  So, there’s at least one copy of the book without watermark and LC’s copy doesn’t have a volume number either.

Now I want to know more because this mystery is intriguing. I know of no other copybook where the instruction is produced by watermark. The title and instructions are printed in Boston, 1814 and the price is somewhat inexpensive with a current value around $2.25. That would not be outrageous for a parent  to buy a copy of an instruction manual for a child. If all four volumes were purchased it would be around $9.00 today.

How many copies of this series survive? I go back to Worldcat and fight the digital/book blindspot and try to narrow down where an actual book is rather than the mircorform or its digital equivalent. The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA has Vol. 2 & 4. And I’ll be headed there in a few weeks, so I’ve gotten lucky because I’ll be seeing 2 more examples from this series.

I am convinced that there is no watermark letterform present in this pamphlet  owned by George W. Fenns. He may have been the scribe that filled this book front to back with competent practice lettering. A quick search fails to find him.

The hunt is on. I want to know more about this book. And I want to know where/how one unnumbered volume has laid paper instead of the watermarked paper. I’ve got more questions than answers – and that is exhilarating.

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Hidden Books @ University of Iowa’s Special Collections Department

Columbian Hand Press adorns the entrance to the University of Iowa Special Collections Reading Room
Columbian Hand Press adorns the entrance to the University of Iowa Special Collections Reading Room

I visited the University of Iowa’s Special Collections library on Tuesday and Wednesday for a couple of hours. While I didn’t know what I would find, I was hoping there’d be something.

The director, Greg Prickman took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to speak with me and talk about how the collection was amassed. There are quite a few incunabula (books printed before 1501) which were acquired from Classics professors donating their collections to permanent loans to purchases to fill out the history of printing subject area.

The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa Special Collections
The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa Special Collections
The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa's Special Collections Reading Room
The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa’s Special Collections Reading Room
The Universal Penman by George Bickham X 3 @ UI Special Collections
The Universal Penman by George Bickham X 3 @ UI Special Collections

I discovered that they have 4 writing manuals. Three copies of G. Bickham’s Universal Penman from 1733 and two later dates as well as a 1585 copy of Scalzini’s Il secretario.

EDIT:

Scalzini is known for his flourishes or “command of hand.” He argued that a light touch and quick execution was necessary for a successful commercial scribe. Attacking his senior, Giovanni Francesco Cresci as spending too much time on careful execution and too-sharp a pen nib, Scalzini’s scathing remarks became standard fare for writing-master wars.

Marcello Scalzini portrait @ 24. In the front of Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Marcello Scalzini portrait @ 25. In the front of Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini's Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini’s Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini's Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini’s Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
An inverted manicule in the letterpress section of Il Secretario by Scalzini at the University of Iowa Special Collections
An inverted manicule in the letterpress section of Il Secretario by Scalzini at the University of Iowa Special Collections

In visiting Iowa’s Special Collections reading room, I was impressed by how inviting and comfortable it was as a first time reader to get acclimated. Each library has its own style, rules and etiquette. Iowa welcomes its scholars with a directness and warmth that made me feel welcome instantly. The system for searching and discovering material is straightforward as is the requesting of items for research.

I look forward to going back when I have more than a couple of hours to delve into their collection further.