Tag Archives: Rare Books

Opulent Almanacs

It’s been a wonderfully colorful week here at the Illinois RBML: after Joan Friedman’s illuminating lecture on Owen Jones and color printing on Wednesday, we came across these exquisite chromolithographed title pages from Goffredo di Crollalanza’s series of almanacs: the “Almanach Héraldique et Drôlatique”, from 1883-1885. Almanacs were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, evolving from practical workaday listings of moon cycles and weather predictions to elaborate calendars including horoscopes, holy days, city directories, and serialized novellas that were designed to draw readers in year after year.

These almanacs are an extreme example of that trend, including not just the highly colored frontispieces above, but a genealogy of the noble houses of Europe, and several different serialized comic adventures following the remarkably named “Baroness Mina de Pfartzhaussentreppe”, pictured on the cover. Although the almanacs are in French, they were published both in Paris and Pisa, and detailed the adventures of a German lady. This pan-European setting emphasizes the high-class sophistication and worldliness these books were meant to emulate for their readers.

The in-text decorations range from the folksy to the futuristic: quaintly romantic country scenes and medieval knights share space with fashion plates and hot air balloons. The calendars in the front of each issue are themed, with 1885 assigning a rustic object like a fruit, bird, color, or animal (and its attendant personality trait) to each day of the year, as Napoleon’s Republican Calendar did in the years before. 1884, on the other hand, assigns each day a town or noble family, complete with heraldic description, associated with that day’s saint.*

It’s easy to see why almanacs were so popular, even ones not as brightly and intricately decorated as these. Unfortunately, as some of you may have noticed, the 1886 volume is considerably smaller, without any of the colored text, much less a frontispiece. The author explains this in his introduction:

Because there are some unfortunate people, you, for example, who weren’t able to procure for themselves the splendid volume of 111,111 pages … the author has asked me to summarize the articles from the large volume and serve them up to you hot off the presses in a volume of reasonable dimensions. Fortified by this authorization, I armed myself with a good pair of scissors and began cutting everything that seemed to me to be superfluous, useless, infantile, boring, flat, sensational, erroneous, immoral, or otherwise pernicious to the health of the reader… and I cut, cut, cut, until I had nothing more than this modest and inoffensive pamphlet… which I have the honor of presenting to you.**

Goffredo di Crollalanza was the son of a successful almanac publisher, but this run petered out after only three years of publication, perhaps due to the prohibitive cost of the beautiful illustrations in the first two volumes. The Illinois RBML is extremely fortunate to have such a complete and beautiful set of items in our Cavagna collection of rare Italian imprints, and we invite you to come explore (and discover your own late-Victorian almanac horoscope!). – KEB

 

di Crollalanza, Goffredo. Almanach Héraldique et Drôlatique. Paris: E. Plon, Nourrit et c.ie, 1883-1885.

Cavagna 18924

 

*The author’s birthday makes her an apple tree symbolizing “dangerous beauty” (according to 1885), and a member of the town of Eugenj (according to 1884) with a gold lion crest.

**Any errors in translation are the fault of the author.

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Benson Lossing: artist, historian, author

The pictorial field-book of the revolution ; or, Illustrations, by pen and pencil, of the history, biography, scenery, relics, and traditions of the war for independence. Benson John Lossing. 1840. Shelf Mark: 973.3 L89

The pictorial field-book of the revolution ; or, Illustrations, by pen and pencil, of the history, biography, scenery, relics, and traditions of the war for independence. Benson John Lossing. 1840. Shelf Mark: 973.3 L89

In nineteenth century America, the study and scholarship of history was often seen as an avocation; a subject reserved for the wealthy or members of the political and cultural elite. The United States was a young and growing nation, with not much history of its own. The great historians of the age studied the Greeks, the Romans, and the old kingdoms of France and Britain. Historians did not attempt to write long and comprehensive histories about the United States until the 1840’s, more than 75 years after the nation’s founding.

Benson Lossing was one of America’s first great historians. He was born in 1813 to a poor farmer in Beekman, New York. After losing his parents and attaining a limited public education, Lossing began an apprenticeship with a watchmaker in Poughkeepsie. There he would pick up the hobby that would direct his future and fame: a passion for history. After years of self-educating and immersing himself in history books, he took up a job as a joint editor and proprietor of the Poughkeepsie Telegraph and then became editor of the Poughkeepsie Casket. While at the Casket he began to learn another skill that would greatly influence his career: wood engraving.

In 1840 he published his first work, History of the Fine Arts. In this first endeavor, Lossing’s goal was to present the facts, figures, and descriptions of the fine arts in a convenient manner, a pattern that he would follow in all of his future works. Fine Arts is dotted with Lossing’s own illustrations, but unlike some of his greatest works, it is ‘only’ 329 pages long.

Outline history of the fine arts. Embracing a view of the rise, progress, and influence of the arts among different nations, ancient and modern, with notices of the character and works of many celebrated artists. Benson J. Lossing. 1840.Shelf mark: 709 L899o.

   Outline history of the fine arts. Embracing a view of the rise, progress, and influence of the arts among different nations, ancient and modern, with notices of the character and works of many celebrated artists. Benson J. Lossing. 1840.Shelf mark: 709 L899o.

Lossing’s most famous work is his Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, first serialized in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine beginning in 1850. Over the next three years, Lossing continued to write and travel, conducting research and drawing scenes from across the United States to illustrate this book. By the time it was published as a two-volume 1,500-page epic in 1852, Lossing had traversed some 8,000 miles across the nation. The work tells the story of the United States from the founding of the colonies through the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.

The pictorial field-book of the revolution ; or, Illustrations, by pen and pencil, of the history, biography, scenery, relics, and traditions of the war for independence. Benson John Lossing. 1840. Shelf mark: 973.3 L89

The pictorial field-book of the revolution ; or, Illustrations, by pen and pencil, of the history, biography, scenery, relics, and traditions of the war for independence. Benson John Lossing. 1840. Shelf mark: 973.3 L89

What makes this work unique are its illustrations and stories. Lossing drew most of the illustrations in the book, either from descriptions, or from visiting the scenes and monuments in person during his years of travel. He also included scores of personal accounts from survivors and veterans of the Revolutionary War.

Lossing would produce two more war epics, a Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812 (1869), and a Pictorial Field Book of the Civil War (1866–1869). For these works he traveled over 10,000 miles to find monuments and scenes of the wars, and collect local stories from small towns and big cities. The War of 1812 volume was penned as a sequel to his earlier Revolution, while the Civil War was one of the earliest comprehensive accounts of that conflict. Like its predecessors, it incorporates new accounts never before published.

The pictorial field-book of the war of 1812 : or, illustrations, by pen and pencil, of the history, biography, scenery, relics, and traditions of the last war for American Benson J. Lossing with several hundred engravings on wood, by Lossing and Barritt, chiefly from original sketches by the author. 1868. Shelf mark: 973.5 L89p

The pictorial field-book of the war of 1812 : or, illustrations, by pen and pencil, of the history, biography, scenery, relics, and traditions of the last war for American Benson J. Lossing with several hundred engravings on wood, by Lossing and Barritt, chiefly from original sketches by the author. 1868. Shelf mark: 973.5 L89p

Lossing was the author and editor of more than forty works, some published posthumously. Some of his notable works include, Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence (1848), A History of England, Political, Military, And Social from the Earliest Times to the Present (1871), and Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History from 458 A.D to 1909, Based Upon the Plan of Benson John Lossing (1909). Lossing also served as the editor of American Historical Record and Repertory of Notes and Queries from 1872-1874, and an illustrator for Harper’s Magazine for twenty years.

From about 1870 and up to the start of the First World War, Lossing was one of America’s leading historians. His books on the Revolution and the War of 1812 were described by the New York Times as “two of the most popular historical works published in this country.” Benson Lossing used his talents as an author, illustrator, editor and publisher to bring the history of the United States to a very broad and popular readership, which helped influence the way American history was written and depicted. -AV

 

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Selected works of Benson Lossing available in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library:

 

History of the Fine Arts… http://bit.ly/187AYHO  

Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence…  http://bit.ly/1DB7QWC

Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution…http://bit.ly/1vP1VoR

Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812… http://bit.ly/1CTdNc7

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Revolutionary Revolutions

When I was in elementary school, I had a small “Wheel of Presidents”—a device consisting of two cardstock circles affixed to each other in the center, one smaller, with a wedge-shaped cutout, and one larger, with miniature portraits of the U.S. presidents dotting its circumference. I don’t remember how I acquired it, but I do remember playing with it, turning the smaller, upper circle so that the cutout would align with one of the presidents on the rim of the larger, lower one and reveal the few facts about his presidency printed below his portrait. Although I did not know it at the time, my “Wheel of Presidents” was far from novel or unique. Rather, it represented just the most recent incarnation of a pedagogical tool whose origins were far older than my days in elementary school—far older, even, than the U.S. presidency.

The idea of organizing information in rotating charts dates at least to the incunabula era. Early astronomy books often featured paper or parchment wheels called volvelles as a way of helping students learn the motions of the planets, moon, and sun. Later, wheels morphed into calculation tools that could aid their users in finding the positions of stars, solving logarithmic equations, determining the dates of eclipses, and more.

Although The Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds many fine examples of books that include wheels as pedagogical aids, one in particular caught my eye: The First Part of the Principles of the Art Military Practifed in the Warres of the United Netherlands (Q. 355.009492 H511p 1642), printed in Delft in 1642. All of the other circular charts I had seen related somehow to astronomy–what was one doing in a military handbook? I had to know.

As he notes in his dedication to Prince William of Orange, Quartermaster Henry Hexham, the author of the Principles, felt a desire to pass on some of the knowledge and experience he had gained during his “two and fortie yeares” of service in the Dutch military. This led him to compose the Principles, a manual that he hopes will serve “for the inftruction of fuch English Gentleman, & Souldiers, who are willing to come into the States feruice, & for the informing of their Iudgments the better.” To this end, Hexham includes in the manual information on the duties of each member of a foot company, armor and weapons,  various methods of holding a pike and musket, and the exercises and motions through which captains would lead their foot companies. It is this last section where the wheels come in. Hexham accompanies the more basic exercises with static diagrams of a foot company in rank and file. For some of the more complex troop movements, he removes the images of the foot company to separate, small pieces of paper, which are fixed on the page in such a way that they can rotate. Spinning the pieces of paper one way or the other then allows readers to see the results of a particular command, like “To the left hand.” Though the pieces of paper themselves are actually rectangular rather than circular, they nevertheless demonstrate the power of interactive, rotating devices as instructional tools, especially when the subject to be taught involves complex movements—whether they be of heavenly bodies or earthly ones. BS

32-colors

The First Part of the Principles of the Art Military Practifed in the Warres of the United Netherlands.Shelfmark: Q. 355.009492 H511p 1642

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